Sweet Sabotage

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

August 2007

Sugar wears many disguises, which is why it's so hard for the best-intentioned weight-conscious person to avoid it. It crept into the everyday diet only a couple of hundred years ago but it now accounts for about 20 percent of the calories that the average American consumes each day.

Sugar gives flavor to almost any food, so manufacturers are quite willing to add it wherever they can. Just out of curiosity I picked three items at random from our pantry: beef broth, pickled sliced beets and chicken chili with beans. You guessed it. Each contained sugar but one manufacturer referred to it only as dextrose.

That brings up the matter of sugar aliases. The government requires food manufacturers to list ingredients in descending order by weight on the nutrition label. Sugar is often the first or second ingredient but you wouldn't realize it unless you knew a little biochemistry. Maltose, dextrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin and malt syrup are all sugars. They are all nutrient-null, that is, they have no food value except for energy, an excess of which will end up in fat deposits.

It's impossible to kick the sugar habit without eliminating high fructose corn syrup. Very few processed foods are free from this ingredient. Why? Because it's sweet and cheap. The food industry discovered high fructose corn syrup in the 1970s and it is now the most common sweetener in the modern diet. It may also be the unhealthiest.

Soft drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup may be contributing to the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes, especially among children. It might not be sheer coincidence that the rise in obesity since the 1970s appears to mirror the rise in the nation's consumption of high fructose corn syrup.

Here's a clue: we don't process liquid foods in the same way that we digest solids. When solid food enters the stomach it sets in motion an appetite-regulating mechanism so that after about 20 minutes we have less desire to eat. Liquids don't do that; we can take in hundreds of calories before becoming satisfied. The calories that we drink are simply added to the ones we eat, often to excess. A couple of generations ago, when a soft drink came in a 6-ounce glass, that didn't matter much. When was the last time you saw a container that small in a fast food restaurant? The average soft drink serving is now nearly half a quart!

The long-term consequences of our soft drink lifestyle are serious, especially for women. Barely 2 generations ago teenagers drank twice as much milk as they did soft drinks. That ratio is now completely reversed. Without adequate calcium in their growing years, women face a risk of osteoporosis. More than half of women over the age of 65 have the early stages of that bone-thinning condition. What will life be like for their granddaughters at that age?

When you deliberately lower your sugar intake you'll find that it only takes a couple of weeks to get out of the sugar habit. After a few months ordinary desserts will seem overly sweet to you. That one small step will take you a long way to better health.

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.