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Healthy Living

10 Reasons to Fear Sugar

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 04/10/2012
Last Updated: 04/10/2012

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The average American consumes over 130 pounds of sugar annually

Did you just jump when you read that? Incredible, but true.  One hundred and thirty pounds…that’s a LOT of sugar.

I wrote about sugar on this blog back in and . And here we go again.

What alarmed me this time was a report that aired a few weeks ago on 60 Minutes, where Sanjay Gupta reported new research showing that sugar—in whatever form—is a toxin and the driving force behind many major killers, like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease. Dr. Gupta interviewed Dr. Robert Lustig, a California endocrinologist who became especially alarmed to the deleterious effects of sugar while treating his own patients, many sick and obese children, and is leading an anti-sugar campaign.

Although it's true that sugar consumption has gone down by nearly 40 percent since the 1970s, when low-fat foods became a way to lose weight, what's also true is that high fructose corn syrup—which is just as (or more) dangerous—has taken its place. Something had to replace the flavor that was lost when fat was taken out of food, after all. Take a look at the sugar content on any low-fat food, whether it’s in peanut butter, yogurt or cereal, and you can be sure the sugar content on that food is significantly higher than in the full-fat version.

Both sugar and HFCS are equally dangerous, he said, since they both contain fructose. It's the fructose that makes a beeline for the liver, which then converts some of it into fat, bringing it the bloodstream and generating LDL cholesterol. Not only is LDL cholesterol the "bad" cholesterol, but this type of LDL contains dangerous small dense particles, which can lodge in blood vessels and form heart-threatening plaque.

So, you and a lot of other people may be thinking, I’ll substitute artificial sweeteners for the sugar. But that's not necessarily the answer. Although the sugar substitutes on the market have to clear FDA approval, some health advocates are wary of their safety. Aside from that, sugar substitutes provide empty calories and no nutritional value. Worse yet, some studies show that some people who use artificial sweeteners, instead of losing weight, gain it instead. Why? They set you up for even more sugar cravings, confusing the body. Your brain thinks you’re getting a lot of calories when you're ingesting something sweet, and your metabolic reflexes gear up for that to happen. When it doesn’t, the system is thrown out of whack. You might eat more or expend less energy than you otherwise would.

But I digress. We gorge on sugar, to the point of one-third of a pound of the stuff each day. It's time to curb that awful habit. If you're not convinced, here are some other takeaways from the show:

  • Sugar in any form—honey, agave nectar, table syrup, crystallized—is all equally toxic.
  • Fruit is metabolized differently in our bodies because its fiber slows the absorption of fructose.
  • Eat 'real' foods that don’t come out of a box or can. Those foods, like vegetables, poultry and fish, are usually found along the outer perimeter of the supermarket.
  • Sugar may raise your cholesterol as much as, or even more than, fatty food (like a cheeseburger).
  • The American Heart Association recommends that women should not consume more than 100 calories of added sugars each day (that figure goes up to 150 for men). This is less than the amount in one can of soda!
  • Sugar is a "public health crisis" that belongs in the same category as tobacco and alcohol—a dangerous substance whose consumption should be limited.
  • Sugar causes insulin to spike, which can fuel certain types of cancers. One-third of common cancers (including breast and colon) have insulin receptors on their surface. When insulin binds to these surfaces, it can feed the tumor. In the pipeline are drugs that will be able to cut off the supply of glucose to cancer cells.
  • If you must eat sugar, keep it to a minimum.
  • Sugar is more addictive than people realize. MRI scanners show that when sugar fires up the brain’s reward regions, releasing dopamine and producing a euphoric effect.
  • The body can build up a tolerance to sugar; the more you eat, the less rewarded you will feel, leading to more consumption.

Comments

thanks for providing additional information and reinforcing what was said in that 60 Minsutes report. I am glad to know that fruit is still on the table, though.

Yes, Kerry, I'm glad fruit is still okay, too. I don't think I could bear cutting that out!

The 100-calorie threshold is easy to remember, although no easy to observe:-) Worth shooting for!

Best, Lila

Agreed that it is easy to remember. But it is really tough to stick to, especially if you're someone with a sweet tooth~

I saw this segment. Scary. I've been trying consciously to reduce my sugar intake over the past year or so. We eat a generally healthy diet, but my son loves to bake. Trying to encourage some lower sugar options...

Nice to have a son who loves to bake! But I'd imagine it must be hard having those fresh-baked goodies around. You're house must smell great, though!

Great post. I am so glad I found it. Perfect timing for me. Thank you!

I know I'm addicted and I know it's bad. It's my one vice.

We all need our one vice, I guess...just less of it. Easy to say, hard to do (since it's my vice, too :)

We're all trying to consume less sugar after the 60 Minutes segment at my house. Thanks for the add'l push to cut down on sweets, which aren't just desserts anymore, it seems.

I'm trying, I'm trying! But I agree with Living large: Hey, it's my only vice. Well ... along with salt.

Oy! Just gorged on Easter treats and feeling guilty about the sugar fix. Back to my more moderate eating ways.

Sugar is addictive. I'm no saint when it comes to shunning sugar, but I do try to add a little less sugar to recipes when I'm cooking. I don't like too sweet of treats anyway. I try to tell myself agave is better for me, but you're right sugar is sugar

I was amazed by what Sanjay Gupta said. Thanks for presenting it all so clearly. My daughter didn't see the show. I'll forward this post to her.

This does scare me and I do try to keep it to a minimum. The problem is 1) it's in everything 2) it tastes so good. For the second problem, I try to eat very dark chocolate, which satisfies that yearn for sweet, but with much less sugar than other desserts.

I missed the 60 Minutes piece, so thanks for the recap. Personally, I would rather eat real sugar, real butter, real whatever ... than the creepy, chemical substitutes that are supposed to be "better" for us. I've completely sworn off pop, but I have a harder time with dessert. I like a nice dessert regularly.

I agree Roxanne. I'd rather eat the real stuff, too. Much more satisfying. Just have to do it in moderation...Sorry to use that word (again!)

If you eat sugar with something high in fiber - say, oatmeal with agave nectar or honey - do you get the same slowing into your bloodstream as you do with fruit?

That is such a good question. I'm going to consult my nutrition gurus to find the answer.

I had hard time cutting sugar from my diet, but I got it! I did it very slow, firs I used agave with my coffee and now I'm taking it without. No more ice cream, no more pastry...

Very impressive, Rosalba. Maybe the trick is cutting back slowly, like you did. Gives your body and taste buds time to acclimate.

I try but it's really hard to avoid sugar. Do we have to give up all the little pleasures in life to be healthy? Probably so. I'll keep trying.

While I avoid HFCS, a little sugar has not been shown to be harmful. In fact, all carbohydrates are broken down to sugars in the body, as part of normal digestion. Furthermore, if fructose itself is a problem, that makes whole fruits a problem also, despite the fact that they have fiber as a supposed mitigating factor.

130 lbs. - geesh. I went without sugar for quite a spell in my 20s. I've never been more clear-headed.

It was literally shocking when I went through the report on the annual sugar consumption in the country. Intake of such huge amount of sugar is one of the main reasons which make the people sick. Thanks for discussing the bitter side of sugar.

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