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The Truth About Sugar

Can you get addicted to sugar? Do you need to quit it cold turkey? Here are expert answers.
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How much sugar does the average American eat?

Sugar shows up naturally in lots of foods, but those aren't the types of sugars in the spotlight. Instead, it's the sugar in the doughnuts and sodas or even in the maple syrup that we drizzle onto our pancakes. 

"We do know that Americans are consuming way too much added sugars," Johnson says. "These are the sugars that are added to foods in processing or preparation. They're not the naturally occurring sugars, like fructose in fruit or lactose in milk or dairy products."

Johnson led the team of experts that wrote the AHA's 2009 scientific statement on added sugars and cardiovascular health. The report pointed to sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks as the main source of added sugars in Americans' diets.

From 2001 to 2004, the report noted, Americans consumed lots of sugar: an average of 22 teaspoons a day, the equivalent of 355 calories. 

Eating too much sugar can create two main problems, Johnson says. "It either adds calories to your diet or it displaces other nutritious foods. Most Americans could benefit from reducing the amount of added sugars in their diet."

However, none of the experts who spoke to WebMD advocated that people try to purge all added sugars from their diets. By itself, sugar is not a risky food, says Rae-Ellen W. Kavey, MD, MPH, a pediatrics professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. "The focus should be on a healthful approach," she says, "not people rushing to one side or the other."

Moderation is key, experts say. For example, the AHA statement recommends that women limit themselves to about 6 teaspoons of sugar a day, or about 100 calories.  Men should aim for about 9 teaspoons a day, or 150 calories. Just how much sugar is that? A 12-oz. can of regular soda contains eight teaspoons of sugar, or about 130 calories. 

 

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Reviewed on August 29, 2011

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