Saturday, March 21, 2009

The American Diet: Sugar

American diet, that is. While the current recommendation is a maximum intake of eight teaspoons of sugars a day, one 12-ounce can of regular soda (or a 20-ounce bottle of VitaminWater) delivers eight or nine teaspoons. That means you are at or over the limit before you’ve eaten a single cookie or container of fruit-flavored yogurt, or even some commercial tomato soups or salad dressings with added sugars. The result is an average daily intake of more than 20 teaspoons of sweet calories.

Although much fuss has been raised about high-fructose corn syrup, when it comes to calories and weight gain, it makes no difference if the sweetener was derived from corn, sugar cane, beets or fruit juice concentrate. All contain a combination of fructose and glucose and, gram for gram, supply the same number of calories. All contribute to the excessive caloric intake that has resulted in an epidemic of obesity among Americans in the last 25 years.

Dr. George Bray, a specialist in obesity and metabolism at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center of Louisiana State University, has calculated that “the current epidemic of obesity could be explained by the consumption of an extra 20-ounce soft drink each day.”

Among the most recent substances to take a turn as dietary villain is high-fructose corn syrup, a relatively cheap and reliable sweetener criticized, among other reasons, for being “artificial.”

But Dr. Michael Jacobson, director of the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in an interview that consumers should not think they are doing themselves a favor by turning to products with sugar instead.

“If the food industry got rid of all the high-fructose corn syrup and replaced it with sugar, we’d have the same problems we have now with obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” he said. “It’s an urban myth that high-fructose corn syrup has a special toxicity.”

Neither ordinary sugar — sucrose — nor high-fructose corn syrup contains any nutrients other than sweet calories, and both are added in prodigious amounts to beverages and many foods that offer few if any nutrients to compensate for their caloric input.

“What consumers need to do is cut down on both,” Jacobson said. “Sugary foods either add calories or replace other, more nutritious foods.”

So why are so many people concerned about the sweetener derived from corn? From a health perspective, several reasons offered are frivolous.

Some consumers consider high-fructose corn syrup to be an “artificial” ingredient, whereas sugar is believed to be “natural.” They are equally artificial or natural depending on how you define the terms, since neither occurs in nature in the form they are used; both must be extracted from plant material.

Some consumers fear the genetically modified enzymes or corn used to produce high-fructose corn syrup. Yet enzymes do not become part of the product; genetically modified corn is not a health hazard; and, anyway, almost every food we consume has been genetically modified.

Still, there are possible unresolved health concerns about high-fructose corn syrup that warrant further research. Whether fructose comes from high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose, Dr. Barry M. Popkin said in an interview, it is “really not part of our natural diet. Fruit contains only tiny amounts of it. We’ve gone from a few grams of it a day to tablespoons of it.”

Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina and the author of The World Is Fat (Avery, 2008), pointed out that it takes almost a pound of oranges to produce eight ounces of juice, which concentrates the sugars and strips away the appetite-satiating fiber and bulk of the fruit. “An 8-ounce glass of juice from oranges, apples or grapes has about five to eight teaspoons of sugar,” he said. “Calorically and nutritionally, it’s much better to eat the fruit.”

Bray does not consider fructose in the amounts now in the American diet to be benign. “There’s nothing to suggest it’s good for you,” he said. “As the amounts consumed increase, you begin to see effects that are not seen when it is consumed in much smaller amounts.”

Fructose, he explained, is metabolized primarily in the liver, which favors the formation of fats.

“It is not surprising that several studies have found changes in circulating lipids when subjects eat high-fructose diets,” he wrote in an editorial in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007. A study by Elizabeth J. Parks and colleagues at the University of Minnesota, for example, found that triglyceride levels rose when people consumed mixtures containing more fructose than glucose.

Another study, by nephrologists at the University of Florida, found that fructose consumption raised blood levels of uric acid, which can foster “metabolic syndrome,” a condition of insulin resistance and abdominal obesity associated with heart disease and diabetes.

And a study by Dr. Chi-Tang Ho, professor of food science at Rutgers University, found “astonishingly high” levels of substances called reactive carbonyls in 11 carbonated soft drinks. These molecules, which form when fructose and glucose are unbound, are believed to cause tissue damage. They are elevated in the blood of people with diabetes and linked to complications of the disease. Ho estimated that a can of soda has five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls found in the blood of an adult with diabetes.

To consumers unwilling to give up soft drinks, Bray, a slender man who follows his own advice, suggests choosing diet sodas sweetened with aspartame, which he said has none of the once-feared health effects.

Center for Science in the Public Interest sued Coca-Cola Co. over what it calls “deceptive” claims about VitaminWater. GlacĂ©au Vitaminwater has claimed a healthy alternative to other beverages due to added vitamins and minerals. The health advocacy group feels the drink is more likely to do harm than good, considering the 33 grams of sugar.

Coke and CSPI are also in litigation over claims that Enviga brand burns more calories and leads to weight loss. This is on top of issues Coke has with the FDA over Coke Plus. It looks again like water may be better than this alternative.

Coca-Cola Back in the News for a 2nd Lawsuit

Recently, Coca-Cola’s Vitamin Water has come under fire for its “deceptive and unsubstantiated” Cocacola_back_in_the_news_for_a_2nd health claims, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)

For more than a year I’ve personally tried to explain to my weight loss clients that drinking Vitamin Water during their workouts and throughout the day is not going to be beneficial to attaining their goals because of all the added sugar.

Did you know that each bottle contains 33 grams of sugar and only about 1% fruit juice?

Here is what else CSPI had to say, “This amount of sugar in each drink is more likely to promote, diabetes, obesity and other health problems, compared to the benefits claimed by the added vitamins listed on the bottles.”

Also, according to Medical News Today, James Koh, plaintiff, a San Francisco, California resident, who used to purchase and drink Vitamin Water after a work-out at his local gym, said "When I bought Vitamin Water, frankly I thought I was doing myself a favor health-wise. I was attracted by the prospect of getting extra vitamins. But I had no idea that I was actually getting almost a Coke's worth of sugar and calories. There's no way I would have spent money on that, had I known."

The lesson to be learned here is that just because a product sounds healthy or is marketed that way, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is… make sure you read the ingredients and substantiate any claims before trying a product.