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Health Hazards of Added Sugar

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Sugar pouring from spoon

We know eating excess sugar is bad for our health, yet most Americans still consume too much. In fact, the average American eats about 66 pounds of added sugar per year─that’s an average of 19.5 teaspoons per day!

Part of the problem is most Americans are eating added sugar without even realizing it. Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services discusses the impact excess sugar can have on the brain and offers tips to help you slash added sugar from your diet.

What is Added Sugar?

As the name implies, added sugars are sugars added to foods or drinks during processing or preparation. Most of us consume it in the form of sucrose, better known as “table sugar.”

According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, 75 percent of the processed foods purchased from 2005-2009 contained added sugar. The most common sources of added sugars in the American diet come from:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages (47 percent)
  • Snacks and sweets (31 percent)

Sugar and Brain Health

Our brains need sugar in the form of glucose to maintain normal functioning, but too much sugar can have detrimental long-term consequences.

Research shows those with high blood sugar (or hyperglycemia) may be at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. One study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics combined the findings of 17 different studies on more than 1.7 million participants. The results showed those with diabetes had a significantly higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease than those without diabetes.

While the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s is still being studied, some insight can be found in a small study published in 2017 in Scientific Reports. Here, researchers compared brain samples of participants with severe Alzheimer’s disease to those with mild Alzheimer’s. Glycation and oxidation are two processes that increase inflammation in the brain and are seen in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The findings of this study suggest hyperglycemia (an excess of glucose) causes these types of inflammation and is related to cognitive decline. Therefore, hyperglycemia could be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

Bottom line: the relationship between hyperglycemia and Alzheimer’s disease can be our motivation to eat less added sugar.

How Much is Too Much?

American Heart Association recommends men consume less than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day (or 150 calories) and women consume less than 6 teaspoons per day (or 100 calories).

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we are consuming approximately 270 calories per day in added sugars.

Read the Label

Current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines require food manufacturers to list both natural and added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label. This can make it tough to distinguish between the two.

In the future, companies will be required to list “added sugars” separately. In the meantime, look for words in a product’s ingredient list that end in “-ose,” as these are all forms of sugar.

Examples of “hidden” sugar terms found on the ingredient lists of processed foods:

  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Dried cane syrup
  • Maltose
  • Brown sugar
  • Evaporated/invert cane sugar
  • Maple sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Fructose
  • Maple syrup
  • Cane sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Molasses
  • Corn sweetener
  • Glucose
  • Nectars
  • Corn syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Sugar
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Honey
  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose
  • Malt syrup



Ways to Decrease Added Sugar Intake

Start your journey of eating less added sugar by choosing foods with naturally occurring sugars. Such foods include:

  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy products (milk and yogurt)

These essential carbohydrates contain many other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and antioxidants. Other simple changes suggested:

  • Swap pre-packaged maple and brown sugar oatmeal for plain oatmeal. Add cinnamon and berries on top
  • Choose mustard instead of ketchup
  • Select energy bars with less added sugar (such as RXBAR®, LARABAR® or KiZE bars)
  • Swap sugar-sweetened yogurt for plain, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
  • Replace regular soda with flavored sparkling water
  • Reach for fresh fruit instead of fruit juices
  • Toss your bottled salad dressings that contain added sugars and use homemade dressings with no added sugar instead

To schedule a one-on-one consultation with a registered dietitian nutritionist or for more information on Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Adyson Mitchell, dietetic student at Texas Woman’s University and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.