Study: Added sugars can harm heart health

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© Adrianna Williams/Corbis

As my colleague Alice Park reported today for TIME, a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that consuming too much added sugar—which Park explains is “any sugar that a food doesn’t contain in its natural state, provides no nutritional value and serves only as a source of empty calories”—was associated with a heightened risk for high cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides, two major risk factors for heart disease.

So, how can you figure out how much added sugar you’re consuming? That’s the tricky part. Currently, labels don’t distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and the extra stuff. Organizations are lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to change that, but in the meantime, Dr. Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, tells TIME that a good rule of thumb is looking at ingredients and trying to determine which things are naturally sweet. As Alice Park explains for TIME: “if the product doesn’t contain ingredients that are naturally sweet, such as fruit, then most of the sugar content is likely added sugar.”

The World Health Organization currently recommends that people get no more than 10% of their total daily calories from added sugar, and last year the American Heart Association issued recommendations suggesting people scale it back to 5%. But among the more than 6,000 people included in the new study, researchers found that on average, people were getting 16% of their daily calories from added sugars.

ABC News examines which foods tend to contain more added sugar, and finds that sometimes high amounts of sugar show up in surprising places:

“A 16-ounce latte may have about 17 grams of sugar, but a Starbucks Frappucino of the same size has about three times the amount of added sugar. Fruit smoothies may also contain surprising amounts of sugar. One Odwalla Original Superfood bottled smoothie has about 50 grams of sugar — the rough equivalent of about the amount of sugar found in five donuts.”

USA Today shows how much added sugar can be found in popular sodas and candies—16 or more grams of added sugar in sodas such as Sprite and Coke, 8 grams of extra sugar in a bag of M&M’s and 26 grams of extra sugar in a Dairy Queen health Blizzard.

The simplest way to start cutting out the extra sugar? Miriam Vos, an assistant professor at Emory and lead author of the new study, says start by ditching sweetened sodas. As she told USA Today., “We need to get used to consuming foods and drinks that are less sweet.”