Is Sugar the New Salt?

Published on April 20 2011 - 7:43 PM
Is Sugar the New Salt?
Cut Added Sugar From Your Diet

Right in time for the candy-pedaling Easter Bunny, Gary Taube wrote a doomsday report on sugar for the New York Times Magazine. In it, he explains why sugar may be the next villain on the Do Not Eat list, along with salt and saturated fat. (And by sugar he means table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which are both roughly 50% glucose and 50% fructose and metabolize the same way in our bodies.) Although sugar is mostly maligned for packing in empty calories and contributing to excess weight, it could be more pernicious, leading to insulin resistance, heart disease and even cancer. How? Taube cites recent research that shows that sustained fructose intake can lead to a fatty liver (even in normal weight individuals), which in turn can cause insulin resistance—the cornerstone of metabolic syndrome—and yes, the research was done on fructose, which is chemically different from high-fructose corn syrup and sugar (more research obviously needs to be done in that arena). Metabolic syndrome is linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Because consumption of added sugars has been linked to heart disease, the American Heart Association has issued a recommendation that we cut our intake of added sugar (the kind added to foods, not naturally found in them) to no more than 6 teaspoons daily for women, 9 teaspoons for men. To put things in perspective, Americans currently average a daily intake of 22 teaspoons of added sugar and a 12-oz. can of soda has 8 teaspoons of added sugar). One thing is clear: we can dramatically reduce our sugar intake by cooking our own foods (where we can control sugar content) and cutting back on sweetened beverages—we’d be hard put to eat 2 pounds of sugar a week as this commercial by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene points out.

How important do you think it is to avoid sugar?

Kerri-Ann Jennings is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University.