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“Is Sugar Toxic?” Asks Recent ’60 Minutes’ Report

Ryan | June 22nd, 2012

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A recent 60 Minutes report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked the question “Is sugar toxic?” According to the doctors and specialists who appeared on the program, the answer may not be a definitive “yes,” but one thing seems to be clear: Consumption of sugar has been definitively linked to increased risk for life-threatening conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Sugar linked to diabetes, heart disease

Dr. Gupta interviewed Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, who argues that sugar consumption in the U.S. has reached “crisis” proportions. The average person in the country consumes 130 pounds of fructose and corn syrup every year, which is four times as much sugar intake as is recommended by the American Heart Association. Dr. Lustig suggests that sweeteners are causing a growing incidence of heart disease in America.

According to the 60 Minutes report, not all calories are made equal. “Calories from added sugars are different than calories from other foods,” reports Dr. Gupta, citing a study linking consumption of sugar to increased cholesterol, and therefore a higher risk of stroke and heart disease.

The program also features Harvard professor and head of the Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Center, Dr. Lewis Cantley. He says sugar consumption is linked to a higher risk for cancer. Eating sugar spikes insulin in the blood, and high insulin volume has been linked to the growth of cancer tumors. This happens because many common cancers, including breast and colon cancer, use glucose to grow and expand.

Gupta also speaks to a neuroscientist who uses MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of brain activity to show that even small amounts of sugar cause the pleasure centers of the brain to become active in ways that are very similar to what happens when alcohol or drugs like cocaine are consumed. He suggests that sugar is highly addictive. Just as with other addictive drugs, the more sugar you eat, the more of a tolerance you build up. The more sweets you eat, the less you experience the pleasure reward, with the result that you end up eating more of them than ever.

Monitor intake of dangerous sugars

Dr. Michael Kaplan, the founder and chief medical officer of The Center for Medical Weight Loss, the largest group of non-surgical weight loss physicians in the country, says, “In general, I advise all of my concerned patients to avoid sugar in all its many forms as much as possible, and especially if they struggle with cravings or binge eating of sweet foods.”

Dr. Kaplan points out that determining the actual sugar content of some foods can be “confusing” for patients, since “sugar can be listed on a food’s ingredient label under many other names besides sugar. These include raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, turbinado sugar, molasses, agave nectar, fruit juice concentrates, barley malt syrup, maltrose, and sucrose. Sugar can also be listed under more than one of these names on the same food label.”

But Dr. Kaplan reminds patients that sugar intake is just one small part of reaching and maintaining your ideal weight.

Diabetes diet plan

  • Don’t cut carbs completely: Between carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, it’s carbs that have the most influence on blood sugar. But cutting carbs completely can lead to erratic spikes and drops in glucose levels. People on a diabetes diet plan should choose the right kinds of carbs—such as vegetables, whole grains, and fruits— and complement their carb intake with a balanced. People who want to reach their ideal weight and stay there should make sure their diet includes approximately:
    • 50% carbs
    • 35% fat
    • 15% protein
  • Pick the right proteins: Go for fish, poultry, and lean meats like turkey over fatty meats like steak. Other good food choices are nuts, low-fat dairy, and grains.
  • Fiber is important: Whole grain breads and fruit are high in fiber. Not only will they lower your blood glucose levels, but they will also reduce your cholesterol. An ideal amount of fiber per day is 25-35 grams.
  • Don’t skip meals: Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, with 1-2 snacks mixed in. Eating nutritious, proportioned meals at regular times during the day helps control blood sugar, and speeds up the body’s metabolism, which means more calories are burned—even when you’re not active.
  • Exercise: Glucose levels diminish immediately with aerobic, or cardiovascular, exercise like running, cycling, swimming, or even just walking around the block.

In the end, as Dr. Kaplan indicates, “It’s safe to say that sugar shouldn’t be considered a health food.” But controlling sugar intake is just one part of a healthy diabetes diet plan that will lower a person’s blood sugar and help them reach their ideal weight safely and healthily.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Kaplan and the Center for Medical Weight Loss, please visit their website by clicking the link:  Center for Medical Weight Loss – How it works.