Added sugars means added health risks for teens

Consumer Reports News: January 11, 2011 08:58 PM

Worried your kids are filling up on too much junk food? Here's more cause for concern, from a study published this week in the journal Circulation. The researchers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University, said it was the first study ever to look at the connection between added sugars and the risk of heart disease in teens. It analyzed the sugar intake of 2,157 kids ages 12 to 18 and found that, on average, they consumed 119 grams of added sugars each day. That's roughly 28 teaspoons--slightly more than half a cup--and 476 calories, and accounted for 21 percent of their total energy.

Levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol  and triglycerides were about 10 percent higher in teens who consumed the most sugar compared with those who consumed the least. Overweight or obese teens who downed lots of the white stuff also showed increased signs of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Other research suggests that too much added sugar may also threaten the heart by causing high blood pressure. And it poses other health risks, too, including cavities and possibly pancreatic cancer.

The AHA recommends no more than 25 grams (six teaspoons, 100 calories) of added sugars per day for women and no more than 37.5 grams (nine teaspoons, 150 calories) for men. But we're eating more than our share--the average American consumes just over 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day.

To cut back on added sugars, take these 5 tips:

1. Read the nutrition labels and ingredients. Sugar has several aliases, including high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fruit-juice concentrate, glucose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, sucrose, beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and evaporated cane juice.

2. Reduce added sugar gradually. It's difficult and impractical to erase all sugar from your diet in one clean sweep, so gradually reduce the amount you add to cereal, coffee, tea, and other foods, and start choosing foods with less of the white stuff. Over time, you may find that you've tricked your taste buds into enjoying your morning coffee or cereal without adding sugar. 

3. Satisfy your sweet tooth with healthy snacks. The next time you get a craving for something sweet, consider fruit, low-sugar cereal, or add your own fruit to plain yogurt. Keep fruit handy so it's easy to snack on. Replace candy with dry-roasted nuts or baked tortilla chips.

4. Watch what you drink. Sodas are the leading source of added sugar in the American diet (one 12-ounce can contains a day's worth of added sugar!), but many bottled teas and juice drinks are also loaded with sugar. Spike water with strong tea or fruit juice. Make smoothies from fresh or frozen fruit, plain nonfat yogurt, and ice.

5. Substitute with spices. Add sweetness and flavor to food with cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, mace, and nutmeg.

--Ginger Skinner, web associate editor

Take a look at where sugar hides in foods.

Aaron Bailey


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