Doctors Say There's Too Much Sweet in What We Eat

Posted at 4:15 PM, May 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-30 14:05:55-04

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Americans have been consuming more sugar than ever before. But what effect has this sweet trend had on our health?

It’s in our favorite foods and drinks. How much sugar do you put down in a day?

Dr. Laura Schmidt, a professor at University of California San Francisco, said Americans consume nearly three times more sugar than recommended, which was more than we ever have.

“So, currently we’re consuming about twice as much as we did say in 1970,” she told Ivanhoe.

Schmidt and scientists from around the country launched “Sugar Science,” an initiative to educate people about how sugar impacts health. It has been based on more than 8,000 studies.

“It’s all about getting what we know in the medical journals out to the public,” Schmidt said.

Too much added sugar has been linked to heart disease in adults and diabetes in kids. Twenty years ago, Type 2 diabetes was almost unheard of in children. Today, more than 20,000 have been diagnosed.

“It’s completely unacceptable that a child would have adult onset diabetes at the age of 13,” Dr. Dean Schillinger, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, told Ivanhoe.

Too much sugar can also have impacts on the liver and has caused the same disease that alcohol does. Nearly 31 percent of adults and 13 percent of kids have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

“This is something, a condition that we didn’t even have diagnosis for 30 years ago before the American public started consuming so much sugar,” Schmidt said.

Scientists recommended women consume no more than six teaspoons, or 25 grams, of added sugar a day. For men, it’s nine teaspoons, or 38 grams. Sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks made up 37 percent of added sugar consumed in the U.S. Just one can of soda a day was more than the recommended limit for women.

The bottom line: Ditch those sugary drinks and snacks for a better, healthier you.

Schmidt said not to worry about natural sugars from fruits and vegetables, as those are healthy. Their research was focused on added sugars. For more information, log onto The site lets you ask a question about sugar, and a team of researchers will respond to it.

BACKGROUND: It’s in our food. It’s in our drinks. It’s even in the new Maroon 5 song. These days, it seems impossible to escape sugar. In fact, one study found that the average American consumes enough sugar in his or her lifetime to fill an industrialized dumpster. There are more than 70 disorders linked to sugar over-consumption, including diabetes and ADHD. Historians believe sugar was first used around 510 B.C. in Polynesia. From there, the sweet substance known as “honey without the bees” spread to India and then the Middle East. Sugar was discovered by Western Europe during the Crusades. By the 15th century, Europeans began refining sugar, but even in the 18th century, sugar was considered a luxury. Today, Brazil and India account for 40 percent of the world’s sugar production. (Source 1, Source 2)

WHY WE LIKE TO EAT SWEET THINGS: Our sense of taste guides us when it comes to what to eat and what not to eat. For example, tasting something extremely bitter, might warn you to stay away from that substance. It could be poison. Scientists believed that sweet taste evolved in order to encourage the eating of fatty, energy-dense food. This makes sense when we think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Because food was not available on every street corner, they would have wanted to find energy-rich foods to keep them going. When we eat something sweet, special receptor cells in the tongue pick up on specific molecules in the sweet food. Then, as the sugary food is digested, insulin, a hormone that takes sugar molecules and delivers them to cells to use as energy, is produced. Sometimes, too little insulin is produced, resulting in diabetes. Therefore, those with diabetes must be conscious of how much sugar they consume. (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3)

RISKS: Consuming too much sugar can lead to many health problems. Repeatedly elevating blood sugar, can increase the risk of developing type two diabetes. Sugar has also been linked to obesity, hypertension, fatigue, headaches, acne and other chronic diseases. According to brain scans, sugar can be as addictive as cocaine. The American Heart Association recommends that men try to eat no more than 37.5 grams of sugar a day and women eat no more than 25 grams of sugar a day. Sugar is not an essential nutrient and therefore isn’t necessary for a healthy diet. (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3