HEALTHY CHOICES, HEALTHY LIFESTYLES BY BARBARA B. MINTZ, MS, RD
It is good to know what types of sugars are out there, hidden or obvious, so that you will know what you are consuming.
The American diet today is filled with fast and processed foods that are packed with hydrogenated oils, sodium
and sugar. Fat and sodium have been named as the culprits in our obesity epidemic and our struggle with prevention and managing chronic diseases. Sugar, however, is public enemy number one in our struggle to stay healthy and well. Today we are eating over 34 teaspoons of sugar a day which is the equivalent of 500 extra, empty calories
daily. If you multiply that by the seven days in a week, it is equal to the amount of calories found in one pound of body fat. It is no wonder obesity is at epidemic proportions. American consumption of sugar had grown at an astronomical rate in the past centuries. Between 1700 to 2000 we grew from four pounds to 180 pounds per year
per person, making sugar the single largest source of calories in America today. Sugarsweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and juices are by far the biggest sources of added sugar, specifically high fructose corn syrup in the average American diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume
as a nation. Other important sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, and similar treats like ice cream, frozen yogurt and candy, even ready to eat cereals.
The American Heart Association’s recommendation is that women consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day, or about six teaspoons. And men consume less that 150 per day, about nine teaspoons. One 12 ounce can of regular soda contains about nine teaspoons of sugar, so drinking even one a day would put all women and most
men over the daily limit immediately. Sugar and other sweeteners are everywhere and come in different forms. Much is touted as being “natural” or “raw” inferring that it is healthy for you or not harmful. Reading labels is sometimes
like trying to decipher a code. It is good to know what types of sugars are out there, hidden or obvious, so that you will know what you are consuming.
• Simple sugars: These are dextrose, fructose and glucose. The difference in these sugars is how you metabolize them. Glucose and dextrose are essentially the same.
• Sucrose: This sugar is half glucose and half fructose and also known as table sugar
• High fructose corn syrup: This sugar is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. This is a highly processed sugar
used in American soft drinks and many other foods and beverages.
• Sugar alcohols: Seen as glycerol, sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol. These are not really sugars or alcohols. They are being used as sweeteners but are difficult to digest, causing diarrhea, and bloating.
• Sucralose: This comes as the brand Splenda and is not really a sugar. It is a chlorinated artificial sweetener similar
to aspartame (Equal) and saccharin (Sweet and Low)
• Agave syrup: This sugar is not really a natural sweetener as advertised. It is highly processed and is about 8 percent fructose which is fruit sugar.
• Honey: is about 53 percent fructose but is completely natural in its raw state and has many health benefits when used in moderation.
• Stevia: Branded as Truvia is a highly sweet herb derived from the Stevia Plant. Stevia is safe in its natural form.
Remember that Truvia has gone through processing.
THE ”SKINNY” ON HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
Most of the sugar in today’s food is fructose in the form of high fructose corn syrup. It is made from corn and represents about 55 percent of sweeteners used in food and beverage manufacturing, and is the number one source of calories in America today. Even though it contains the same two sugars as sucrose, it is unhealthier due to its chemical form through processing. The fructose and the glucose are not bound together in this form as they are
in table sugar, so your body doesn’t have to break it down. Therefore, the fructose is absorbed immediately, going straight to the liver and burdening it with extra work.
The fructose is then sorted as fat in the form of VLDL and Triglycerides. This means more fat deposits throughout your body, particularly in your belly. A 2010 study in children found that excess fructose intake (not glucose intake) actually caused visceral fat cells to mature, setting the stage for a big belly and even bigger future risk for heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, high fructose corn syrup has also been found to have a toxic effect on the liver. In
fact, it has been shown to have the same effect as alcohol since they both take the same pathways during metabolism. It is also one of the primary causes for the increase in fatty liver disease over the same time span as the increase in the obesity epidemic.
Coincidence? Not likely. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that liver damage caused by fructose consumption is only for those who are overweight. A 2013 study found that liver damage could occur even without excess calories or weight gain. It is important to note here that fructose is the sugar found in fruits and vegetables and is not the culprit. The positive effects of the phytonutrients, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals help to moderate the negative metabolic effects. It is the process of turning fructose into high fructose corn syrup that creates this unhealthy form of sugar.
AND THE HAZARDS DO NOT STOP THERE
In addition to increasing your belly fat, BMI and risk for liver disease, high fructose corn syrup in large amounts raises uric acid levels in the body, which can lead to high blood pressure and potential kidney damage. An increased level of uric acid also leads to chronic low-level inflammation in your body, which most people are unaware of. This inflammation can be found in blood vessels which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. In fact there was a study
published in February of this year in JAMA that states a sugar- laden diet raises your risk of heart disease even if you are not overweight. There is also very strong evidence that supports the connection between chronic inflammation and cancer, not to mention those cancers that are linked with high BMI and obesity. A 2013 study revealed that high fructose corn syrup in the intestine triggered the formation of a hormone called GIP that is controlled by a protein that is completely dependent on sugar. This hormone increases insulin released by the pancreas.
Researchers found that this protein may in fact affect the cell’s susceptibility to cancer formation. Further studies have found associations between high sugar and starch intake and survival rates in both breast cancer and colon cancer patients. Large amounts of high fructose corn syrup can also disable our mechanism to control our appetite. It does not have the ability to stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress the hormones that stimulate
hunger and stimulate those that make us feel satisfied. This causes us to eat more, gain weight and put us at risk for developing insulin resistance and diabetes The other sugars are not off the hook. A 2009 study showed that glucose was strongly linked to the aging of our cells, which can mean extra wrinkles to chronic diseases. It has also been found that excess sugar consumption of any type can affect the aging of our brains, particularly our memory and
overall cognitive ability.
AS CONCERNED CONSUMERS AND PARENTS WHAT CAN WE DO?
1. Give up the soda! End of story. Sugarfree beverages are not a good alternative because the artificial sweeteners used in manufacturing come with their own health problems. They are laden with empty calories that can easily add unwanted pounds. Twenty ounces of soda has 16 ½ teaspoons on average and about 250 calories of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. That translates to the amount of calories in ½ pound of body fat at the end of one week. In two words: Drink water.
2. Watch the juices. They are loaded with fructose and high fructose corn syrup. Juices today are processed and concentrated, which means they are stripped of most of their nutritive value. It is also very easy to consume large quantities of juices and other sweetened beverages, adding those extra pounds. Most juices have the same or
more calories per ounce as regular soda.
3. Eliminate sweetened cereals. Some cereals are so laden with sugar that you might as well eat pastries or donuts for
breakfast. Read labels and look for the sugar content. Remember you should have less than 40 grams daily.
4. Watch for hidden sugars in foods. Tomato sauce, ketchup, drink mixers, tonic water, marinades, peanut butter and fatfree dressings. In fact many fat-free foods are filled with sugar.
5. Learn what to look for on a label and read them! Ingredients like dextrose, maltose that end in “ose” are sugars.
Lactose, which is milk sugar, does not have the same detrimental effect.
6. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh whole fruits. Remember fruits are a natural, whole food. Though they are fructose-based carbohydrate foods, they are beneficial because of the abundance of nutritional benefits we get from their antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Three to four servings daily are recommended.
7. Don’t be fooled by juicing. If you are watching your sugar intake and your weight, be mindful of your fruit smoothies. When you add three or four fruits, the calories can add up. Juicing a banana, peach and ½ cup of blueberries can give you a drink that has about 250 calories, which is the same as a 20 ounce soda or processed
juice. You will get the nutritional benefit but you still get the calories.•
Mercola, J. “Fructose: Feeds cancer, triggers weight gain and promotes premature aging”. April, 2010, Web.
Kirkpatrick, K. “10 things you don’t Know about sugar (And what you don’t know could hurt you)”. August, 2014, Web Corlis, J. “Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying of heart disease”. February, 2014, Web.
HEALTHY CHOICES, HEALTHY LIFESTYLES
Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Vice President of Healthy Living and Community Engagement for Barnabas Health, New Jersey.