Carbohydrates have taken a lot of heat in recent years. Why? Because many health and fitness experts think excess consumption of refined carbohydrates (refined sugars found in foods and beverages like candy and soda, and refined grains like white rice and white flour, found in many pastas and breads) have contributed to the dramatic rise of obesity in the United States.
Could one type of food cause such a big problem? Of course, not exercising and ingesting more calories than we need do take the lion's share of blame for the obesity epidemic. But the so-called "bad" carbs – sugar, high fructose corn syrup and refined foods - tend to be significant contributors to excess calories. Why? Because they're so readily available, fiercely marketed to our children, come in large portions, taste good, are relatively inexpensive, and aren't too filling.
People tend to eat more of these refined foods than needed or recommended. In addition, these soft drinks and highly processed foods provide no required nutrients, so all we are really getting is excess calories.
Sugary drinks are a big part of the American diet and supply high amounts of empty calories without supplying essential nutrients. Americans are consuming between 250-300 calories more daily than they were a decade ago and most of these calories come from sugary drinks. ¹ Liquid calories are not usually compensated for with reductions in food calories and therefore, contribute to weight gain. Since 1975, the rate of obesity in the U.S. has doubled from 15% to 32%.² In the 1980’s, soda manufacturers started using high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to sweeten their soda instead of sugar. The rapid rise in the rate of obesity has mirrored increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup. Obesity (a BMI> 30) increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, joint disorders and some cancers.
HFCS contains the same two molecules found in sugar. These two molecules are called glucose and fructose. Fructose is more than twice as sweet as glucose. The difference between HFCS and sugar is that HFCS contains more fructose than glucose. Sugar has equal amounts of fructose and glucose. The soda manufacturers began to use HFCS because it was sweeter than sugar and more cost effective. The bitter side of all of this for the consumer is that fructose and glucose are metabolized differently in the body. Fructose is sent to the liver for metabolism and glucose is absorbed into the blood stream.
Fructose metabolism in the liver favors the synthesis of triglycerides which are highly concentrated lipids that are stored in fat cells.4 The liver releases triglycerides into the blood stream and they are eventually stored in the fat cells promoting weight gain. Before they are stored away in the fat cells, they travel the blood stream and affect our metabolism and health. High serum triglycerides have been shown to not only raise the (bad) LDL cholesterol, but to have an inverse relationship with the more dangerous small particle sized LDL. Having elevated triglycerides is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and may also increase the risk of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). 5
HFCS consumption also bypasses the natural triggers that we have for satiety when eating foods from nature. When we eat fructose in its natural state as found in fruits, we are also consuming fiber which gives us a feeling of satiety as well as slows the absorption of fructose and glucose into the blood stream. In addition, fruits contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help us to fulfill daily essential requirements. Sodas also contain caffeine which works as a stimulant and natural diuretic, and sodium which naturally increases our thirst and our desire to drink more soda! Phosphoric acid is also present in soda and because it is an acid, it pulls calcium from the bone, raising the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.
Children should be encouraged to drink more water than any other beverage throughout the day. The second best drink for children is low-fat milk because it is a great source of calcium and vitamin D. Juice consumption should be limited. In fact, it is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children consume no more than 8-12 fluid ounces of 100% juice (no added sugar) daily.
¹ Kelly D. Brownell and Thomas R. Friedman, "Ounces of Prevention—the Public Policy Case for Taxes on Sugared Beverages” New England Journal of Medicine, April 30, 2009.
² Youfa Wang and May A. Beydoun, "The Obesity Epidemic in the United States-Gender, Age, Socioeconomic, Racial/Ethnic, and Geographic Characteristics: A Systemic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis” Epidemiologic Reviews, Vol 29 Issue 1 pg 6-28, January 25, 2007.
³ K. L. Stanhope, A. A. Bremer, V. Medici, K. Nakajima, Y. Ito, T. Nakano, G. Chen, T. H. Fong, V. Lee, R. I. Menorca, N. L. Keim, P. J. Havel, "Consumption of Fructose and High Fructose Corn Syrup Increase Postprandial Triglycerides, LDL-Cholesterol, and Apolipoprotein-B in Young Men and Women” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2011; DOI: 10.1210/jc.2011-
4 Xiaosen Ouyang, MD, Pietro Cirillo, MD, Yuri Sautin, PhD, Shannon McCall, MD, et al "Fructose Consumption as a Risk Factor for Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” J Hepatol, Author Manuscript; available in Pub Med Central Journal List, 2008 June; 48(6); 933-999 10.1016/j.jhep.2008.02.011
5 Mayo Clinic Staff "Triglycerides: Why do they matter? "Accessed on 3/11/2012 at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/triglycerides/CL00015
For additional information about sugar in your family's diet, you might want to read the following articles: