Consuming refined sugar won't only lead to a gain in body fat, but it can also cause you to develop fat inside your liver, and that's a major health risk, explains Robert H. Lustig, MD, MSL, an obesity expert and the author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease and The Fat Chance Cookbook. When you eat more fructose (the sweet molecule in sugar) than your liver can handle, the liver turns the excess into fat. Some of it gets transported out and lodges in the arterial walls, increasing your risk of heart disease, while the rest accumulates inside liver cells, leading to non-alcoholic fatty-liver disease, making your liver sick. Lustig says this causes insulin levels to rise, which drives up blood pressure and increases your risk for pancreatic burnout and diabetes, lipid problems and cancer.
4. It makes you old beyond your years.
Consuming a lot of fructose, such as in the much-maligned (but still much-consumed) high-fructose corn syrup, accelerates cellular damage and aging, Lustig says, and causes cells all over the body to die off faster than normal. A fatty liver plus a high percentage of these rapidly decaying cells puts you at a higher risk for cancer, cognitive decline and other degenerative diseases, he says.
5. It's everywhere.
Eighty percent of all packaged foods contain sugar, Avena says, even many items that don't seem particularly sweet. Bread, pepperoni and other cured meats, ketchup, tomato sauce in jars, peanut butter (even many "all-natural" brands), savory crackers—these are just a few of the unexpected foods that Avena says contain surprise amounts of non-naturally-occurring sugar, making it hard for us to stay below the American Heart Association's recommendation of six teaspoons per day.
6. ...And it's often hiding out under an alias.
If you're sold on the idea of avoiding sugar, then you know you'll have to watch out for high-fructose corn syrup, too. And cane syrup. And molasses. Agave. Caramel. Dextrose, glucose solids, d-mannose...Avena says there are more than 50 names for sugar, and many of them are cryptic and easy to overlook. Scour labels to make sure that you recognize all the ingredients (for example, a bag of potato chips should contain potatoes, oil, salt, and that's it).
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