Sugar and Obesity: The Bitter Truth
Is following a protein diet the answer to the rising obesity epidemic? Maybe. But one thing is for sure: reducing our intake of sugar is definitely helpful, since studies show that sugar is one of if not the single greatest contributor to the increase in obesity cases, as Dr. Linda Anegawa explains.
Sugar and Obesity: The Bitter Truth
By: Linda Anegawa, M.D., F.A.C.P.
America has a sweet tooth- and it’s causing a lot more harm to our health than just cavities.
According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), The United States is the world’s largest consumer of sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup.
Since the 1970’s, Americans have been steadily eating more sugar, and it’s no coincidence that the obesity epidemic has skyrocketed in proportion. Sugar consumption per capita, in the form of refined sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup and sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose) has escalated to about 94 grams added sugar per day . The majority of sugar in our diets comes from sugary beverages, desserts, fruit drinks and candy.
The low fat movement of the 1980s propelled the food industry to add more sugar to processed fare, to enhance flavor where fat content was lowered. As a result, the snack food industry became a large source of added sugar in the American diet. We also saw breakfast morphing into dessert, as “benign’ sugar was liberally dumped into cereals and other morning meal staples. Food marketers strategically cultivated a new generation of addicts, leveraging youth-friendly cartoon characters and super heroes to market a wave of high-sugar cereals to children. Interestingly, the childhood obesity epidemic has more than doubled in the past 30 years.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of sugar to no more than 100 calories per day for women and no more than 150 calories per day for men (about 6 teaspoons and 9 teaspoons daily for women and men, respectively). We are easily exceeding those guidelines. Certain brands of sodas have as much as 11 teaspoons (46.2 grams) of added sugar in a 12 oz. can, so just one contains essentially double the daily sugar allotment for most people.
Sugar triggers a response that leaves us craving more- thus the vicious cycle begins.
Sugar in any form is linked to a condition known as insulin resistance- the cause of most weight issues. In people with insulin resistance, their insulin receptors become less responsive, allowing insulin to stay in the system, putting blood sugar in a negative balance. In turn, this induces constant sugar cravings, causing the cycle to repeat itself.
This consumption of excess sugar can disrupt the body’s balance of hormones that help our bodies function properly. Excess sugar increases levels of glucose in the bloodstream, causing the pancreas to release insulin. Elevated insulin, in turn, causes the body to store more food calories as fat.
That means that sugar has a significant role in obesity.
Insulin is the hormone needed to lower blood sugar, but it is also a growth hormone. It makes your body convert sugar to fat and makes that fat hard to use as an energy source. This can lead into metabolic syndrome, a constellation of conditions including high blood pressure, abdominal fat, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides that are precursors for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Approximately 75 million Americans, or about 1 in 3, suffer from metabolic syndrome. If excess sugar consumption is the cause, as research suggests, then to echo the sentiment of nutrition writer Gary Taubes, author of “The Case against Sugar,” sugar is to diabetes what cigarettes are to lung cancer. We shouldn’t touch it.
Without excess sugar in our diets, would diabetes be rare? When researchers suggested as much in the 1970s, the medical consensus was that fat was the main culprit in obesity, not sugar. It looks like we are living with the repercussions of those assumptions today.
To join the ranks of healthcare providers fighting obesity, tweet us at @DrsFightObesity or use #DoctorsFightingObesity to keep the conversation going.
Linda Anegawa, M.D., F.A.C.P. is the founder of OSR Weight Management-Hawaii Metabolic Medicine. She serves on the University of Hawaii’s medical school faculty and developed the school’s first Obesity Medicine interdisciplinary clerkship experience. Dr. Anegawa also sits on the Ideal Protein Medical Advisory Board.