Sofie Wise

Maria Shikary

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About Author — Dr. Shikary is a graduate of the Ohio State University School of Medicine, and trained in pediatrics at UCSF in San Francisco. She specializes in holistic/integrative medicine and nutrition.

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In the United States, we are addicted to sugar; the average American eats about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. That’s anywhere from 150-170 lbs of sugar a year. Less than 100 years ago we used to consume only 4 lbs of sugar a year! The recommended daily intake of sugar is only 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men.

Sugar is hard to avoid and has slowly found it’s way into every food you can think of. It started becoming an increasingly larger part of the American diet in the early 1970s due to three major reasons: food prices were fluctuating significantly and high fructose corn syrup offered a cheap alternative to sucrose that would help to stabilize markets. Additionally, the American Heart Association recommended that all Americans reduce their fat consumption due to a misguided conclusion that because dietary fat raises low-density cholesterol (bad fat) and increased LDL is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, dietary fat should be decreased in order to decrease heart disease. As a result, dietary fat was replaced with sugar, and not surprisingly, neither rates of obesity nor heart disease have decreased and have actually increased over time.  

Why is this? We know now that there are two different types of LDL – large buoyant (good) and small dense (bad). Blood tests don’t distinguish between the two. Dietary fat increases the large buoyant LDL and sugar increases the small dense LDL. So decreasing dietary fat and replacing it with sugar actually makes things worse and is why we haven’t seen a reduction in rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure. All of these are the end result of the liver trying to cope with excessive sugar consumption. Complex pathways are involved that start the process but it’s essentially because our livers process fructose containing products differently than glucose containing products. But, excessive sugar intake can do so much more than this…

Studies have shown that consuming 20 teaspoons of sugar a day (equivalent to 2.5 cans of soda) can decrease white blood cell counts by 40-50%. This type of blood cell is the main part of the immune system that helps fight off bacteria and viruses. So excessive sugar consumption can make it harder to get over an illness of any kind.

Sugar consumption is especially detrimental to children and new studies show that the earlier we introduce sugar to kids’ diets, the more they will crave it in the future and changes in sugar metabolism can start even in utero. Moreover, children are much more sensitive to changes in blood sugar levels than adults. When kids eat foods with a high glycemic index, they are more prone to behavioral changes, memory and attention problems and decreased ability to perform in structured testing. High glycemic index foods are those that raise blood sugar rapidly because they are highly processed and contain little fiber. This causes a blood sugar spike along with an insulin spike in the body which can give someone the “sugar high” and then crash that many people have experienced.

Food makers know we’re addicted and they will likely keep pumping things full of sugar. So it’s up to you. The next time you step into a grocery store, take the time to look at the back of a package and if sugar is the first ingredient or if it’s listed multiple times in different forms, i.e. high fructose corn syrup, fructose, cane syrup, brown rice syrup, think twice for there is unfortunately a bittersweet end to the sweetness of sugar.