Cutting sugar yields small but significant reduction in body weight

Public enemy

The tide is finally beginning to turn against sugar. And I’ve got to say, I’m pretty excited about it.

Hard evidence of sugar’s role in this country’s runaway obesity epidemic continues to accumulate. And people are at least starting to pay attention to it for a change.

Public policy may be lagging behind. (More on that in a minute.) But progress is progress. And as the results of a recent meta-analysis show, every shot against sugar is a step in the right direction.

This new review looked at 30 randomized controlled trials and 38 population studies. And it found that cutting sugar can yield small but significant reductions in body weight.

There was a catch, of course. And it’s one that you could probably see coming from a mile away.

Subjects only lost weight if they swapped the sugar in their diet for something other than carbs. Which means that these two choices–sugar and refined carbohydrates–are equally bad choices.

In fact, they’re pretty much the same thing. Which is what I’ve been warning people about for my entire career.

In a lot of ways, the quality of the carbohydrate you consume is analogous to the type of fat you consume. Good carbs and good fats can enhance your health. Bad fats and bad carbs can kill you.

Nevertheless, current dietary recommendations largely ignore this distinction. And that just isn’t based in science.

What’s worse, people think they need carbs in order to feel full or satisfied. (Honestly, they just make me feel stuffed.) And the consequences of this addiction have been devastating.

As I’ve come to expect, government agencies are balking at this conclusion. The World Health Organization (WHO) openly dismissed any evidence that refined grains and starches might be metabolically on par with sugar.

But facts are facts. And you ignore the dangers of sugar–in any form–at your own peril.

The risk is especially high in the case of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, which have strong links to obesity and diabetes. (Although, as I mentioned previously, even artificially sweetened drinks raise your risk of diabetes. So if you think you are doing yourself a favor by drinking diet soda, guess again.)

And given the alarming levels of sugar consumption worldwide, let’s just say that health officials everywhere need to get with the program. Fast.

In the U.S. and U.K., average intake of added sugar comes in at about 33 teaspoons of sugar per person per day–or roughly 155 pounds per year. Meanwhile, we consume almost 50 pounds of artificial sweetener per person per year.

That is just gross to me.

The American Heart Association would like to see sugar intake drop by a good 20 teaspoons. Personally, I think that rather aggressive goal is still too modest.

But I guess we have to start somewhere. Like with public health actions such as those taken by the city of New York, for example.

Many of you may not know that I have a Master’s degree in public health in addition to my medical degree. So I am acutely aware of what needs to be done in order to have effective changes.

We need educational programs. Ones that will teach consumers the difference between eating a piece of fruit (which is rich in fiber and bioflavonoids) and drinking a glass of fruit juice (which is basically pure sugar).

We also need improvements in the foods and drinks we offer in schools and work sites. And we need supplemental nutrition programs for people with low incomes.

A judge may have recently shot down the NYC soda ban. But we can’t let this one defeat deter us from doing what’s right for our country.

I have to believe this is a battle that can be won. A recent study showed that we’re consuming at least 300 to 400 calories per day in liquid form–none of which is necessary. And all of which is potentially harmful.

Coke and Pepsi aren’t going to be pleased with a public health policy limiting sugar. But in the end, the health of our nation matters more.

Isn’t it time we stuck it to the big companies… instead of the other way around?

Nainggolan, Lisa. “New meta-analysis on sugar sparks old debate.” 15 Jan 2012. Accessed at on March 12, 2013.