Doctor’s Tip: Added sugar is bad for us
Nutrition experts recommend whole, unprocessed food, which Dr. Michael Greger defines as “nothing bad added, nothing good taken away.” Sugar is an example of something bad added.
We’re not talking here about naturally-occurring sugar in unprocessed food, such as fruit. Due to fiber and other components of fruit, sugar is absorbed slowly and does not cause health problems. For example, studies of diabetics who ate unlimited fruit showed that their blood sugars were the same as when they were told to avoid fruit. Fruit juice and fruit smoothies, however, are processed into liquids that cause blood sugar to shoot up rapidly, and dried fruit contains concentrated sugar and should be eaten in moderation.
Currently, the average American eats more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. In 1776, the average annual per-capita, added-sugar intake was 4 pounds; now it’s 150-170 pounds (Visualize 30 to 34 five-pound sacks of sugar).
Added sugar provides calories without nutrients and is associated with the following health problems:
- cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes, at least in part due to elevation of LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides
- type 2 diabetes
- fatty liver disease, which one-out-of-five American adults and one out of 10 teens suffer from and which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure
- tooth decay
- toxic hunger, which leads to overeating — for an hour following consumption of sugar, blood sugar rises, causing the pancreas to secrete insulin, which often results in hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar) and “toxic hunger” during the second hour
Why do food companies add sugar to products, including ketchup, toothpaste, salad dressing, boxed cereals (including cereal for kids), bread, crackers and snacks? It’s all about money. Food companies care about their bottom line but not about your health. Like the tobacco companies a few decades ago, food companies hire scientists to figure out how to get customers hooked on their products, and, it turns out, that sugar, salt and fat (often in the form of added oil) are addictive. As Dr. Michael Greger puts it, “The food industries bank their billions by manipulating the pleasure centers within your brain, the so-called dopamine reward system … the same reward system that keeps people smoking cigarettes and snorting cocaine.” As with addictive drugs, tolerance to sugar, salt and fat develops and bigger doses are required to obtain the same degree of pleasure.
The main sources of added sugar in the American diet are: 1) beverages (47%), primarily soda (A can of nondiet soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar), but also including fruit juice and sport drinks; and 2) sweets and snacks (31%).
Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners are not the answer. Even natural sweeteners, such as stevia and monk fruit, are as addictive as actual sugar, hijack our metabolism, cause blood sugar spikes, cause weight gain and damage the health of our gut microbiomes. For people who feel they must add a sweetener to something, Dr. Greger recommends making a paste out of pitted dates.
Be an informed grocery shopper: Sugar is sugar, whether it’s honey, beet sugar, high-fructose corn sugar, coconut sugar or “natural organic cane sugar”; so, read food labels and avoid buying products that contain these ingredients. The FDA now requires “added sugar” on food labels; so, see what the serving size is and how much added sugar is in a serving, keeping in mind that 4 grams is a teaspoon.
After 10 to 14 days on a sugar, salt and oil-free diet, taste buds change, and addictions to these things disappear.
Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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