Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
It’s summer, and most of us are reaching for sweetened ice tea, frozen treats, and other sugary summer fare.
You may want to give sugar a second thought, however. An article in the journal Nature called “Public health: The toxic truth about sugar” (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v482/n7383/full/
482027a.html) argued that all forms of added sugar, including table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, are as harmful to health as alcohol and tobacco, and should be regulated to decrease the risk of chronic illness.
I’m a dietitian, and my passion is helping people to eat better. I’d love to see soda disappear, and for people to choose fruit instead of candy, but it’s important to keep sugar in perspective.
Yes, we eat a lot of added sugar – an average of 297 cups every year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests a limit of 68 cups yearly as part of a daily 2200-calorie eating pattern. Sugar that occurs naturally in foods such as milk, 100% juice, and fresh and dried fruits like dates, figs and raisins, is not considered a health risk, and is not part of the AHA’s suggested limits.
Here’s why experts want you to eat less sugar. Foods rich in added sugar, like soft drinks, cookies, cake, and candy, crowd out more nutritious choices, such as fruit, whole grains, and vegetables. Excess sugar calories may also make it difficult to control your weight. Being overweight is linked to a greater chance for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and other conditions.
Yet, sugar is not the root of all dietary evil. For example, you can just as easily become overweight by eating too many calories from starch, protein and fat.
While most of us, including me, could do more to reduce the added sugar in our diets, taxing added sugar like we do cigarettes and alcohol and regulating sugar levels by limiting portion sizes of sweet foods is a slippery slope. After sugar, what’s next? In the future, the amount of fat we eat, how much sodium we’re allowed, or portion sizes of starchy foods, such as bread, could become an issue. When it comes down to it, a balanced diet with limited added sugar is fine for most people.