D3C_7763-X3Did you know that the average American adult eats approximately 22 teaspoons of added sugar in their diet each day? The food we put into our bodies has a direct impact on how we look, feel, and on our health.聽For individuals with聽hemophilia or other聽bleeding disorders, eating healthy and聽maintaining聽a proper weight is especially important because it can help to protect their joints from excess stress and ultimately bleeds. A stumbling block for many people can be to limit the amount of sugar and sweets they eat.聽 This article from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains what type of sugar our bodies鈥 need, why Americans consume so much sugar and what effects sugar and artificial sweeteners have on one鈥檚 health.

How Sugars and Sweeteners Affect Your Health (NIH)

Most of us love sweet foods and drinks. But after that short burst of sweetness, you may worry about how sweets affect your waistline and your overall health. Is sugar really bad for us? How about artificial or low-calorie sweeteners? What have scientists learned about the sweet things that most of us eat and drink every day?

Our bodies need one type of sugar, called glucose, to survive. 鈥淕lucose is the number one food for the brain, and it鈥檚 an extremely important source of fuel throughout the body,鈥 says Dr. Kristina Rother, an NIH pediatrician and expert on sweeteners. But there鈥檚 no need to add glucose to your diet, because your body can make the glucose it needs by breaking down food molecules like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Some sugars are found naturally in foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and milk. 鈥淭hese are healthful additions to your diet,鈥 says Dr. Andrew Bremer, a pediatrician and NIH expert on sweeteners. 鈥淲hen you eat an orange, for instance, you鈥檙e getting a lot of nutrients and dietary fiber along with the natural sugars.鈥

Although sugar itself isn鈥檛 bad, says Rother, 鈥渟ugar has a bad reputation that鈥檚 mostly deserved because we consume too much of it. It鈥檚 now in just about every food we eat.鈥

Experts agree that Americans eat and drink way too much sugar, and it鈥檚 contributing to the obesity epidemic. Much of the sugar we eat isn鈥檛 found naturally in food but is added during processing or preparation.

About 15% of the calories in the American adult diet come from added sugars. That鈥檚 about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Sugars are usually added to make foods and drinks taste better. But such foods can be high in calories and offer none of the healthful benefits of fruits and other naturally sweet foods.

How to Cut Added Sugar

  • Choose water, fat-free milk, or unsweetened tea or coffee instead of sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks.
  • Reduce sugar in recipes. If a recipe says 1 cup, use 2/3 cup.
  • To enhance flavor, add vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg.
  • Eat fresh, canned, frozen, and dried fruits without added sugar. Choose fruits canned in their own juice rather than syrup.
  • Use fruits to top foods like cereal and pancakes rather than sugars, syrups, or other sweet toppings.
  • Read the ingredients list to pick food with little or no added sugar.
  • Use the Nutrition Facts label to choose packaged foods with less total sugar.

Info from: National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet. Juices naturally contain a lot of sugar. But sometimes, even more is added to make them taste sweeter.

鈥淛uices offer some vitamins and other nutrients, but I think those benefits are greatly offset by the harmful effects of too much sugar,鈥 says Bremer.

Over time, excess sweeteners can take a toll on your health. 鈥淪everal studies have found a direct link between excess sugar consumption and obesity and cardiovascular problems worldwide,鈥 Bremer says.

Because of these harmful effects, many health organizations recommend that Americans cut back on added sugars. But added sugars can be hard to identify. On a list of ingredients, they may be listed as sucrose (table sugar), corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit-juice concentrates, nectars, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweeteners, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, or other words ending in 鈥-ose,鈥 the chemical suffix for sugars. If any of these words are among the first few ingredients on a food label, the food is likely high in sugar. The total amount of sugar in a food is listed under 鈥淭otal Carbohydrate鈥 on the Nutrition Facts label.

Many people try cutting back on calories by switching from sugar-sweetened to diet foods and drinks that contain low- or no-calorie sweeteners. These artificial sweeteners鈥攁lso known as sugar substitutes鈥攁re many times sweeter than table sugar, so smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.

People have debated the safety of artificial sweeteners for decades. To date, researchers have found no clear evidence that any artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems in humans.

But can they help with weight loss? Scientific evidence is mixed. Some studies suggest that diet drinks can help you drop pounds in the short term, but weight tends to creep back up over time. Rother and other NIH-funded researchers are now working to better understand the complex effects that artificial sweeteners can have on the human body.

Studies of rodents and small numbers of people suggest that artificial sweeteners can affect the healthful gut microbes that help us digest food. This in turn can alter the body鈥檚 ability to use glucose, which might then lead to weight gain. But until larger studies are done in people, the long-term impact of these sweeteners on gut microbes and weight remains uncertain.

鈥淭here鈥檚 much controversy about the health effects of artificial sweeteners and the differences between sugars and sweeteners,鈥 says Dr. Ivan de Araujo of Yale University. 鈥淪ome animal studies indicate that sweeteners can produce physiological effects. But depending on what kind of measurement is taken, including in humans, the outcomes may be conflicting.鈥

De Araujo and others have been studying the effects that sugars and low-calorie sweeteners might have on the brain. His animal studies found that sugar and sweeteners tap differently into the brain鈥檚 reward circuitry, with sugars having a more powerful and pleasurable effect.

鈥淭he part of the brain that mediates the 鈥業 can鈥檛 stop鈥 kinds of behaviors seems to be especially sensitive to sugars and largely insensitive to artificial sweeteners,鈥 de Araujo says. 鈥淥ur long-term goal is really to understand if sugars or caloric sweeteners drive persistent intake of food. If exposed to too much sugar, does the brain eventually change in ways that lead to excess consumption? That鈥檚 what we鈥檇 like to know.鈥

Some research suggests that the intensely sweet taste of artificial, low-calorie sweeteners can lead to a 鈥渟weet tooth,鈥 or a preference for sweet things. This in turn might lead to overeating. But more studies are needed to confirm the relative effects of caloric vs. non-caloric sweeteners.

鈥淚n the long run, if you want to lose weight, you need to establish a healthy lifestyle that contains unprocessed foods, moderate calories, and more exercise,鈥 Rother says.

When kids grow up eating a lot of sweet foods, they tend to develop a preference for sweets. But if you give them a variety of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables early in life, they鈥檒l develop a liking for them too.

鈥淚t鈥檚 important for parents to expose children to a variety of tastes early on, but realize that it often takes several attempts to get a child to eat such foods,鈥 says Bremer. 鈥淒on鈥檛 give up too soon.鈥

The key to good health is eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods and getting plenty of physical activity. Focus on nutrition-rich whole foods without added sugars. Get tips on healthy eating and weight control at

Additional information for those with a bleeding disorder can be found at:聽 /programs/fitfactor/

*While extensive efforts are made to ensure accuracy of the content of each FitFactor post, these entries are not intended to be construed as medical advice or the official opinion/position of HFA, its staff, or its Board of Directors. Readers are strongly encouraged to discuss their own medical treatment with their healthcare providers.

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