It’s the Sugar, Stupid!

How caloric sweeteners make you fat, sick and tired

Version 2As a nation, our consumption of fats has gone down, yet our rates for obesity and type 2 diabetes continue to skyrocket. Why? It’s because sugars and other caloric sweeteners (like HFCS and agave syrup) are the real culprits in the diet.

For the past 60 years, the nutritional emphasis has mistakenly been on dietary fat. Slowly, new research is pointing to caloric sweeteners as the substances most likely to make you fat, sick and tired.  Even more, important new findings reveal that 50 years ago, the sugar association deliberately hid and underplayed the link between sugar and coronary heart disease from the public.

In the meantime, as a nation, we got fatter. In the 1970s, before eating guidelines were introduced, the national adult obesity rate was around 12% and national fat consumption was estimated at around 40% of total daily calories. Today the national obesity rate is about 36% and the national fat consumption rate is around 34% of daily calories, a statistically significant achievement that did not happen by accident. What happened?

Here are some milestones to consider:

  1. In 1978 high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was introduced into our food supply. It was designed to taste just like sugar, and it does. Most people can’t tell the difference. HFCS is cheaper to make, easier to store, and easier to incorporate into recipes. Consequently, it quickly became the dominant sweetening agent in the world.  People used to think fructose was a smarter, healthier choice than sugar because it has a lower glycemic index. Obviously, it’s not healthier and it’s not smarter. In fact, many drink and food manufacturers are now making and advertising products made with “real sugar.”
  2. In 1980 the “Lipid Theory” of disease was officially introduced, and the “fat is bad” message became forever cemented in our culture. The USDA released Dietary Guidelines for America that told us to eat less fat, less saturated fat, and less cholesterol. There was no mention of sugar or other caloric sweeteners.
  3. In 1986 the FDA released a statement saying there’s “no conclusive evidence” that sugar causes chronic disease.>
  4. In 2005 the FDA published Dietary Guidelines that allowed for up to 25% of daily calories to be consumed as sugar.

sugarfree12The bottom line: sugar went under the national and world radar and stayed there for a half-century. At long last, it’s time to consider that the much-maligned Robert Atkins might have been right when he said “sugar is metabolic poison.” The smartest way to progress out of this health pickle is to recognize the sweetening agents in our food supply and more carefully manage them.

The term “sugar” is used here in a generic way to include all compounds made with glucose and fructose. Most people don’t realize that common table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, and in fact all caloric sweeteners are a variation on the glucose/fructose composition theme. The only difference is proportion. HFCS has between 55%-65% fructose and 45%-35% glucose. Agave syrup might have as much as 90% fructose and 10% glucose. Honey has about 38% fructose, 62% glucose. Maple syrup is about 33% fructose, 66% sucrose.

The truth is that glucose and fructose are equally problematic to health and weight. The glucose portion of the caloric sweetener compound ends up in the bloodstream, which raises blood sugar, which raises insulin production, which makes you fat and sick. The fructose portion goes directly to the liver and is converted to triglycerides, which makes you fat and sick.  By, the way, don’t worry about the small amount of fructose in a fresh piece of fruit.  Fructose is only problematic when it’s consistently ingested in large, concentrated quantities.

High blood sugar and high triglycerides are both undesirable metabolic conditions that are implicated in every chronic disease as well as increases in body weight and body fat. Unfortunately, there’s no tool for assessing the impact of glucose and fructose. All we have is the glycemic index (GI), which measures only glucose. As you now know, glucose is just half the sweetening picture.  That said, the glycemic index can still be used as one of many reference points. Anything over 59 is considered high. As a reference point, table sugar has a glycemic index around 60.

Calories are another reference point. One teaspoon of table sugar has 16 calories. Syrups and honey have slightly higher caloric values because they’re denser. You’ll quickly discover that all caloric sweetening agents have caloric values in the range of 15-16-17.  It doesn’t matter if the product is organic, raw, or seems less processed.  Sugar is sugar, and a caloric sweetener is a caloric sweetener.

Grams are another. When you’re buying a product off the shelf, 3 grams of added sugar per serving is a reasonable target. One gram has 4 calories, so three grams is just 12 calories. The maximum recommended amount of added sugar per day for women is 25 grams (about 2 tablespoons), for men 40 grams (about 3 tablespoons), and for dieters 15 grams (about 1 tablespoon).

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sugarfreemiracle_diet_handbookFollow Karen Bentley on Twitter @sugarfreekaren. Purchase her book, The Sugar-Free Miracle Diet Handbook on Amazon. If you live in the Boston area, attend her “It’s The Sugar, Stupid” Seminar and get the life-changing nutritional information you need to stop being fat, sick and tired!

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