Sugar consumption has been linked to several weight-related conditions as well as heart health complications, but until recently, the exact health effects of sugar have remained mysterious. Many of us take sugar in our morning coffee or tea, or ingest it in sodas or snacks throughout the day. New research on sugar and weight management, published Thursday in The Cleveland Clinic’s BMJ, shows that sugar intake is a partial indicator of body weight as well as cardiovascular health.
Although the findings were relatively small, they do suggest that international guidelines for sugar consumption may help mitigate risks associated with consumption. Excessive sugar intake has been linked to chronic diseases as well as obesity, but not all studies have reported the same results, so more research may be necessary to determine regulatory amounts.
The World Health Organization recommends that free sugars take up no more than 10 percent of total calorie intake, although no “safe” limit has been officially determined. Free sugars are defined as any sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer, chef or consumer, as well as those naturally occurring in fruits, syrups and honey.
Researchers from the University of Otago and the Riddet Institute in New Zealand recently analyzed the results of 71 prior studies on sugar to gain a more comprehensive view of sugar’seffects. They found that when participants were advised to eat less sugar, they experienced a weight reduction of about 2 lbs over one month. When advised to increase their sugar intake, another group gained 2 lbs, on average. Researchers believe that, for both groups, the difference would have been larger had they consumed more regular carbohydrates, rather than using sugary foods as a replacement.
Difference for kids
Due to poor compliance with dietary guidelines, sugar consumption appeared to have a smaller effect on the weights of children. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), American children younger than age 3 may already consume too much sugar. By the time a child reaches 4 to 8, sugar consumption spikes by an average of 21 teaspoons each day. The same AHA study found that by 18, these individuals consume up to 35 teaspoons of free sugar daily – almost five times the recommended amount.
Sugar and poor health
U.S. health experts wrote in an accompanying editorial that the association between sugar and poor health has remained cloudy over the past decade, partly because the causes of obesity and other chronic illnesses are so varied that sugar can’t be pointed to as a cause – only a factor. These medical professionals report that the role of sugar and other refined carbohydrates in the development of weight conditions is becoming more clear, and that by reducing the intake of sugar through sweetened drinks and other manufactured goods, people may be able to significantly improve their overall health.
Taxes on sugar-laden drinks are only the beginning when it comes to government intervention regarding these goods. Further restrictions in advertising for children and serving sizes may be needed to properly manage the U.S. weight gain epidemic. According to the researchers, more educational programs, improvements in school lunch regulations and nutrition programs for the poor and underserved may also play a large role in future legislation.
According to a December study published in PLOS Medicine, taxes on sugar-laden foods could improve health by limiting intake. These same taxes, if extended to fat saturated foods, may include products like cheese, potato chips, cakes and butter, although the nature of future negotiations remains unclear. A lunchtime snack of cheese and vegetables, for instance, has been shown in a recent study to be particularly healthy for kids, so it follows that not all fat-rich foods should fall under the same restrictions.