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The average American eats 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily (theguardian.com)
94 points by pseudolus on Nov 9, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments

"Nutrition scientists link a diet high in added sugar – like those multisyllabic sweeteners in soda – to diabetes, heart disease and possibly even some cancers. (Naturally occurring sugar, like the kind that occurs in fruits or milk, doesn’t pose the same concerns.)"

Can somebody help me understand how sugar in orange juice is somehow magically healthier than sugar in soda? As far as I know, it's all just glucose and fructose.

It's not -- or there isn't any clear evidence that there is.

What journalists often seem to confuse is that fruit sugars eaten as whole fruit tend to be fine because the amount of sugar you can reasonably eat is quite limited (you're not going to eat 10 apples or oranges), and the sugars are bound up with fiber so are slower to digest, so "fruit sugars" are generically considered to be "fine".

Unfortunately that falls on its face when you're talking about juice. Almost nobody is going to eat 8 medium oranges in one sitting, but you might easily drink the resulting 16 oz of juice they produce. In that case it's little different from a Snickers candy bar.

Which is why I like to dilute my juice the German way the “schole”

„Schorle“ to be precise :-)

Ah typo I know how it’s spelt.

> Almost nobody is going to eat 8 medium oranges in one sitting, but you might easily drink the resulting 16 oz of juice they produce.

There's more to it than that. I was lucky enough in China to encounter a vending machine for fresh orange juice. The machine included a press; you could watch whole oranges roll into the press and juice flow into the cup which was ultimately dispensed.

This is great as a novelty, but the juice you got was only very slightly more flavorful than water. No one is going to drink the juice of 8 oranges. What we drink is heavily concentrated, with vastly less water than would have been present in the fruit.

I've had freshly made orange juice and it was very flavourful. I suspect the oranges used in the machine just were particularly watery in the first place.

In the United States, "100% pure Orange Juice, not-from-concentrate" can, and does, include adding concentrated juice which intensifies the flavor. It's distilled down a bit, but not reconstituted.

> What we drink is heavily concentrated, with vastly less water than would have been present in the fruit.

Non-fresh-squeezed orange juice is, universally, artificially flavored: https://gizmodo.com/dirty-little-secret-orange-juice-is-arti...

I don't agree with your assessment that fresh squeezed orange juice is watery though - its usually not. The china vending machine must not have had good oranges.

I walk down the street here in Mexico City and get me a glass of pressed-in-front-of-me OJ/grapefruit a few times per week and it's better than anything you can get at the store.

That machine has some dud oranges. But I encourage you to test your theory yourself with some store-bought oranges.

I'm surprised you have never made orange juice at home, let alone the fact you have never drunk fresh orange juice before going to china.

Exactly. That’s very odd to me. Had to read his comment several times.

Whole Foods has these. Sometimes, the juice is more potent and nuanced than anything pre-packaged. Depends on the oranges that go in!

We had an orange tree growing up. Fresh squeezed orange juice was a daily thing when it was in season. It was incredibly flavorful, much more flavorful than store bought OJ. If anything it was sweeter than the stuff you get in stores.

My guess is the machine was adding water.

honestly I find this a bit hard to believe. when I juice an orange in my kitchen I find the resulting juice to be way more flavorful than anything I can buy in the store (other than fresh-squeezed on premises). I almost want to dilute it with water because the flavor is so bright and tangy. maybe it depends what kind/quality of orange you start with?

As others have pointed out, haven't you made freshly squeezed orange juice at home or at a cafe?

It's decidedly not slightly more flavorful than water (not to mention the pulp that comes out with it). A cynical man might say the machine must have watered it down for you surreptitiously :p

That being said, it is decidedly far from "pulp-free orange-flavored fruit-drinks" or whatever marketing term is used to sell things like sunnyd or other orange coloured drinks having almost no relation to fruit juice.

(Fruit juice is itself still generally unhealthy because of the sheer amount of sugar you can consume in any one go and the acidity wrt dental health, but those fruit juice imitators are in another category again)

Did you have to wait until getting to China to try fresh orange juice? I make it myself at home occasionally. With as much fiber and bits falling inside as possible. It entirely depends on the oranges. Organic/bio usually tend to be a lot more flavorful. It also depends on the time of the year, they are usually a lot sweeter mid-season.

Not all oranges are equal, you clearly got the juice of tasteless oranges.

The machine you describe is fairly common. I bought a quart of fresh squeezed organic Valencia orange juice from such a machine in a Idyllwild, CA grocer and it was unbelievably good.

Nah, I had fresh squeezed orange juice from a similar machine in Spain and it was amazing. Far more flavorful than anything I've had in the states. It's all about the oranges you use.

Spain and California have appropriated climate to grow citrus. I’m not sure that much of China does.

The orange is native to China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_(fruit) And they produce about 2x as many oranges as the US (or about US + Spain combined), 2nd only to brazil.

China's about the same size as the US.. and a bit further south. So their climate is as varied as the US.

I've tried those machines in the US also. Either your oranges were drying up or they are watering down the juice. Fresh OJ is way better than the concentrate.

I had heard somewhere (sorry, too lazy to try and find a source right now — maybe someone else can) that some researchers suspect that fruit carries phytochemicals which signal to the body that sugar is on the way. Idea being that these signals might have an anti diabetic effect — e.g., change the insulin response to the sugar.

I have no idea if there’s any validity to this, but it sounded plausible. [edit: it would make some sense, since we evolved alongside fruit.] Would love to hear if anyone else knows more about it.

> Can somebody help me understand how sugar in orange juice is somehow magically healthier than sugar in soda? As far as I know, it's all just glucose and fructose.

Reductionist reasoning in a complex system is extremely dangerous. Eg: fruits have sugar mixed in with a lot of fiber. Therefore, the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream (and the resulting insulin profile) is very different compared to a orange juice or a soda.

Taking a step back, the simplest forms of cooking / food processing that humans have done throughout history is by applying physical transformation on food while leaving underlying chemicals mostly invariant. If that did not affect the biochemistry, then food processing would be basically pointless. That wasn’t all done for taste!

It is hopelessly naive to believe that biochemistry of a complex organism could be reduced to chemistry of simple constituents like glucose without any regard to context (conditions and other constituents).

Orange juice isn't actually all that healthy. Many "natural" sugars are bound up with fiber, diluting them lowering their glycemic index. Also IIRC there was some research a few years back that asserted the ratio of different sugar types actually had a significant impact on the metabolism.

As others have said, it’s not really when pulled out/concentrated as in OJ, date sugar, coconut sugar, or other processed fructose.

Plus your body treats fructose like alcohol and most of it gets processed out by the liver in much the same way. Over too long, the liver will look like that of a heavy drinker.

Fructose from fruit is pretty much the same as glucose sugar as far as your body is concerned. That sentence is incorrect.

High-fructose corn syrup has also been shown to be far worse for you than simple fructose and glucose.

There is a case to be made to ingest pure dextrose for glycogen replenishment, after a heavy weightlifting session.

HFCS contains slightly more fructose than glucose. It doesn’t follow that this would be any worse or better for you than if you were to ingest pure dextrose, fructose, or glucose. If you are ingesting these in high quantities you are damaging your liver and pancreas way worse than even drinking alcohol.

I believe that they are processed very differently right after eating.

Fruit != Juice

I doubt it's worse, but I keep my carb intake extremely low in general unless I know I'm going to be very active throughout the day.

Keep in mind it's likely easy to buy orange juice high in added sugar and sweeteners, which yes, isn't that healthy.

I suspect the bigger effect is that Americans are typically eating at least 3 meals a day plus snacks. The body doesn't get any breaks from food at all, no time to recover from heightened insulin levels.

This is why intermittent fasting or extended fasting (water + salt) is so helpful in resetting the hormones and getting it back to normal.

I agree with the general thrust of your comment, but I think it's one slice of something broader and more subtle that we should be wary of. The sense I get is that we tend to obsess over purity. Then, having purified ourselves, we feel entitled to indulge. So we set up frameworks where some things are good and others are bad irrespective of the amount or context, and act as though we're doing well as long as we make some discernible effort to limit the bad things (as it happens, there's often an elitist streak through the pattern of what we brand bad and when).

In this case, what I'm getting at is that we can't win by just declaring sugar the new bad thing. That would probably just lead to us finding a way to kill ourselves with fat and protein instead. I feel like we desperately need to, as a culture, develop an understanding of and appreciation for balance and synergy.

"The average American eats too much and doesn't work out" wouldn't make as compelling a headline.

This is why I feel like the “sugar is killing us” stuff doesn’t apply to me. I eat two meals a day and drink a can of soda with each one, but I fast for 16 hours inbetween with no snacks. I don’t see any negative side effects from my sugar intake. Am I still going to get diabetes?

2 cans of coke is 72g sugar or about 18 teaspoons + the added sugar in your food -- it's everywhere: soups, cereals (even bran flakes), bread, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, ...

Your body is awesome at surviving on whatever you give it. You can eat like crap, and you'll feel totally normal once you get used to it. That's why sugar is everywhere and yet people don't notice it. They consume it regularly and their body adjusts so they feel normal, even healthy. Yet, increase the sugar (or decrease the sugar, and then resume normal consumption) and you'll feel nauseous and sick.. for me personally, it feels like I'm getting the flu. (But if I do this several times, it'll go away and I'll feel the same as before but with a higher sugar intake.)

You're probably consuming a lot of sugar. I try to avoid it, and I can tell you soda tastes like a disgusting syrup. If you're able to drink that, you've adjusted to a high sugar diet. It's unbearably sweet.

But just because you've adjusted to it, doesn't mean it's not having an effect on your body. You might feel healthy right up until you get diagnosed with diabetes.

The best way to assess your reaction to meals with sugar is an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) _with insulin_ (most doctors don't do the latter), and see which Kraft curve you exhibit.

The second best way is using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), if only for a few weeks. Most people are shocked by the height and length of glucose excursions. And dismayed by the total area under the curve. These can be purchased yourself or by insurance. Your doctor can advise. Use Dexcom G6 if you have a choice, for accuracy.

Finally, you can do spot checks at 1- and 2-hours post-prandial, with test strips, a finger prick, and a glucose meter you can purchase at your drug store, Amazon, etc.

> Come the 1980s, Americans were buying low-fat everything – the war against carbs had been won.

This doesn't make sense as fat is typically low in carbs. I think they mean the war for carbs had been won.

You're right, but I think they just meant to say 'the war against fat had been won'.

TFA is rife with errors, it's annoying because excess sugar consumption is a real issue but poorly researched and written articles like these are not helping.

You would be surprised at how difficult it is to find food that hasn't been inundated with processed sugar and cheap ass carbs, especially if you travel often (I do).

I've been actively cutting carbs/sugars from my diet since July, and along with exercise, I've dropped 20 kg. This was after a 8 month plateau where no matter what I did in the gym I couldn't drop those two stones. Oh, I also feel better, don't get hungry as often, can easily pull off 18/6 or 24 hr fasts, and maintaining a calorie deficit has actually been easy.

> You would be surprised at how difficult it is to find food that hasn't been inundated with processed sugar and cheap ass carbs, especially if you travel often (I do).

There is a really simple way to deal with this, and always eat well. In the supermarket, try as hard as you can to only buy things that have one ingredient.

Fruits, vegetables, meat, beans, rice, etc.

If it has more than one ingredient, be skeptical, and try to consume as little of it as possible. That goes for liquid too. Water is the only liquid you should drink.

(Yes, yes, for all the snarky comments coming - obviously you could buy "raw sugar" or "lard" and defeat my idea. Please - use your brain, it's not a big ask)

Ok, just to be clear, I'm talking about prepared food. Obviously raw food isn't going to have processed sugar, but if we're talking about obvious stuff here, grocery shopping and cooking while one travels for business isn't really practical.

I've been on the road for 5 months this summer in the US, and before that 3 years in Africa. You can do it if you want, it's your choice.

Lettuce, Tomato, bell peppers, cucumber and some hummus make a pretty good lunch (obviously the hummus has more than one ingredient).

I just bring cans of unsalted fish in water or their own juices and sacks of unsalted organic nuts when I go on trips.

Run into a grocery store or farm stand to grab fresh fruits and vegetables whenever you see one and eat the stuff raw.

You don't need to cook to eat healthily. Even when I'm not traveling most of my diet doesn't involve cooking at all. Just rinsing off dirty vegetables and slicing/peeling is the majority of preparation performed.

What about raw sugar cane?

Tongue in cheek flippant...

...maybe we should just tax sugar. It's been our general response to any "vice" whose costs outweigh the benefits.

At least stop subsidizing.

The US actually has enormous sugar import taxes. Sugar is super expensive here compared to its value.

It's the subsidies on high fructose corn syrup that's the problem.

Or tax calories at 1cent each.

And everyone gets a $20 grant per day.

That unfairly impacts athletic people.

Oh god here goes my bulking plan.

This, but unironically.

OK as his source he links to:


Which states:

> Added sugars — defined as sweeteners added to foods or beverages when they are being produced or when being prepped to be eaten or drunk at home — include white or brown sugar, honey, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, lactose, sucrose and more.

So this includes lactose from mother's milk and honey.

I'd personally rather see a breakdown by type. Are lactose, molasses and honey major contributors here that are a big problem and demonstrated to lead to obesity and diabetes? Should infants be removed from both breast milk and lactose intense formula since they are bad?

> It’s killing us

Perhaps there's a silver lining in that? US regulatory, trade, and industrial policy, has as an objective, spreading this diet around the world. And yes, it's a major public health issue in many countries. And yet, even here on HN, people have for example, praised TPP, with its ISDS provisions permitting companies to recover from governments, profits lost to health regulation. So as a silver lining, surely it would be even more unethical to inflict all this harm on others, if we were not subjecting ourselves to it as well? Eating our own sugary dog food.

For a better visualization, 17 teaspoons is just over 1/3 cup, or 0.35 cups.

To add to above comment, WHO recommendation is "no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men" [1]

[1] https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overcon...

So a man may drink one can of soda, but that's the whole sugar budget.

Consuming a lot of sugar in short amount of time is also bad.

For reference. Adult males recommended daily intake is: 9 teaspoons. Females: 6 teaspoons.

That's from American heart foundation so take it with a grain of salt.

That's very similar to what the WHO recommends:


A teaspoon seems to be equivalent to 4 grams of sugar. Therefore the recommended daily intake for males would be 36 grams. An apple contains 20 grams of sugar- so you shouldn't eat more than two apples per day? It doesn't make sense.

Interpret the term "sugar" to be "free sugar" as defined by the WHO[1] and things will make a lot more sense:

> “Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates"

In other words, the natural sugar in apples technically wouldn't be applicable.

[1] http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/149782/1/9789241549...

What is the theological explanation of why sugar cane, beets, and corn are tainted with original sin and the other plants are not?

Many bottled fruit juices have their bulk made of juice from a cheaper fruit that doesn't match the label...but it's not sugar cane, beets, or corn. Does this make them ok?

To your question, I honestly don't think the WHO would base their definition of "free sugar" on anything with theological underpinnings outside the domain of sound science.

one grain for females, two grains for males

A recommended daily intake of added sugar (WHO calls it free sugar) makes no sense to me unless it's zero.

Extending the benefit of the doubt, I interpreted the statement as recommended maximum daily intake, which makes a lot more sense.

so take it with a grain of salt.

Isn't that bad for your blood pressure :)

Only if you believe popular opinion.

After being a soda addict for 10 years, I only drink water, coffee and the occasional red bull, sugar free if I remember to grab the light blue can.

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