No matter the source, sugar is bad in excess

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

CORRECTED VERSION -- A recent article in the New York Times Magazine may be a little alarmist, but it at least brings some balance to the argument over high-fructose corn syrup.

The "conventional" sugar industry -- sugar made from beets and cane -- has been enjoying a rebound at the expense of high-fructose corn syrup, a lower-cost sweetener that has found its way into all manner of soft drinks and foods over the last few decades.

Gary Taubes writes in the Times magazine article that both types of sugar are "toxic," hazardous to health in excess.

We need sugar to live -- glucose feeds our brain. But table sugar is a blend of glucose and fructose, the latter coming from fruit, where it is slowly released naturally.

High fructose corn syrup is also about half fructose and half glucose, with much of the high fructose corn syrup used in foods only 42 percent fructose. [Corrected from an earlier version]

Too much of any sugar too quickly can cause a spike in your blood sugar, with the attendant dangers.

"Sugar may be a naturally occurring substance, but not in the refined form that we consume it today," Taub said. "The argument is that once it's refined so that it can be consumed in large quantities and quickly, it has effects that are toxic to the liver and then the body at large."

All sugars are big trouble if you're trying to control your weight. Besides the extra calories, a jolt of fructose causes your body to produce ghrelin, a hunger hormone, and turn down two hunger-controlling hormones, insulin and leplin.

Drinking two sugary drinks a day raises your risk of diabetes by 26 percent. Too much sugar in your blood stream tells your muscle cells to resist insulin's orders to absorb blood sugar.

Drinking lots of sugar doubles your risk for hypertension. The top blood pressure numbers for people who consumed the fructose in just 2.5 sodas were as high as 160, when a better number is 115.

And, added sugars are hiding in deli meat, ketchup, soup, bagels, crackers, cereal and baby food. A loophole in FDA rules doesn't require manufacturers to list added sugars separately from those found naturally in fruit, grains and dairy foods.

So what's the answer?

Like so many issues, it's balance and moderation. By drinking fewer sodas and sweet drinks -- we won't even bring up artificial sweeteners at this time -- we can train our taste buds to get by with fewer sweets.

And, if we do have a craving, grab a piece of fruit instead of a can of pop.

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