Get Healthy- Cut Back on Sugar

by Marcia Dettloff, OD on March 11, 2013

In honor of National Nutrition Month, let’s talk about the most important change you can make to your diet: cutting back on simple carbohydrates like white sugar, white flour, white rice and fruit juice.  These carbohydrates cause rapid increases in your blood glucose which we now know leads to inflammation and disease throughout your body, including your eyes.

Sweet foods are high in energy and no sweet foods found in nature are poisonous so we have a natural attraction to them.  Unfortunately, food manufacturers have taken advantage of that attraction by breaking down complex carbs through processing and/or by adding simple carbs to their products to keep us coming back for more.

There are tons of articles about the ill effects of sugar.  Sugar Shock is an excellent article that explains how sugars are used by our bodies, how excess sugar leads to disease and how sugars are often disguised in labeling by listing them under multiple aliases.  If you don’t want to read the whole article, jump to the Tame Your Sweet Tooth section (about half way down the page) where it lists several suggestions for reducing your sugar intake.  Also check out the WEB EXTRA Sugar by Any Other Name at the end where it lists aliases frequently used on food labels.

In an interview on the Diane Rehm Show last month, Robert Lustig, author of “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease“ said there are several sources of metabolic dysfunction but “sugar consumption is probably the big one”.

One item to avoid that surprises most people is fruit juice.  Like many parents, I always gave my kids 100% fruit juice instead of soda or Kool-Aid, thinking it was a healthy alternative.  But fruit juice gives a blood sugar rush.  That’s why diabetics drink orange juice when their blood sugar drops too low.  And that’s exactly what we want to avoid. Even today, thanks to successful marketing campaigns by juice manufacturers, most patients are surprised when I tell them to limit fruit juices.

Dr. Lustig described an experiment his colleague, Cindy Gershen, did in her food science class that highlighted the extreme difference between eating the whole fruit and drinking juice.  She gave one student 6 oranges and told him to make orange juice from them.  He ended up with about 12 oz of juice which he then drank and was ready for more.  The other student was told to eat the 6 oranges.  He threw up on #4 and said he couldn’t eat any more.

The difference is that the whole fruit has fiber that moves it through your intestines faster. That results in less absorption of sugar along the way, allowing for more of the sugar to be digested by bacteria in the gut.  It also provides a feeling of fullness. The other problem with juice is that processing removes many of the nutrients.  The end result is that fruit juice actually has more sugar than soda and the processing removes many of the nutrients (some of which are added back in).  For more information see Just Say No to Juice?

On The People’s Pharmacy today I heard an interview with the authors of The Great Cholesterol Myth, Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS and Stephen Sinatra, MD, FACC. They argue that no association between elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease has been shown. Small particle LDL-B is the ONLY type of cholesterol that sticks to arteries. When inflammation is present, these small particles rupture and form plaques. A cholesterol fractionation test, not the standard HDL/LDL measurement is needed to determine the size and number of your LDL particles.

They blame inflammation triggered by excess sugar and grains in processed food (not cholesterol and saturated fats) as the major cause of heart disease (and metabolic syndrome).  Cholesterol is necessary for thinking and memory and is required for the formation of Vit D, the sex hormones, the myelin sheaths covering our nerves and Coenzyme Q10, a chemical that cells require to make the energy needed to function.  While statins do have some anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial, blocking the production of cholesterol isn’t treating the problem and has potential for many adverse side effects.

I would encourage anyone with high cholesterol or who is currently taking a statin drug, especially women or parents of children on statins, to listen to this interview for some of the scientific support for their theory along with their nutritional recommendations for cardiovascular health. Dr Mercola’s site also has an excellent interview with Dr.  Sinatra that covers some other details or check out Dr. Sinatra’s own site: for more information.

Also check out these links for more information about sugar found in foods:

Update 3/27/13-
Here’s a couple more links courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Anshel:
Sugar: The Bitter Truth is a 90 minute video by Dr. Robert Lustig that details the science behind the problem with sugar.  If you are interested in the science but can’t sit still for 90 min, I noticed this link that summarizes Lustig’s concepts into an 11 min video: Sugar: The Bitter Truth (The SHORT Version)

The Big Fat Lies  explains how we ended up with the bogus theory that saturated fat and cholesterol were the cause of heart disease.  It was all driven by a study where the researcher, Ancel Keys, threw out all the data that didn’t fit his theory.

Update 9/11/13
It looks like I may have to revisit the cholesterol question. I was talking to a patient that is involved in cutting edge cholesterol research yesterday and he said that is old news. If I understood the condensed explanation he gave me, it now appears that it’s the total number of particles, not the size that is more important. And it is the proteins surrounding the cholesterol particles, not the cholesterol itself, that affect heart disease.

Your HDL and LDL levels are essentially a measure of the volume of the two types of cholesterol. If two patients have the same total cholesterol level, the patient with a smaller average particle size will have a lot more particles overall than a patient with a larger average particle size. So it appeared that the small particles were the problem but in retesting blood samples from past studies to look at the total number of particles and reanalyzing the data, they have found the connection to total number of particles. Here’s a link to some studies at the Liposcience website.

The good thing is that we continue to learn more about what makes us tick and what makes us sick. But even with the cholesterol debate, inflammation is still a key component of cardiovascular disease and diets high in simple carbohydrates like white sugar, white rice and white bread add to that inflammation.

1 Mari-Jo September 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with the 2 major points above: too much sugar in our diets and a refocus on the [preventable] causes of heart disease. Our culture is obsessed with numbers that we now know are meaningless and a “taste good” eating style that is killing us! All the workouts and exercise are useless if we don’t put the right fuel in our bodies to sustain good health. I have read the book “The Great Cholesterol Myth” and am revising my diet accordingly.

2 Marcia Dettloff, OD September 12, 2013 at 4:48 am

Thanks for reading and commenting. But check out the update I just made that gives us more to think about.

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