How High-Sugar Diets Speed You Toward an Early Grave

Researchers have found strong associations between excessive sugar consumption and rising rates of obesity and major diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

High-sugar meals are a problem largely relegated to the processed food industry. You don’t really have this problem when you’re cooking from scratch with whole foods. Unfortunately, most people still eat far more processed foods than real foods, and the health consequences of this choice are significant.

According to a 2014 study,1 10 percent of Americans consume 25 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of added sugars. Most adults (71.4 percent) get at least 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar.

People who consumed 21 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar were TWICE as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who got 7 percent or less of their daily calories from added sugar. The risk was nearly TRIPLED among those who consumed 25 percent or more of their calories from sugar.

That means at least 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. are in this tripled-risk category. Once you understand metabolic biology, it is absolutely no surprise to see these stats; in fact it is precisely what you would expect.

High-Sugar Diets Promote Heart Disease in Kids Too

More recent research shows that high-sugar diets are also a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease in CHILDREN — and pose a significant risk even far below current levels of consumption.

As noted in the latest scientific statement on children’s sugar consumption from the American Heart Association (AHA), which they finally admitted to, recognized and published last month in the journal Circulation:2

“Strong evidence supports the association of added sugars with increased cardiovascular disease risk in children through increased energy intake, increased adiposity, and dyslipidemia …

[I]t is reasonable to recommend that children consume ≤25 g[rams] (100cal[ories] or ≈ 6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day and to avoid added sugars for children <2 years of age.”

Considering the fact that heart disease is the leading killer of Americans,3 cutting sugar consumption is not a matter to be taken lightly. As a parent, you have a significant amount of control over your child’s health destiny.

Of course this recommendation falls far short of what is ideal for children. which should be less than 1 teaspoon of sugar per day.

How Sugar Affects Your Brain

Another recent study sheds new light on sugar addiction by explaining how sugar affects your brain cells. As reported by The Independent:4

“Our brain cells — which have the highest sugar consumption of all organs — control our metabolism and feelings of hunger more than previously believed…”

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich used positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to demonstrate that insulin and leptin direct and regulate sugar intake into your brain cells — both neuronal cells and non-neuronal cells.

When insulin receptors on the surface of astrocytes (non-neuronal cells that maintain homeostasis in your brain) are missing, you end up with impaired hunger regulation, which can result in overeating and feeling hungry all the time.

Dr. Matthias Tschöp, director of the Division of Metabolic Diseases, told The Independent:

“Our results showed for the first time that essential metabolic and behavioral processes are not regulated via neuronal cells alone and that other cell types in the brain, such as astrocytes, play a crucial role.”

Additionally, it is well known that sugar will increase dopamine release (the feel good neurotransmitter). The more sugar you consume the more resistant you become to dopamine’s effect and the more you need, somewhat similar to insulin resistance.

Sugar Recommendations Are Changing

For the longest time, there was no real cutoff recommendation for sugar, aside from recommendations to eat sugar “in moderation” — something that is virtually impossible to do if you’re eating processed foods. This is finally changing. The AHA now recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to: 7,8,9,10,11,12,13

  • 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for toddlers and teens between the ages of 2 and 18
  • Zero added sugars for kids under the age of 2

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has also issued sugar recommendations, suggesting kids between the ages of 4 and 8 limit their added sugar to a maximum of 3 teaspoons a day (12 grams), and children age 9 and older stay below 8 teaspoons.

The reality is that virtually everyone would benefit from the under age 2 recommendation.

Kids Eat Three Times More Added Sugar Than Recommended for Health

According to the AHA, kids eat on average 19 teaspoons of added sugar a day — about three times more than recommended, and the evidence clearly indicates that this dietary trend goes hand in hand with our current epidemics of obesity and chronic disease.

A single can of soda or fruit punch can contain about 40 grams of sugar, making sweetened drinks particularly risky for young children. Breakfast cereals, cereal bars, bagels and pastries also tend to contain high amounts of added sugars, making the standard American breakfast a recipe for disease and premature death.

Dr. Miriam Vos, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the lead author of the AHA statement on sugar, told Reuters:14

“Sugar can influence people’s health in a number of ways. For example, it’s tied to weight gain, higher cholesterol levels, worse blood sugar control and fatty liver disease. All of those are known — the cholesterol levels, weight gain, insulin resistance and fatty liver — to increase cardiovascular risk in adulthood.”

Twenty-five grams of sugar per day is my recommended limit as well, with the added caveat that if you’re among the 80 percent who have insulin or leptin resistance (overweight, diabetic, high blood pressure or taking a statin drug), you’d be wise to restrict your total fructose consumption to as little as 15 grams per day until you’ve normalized your insulin and leptin levels.

I have personally chosen to consume an ultra-low carb diet with no added sugars and about 15 to 35 grams of net carbs a day (total carbs minus fiber) in the winter when sunlight is low. During the summer I double this intake by adding fruit that I grow on my property in Florida. My favorite are 50 to 70 acerola cherries that supply about 80 mg of vitamin C each.

Obesity Now Linked to More Than a Dozen Cancers

High-sugar diets feed not only obesity but also cancer. According to The Cancer Society, excess weight contributes to about 20 percent of all cancer cases, and recent research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests cancer may soon overtake heart disease as the No. 1 killer of Americans. As reported by CBS:18

“As of 2014, cancer has passed heart disease and is the leading cause of death in 22 states … In the year 2000, it was the leading cause in only two states.”

Based on a review of over 1,000 studies, an analysis published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has now identified another eight cancers associated with obesity, in addition to the several previously identified.20,21,22 Overweight women also increase their risk for breast, endometrial, colon and kidney cancer the longer they remain overweight, and for some cancers, the more overweight you are, the greater your risk.23,24 The cancers currently linked to excess weight are:

Colon Esophagus Kidney Breast Uterus
Stomach Liver Gall bladder Pancreas Ovary
Meningioma (brain cancer) Thyroid Multiple myeloma (blood cancer) Endometrial

How Sugar Feeds Cancer

One of the key mechanisms by which sugar promotes cancer and other chronic disease is through mitochondrial dysfunction. When your body burns sugar for its primary fuel, far larger levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are created, which generate secondary free radicals that cause mitochondrial and nuclear DNA damage, along with cell membrane and protein impairment.

Late-night snacking, especially with carbohydrates, can magnify these risks. There is quite compelling evidence showing that when you supply fuel to the mitochondria at a time when they don’t require large amounts, like when you are sleeping, the system generates excessive and unnecessary ATP, which in turn liberate ROS, setting into motion the same cascade of mitochondrial and DNA damage as just described.

There’s also evidence to indicate that cancer cells uniformly have damaged mitochondria, so eating shortly before going to bed is likely a very bad idea, considering your cells need the least amount of fuel when you’re sleeping. Personally I strive for six hours of fasting before bedtime.