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  • Writer's pictureDr. Korman

Let's Talk Donuts and Diet Coke

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

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.