By April Fulton
Sugar is lurking just about everywhere, adding sweetness to everything from spaghetti sauce to salad dressings.
The sweet stuff can be bad for your weight, of course, and it's not so great for your teeth either. And now, as Americans eat more sugar than ever, comes evidence that diets with lots of the sugar found in many processed foods raise the risk of heart disease.
People who consume the least added sugar -- under 7 teaspoons a day -- have the healthiest cholesterol levels, according to a study just published by JAMA.
Researchers found that adults who consumed the most added sugar were also most at risk for the cholesterol problems that can lead to heart disease. Who are they? They tended to be younger, African-American, and have lower incomes than the others in the study.
Adults who consumed the most sugar took in a whopping 46 teaspoons of added sugar a day. That's like drinking five cans of non-diet soda a day.
The average American consumes about 21 teaspoons of added sugars a day, according to the study -- which sounds better, but it's almost double what we were consuming just 30 years ago.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association says the study confirms what Grandma's been saying for years -- eat a healthy balanced diet and exercise. Industry "is committed to doing its part to help Americans achieve a healthy lifestyle by providing consumers with healthy choices," GMA spokesman Scott W. Openshaw told Shots.
One of the challenges to lowering your added sugar intake is figuring out how much you're getting. Food labels only give grams of total sugar -- combining both the sugars that naturally occur in foods like fruit and yogurt -- with what's added by the company processing it. The added sugar is what you want to watch out for.
The Harvard School of Public health has a handy guide to help you parse food labels. It's tricky work because the added sugar goes by so many different and confusing names, including evaporated cane juice and malt syrup.
To make things more complicated, there are conflicting guidelines about how much added sugar is OK. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests Americans lower their intake of added sugar. The Institute of Medicine says keep it down to 25 percent of your total energy intake, and the American Heart Association says it should be more like 5 percent.
Researcher Jean Welsh, a registered nurse at Emory University who worked on the study, says choose foods with lower sugars overall, and you'll lower your risk of heart disease. "The most appropriate limit isn't known, but the results of our study suggest that heart disease risk is less among those who consume less than 10 percent of their calories as added sugars daily," Welsh says.
So, for starters, back away from the cookie jar.