Sugar is Really, Really Bad!

January 27, 2014
Sugar is Really, Really Bad!
Reference:  JAMA Feb 4th, 2014

How bad?   Just awful, and at small amounts.  Quanhe Yang at the CDC did a pretty exhaustive epidemiological study is from our national nutrition study called NHANES.   In that study, there are some 31,000 statistically random folks from every part of America who have been followed very carefully since 1988.  An extra careful analysis was done on 11,000 of them for mortality based on what they eat.  Sugar is a new element in our diet that was picked out for special scrutiny.

What they found was pretty sobering.  You see, it only takes one sugared soda to get 6-8 % of your calories from sugar for a whole day.  The average American is getting just over 15% of their calories from sugar.   The worst 20% of Americans are at or above 25% of their calories from sugar.    Mortality measures with heart disease were the main marker in this study and found to be about 240% higher for those in the highest group compared to those in the bottom 20%.  

They didn't measure Alzheimer's or cancer, as those diseases take longer to develop, but I suspect those will be the next indicators to show up with longer study. About 37% of America’s sugar consumption comes from sugared drinks.  As sodas go down, sports drinks are going up.   (By the way, the sugar in fruit was not counted as sugar in this study).  Now, our health advisors in America, the Institute of Medicine recommends we keep sugar below 25%.  (Laughable). 

Even the stodgy, conservative, cautious American Heart Association recommends less than 150 calories a day for men, 100 for women.  That would be about 5%.   For most of us, that would be an 80% reduction in consumption.  And since those recommendations came out, Americans have dropped from 17% to 15%, so there is a recent decline.  That's a bit hopeful. We have a raft of physiological studies that tell us the bad things sugar does, just not huge population studies to prove it.  We know, for instance, that higher sugar makes for higher insulin, and higher insulin is a risk factor for cancer.  We know that higher sugar makes for higher blood pressure, but no one is yet ready to say that sugar causes high blood pressure.  We know that more sugar makes for fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, glycated hemoglobin.

And that’s probably the key.  I believe that higher sugar attaches to molecules all over your body.  We can measure hemoglobin A1c, the marker of glucose stuck to hemoglobin.  But if we can see it stuck to hemoglobin, then it’s also sticking to all proteins everywhere. Your immune system thinks of those abnormal proteins as foreign invaders, and sets off alarm bells.  With that, you have inflammation.  With low-grade inflammation, you have the table set for all our modern diseases.  And this study shows us the scope of that risk. Where is sugar hidden?   Not just in sugared drinks, but peanut butter, ketchup, bread, candy, junk food, ice cream, salad dressing…..77% of packaged foods contain sugar.   From less than 1% of our natural diet 500 years ago, to 15% today, added sugar remains the biggest change in our diets, and the worst.

 WWW.  What will work for me.  I try to avoid sugar. But then Valentine’s Day comes along and I get 6 pretty truffles in a box.  Watching my diet for the last four days, I’m probably getting 5-6 oz a day.  And I’m being pretty good.  I’ve got more work to do.  Likely you do too.

Pop Quiz

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1.  The normal human diet, prior to the introduction of sugar had how much sugar a year?Answer:  Less than 1% of calories.  Honey was sort of it.
2.  The average American is now eating what percent of their diet from sugar?             A.  15%
 3.   The highest 20 % of Americans are eating what percent of their diet from sugar?      Answer:    25%
 4.  Which raises their risk of dying from heart disease by how much?                  Answer:  250%
 5.  Our Advisory Panel for good nutrition, the Institute of Medicine, advises that we keep sugar consumption below 10% of calories.  T or F                    Answer:  False.  They advise below 25%, which means they haven't got a clue and haven't been paying attention.
 6.   America's number one source of sugar is.......?                     Answer:  Sugared drinks, including sports drinks.

Column written by John E Whitcomb, MD at Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI.