Human biology tells us that we’re well equipped to handle droughts of food, it has even been demonstrated that periods without can actually benefit our health. As much that may be the cause behind the trendy ‘intermittent fasting,’ the larger priority in diet-based wellness is tackling added sugars.
The benefits of a time-restricted diet are stark to sugar’s proclivity to promote disease and bring detrimental impacts to life expectancy. It also becomes far less daunting to eliminate excess sugar in the diet when aware of those increased mortality rates.
While associated health problems are tied more to a manner of habit than the occasional indulgence, one should nonetheless be equipped with a knowledge of sugar’s insidiousness.
A bit of history
Since the 19th century, the American diet has hosted an ever-rising consumption of added sweet. An obviously dense fuel source, the implications of excessive sugar were not quickly discovered.
Granted, the body is equipped to process moderate natural sugars such as in fruits and sweet potatoes; these sugars are perfectly fine in tandem with the essential nutrients of whole-food sources, and the human body has evolved alongside these natural foods with an adequate metabolism.
Yet like nature, health hangs in a delicate balance, for many the rise in sugar has tipped the scale towards a lethal direction with added sugars now making for more than a third of total sugar consumed.
Frequently added in soft drinks and juice concentrates, sugar is now recognized as a villain behind leading causes of death, responsible for unprecedented rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Clinical correlations also justify a growing concern that it promotes cancer risks, and two recently published meta-analyses of large populations draw on this even more concretely.
But first, is this something new? Not at all, in fact, more than a decade has passed since a strong connection at least to pancreatic cancer was discovered, a difficult to treat and deadly form of cancer with a high likelihood of metastasization. Associations between sugary foods and drinks have also closely corresponded to breast and other organ cancers. Conversely, low-in-sugar diets have been related to overall lessened incidences — also quite telling.
It isn’t fear-mongering, these two recent publications were careful to control for other well-studied risk factors, expressly delineating between sugar and other lifestyle risks.
The first started with French researchers looking at sugary and artificially sweetened beverages and their association with common cancers. The epidemiology consulted over 100,000 healthy adults (21% men; 79% women) who began the 9 year study (ending in 2018) at an average age of 42.
Following thorough dietary surveys and health database cross-reference, statistical links were calculated by accounting for other key cancer risk factors including age, sex, family history of cancer, smoking status, and physical activity.
Researchers found nearly a 20% increase in overall cancer risk, and an even more alarming 22% rise in breast cancer for those who consumed 3.5oz of sugary drinks per day. This increased risk was indiscriminate to soda or fruit juice, as each contain comparable levels of concentrated sugar.
Extra sugar in the diet was directly connected to higher blood sugar, and elevated biomarkers for inflammation as well as visceral organ fat; together, these disease states were believed to contribute to the cancers.
“These data support the relevance of existing nutritional recommendations to limit sugary drink consumption, including 100% fruit juice, as well as policy actions, such as taxation and marketing restrictions targeting sugary drinks, which might potentially contribute to the reduction of cancer incidence.”
Harvard scientists in cooperation with researchers in China and Canada recently made public their data from two extensive epidemiological studies. One was the Nurses’ Health Study which included over 80,000 women, and the second was the Health Professionals Follow-up Study which involved more than 37,000 participating men.
Participants were engaged in these long-term studies for a respective 34 and 28 years, on a bi-annual basis answering lifestyle surveys with key questioning into their diet and health practices.
Researchers corroborated a greater consumption of sugared drinks with disproportionately early deaths from all cause mortality. Like in the first study, the data compiled was keen to adjust for other presiding risks, e.g. factors for cancer or cardiovascular events.
Prompting heavy discourse, the team determined mortality risks as increasing according to a dose-dependent relationship. Finding such a key connection sets a novel precedent to the high-risks of sugary drinks; the more you ingest, the greater the cost to health.
The figures speak for themselves, where even as little as one sugary drink per month was indicated by a 1% rise in mortality. As little as two drinks weekly was associated with a 6% increase, and daily consumption was associated with up to a 21% elevated death rate. The disease state most linked to sugar was heart-disease, and for women the overall risk was most pronounced.
It’s clear that sugar adds up quickly, additional findings summarized that for the group drinking at least 2 sugary drinks per day, each additional daily drink increased risk of death by 10%; as with the previous study, cancer was at play.
The study’s chief author Vasanti Malik followed suit with the French, recommending “to limit intake of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity.”
Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) agree that no more than 5% of daily caloric intake should stem from sugars, whether added or natural. While the average American consumes more than 50lbs of added sugar per year, this guideline translates to a max of 6 and 9 teaspoons, or about an ounce to an ounce and a half for women and men respectively, each day.
So, is sugar bad for you? Quite clearly. At the bare minimum these guidelines are telling the average American to cut total sugar intake by more than 5!
Reading for sugar
This can be a drastic lifestyle and dietary change, but the more familiar you become with hidden or unlikely sources of sugar, the better you can reduce consumption.
Fortunately, recent FDA regulations have required nutritional labels to differentiate between added sugars. This takes some of the guesswork out of making healthier choices, but there’s more to it.
As a good rule of thumb, look for any ingredients containing the ending ‘ose,’ this chemistry tidbit tells us that’s a sugar. Also, natural sweeteners are just as problematic, these are often worded as: cane juice, beet sugar, or 100% fruit juice. They sound friendlier, but the bottom line is the same. Also, remember the rule that the order of ingredients in food and drink labels is by total weight. So, if one of these sneaky sources of sugar is early in that list, you should be extra wary.
According to Choosemyplate.gov, Here’s some less obvious sugar ingredients:
- Anhydrous dextrose
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Nectars (for example, peach or pear nectar)
- Pancake syrup
- Raw sugar
- White granulated sugar
The bottom line
Sugar impacts brain function, causes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and increases the risk of death due to heart disease. Added sugar also appears to increase the risk of breast cancer and metastases to the lungs. The simplest way of dialing back on sugar is to eliminate processed foods, and to stop drinking calories.
Like changes in diet, Matcha can offset some of the negative effects of consuming too much sugar. Matcha is a health promoter suggested to lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, fight cancer causing cells with natural antioxidants and catechins, and the amino-acid L-theanine even stimulates brain health and biomarkers for nerve growth.
As you work to reduce sugar, drinking matcha one or two times a day will help your body more easily respond and recover.