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Let's Talk Donuts and Diet Coke

It comes in many names: high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, maltose, levulose, dextrose…in fact, a whole laundry list of words ending in -ose. What is it? Sugar. We covered seemingly healthy foods that are actually high in sugar, but just how unhealthy are those little white crystals?

An article from the Washington Post discussed the work of Robert Lustig,who is a specialist in childhood obesity at UC San Francisco. He gave a lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which went viral on YouTube. We know too much sugar can cause dental problems such as cavities and contribute to weight gain, however in his lecture, Lustig went so far as to state sugar as “poisonous,” and a “toxin.”

Lustig uses these strong labels for several reasons. He believes sugar is the primary reason the number of obese and diabetic Americans has skyrocketed in the past 30 years. Being obese isn’t just carrying extra weight. With obesity comes typically Western lifestyle diseases including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and even certain types of cancers.

These diseases are more common in the Western hemisphere than  in other parts of the world such as Asia. Interestingly enough, Eastern diets are very low in sugar. The rates of heart disease, hypertension, and cancers are much lower among their populations as well. This contrast in Western and Eastern lifestyles and related diseases can be evidence that the culprit is sugar. Lustig puts it bluntly: “Sugar should be treated as something that ‘kills us,' such as cigarettes.”  

Organizations such as the Department of Agriculture don't state in their guidelines that sugars are necessarily dangerous. They are just empty calories that aren't accompanied by what nourishes our bodies such as protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

As sugar replaces these nutrients through the influx of packaged and processed foods, people begin to eat more of it (sometimes without even realizing this), resulting in weight gain.

Classifying sugar in the same category as cigarettes in terms of danger to one's health, it's clear Lustig's stance on sugar goes far past empty calories. He focuses on what actually happens when your body breaks down sugar and its effect on your organs. Added sugars are digested by the liver and then moderated by the pancreas. The pancreas pumps out insulin in response to rising blood sugar levels. If you consume too much added sugars over time, the pancreas would eventually give out, which is how you would develop type 2 diabetes.

At a certain quantity, the liver will convert the sugar into fat automatically, causing a build up of insulin resistance. This causes weight related diseases common in obese individuals.

How much is "too much sugar?"

According to the FDA and nutritionists, you should consume no more than 200 calories of added sugars per day. The good news is these do NOT include natural sugars found in vegetables and fruits. When you add up the 200 calories a day (less than 10% of your daily caloric intake), it translates to 40 pounds per year. What does 200 calories of added sugars look like? It is equivalent to a little less than a can of Coca-Cola, or two cups of apple juice.

Although we should only be consuming 40 pounds of added sugars per year, by the early 2000s, estimates were averaging of Americans consuming on average 90 pounds per year- more than double the recommended amount. Diabetes is bad enough, but cancer researchers have shown that pre-cancerous cells turn malignant the more insulin your body produces, which is produced the more sugar one consumes.

Bottom line: Forego the snickers and stick to strawberries. It could save your life.

Okay, added sugars are bad news. What about those sweeteners in green, blue, pink, and yellow packets?

The jury hasn't reached a solid verdict yet as to whether those packets of Splenda in your morning cold brew is a crime or not. One of the arguments against artificial sweeteners is that they are synthetic, and our bodies are designed only to eat natural foods.

The most common use for artificial sweeteners is in diet sodas.

There are studies that show a higher association with heart disease with artificial sweeteners. Nutritionists and health experts suggest that artificial sweeteners be used as a "gateway drug" from consuming sugary sodas to switching completely to water.

However, it is also possible the artificial sweetener sucralose, which is found in brands such as Splenda, can affect blood sugar when consumed with carbohydrates. Besides being found in yellow packets at restaurants and coffee shops, sucralose is used in baked goods (carbs) and condiments such as low-sugar ketchup. What do you eat ketchup with? Carbs. This was discovered by Yale researchers in a study. This result means that while you may be saving calories, your blood pressure is increasing. Not good.

How do sweeteners affect weight loss?

There are two schools of thought.

Some studies show that consuming artificial sweeteners confusing the body because it doesn't know how many calories it is actually consuming. The sweeteners may actually cause further cravings for sweet foods, causing you to overeat on sweets later on in the day. Or, people use them thinking they can then bank calories for later. They rationalize, "well, I didn't put sugar in my coffee, so I can have that donut." We know this is not healthy thinking and certainly not helpful to your waistline.

However, other health experts suggest that using artificial sweeteners can induce short-term weight loss and help maintain long-term weight maintenance since you are replacing real calories with a zero-calorie substitute.

How much artificial sweetener can I consume in a day?

This gets a little tricky. All artificial sweeteners are not created equal. While there are countless chemical compounds, plant extracts, and name brands, they are divided into two major categories: artificial sweeteners and zero-calorie sweeteners. This is a little confusing, since the umbrella category is just "artificial sweeteners" or "sweeteners."

Health experts recommend steering clear of completely artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (what you find in sugarless gum). These are the blue, yellow, and pink packets served with coffee at restaurants. However, natural zero-calorie sweeteners such as stevia or Truvia are accepted far more in the health community. These are the green packets you are seeing more regularly being served with coffee. According to the FDA, you can consume as many as 10 packets of stevia a day.

If used properly as a substitute for added sugar, studies have shown that short term use of zero calorie sweeteners as a tool for short-term weight loss is viable. There is not enough evidence to support whether this would work as a long-term strategy.

That was a lot to take in. Simplify please?

1. Sugar causes more than cavities. More studies are showing it is the reason for the development of diabetes and certain cancers.

2. You can still consume natural sugars, such as from fruits in moderation.

3. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Naturally derived zero-calorie sweeteners such as those derived from the stevia plant are okay in moderation.

Do you struggle to maintain a healthy weight? Do you find yourself yo-yo dieting with no lasting results? Dr. Korman may be able to help you.

To learn more or schedule a consultation with Dr. Korman, contact us here or call the office: 310-577-5540.

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