SUGAR IS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
There is a growing wave of sentiment in the nutrition community that contends sugar is causing a global health crisis.
Many nutritionists are arguing that an overconsumption of sugar (soda, candy, cookies, sweets and processed food) is fueling a dramatic increase in obesity, diabetes and heart disease at epidemic levels.
Some are going even further and argue that sugar is an addictive "poison" that causes many degenerative ailments, including cancer and dementia.
Up until recent years, dieticians have proclaimed that the epidemic rise in obesity, diabetes and heart disease has been caused by excessive fat and cholesterol consumption. Now, the nutrition blame-game has switched to a new food villain -- sugar.
Is labeling sugar as the new food villain a valid assertion or are these proclamations about the danger of excess sugar consumption overblown?
In this article, I will explore both sides of the argument and hopefully shed some light on the question -- Is sugar bad for you?
THE ANTI-SUGAR ARGUMENT
Some nutritionists argue that refined sugar (which is made of fructose and glucose carbohydrates), is harder to metabolize than carbohydrates that are primarily glucose based (like corn, rice and potatoes). They contend that glucose is converted into energy by every cell of the body, while fructose is mainly metabolized in the liver.
The anti-sugar nutritionists assert that when too much fructose is consumed the liver becomes inundated and thus converts the excess fructose into fat, which is stored in the liver itself. Then, the argument is, the excess fat in the liver causes insulin resistance which damages the body's ability to regulate blood sugar and fat levels. This, they contend, leads to increased rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The anti-sugar arguments are sometimes alarming. For example, anti-sugar advocate Gary Taubes claims that sugar consumption, in addition to being the main cause of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, can also cause a variety of other health ailments including cancer and dementia. Gary Taubes has been quoted as saying that, "If I'm right about sugar, then it is more harmful ultimately than smoking."
ARE ALL NUTRITIONISTS ANTI-SUGAR?
Some nutritionists, including Dr. Layne Norton, argue that statements, like the one above by Taubes, are dramatic misrepresentations of the data obtained by scientific research on the effects of sugar. "I just don't like the fear-mongering", says Norton, "associated with the anti-sugar argument and I have a real problem with Gary Taubes."
Norton addresses the claim by Taubes that sugar is toxic and can contribute to serious health ailments, when referring to a recent study that disputes this claim. This study had one group of people consume over 100 grams of sugar per day and the other group consume less than 10 grams of sugar per day, while eating the same amount of calories, with the results, Norton says "showing no difference in weight loss, blood lipids, triglycerides and inflammation markers."
Norton contends that the negative health impacts being attributed to sugar are more likely due to the calorie dense, "empty" foods sugar is typically present in. Drinking two cans of soda per day can raise your daily caloric intake by almost 20% of the recommended daily allowance prescribed by the FDA.
These are empty calories that don't make you feel full, or satiated, and it is these types of foods that contribute to obesity.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Scientific studies on both sides analyzing the effects of sugar are highly problematic because it is difficult to monitor diets over the years-long time span needed to track the causes of degenerative diseases. Fred Brouns, a professor of Health Food Innovation, argues that sugar's effects remain "poorly investigated and highly controversial".
The jury is still out on the actual effects of sugar consumption. Sugar may be the food villain as portrayed by the anti-sugar movement, or it may not be the actual cause of a dramatic increase in obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
There is certainly nothing wrong with limiting your sugar intake, although you will need to avoid nearly all processed foods. There is nothing really gained by eating excessive amounts of refined sugar. If you compare eating the same amount of calories of sugar versus broccoli, the broccoli will certainly be more filling.
But to assume, with certainty, that limiting your sugar intake is going to prevent you from becoming obese, diabetic and getting heart disease and cancer, is naive. In summary, the healthiest approach is consuming a balanced diet with the appropriate amount of calories for your nutritional needs.
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