5 Reasons to Eat Less Sugar (Besides Weight Loss)
The science: People who drank sugar-sweetened beverages every day gained nearly 30 percent more visceral fat (the kind that's deep within your stomach, and is considered particularly dangerous by experts) over six years than people who never drank them. (The research was published in Circulation.) Visceral fat is associated with both diabetes and heart disease.
Consider this, too: Sugar may be a bigger contributor to heart disease than saturated fat. That's the argument presented by a recent paper in Progress in Cardiovascular Disease. "The cholesterol abnormalities that can be caused by saturated fat can also be caused by sugar," says lead study author James DiNicolantonio, PharmD, a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, referring to higher LDL and lower HDL cholesterol.
Sucrose (aka table sugar) is also bad news for your liver and kidneys, as well: "Not every cell can metabolize it," explains DiNicolantonio. That task falls mainly on the liver. "So, when you over-consume it, you're stressing the liver and that can lead to fatty deposits in the liver and fatty liver disease, and it's also damaging to the kidneys."
The takeaway: Just as sugar can change your waistline for the worse, it can also do a number on your vital organs. Sugary drinks are one of the top sources of added sugars in the American diet, and even cutting back a little can help. Compared to daily drinkers, people who had sugar-sweetened drinks more than once a week (but less than once a day) gained 20 percent less visceral fat.
The science: "Cognitive flexibility" is the ability to adapt and adjust on the fly. (e.g., the road you usually take to get home is closed so you have to think of an alternative route.) A study conducted on mice suggests that a high-sugar diet may lower cognitive flexibility—mice eating a lot of sugar performed worse on tests where they had to find their way through changing mazes. Ingesting a lot of sugar led to alterations in the mice's gut bacteria that the researchers believe are linked to these negative cognitive effects.
The takeaway: You might already know that added sugars are bad for your memory, but this study lends even more weight to the fact that the sweet stuff isn't a friend to your brain. In case you're inclined to continue downing candy bars because this research was done with mice, the study authors say their findings could definitely be applicable to humans, too.
The science: The more sugar people ate in a day, the more often they roused from sleep that night, per research in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
The takeaway: If you want better sleep, watch your added sugars. You'll wake up more rested, and research suggests that getting adequate sleep is associated with better control over your eating habits. You can also try adding more fiber to your diet—high fiber intake was associated with more time in deep, slow-wave sleep, which is highly restorative.
The science: After six months on a high-sugar diet, between 50 and 58 percent of mice developed mammary tumors, and many of them had growths in their lungs, too, according to a study in Cancer Research. The amount of sugar they were taking in was comparable to what you'd find in a typical Western diet. Researcher Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, a professor of clinical cancer prevention at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, pins the blame not only on the fact that sugar can lead to weight gain (obesity is a known risk factor for cancer), but also on how it drives inflammation levels up.
The takeaway: As above, the fact that this study was done on mice shouldn't make the potential implications less important, since inflammation and obesity are known contributors to cancer in humans, as well.
The science: Added sugars are the biggest factor in tooth decay, according to a study that looked at dietary habits and cavity rates around the world.
The takeaway: If you want healthier teeth and fewer I-told-you-so's from your dentist (and don't we all want that?), limiting added sugars is key.