Sweet Truth: Everything You Need to Know About Sugar

  • Hannah Aylward
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Sweet Truth: Everything You Need to Know About Sugar

by Hannah Aylward


“Like heroin, cocaine, and caffeine, sugar is an addictive, destructive drug, yet we consume it daily in everything from cigarettes to bread.”

-William Dufty, author of “Sugar Blues”


Sugar. We know it is not good for us, but we still eat it constantly. It tastes good, it satisfies our cravings (temporarily), and it sneaks into everything, so we eat it all day long, and sometimes without even knowing it.


Overconsumption of refined sweets and added sugars found in everyday foods has led to an explosion of hypoglycemia and type 2 diabetes. Reducing sugar in your diet can help you drop pounds, improve your health, increase your energy, give you more radiant skin, and of course, benefit your gut.


According to a 2012 article in the journal Nature, sugar is a toxic substance that should be regulated like tobacco and alcohol. Studies show that too much sugar not only helps make us fat, it also wreaks havoc on our liver, damages our metabolism, impairs brain function, and may leave us susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and maybe even cancer.


Today, sugar is found in many of the usual suspects like cakes, cookies, and candy. But it can also be found in other seemingly healthy foods. It is often disguised by fancy language, labeled as corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose, or fructose.

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Even some “healthy” foods contain sugar as well as do drinks and treats. 

For example,

  • an oatmeal raisin walnut Clif Bar has 20 grams of sugar or 4.8 teaspoons.
  • a jelly donut from Dunkin’ Donuts has 15 grams of sugar or 3.8 teaspoons
  • a 16-ounce Starbucks Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino actually contains 52 grams of sugar or 12.4 teaspoons. That’s like eating three donuts!!!


Let’s break down some sugar facts:

Liquid Sugar

Sugar in a liquid form via beverages like sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks is the largest single source of added sugar in Americans’ diets, according to the USDA. It comprises 36 percent of the added sugar Americans take in.


The Soda Issue

A 20-ounce bottle of soda contains the equivalent of approximately 17 teaspoons of sugar. One can of soda per day can increase your risk of dying from heart disease by almost one-third, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. One soda a day increases a child’s chance of obesity by 60 percent. Even worse, a study in Current Diabetes Reports showed that compared to drinking sugary beverages like soda less than once a month, indulging one to two times per day results in a 26 percent higher chance of struggling with type 2 Diabetes.


Your Liver Might Suffer

Fructose can harm the liver much like alcohol according to research in the Journal of Hepatology and Nature. Fructose is what makes fruit taste so delicious, and as you know, sugar in fruit is definitely better since it is naturally occurring. The problem is when fructose is manipulated: manufacturers take it from corn, beets, and sugarcane. Much like grain when it undergoes the refining process, fructose loses fiber and nutrients that help your body handle it properly — so it taxes the liver. Specifically, scientists are starting to link fructose consumption to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.


Women Consume Triple the Recommended Limit Per Day

The American Heart Association suggests no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women. That backs up the World Health Organization's recommendation that adults get less than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar or natural sugar present in honey, syrup, or fruit juice. Ideally, they say less than five percent of your diet should come from sugar, which is 25 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet. At the same time, the average American takes in a whopping 82 grams every single day, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Major Cravings

Here is one of the worst parts about it. Eating sugar leads to wanting more sugar. Sugar can affect the brain much like cocaine and alcohol, according to a brain-scan study from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. So basically, the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave, making it even more difficult to stop.


Sugar Is Linked to Tons of Diseases

New studies are showing possible links between too much added sugar and various diseases beyond the ones covered in metabolic syndrome. Overconsumption of sugars and refined carbs might raise the risk of certain cancers according to research in the New England Journal of Medicine, Clinical Advances in Hematology & Oncology, and The Journal of Physiology. It is also potentially connected to Alzheimer's disease per a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Added Sugar Is Everywhere

It is time to look beyond cake and cookies. Added sugar is present in 74 percent of packaged foods in supermarkets says a report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Sugar is added to all kinds of foods that you would not expect to find it in — even foods you assume are “healthy”. Start reading the labels!


Here are some sneaky places where sugar hides:

  • Yogurt
  • Marinara sauce
  • Trail mix
  • White bread
  • Sauces/condiments like ketchup, BBQ sauce, honey mustard
  • Peanuts + peanut butter
  • Coffee drinks
  • Granola
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Oatmeal
  • Protein bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Milk alternatives
  • Salad dressings
  • Canned soups
  • Canned fruit


The Many Names of Sugar


Sugar is often disguised under many different names.


Let’s take a look at what other names to look out for:

  • Brown sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar
  • Corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Dextrose or glucose
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose or milk sugar
  • Levulose or fructose
  • Raw sugar
  • Sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and xylitol
  • Sucrose or table sugar
  • Turbinado sugar


Next week, we will look at how to gain awareness around your current sugar consumption and some simple ways you can cut back on sugar ASAP.


*We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented and that you always read labels, warnings, and directions before using or consuming a product. You should consult your health care professional before making any changes to your regular health care routine.

Hannah Aylward

Hannah Aylward is a Certified Health Coach, nutrition consultant, fitness instructor, healthy living expert, and founder of HAN. She helps both men and women around the world lose weight, heal skin disturbances, balance hormones, heal gut imbalances and feel at home in their bodies through healthy eating, movement, mindfulness and positive self-talk. Her goal is to help others “learn the tools that they need to live the lives they deserve”. Get to know her by visiting her website and following her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.