The one thing we eat too much of every day without realising that expert says is just as bad as alcohol

Orange juice and granola
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Everyone knows that too much alcohol can be disastrous for your liver. There are more than 10,000 deaths related to liver disease in the UK every single year.

But according to one expert there is one thing that we eat every single day – with most of us eating double or even triple the recommended amount – that can do just as much damage to your liver and other parts of your body. Robert Lustif's passion about the impact of sugar on our health stems from his role as a professor of paediatric endocrinology.

And he says that we are all eating too much sugar without realising it and it is just as bad for our health as alcohol. "If you consume one sugared beverage per day your risk for diabetes goes up by 29%," he told the Diary of a CEO podcast. Speaking to host Stephen Bartlett he said: "We also know that if you have high sugar consumption it will have multiple detrimental effects to your health such as mental health problems, cognitive decline, and early death."

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He described sugar as having "hijacked us" and told how he believes it is the biggest problem relating to health. Talking about the impact that sugar has on our health he said: "Sugar is like alcohol. Is alcohol poison? Depends on the dose. The dose determines the poison. We have an innate capacity to metabolise alcohol and if we stay below that it doesn't do much damage. If we go above it – different story. Same thing with sugar." For the latest health and Covid news sign up to our newsletter here.

He explained that the problem is with the compound fructose which makes up half of what we know as sugar, while the other half is sucrose, which isn't as bad. Talking about fructose he said: "Not only do you not need it [but] in high dose it is toxic. Your liver has an innate ability to metabolise a small amount on the order of about six to nine teaspoons a day. Your liver can manage around 12g of fructose a day in the same way it can metabolise around 12g of alcohol per day without showing any signs of any metabolic derangement. If you go above that now you get problems."

So how much is too much sugar? According to Prof Lustif most people are at around 50g of fructose, meaning 100g of sugar, per day when we should be at 25g of sugar. He explained that the "upper limit" of sugar to have per day "is about six teaspoons of added sugar per day" while the recommended intake is lower than that.

Prof Lustif said most of us don't even realise we are consuming so much sugar and fructose as it is hidden in almost all processed food. He told Bartlett that 73% of food in supermarkets in the US is spiked with added sugar. He explained many packets of food will say "no added sugar" but they will have things like apple or banana puree in them instead, which is added sugar.

Food that contains sugar that might surprise you

  • Low-fat yoghurts – keep an eye out on the nutritional value, as some flavoured yoghurts can be low in fat but high in sugar and can have up to 22g of sugar, the majority of which is likely added for the flavour.

  • Fruit juice – a glass of fresh juice contains about 40g of fructose.

  • Ready meals – it might not even be a sweet meal but ready meals can be surprisingly high in sugars.

  • Sauce – from condiments like ketchup or barbecue and pasta sauce jars. Many contain natural sugars but a lot include added sugar as well.

  • Granola – most people know by know that lots of breakfast cereals are packed with sugar, and some may even opt for granola in an attempt to be healthier, but many shop-bought granolas are combined with honey or other sweeteners. One 100g bowl of granola could equate to between five and seven teaspoons of sugar.

  • Premade soup – not something you would think had any sugar in it, and of course many vegetable soups have naturally-occurring sugars, but many have added sugar, including high-fructose corn syrup. Other sugar ingredients to watch out for in soup are sucrose, barley malt, dextrose, and maltose.