Doctor’s Tip: Added Sugar Is Bad For Us

Greg Feinsinger

Nutrition experts recommend whole, unprocessed foods, which Dr. Michael Greger defines as “nothing bad added, nothing good taken away.” Sugar is an example of something badly added.

We are not talking here about the sugar naturally present in unprocessed foods, such as fruits. Due to fiber and other components of fruits, sugar is absorbed slowly and does not cause health problems. For example, studies of diabetics who ate unlimited fruit showed that their blood sugar levels were the same as when they were told to avoid fruit. However, fruit juices and fruit smoothies are made into liquids that raise blood sugar quickly, and dried fruits contain concentrated sugar and should be consumed in moderation.

Currently, the average American eats over 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. In 1776, the average annual consumption of added sugar per capita was 4 pounds; now it’s 150-170 pounds (Visualize 30-34 five pound bags of sugar).

Added sugar provides calories without nutrients and is associated with the following health problems:

  • obesity
  • cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, at least in part due to elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • fatty liver disease, which affects one in five American adults and one in 10 adolescents and can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure
  • decay
  • toxic hunger, which leads to overeating – for an hour after consuming sugar, blood sugar rises, causing the pancreas to secrete insulin, which often results in hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar) and “toxic hunger” in the second hour lesson

Why do food companies add sugar to products including ketchup, toothpaste, salad dressing, boxed cereals (including children’s cereals), breads, crackers and snacks? It’s all about the money. Food companies care about their bottom line, but not about your health. Like tobacco companies decades ago, food companies are hiring scientists to figure out how to get customers hooked on their products, and it turns out that sugar, salt, and fats (often in the form of added oil ) are addictive. As Dr. Michael Greger says, “The food industries make their billions by manipulating the pleasure centers in your brain, the so-called dopamine reward system…the same reward system that keeps people from smoking cigarettes and snorting cocaine.” As with addictive drugs, tolerance to sugar, salt and fat develops and larger doses are needed to achieve the same degree of pleasure.

The main sources of added sugar in the American diet are: 1) beverages (47%), mainly sodas (a can of non-diet soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar), but also fruit juices and beverages for athletes; and 2) sweets and snacks (31%).

Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners are not the answer. Even natural sweeteners, such as stevia and monk fruit, are addictive like real sugar, hijacking our metabolism, causing blood sugar spikes, causing weight gain, and damaging the health of our gut microbiomes. For people who feel they need to add a sweetener to something, Dr. Greger recommends making a paste from pitted dates.

Be an informed 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 one teaspoon.

After 10-14 days on a no-sugar, salt, and oil diet, taste buds change and addictions to these things disappear.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with a special interest in the prevention and reversal of disease through nutrition. Free services offered by the Center for Prevention and the People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shopping with a doctor at the Carbondale City Market, and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment or email [email protected].

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