American Diet Too Sweet for the Heart's Health

Sugar sneaks into so much of our food -- from spaghetti sauce to salad dressing or peanut butter treats -- that it can be near impossible to stop eating added sugars all together. Despite those arrays of pink, blue and yellow packets of sugar substitutes, the average American eats 19 percent more sugar today than in 1970.

Today, for the first time, the American Heart Association (AHA) wants the average American to take a break from this love affair. Under new recommendations the AHA advises women eat no more than about six teaspoons every day in added sugars and men eat no more than 10 teaspoons.

VIDEO: How Much Sugar Should You Eat?

If Americans followed the guidelines, the average person would cut their added sugar consumption by more than 70 percent.

"We know that soft drinks are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. We really want Americans to start thinking about this," said Dr. Rachel K. Johnson, lead author of the study.

Beyond soda, the term "added sugars" includes any non-natural occurring sugar in our food including the copious amounts of extra sugar now commonly found in processed foods such as cereals, muffins, or even sauces for meat.

Johnson argues that all of these extra calories from added sugars are contributing to the obesity epidemic, which in turn leads to an upward trend in heart disease. The AHA estimates modern day sugar consumption tacks on an extra 76 calories each day over what the average person consumed in 1970.

VIDEO: Hidden Sugar Sources

"The high intake of added sugar has been implicated in a number of negative health outcomes, but primarily this targets obesity," said Johnson. "Sugars have been implicated in high blood pressure and inflammation which are risk factors for heart disease."

Many dietary specialists hailed the new guidelines. However some questioned whether making yet another complicated equation in the list of nutrition recommendations marketed to the public helps people eat healthier or just confuses the average consumer.

"Strictly from a health standpoint, sugar is a 'triple threat' - it provides extra calories, no nutrients, and it may displace other foods and nutrients in the diet that are more beneficial," said Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, an associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic.

ABC News contributor Dr. David Katz agreed.

"The recommendations are reasonable, and if anything, overdue," said Katz, the director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and an ABC News contributor.

Can People Ever Follow Specific Dietary Recommendations?

"One of the problems with the dietary guidance offered in the U.S. is that it tends to come one nutrient at a time: the heart association frets about saturated and trans-fat; the stroke foundations fret about sodium; the diabetes association about sugar; and so on," he said. "The truth is, overall nutritional quality is what matters for all."

Yet some dieters have found that following a single recommendation, especially regarding sugar, can lead to better nutrition overall.

Sandee Kuprel, 42, was 202 pounds when she realized that a major factor in her bad eating habits was a spiraling addiction to sugar in food.

"I was a butterball," said Kuprel. "I started to see, I have a problem with sugar. When I ate the sugar all bets are off. I kept eating -- breakfast sugars, cereals, spaghetti sauce, pizza, ketchups, dressings, sauces," she said.

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