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We're eating less sugar -- but still far too much

July 30, 2011|By Daniela Hernandez, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Americans eat a lot of added sugar -- but less than they used to
Americans eat a lot of added sugar -- but less than they used to (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Good news:  Americans are cutting back on the amount of added sugar they’re eating, according to new research  -- from about 3.5 ounces a day in 2000 (25 teaspoons, or 375 calories) to 2.7 ounces a day in 2008 (19 teaspoons, or 285 calories).

The term “added sugars” was promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help people make the distinction between sweetened foods with low nutritional contents – items like soft drinks and candy bars – and naturally sweet foods such as fruits and some vegetables.  In this study,  published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers defined added sugar  as “all sugars used as ingredients in processed or prepared foods.”  That includes white and brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey and molasses.  Naturally occuring sugars, like lactose in milk or fructose in fruit, were not counted.

Dr. Miriam Vos, a professor of pediatrics at Emory Univeristy in Atlanta, and her colleagues tracked more than 42,000 Americans over the age of 2 who were part of the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey,  a program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that monitors America’s health and nutrition trends through a combination of interviews and physical exams. Participants were asked to recall what they ate over the course of a 24-hour period.

The calories Americans got from added sugars each day went down from an average of 18% of daily calories in 2000 to about 15% in 2008. (The total number of calories people consumed also dropped from 2,145 calories a day to 2,070 over the same time period.)

About two thirds of the drop in sugar intake was due to people sipping on fewer sugary drinks, the authors reported.  (At the same time, consumption of  low-calorie beverages went up about 20%.) Sodas were by far the biggest contributor to calories from added sugar, followed by cakes, cookies, sports drinks, candy and gum. The only source of added sugars seen to increase over the time period studied was energy drinks.

Men tended to consume more sugar than women, and adolescents and young adults had the biggest sweet tooths, getting about 16% of their total calories from added sugars. People with the lowest income brackets also consumed more added sugars than those who were better off financially.

This downward trend is good news because our love affair with sugar is doing us no favors. Between 1977 and 1996, Americans increased the number of calories they got from added sugars from about  235 to 320 a day, a change linked to the nation's expanding waistline and to an increase in the rates of heart disease and diabetes, the authors wrote in the study. 

But, they said, despite the encouraging results, Americans are still consuming more added sugars than what is recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

We’re doing better – but we’re not doing better enough.

For more on added sugar, try this resource from the Mayo Clinic  or this one from Harvard.   

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