The Real Scoop On Sugar

The average American consumes 120 teaspoons of sugar a day! Sugar is found in most foods - candy bars, bread, potatoes, fruits and vegetables. According to recent studies, as sugar consumption increases, so do health problems.

Traditional wisdom is that, besides some "empty calories" and minor dental problems, sugar is what our body needs. Television commercials are quick to suggest that a candy bar is perfect when there's no time for a meal. As the typical American consumes 42 pounds of sugar a year, sweet tooths are becoming sweeter, and, unfortunately, our bodies are deteriorating.

New studies are uncovering a dark side to sugar. Heart disease, high cholesterol levels, obesity and other heath problems are linked to sugar. For those of us trained nutritionally in the 1980's low fat, low protein and high complex carbohydrate diet, it's been a recipe for distress. Although fat consumption is low, we scarf down those satisfying carbohydrates. Allow me to shed light on the link between sugar and health.

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple sugars (found in table sugars, candy bars, etc.) and complex sugars (starch, fruits, vegetables, etc.) Carbohydrates are found in plant and animal food sources. The body absorbs carbohydrates and converts them into glucose -- the fuel that makes our body function. It's glucose that raises the body's blood sugar. Insulin is then secreted by the pancreas to properly adjust blood sugar. Too much (hyperglycemia) or too little (hypoglycemia) sugar are serious health problems.

The more carbohydrates consumed, the more insulin the body produces. And it's the increase of insulin that's creating problems. High insulin levels affect the body in three significant ways:

    1. Insulin causes the body to store excess sugar as fat.
    2. Insulin inhibits the body to mobilize the stored fat.
    3. Insulin increases the production of cholesterol.

Are you beginning to understand why many of us are having a problem becoming "unfat"? Why cholesterol levels are increasing even when eating a low fat diet? These are some of the common unexplained issues facing those of us who have been following guidelines established 10 to 15 years ago. Many now believe weight problems are the result of high level sugar consumption, not the amount of fat ingested. Unfortunately, people are then led to believe that a diet high in protein (high saturated fat diet) and low in carbohydrates is healthy. Based on good science there appears to be a solid link between the sugar-insulin-body connection (not to be confused with fad diets advocating high saturated foods).

Does this mean we should abandon eating fruits and vegetables? Of course not. Old wisdom mandated limiting simple sugars and loading-up on complex sugars. We now understand there are insulin-stimulating carbohydrates that need to be modified. A partial list includes: potatoes, white bread, refined sugar, white rice, carrots, corn, raisins. Low insulin producing foods include: beans, green vegetables, peas, peanuts, peaches, plums.

For all "carbohydrate junkies," these are not happy times. We were doing so well on our low fat diets. Yet many have become insulin resistant and/or suffer from hyperinsulinemia.

Before you throw in the towel or adopt an attitude of "Why bother trying, they will come up with a new theory next month!"; think about how you conquered your enormous fat consumption. You were able to successfully modify, limit and substitute your fat intake. Certainly, we can also learn to modify some of those insulin producing carbs. As for the "new theory next month" attitude, I can only hope we are smarter today than we were yesterday and will continue to improve our knowledge base. Only continuous research will provide relevant information to enhance health and well being.

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About The Author / Credits: Keith Levick, Ph.D., is a health psychologist who has been in practice for 20 years and is an Adjunct Professor at Central Michigan University. He is the founder and director of the Center for Childhood Weight Management, a unique treatment program designed for overweight children, located in Farmington Hills, MI, and in YMCA'S throughout Michigan. Dr. Levick is also the President of Goren and Associates, a training and development company. Some of their clients include GM, DaimlerChrysler, Detroit Diesel, AT&T and other Fortune 500 companies. Dr. Levick serves on the Executive Board for the American Heart Association and is well published in the area of health and wellness.

Dr. Levick is author of a new book entitled, Why Is My Child So Overweight? A Parent's Guide to a Fit & Healthy Child, designed to help the entire family become more aware of eating behaviors and help create lifestyle changes. This book is available through

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