How to Ditch the Sugar Habit
So Long, Sweet Tooth
I consider myself a pretty healthy eater. I chow down on a variety of fruits and veggies, lean protein and whole grains, and I do my best to keep my sweet tooth in check. So I never really worried about how much sugar I was getting -- that is, until I recently heard one doctor say that high doses of sugar were poison and another that he was eliminating the refined sweetener from his diet. Uh-oh. Was the sugar I sprinkled on my oatmeal and stirred into my coffee -- and okay, the occasional cookie or three -- hurting my health?
If I'm eating too much of the sweet stuff, I may have reason to be concerned, doctors say. Sugar is made up of roughly equal parts glucose and fructose. When we consume it, the pancreas releases insulin, which helps our cells use glucose as fuel. However, if we eat more sugar than our bodies can process, insulin instructs our system to store the excess as fat, and we gain weight. The more you weigh, the greater your risk for such health conditions as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Here's where things get a little sticky. Some docs -- particularly Robert Lustig, MD, a professor of pediatrics and endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco -- think that the problem with sugar goes beyond that. Lustig believes that the fructose in sugar is especially dangerous, because we can't digest it properly. That means fructose is metabolized mainly by the liver, which works hard to try to break it down. The strain can result in type 2 diabetes as well as high blood pressure, liver problems and cardiovascular disease, Lustig says.
Plenty of other experts think Lustig is exaggerating the dangers of fructose. "As long as we don't eat it in excess, our bodies don't have trouble breaking down fructose," says David Katz, MD, the director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center. But therein lies the real concern, he adds: Sugar itself is not bad, but all of us are eating way more than we should be these days. "That is what leads to obesity, type 2 diabetes and other health problems," Dr. Katz explains.
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