Not All Sugar Is Created Equal
An apple has as much sugar as a candy bar. Why is the apple’s sugar okay?
Science is clear that consuming too much sugar comes with some significant risks: A high-sugar diet contributes to health issues like obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and even heart disease. Other research suggests that consuming too much sugar can lead to an increased risk for cancer, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and cognitive decline.
Despite the growing body of research suggesting its dangers, sugar is still a staple in the American diet. According to the USDA, more than half of the population consumes more than the recommended amount.
While it’s clear that sugar can negatively affect health, not all sugar is created equal. The main culprit in chronic disease risk is added sugar, like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, rather than the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit. Technically, a piece of whole fruit and a candy bar are similar in sugar content: A medium-sized apple contains around 19 grams of sugar, while a Snickers bar has about 20 grams. But nutritionists say these two foods do very different things to the body.
For example, heart disease risk goes up with the percentage of added sugar you consume. According to one study that tracked participants’ added sugar intake and risk of heart disease for 15 years, individuals who consumed 25% or more of their daily calories as added sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease, compared to participants whose diets included less than 10% added sugar. In contrast, a high-fruit diet is actually shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
And because many foods with added sugar are higher in calories than other foods, Anastasia Snelling, PhD, chair of the Department of Health Studies at American University, says a diet high in added sugar can quickly lead to a calorie imbalance. “This overconsumption of calories can put someone in an overweight or obese category, which brings increased susceptibility to conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease,” she says.
According to Snelling, one main difference between added and naturally occurring sugars is the way the body breaks them down.