Glucose, fructose, and sucrose. The backbone of fuel needed to help power us through the usual case of the Mondays or give us the extra edge needed during workouts. Although these “ose” ending words provide us with energy to get through the day, these words have also stirred up controversy surrounding their alleged effects on health. I scanned top media stories to identify common myths and “myth bust” these tall tales in favor for science‐backed, evidence‐based facts so that you can rest assured that these grandi“ose” myths are folklore rather than fact.
Myth #1: Added sugars are toxic and cause a variety of health issues, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Looking for the next target to vilify, critics have now turned to sugars as the culprit for the world’s health problems. When too much emphasis is placed on one food, nutrient, or ingredient, the importance of eating an overall balanced diet with the appropriate number of calories gets overlooked for more flashy and dramatic stories. So how can something that we need for energy be toxic to our bodies?
FACT: Some things that our bodies require can be toxic in certain quantities.
Google water intoxication and you will see that even water can have lethal effects. Even though the human body is more than 65% water, this vital liquid can be toxic in large quantities. Same dealio with other essential nutrients like salt and fat soluble vitamins.
However, this doesn’t mean we should avoid or be fearful of eating them. In fact, sugars are a type of carbohydrate and are a main source of energy for the body. Sugars are present in a wide variety of foods, supply about 4 calories per gram, and are vital for providing fuel to the body, especially during exercise.
Myth #2: Americans are consuming more sugars than ever before.
The above myth is a common stat that gets thrown around in headlines as well as sensationalized food documentaries. The USDA/ERS Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System has been tracking sugar availability (not consumption since that relies on inaccurate self‐reporting) in the US food supply since 1970. So what do the numbers show?
FACT: Today, our food supply contains roughly the same amount of total calories per day from added sugars as it did in 1987.
If you’re surprised to learn this, you’re not alone. Although we did experience a spike during the 1990’s, we’ve returned levels of availability and consumption seen in prior decades. In 1970, 21.3 teaspoons were available per day. In 1987, it was 22.5 teaspoons. By 1999, that number was up to 26.3. In 2012, it leveled out at 22.6 teaspoons.
Need some more convincing? Let’s look at percentage of calories consumed. In 1970, sugars and sweeteners made up 16% of the calories available. In 2010, that number dropped to 14%. According to the latest NHANES data cited by the 2015 DGAC, Americans currently consume 13‐17% of calories from added sugars, depending on age.
Myth #3: Eliminating sugars from your diet will lead to weight loss.
Conversations with friends and family often lead to discussions about the latest weight loss tricks and trends. Many claim that cutting out added sugars entirely from their diet ensures weight loss. Is there any truth to this?
FACT: Studies have failed to show that sugars contribute to weight gain or higher body mass index (BMI) more than other calorie sources.
The number of calories you consume has more of an impact on your weight than the amount of sugar you eat. This concept has been shown in numerous studies. The bottom line is that eating a diet higher in sugars doesn’t guarantee an unhealthy weight just as eating a diet lower in sugars doesn’t guarantee a healthy weight.
Here are a few reasonable recommendations:
- To manage your weight, first identify what your major sources of excess calories are and then work to cut back on those items.
- Keep splurges sensible
- Focus on getting the nutrients you need from fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, healthful fats, and lean protein
- Make sure you’re balancing your intake with physical activity.
Covering off on these three grandi“ose” sugar myths should clarify some of the swirling confusion created by people claiming sugar to be “toxic.” The evidence to support these far‐fetched claims just isn’t there. Suggestive language such as this serves one purpose—not science, by the way—and that purpose is to persuade people beyond the evidence. Avoid over consuming calories, but don’t fear eating sugar as part of a balanced diet.
Sarah Romotsky, RD, is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council. Sarah leads the development and implementation of strategic communication initiatives on science-based health and wellness topics. A native of Southern California, Sarah received a BA in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley and later completed the Dietetic Program at SF State University.
Second Photo Credit: Viktoria Gavrilina/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: bitt24/shutterstock.com