Danger in Dessert?

A new study reveals the toxic effects of sugar

Aug 14, 2013 | By Cameron Keady with TFK and TIME Reporting
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Large amounts of sugar can cause long-term health complications and even shorten lives.

We live in a sweet world. The average American kid consumes more than 20 teaspoons of sugar per day, and adults eat 50% more sugar today than they did in the 1970s. We all know that too much sugar isn’t good for you. But did we know it could be toxic? A team of researchers at the University of Utah used mice to conduct a study on the negative effects of sugar. They found it could have serious effects on people’s health.

Sugar is found not only in sweets and candies, but also in many household items like pasta and crackers.
ROSE HODGES PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES
Sugar is found not only in sweets and candies, but also in many household items like pasta and crackers.

Sugar Symptoms

During the 58-week-long study, mice were fed a diet containing 25% more sugar. This percentage is equivalent to a healthy human diet along with three cans of soda daily. The team found that these mice were twice as likely to die as mice fed a similar diet without the sugar. Though the mice did not show signs of obesity or high blood pressure, male mice were 26% less territorial and produced 25% fewer offspring than the other mice.

Scientists often use mice for research because they have a similar genetic structure to humans. “Since most substances that are toxic in mice are also toxic in people, it’s likely that those underlying physical problems that cause those mice to have increased mortality are at play in people,” says study author James Ruff of the University of Utah. Findings from this study reveal negative effects that are not as detectable as weight gain or heart problems. Sugar can contribute to long-term changes in the body that can alter development and even shorten lives.

Reading Between the Lines

Different types of sugar have different effects on the human body. Some of the sugar we consume comes from foods we might expect—candy, soda, and cookies. But much of the sugar that we eat is hidden. Food companies add large amounts of sugar to items we may not classify as sweets. Some pasta sauces, crackers, and even brands of ketchup have large amounts of sugar. To help cut down on extra sugar consumption, nutrition experts suggest looking at the ingredients on food packages. Ingredients that end in ose, such as sucrose and fructose, are sugars. So are those that include the word syrup. Cutting sugar out of the American diet altogether may be difficult. But making the effort to control our nation’s sugar cravings will provide for a truly sweeter future.