Doctor’s Tip: Sugar is not so sweet |

Doctor’s Tip: Sugar is not so sweet

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
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An excellent source of unbiased nutrition information is Nutrition Action Health Letter, published monthly by the Center For Science in the Public Interest. Many organizations with names like this are fronts for the food industry, but this organization is exactly what the name says it is. The November issue has an article about the health problems associated with sugar.

There is clear evidence that sugar, particularly in soda and other sugary drinks, is associated with the following health problems:

1. Obesity, which in turn raises risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several cancers, including breast and colon.

2. Heart attacks and strokes, beyond what weight gain accounts for. This might be related to the increase in LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides associated with sugar intake.

3. Type 2 diabetes, again beyond what is accounted for by weight gain. Sugar causes your pancreas to make more insulin, which eventually leads to insulin resistance/pre-diabetes, which eventually leads to diabetes. A Swiss study showed that people who got 80 grams of fructose a day, equivalent to four 12-ounce cans of Coke a day, for only three weeks, became insulin resistant.

4. Fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

5. Tooth decay. The food industry has people hooked on salt, sugar and fat. Sugar is particularly addictive; when people eat it, most want more. If you stop these three substances, in 10 days or so you’ll lose your taste for them. So it’s best to avoid all added sugar, including non-diet soda, energy drinks such as Gatorade (unless you are at an aid station in the middle of a marathon), and even honey. Beware of sugar in drinks masquerading as healthy, such a San Pellegrino Limonata (150 calories per serving size/7.5 tsp of added sugar), Starbucks Classic Chai Tea Latte (240 calories per serving size/7.5 teaspoons of added sugar).

Some fruit every day is good for you, due to the antioxidants and micronutrients it contains. The sugar in fruit is absorbed slowly due to the fiber. But avoid fruit juices, which are basically flavored sugar water, with the sugar being absorbed rapidly. Learn to read food labels, see what the serving size is (usually significantly less than the container), and see how many grams of sugar there are per serving, realizing that 4 grams of sugar is a teaspoon. If you visualize teaspoons of sugar, you’ll be amazed at how much sugar is in many foods you buy.

If you buy soy or almond milk, buy the unsweetened versions. If you order iced tea in a restaurant, request unsweetened. To help you calculate the sugar you get in coffee drinks, go to If you want to read about the soda industry using the tobacco industry’s playbook from a few decades ago, read “Soda Politics, Taking On Big Soda (And Winning),” by Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. Her blog is

Dr. Feinsinger of Carbondale, who retired in February from Glenwood Medical Associates after 41 years as a family physician, provides a health tip each Tuesday in the Post Independent. Contact him at

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