Diabetes : Is Sugar to Blame?

Stephanie Reighart

As January fades into February, many New Year's resolutions start to wilt.

But the status of sugar in the American diet is still hotly contested.

"Sugar (and added sugars) has received a lot of attention lately," said Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice president of nutrition and food safety at the International Food Information Council, in an email.

The resolve to lose weight again made the list as one of the most common resolutions in the United States, but research suggests it's also one of the hardest to keep.

Recently published research in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that obese people have a lower risk of death compared to people with normal weight.

A recent book by Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, posits fat isn't the issue in obesity.

What does matter is the health of processes necessary for life. Heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses threaten health, Lustig said. And he blames sugar for the development of those conditions.

Studies in nutrition are frequently cropping up with new ideas in weight loss and management, but it's important to remember the science of nutrition is still evolving, said Susan Kopins, a registered dietitian at the Women's Healthcare Group in Spring Garden Township.

"The American Heart Association and American Medical Association recently recognized under their low-fat diet recommendation, obesity rates increased," Kopins said.

But sugar is tricky, she said.

It's easy to get a lot of sugar quickly into your system with sodas and juices," Kopins said.

That rush of sugar sends a message to the body to stabilize blood-sugar levels with insulin. Because the simple sugars are quickly and easily digested, the body is soon hungry again. The addictive qualities of sugar, push people to desire more sweet flavors to curb their hunger, and the cycle starts again, Kopins said.

The way to solve the problem: portion control.

John White, an expert in caloric sweeteners, agrees.

"Sugars alone are not responsible for obesity," said White, the president of White Technical Research, a consulting firm for the food and beverage industry. "It's calorie intake."

The Food and Drug Administration reported calorie intake over the last 40 years has increased by 425 calories a day.

And calorie reduction is achievable, Kopins said.

She recommends pairing sweet foods with those high in fiber or protein.

For example, apple slices with peanut butter will slow down the insulin response and better control the sugar dump, she said.

"There's a place for everything in your diet," Kopins said. "The key is finding balance."

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