Doctor’s Tip: Let’s not sugarcoat the dangers of sugar
This is another column in the current series about why we should avoid certain foods if we want optimal health.
Today’s column is about the health risks of sugar. One hundred years ago the average American ate 4-5 pounds of sugar a year; now the average consumption is 150 to 170 pounds a year (visualize 30 to 34 five-pound sacks of sugar).
Big Food cares about its bottom line but not your health. The food industry is doing what the tobacco industry did a few decades ago: hiring scientists to figure out how to make its products more addictive. The scientists found that people get hooked on salt, sugar and fat, and will buy more of whatever products contain these things.
As Dr. Michael Greger (“How Not to Die” book, nutritionfacts.org) 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, fat and salt develops and bigger doses are required to obtain the same pleasure.
Sugar gives you calories without any nutrients. Nutrition Action Health Letter is published monthly by the Center For Science in the Public Interest, which has no ties to the food or pharmaceutical industries. It points out that consuming refined sugar (versus sugar in whole foods such as fruit) is associated with the following health problems:
• Cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes.
• Rise in LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides.
• Type 2 diabetes.
• Fatty liver disease, present in one out of five adults and one out of 10 teens. This can eventually lead to cirrhosis and liver failure (watch the documentary that came out several years ago called “Supersize Me”).
• Tooth decay.
• Toxic hunger. When you consume sugar, your blood sugar rises for an hour. To counteract that, your pancreas secretes insulin and during the second hour your blood sugar often drops lower than it would if you were fasting, causing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and “toxic hunger.”
Sugar is added to many products, including toothpaste and ketchup, but here are the main sources of sugar in the American diet:
• Forty-seven percent from beverages, primarily soda (a can of non-diet soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar), but also including fruit drinks (basically flavored sugar water) and sport/energy drinks (fine if you’re participating in an endurance athletic event but otherwise not).
• Thirty-one percent from sweets and snacks.
What about artificial sweeteners? They have the same addictive potential as actual sugar and some have been shown to have other health concerns, so they should be avoided. If you insist on using something sweet for baking, Dr. Greger recommends ground dates, which is a whole, relatively unprocessed food and therefore at least has some nutrients. Other options he suggests are black-strap molasses and prune paste.
When you go grocery shopping, check the food label before you buy something, see what the serving size is and see how many grams of sugar is in a serving. Four grams of sugar is a teaspoon so visualize teaspoons of sugar. For example, Dave’s Killer Bread includes several varieties. One has 5 grams of sugar per serving size (1 slice) and another 1 gram, so you would want to buy the latter.
Fruit contains sugar (fructose), so is it OK to eat fruit? Avoid fruit drinks (even if you make your own fresh-squeezed orange juice, it has a very high glycemic index, meaning that when you drink it your blood sugar shoots up). Keep intake of dried fruit, including raisins, to a minimum because dried fruit has more sugar and the sugar is more concentrated. But consuming sugar in the form of fresh or frozen fruit is not a problem, because components of fruit such as fiber delay the absorption of the sugar. Studies of diabetics who ate unlimited fruit showed that their blood sugars were the same as when they were told to avoid fruit.
So if you want optimal health, make a New Year’s resolution to avoid sugar in any form, including products such as honey (sugar is sugar), beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup and “natural organic cane sugar” (would you buy natural, organic lead or arsenic?). After about 10 to 14 days you will lose your addiction to sweet things, and will experience hunger based on need for calories rather than toxic hunger.
All readers of this column are encouraged to attend Dr. Greger’s talk on Feb. 9 at The Orchard in Carbondale, sponsored by the Valley View Hospital Connie Delaney Medical Library. He is funny and knowledgeable and is a great speaker. You will learn a lot from one of the giants in the field of nutrition. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.
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