This is a controversial question as it is multifaceted in nature. Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no nutritional need to eat sugar.
We have no physiological need for refined sugar: before the 16th century we managed with tiny amounts of it. In fact, all the glories of Renaissance art and thought were created on just a teaspoonful of sugar per head per year. We must end this sweet madness of excess sugar consumption, The Guardian.
Sugar intrinsic to real foods, like whole fruit, is not a problem because these foods provide healthy amounts of fiber, micronutrients, and bio-active substances in proportion to the dose of sugar they provide.
However, the effects of free sugar on the body are harmful. Free sugar is concentrated sugar unbound to fiber that can be
added to food in processing,
- produced by the removal of fiber in processing (juicing whole fruit, for example), or
- naturally occurring in sweeteners such as honey.
Consuming free sugar contributes to liver fat, insulin resistance, increased triglycerides, increased LDL, increased uric acid, weight gain and subsequent increased risks for diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
The effects of free sugar are dose-dependent, meaning the more you eat, the more damage is done.
On January 8, 2016, the latest edition of the USDA Dietary Guidelines were released recommending, for the first time, limiting added sugar consumption to no more than 10 percent of total calories, in alignment with the American Heart Association recommendation.
The World Health Organization agrees we should limit our calories from free sugar to 10 percent of total calories, but also encourages an even more conservative 5 percent limit for additional health benefits.
Scientists in the U.K. recommend limiting free sugar to no more than 5 percent of total calories. The guidance reflects concerns about the growing prevalences of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
The studies that we looked at clearly show that once you hit 18 percent compared to just 5 percent of your total calories from sugar, there’s significant metabolic harm promoting prediabetes and diabetes. In fact, there’s a two-fold increase. Dr. James DiNicolantonio
At the IRN, we recommend limiting your free sugar intake to as close as 0 grams as possible.
We admit it is challenging, but it's worth it.
Reducing sugar intake conveys measurable health benefits quickly. A recent study published by our founder, Dr. Robert Lustig, found that reducing dietary fructose (the sweet molecule in sugar) for just 10 days improved every marker of metabolic health listed above in obese, metabolically ill children.
One challenge in reducing our sugar intake is that sugar is often hidden, especially in processed foods and beverages.
Over the next ten years, a primary goal of the IRN is to create the public groundswell necessary to understand that high levels of sugar in our diet are dangerous. In keeping with this understanding, the IRN would like fructose removed from the GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) list and to have sugar labeled as a food additive, not as a food.
Sugar is an industrial food additive - it is usually produced in factories, is highly processed, and devoid of nutritional benefits. It has over 56 different names.
As this chart depicts, eliminating processed foods and beverages would reduce our added sugar intake by 83 percent.
Graphic from Sweet Revenge – Turning the Tables on Processed Food © 2014 Advise & Consent LLC