THE RISKS OF SIMPLE SUGARS: PART I
Sugar & Beverages
By Alan Safdi, M.D., FACG
Dr. Alan Safdi is past chairman of the Section of Gastroenterology at Deaconess Hospital and served as co-founder and president of the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute. Dr. Safdi is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, and is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. He is former chairman of the Crohn’s and Colitis Medical Advisory Board in Cincinnati and still serves as president of Consultants for Clinical Research. He was also co-founder of eMerge Health Solutions, Consultants for Clinical Research, and outpatient GI and anesthesia programs.
Sugar is everywhere and is especially prevalent in many of the beverages we see daily. Not all sugar is bad, but the simple sugars added to sports drinks, diet drinks and soft drinks will certainly have an adverse effect on your body in the long run. In this article, we will go through some of the most disturbing consequences of adding sugars to your diet via beverages. These consequences include heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Plus, we’ll take a look at the safe beverages you should be consuming.
Simple sugars are carbohydrates which are quickly absorbed by our bodies to produce energy. Simple sugars include a vast array of familiar products including table sugar (including cane sugar, raw sugar and brown sugar), agave, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, tapioca syrup, and agave nectar (which includes as much as 70-92 percent fructose), plus molasses, honey, fruit juice, and maple syrup. Food and beverage producers dump these simple sugars into stuff we buy at the grocery store and often try and hide the fact the foods or beverages contain simple sugars. They use some of the names above to try and fool the public.
The fructose half of table sugar (the other half is sucrose) and all the other simple sugars cause a lot of trouble in the body. Fructose is nearly exclusively used in the liver, so it is not an energy source for the brain, muscles or anything else. When the liver gets overloaded, it turns some of the fructose into triglycerides, the main constituents of body fat in humans. When this stuff flows into the blood stream, we see an increase in the bad form of cholesterol called LDL cholesterol. That, in turn, can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries and result in heart disease and stroke.
A study published in March, 2017 shows that a higher consumption of sugary beverages is associated with some of the markers for pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, higher consumption of sugary beverages was associated with a lower total brain volume. Ironically, everyday fruit juice consumption was related to lower total brain volume, hippocampal volume (memory area of the brain) and poorer episodic memory (the memory of autobiographical events). Yes, some amount of fruit juice is fine. If you are a big juice drinker, consider switching to whole fruit, which also contains fiber and phytochemicals. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes are the best sources of phytochemicals (substances produced by growing plants, for various purposes including protection from pathogens).
Your body may not register the calories in drinks as well as it does the calories in food. When you down sweetened beverages (think sweetened iced tea or soda) before or with a meal, your body may not compensate for those sugar calories by eating or drinking less of something else that day. That means the simple sugars build up faster than they might if all your sugar came from food.
Making matters worse: serving sizes for beverages are ballooning, and that makes Americans balloon, too. Beverages contribute to this country’s obesity epidemic. What’s really changed in our diets over the last few decades is that we’re drinking a lot more calories than we ever did before.