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updated 4/7/2009 8:21:47 AM ET 2009-04-07T12:21:47

The average American consumes more than a pound of refined sugar a week. It sounds unbelievable until you realize that sugar goes by more than 50 names and is an ingredient in virtually all processed foods, from your morning doughnut to the ketchup on your burger.

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Eat it (along with excess fat and calories), sit around, and you'll gain weight.

It's the average American way of life, and it deserves a new warning label: Practicing this lifestyle could send another sugar — your blood sugar — into the danger zone.

Your body's primary source of fuel, blood sugar plays a vital role in physical and mental well-being. But when it rises even slightly above normal — thanks to excess body fat, lack of exercise, and/or genetics — your health, your energy levels, and your weight-loss efforts are jeopardized.

Overlooked by doctors
High-normal blood sugar is anything but normal. Too high to be healthy yet too low to be called diabetes, high-normal blood sugar has long been overlooked by doctors and their patients alike. Yet an estimated 16 million Americans have it — including tens of thousands of children and teens.

The rise of the high-normal blood sugar epidemic is the direct result of the rise in overweight and obesity in the United States. Our lifestyles have changed; our bodies haven't caught up.

"Our bodies are essentially the same as they were 40,000 years ago, but our eating and exercise habits have changed tremendously," says Bryant Stamford, Ph.D., director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Center at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

"The same number of calories it might have taken our prehistoric ancestors an entire day to hunt and gather, we can now have brought to our door with a phone call. We simply eat too much and exercise too little," says Stamford.

The result: high blood sugar. The danger: More and more research links even "slightly" high blood sugar to food cravings, mood swings, and overweight, as well as pregnancy and fertility problems, heart attacks, stroke, full-blown type 2 diabetes, and even, early evidence suggests, some forms of cancer.

It's serious. That's why it's recommended that you get a blood sugar test and take steps to keep your sugar levels within a healthy range.

The high cost of high-normal blood sugar
Normal blood sugar ranges from 60 to 90 milligrams of glucose per 100 milliliters of blood (mg/dl) before a meal.

High-normal blood sugar is defined as 100 to 125 mg/dl (full-blown type 2 diabetes is diagnosed at 126 mg/dl and above).

Without a blood sugar test, it's impossible to know whether your blood sugar falls within a normal range. And because elevated blood sugar typically does its damage silently, it's easy to brush off what few symptoms there are, like fatigue and mood swings.

High-normal blood sugar can lead to the following conditions:
Overweight
Syndrome X
Pregnancy diabetes
PCOS
Full-blown type 2 diabetes
Heart disease and stroke

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