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Added Sugars and Obesity

Food labels list the amount of sugar in a serving, but they do not tell a person whether the sugar is added to the food or drink or is there naturally. The National Soft Drink Association claims, correctly, that there is no difference between table sugar and the sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables, but fruits contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that help to keep you healthy. Added sugar contributes only empty calories.

Added sugar is more unhealthful than the sugar in fruit such as raisins, or in root vegetables such as beets. Sugar that is bound up with the fiber in fruits and vegetables takes much longer to digest than sugars which have been extracted from their plant source -- sugar cane, sugar beets, corn, fruits, trees or flowers (that includes honey and maple syrup, and sugars extracted from apples, grapes or any other fruit). When you eat, your blood sugar rises. Refined sugar in foods and drinks causes blood sugar levels to rise quickly, causing your body to increase production of insulin which acts on your brain to make you hungry, so you eat more and on your liver to cause it to make more fat.

In the last 25 years, the average American has reduced his intake of fat from 43 percent down to 32 percent and he is 11 pounds heavier. Low-fat and low-carb diets do not help a person to lose weight or lower cholesterol unless they cause a person to take in fewer calories.

You may have heard that the obesity epidemic in America is caused by high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) found in most sugared drinks and many types of foods. However, the evidence now blames any sugar in drinks and not the high fructose corn syrup in particular.

Researchers in the Netherlands showed that beverages sweetened by HFCS do not affect energy levels, appetite-related hormone levels or obesity any more than milk or drinks sweetened with sucrose (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2007). People did not eat more food after drinking HFCS beverages than they did after drinking milk or non-HFCS sodas. They also showed that the obesity hormones (insulin, ghrelin, glucose and glucagon-like peptide 1 or GLP-1) were affected similarly by all types of sweetened drinks.

A sucrose-sweetened beverage contains 64 per cent glucose and 36 per cent fructose, while the HFCS is 41 per cent glucose and 59 per cent fructose, a not very significant difference. The researchers concluded that "energy balance consequences of HFCS-sweetened soft drinks are not different from those of other iso-energetic drinks: a sucrose soft drink or milk." Currently, many scientists believe that any sugar in drinks promotes obesity because sugar in liquid form does not fill you up to make you eat less in the same way that sugar in solid food does.

The average American takes in 20 teaspoons of added sugar each day. A reasonable upper limit is 10 teaspoons a day. But you would get an entire days' limit of 10 teaspoons of added sugar from a 12 ounce soft drink. A McDonald's shake contains 12 teaspoons of added sugar and an 8-ounce container of low-fat, fruit flavored yogurt contains 7 teaspoons of added sugar. If you are trying to lose weight, control diabetes, lower cholesterol or high blood pressure or just eat healthfully, you should limit added sugars as well as flour-based products such as bakery goods and pastas. See my report on Treatment of Insulin Resistance

Checked 6/29/09

August 22nd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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