Sugar seduction

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

March 2011

Your Stone Age ancestors never tasted sugar and it didn't become part of the human diet until a couple of thousand years ago. It is now so cheap and plentiful that each of us consumes about 150 pounds per year, largely in soft drinks.

Picture yourself slowly adding 9 teaspoons of sugar to a 12-ounce glass of water with a little food coloring. You have just created the typical American soft drink and our children swallow about 1 ½ of these every day. Sugar makes up about one-quarter of children's daily calorie intake, adding to the epidemic of childhood obesity and providing the nation's dentists with a steady supply of cavities to fill.

In spite of the name by which our parents knew it — sugar diabetes — the major causes of type 2 diabetes are a high intake of refined grains and an appallingly low incidence of daily, moderately intense physical activity. (Researchers in this field sometimes refer to it as exercise-deficiency disease.) Sugar certainly does add to the problem and the high intake of high fructose corn syrup could be contributing to the rise of type 2 diabetes in children.

Our natural desire for sweets has not been lost on food manufacturers, who put it into everything from salad dressing to pasta sauce. That may not be evident from the label on the jar or package because savvy marketers have so many names for sugar. Without a little knowledge of chemistry you might not recognize maltose, maltodextrin, dextrose or several others as sugar. It's not unusual to find 8 or 10 different names for sugar on a single food package label, a clever ploy that allows the maker to keep "sugar" from being listed as the main ingredient.

In its various forms, sugar represents approximately 25 percent of the daily calories of the average American and it's not easy to scale that back. The easiest place to start is with soft drinks. Diet drinks, however, may not be the answer. Studies show that they are associated with greater weight gain, partly because they give us the license to eat other high-calorie treats. Another reason is that they don't help us to kick the sweet drink habit and we go back to sugary drinks when substitutes aren't available.

The good news is that you will lose your appetite for sweets when you have cut back for a few weeks. Give it a try.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.