by Rachel Gore

Sugar is a component of a well-balanced diet, but too much can have a negative impact on your health by leading to conditions like unstable blood sugar, obesity, and increased risk of heart disease. If you’re anything like the average American consumer—I know I am—you’re probably eating more sugar than you think. Here’s an overview of the problem, a handful of negative impacts too much sugar can have on your health and steps you may want to consider to cut down.

How much sugar do Americans consume?
Americans are notorious sugar lovers, with the American Heart Association (AHA) finding that adults in the U.S. consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day. American children consume even more sugar, with an average of 81 grams per day. This means Americans of all ages are eating an average of 60-65 pounds of added sugar every year.
That sounds like a lot on its own, but just how much higher is it than the recommended amount? The AHA recommends men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day, and that women limit themselves to just 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day. In other words, the average American adult is packing down over three times the recommended amount of added sugar for adult women.

Naturally occurring vs. refined sugars
Sugar isn’t all bad—you need it to survive. Your body breaks carbohydrates down into sugar during digestion, which is turned into glucose that is either converted into energy or stored for future use. Too much sugar, however, can negatively affect your health in a number of ways.
Additionally, you are best off fueling your body with naturally occurring sugar, which is found in fruits, dairy products and some vegetables. Natural sugar is digested slower than refined sugar, keeping you comfortably full for longer. Naturally occuring sugar also tends to be present in foods that come with other valuable nutrients, vitamins and minerals, which isn’t usually the case for refined sugar.
Your body converts refined (or processed) sugar into the same glucose that it does natural sugar, but is instead found in higher-calorie, less nutritionally beneficial options like sodas and juice, packaged foods and pastries. Food packaging with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, fructose, processed artificial
sweeteners, white flour and instant starches contain processed sugar.

Negative effects of too much sugar
Excess sugar consumption can lead to a number of adverse health impacts, including the following:

  • Unstable blood sugar. Refined sugar found in processed foods spikes your blood sugar level, which is then followed by a sugar crash that causes an abrupt loss of energy. The resulting fatigue can impact your productivity and mood for the rest of your day.
  • Obesity. Consuming excessive amounts of refined sugar in beverages like soda, juices and sweetened teas don’t fill you up and are packed with calories. Too much sugar can also affect your body’s production of leptin, which is a hormone that regulates your hunger. This can lead to even more overeating, and if your caloric intake is too high, cause you to put on excess weight.
  • Heart disease and premature death. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and a sugar intake that is too high is linked to cardiovascular health issues. One 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that among study participants observed over a 15- year period, a high intake of added sugar increased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
  • Brain health. Research has also linked diets high in added sugars to impaired self-control and cognitive skills. Sugar produces feel-good chemicals in the brain that make you crave more sugar, resulting in over-eating. This overeating can rapidly raise glucose levels and cause the previously mentioned sugar crash. On top of drastically decreasing your energy level, this crash can cause other uncomfortable symptoms like anxiety, difficulty concentrating, headaches and irritability.

The verdict? You may want to consider reducing your sugar intake
If you’re anything like the typical American consumer, then cutting down on refined sugar is probably a good idea. Here are some small changes you can introduce into your diet to do so:

  • Say goodbye to soda. Consider swapping it out for flavored seltzer or sparkling water infused with fruit to fill your craving for a carbonated, sweet and refreshing beverage.
  • Reduce your intake of white and brown table sugar, honey, molasses, and syrups in your meals.
  • Cut the sugar called for in recipes. In many recipes, you probably won’t even taste the difference
  • Add fruit to your plate instead of packaged or baked goods. While this doesn’t necessarily reduce your sugar intake, naturally occurring sugars are still a better option for good health.
  • Learn what words mean “sugar” on food labels.
    Nutritional labels won’t always say “sugar”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. According to the University of California San Francisco, 74% of packaged foods contain added sugar—which has at least 61 different names. Sucrose, highfructose corn syrup, maltose, lactose and rice syrup are some of the most common names you’ll see.