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Science serves as the rope to hang sugar

Published June 24. 2013 05:07PM

I first tried to tighten the noose around the neck of sugar more than 20 years ago. In an article back then, I shared an experiment that nutrition and bodybuilding expert John Parrillo performed on a few of his clients a few weeks away from a bodybuilding competition and already ultra-low in body fat.

He replaced 300 calories provided in their old diet through brown rice with 300 calories of banana. Within a few days, all recorded increased body fat percentages.

Think about that. These bodybuilders were not eating any more or working out any less; they simply swapped 300 calories of primarily complex carbohydrates for 300 calories of primarily simple ones.

And the result was added body fat.

Anecdotal experiments like these led Parrillo to argue years before the thought was popular that all calories are not created equally. He called his concept nutrient partitioning, the belief that the body processes each of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates differently.

For instance, protein, complex carbohydrates, and one type of fat, medium-chained triglycerides, don't convert to body fat easily; therefore, ingesting an excess of these will result in less fat gain than eating a similar caloric excess of simple carbs or traditional fats, nutrients that can be stored as fat relatively easily.

Part of the reason is hormone secretion. Eat the former foods and you're more likely to eventually secrete glucagon, a hormone that promotes fat breakdown. Eat simple carbohydrates such as sugar and you're more likely to secrete insulin, the hormone designed to store fat.

Excess dietary fat needs little help in becoming body fat.

As a result, virtually all bodybuilders nearing a competition severely reduce or even eliminate simple carbs from their diet. But recent research suggests that the concept of nutrient partitioning has even greater application than bodybuilding competition preparation or even weight control.

Nutrient partitioning may very well hold the key to controlling type 2 diabetes.

The information gathered from 175 countries that took 10 years to complete and the numbers crunched at the University of California at San Francisco and published in PLOS ONE show that consuming too much sugar increases the risk of type 2 diabetes far more than consuming too many total calories.

In other words, the saying that all calories are not created equally applies to more than bodybuilding competition preparation and weight control.

By using statistical methods that could factor out all other variables, the UCSF researchers were able to deduce that the rate of diabetes increases in the general population by 1 percent for every 150-calorie increase in sugar in the diet during the day. Yet an overall increase of 150 calories per day only increases the rate by .1 percent, a tenth of the sugar-cal increase effect.

The researchers were surprised at the results, for the implications for all, especially children and teens, are startling. The results suggest that obesity takes a back seat to sugar consumption in the risk of diabetes.

Sure, the 12-year-old video gamer who's 20 pounds overweight and never leaves the house faces an increased risk of diabetes, but so to may the rail thin 12-year-old female whose daily snack after she swims and plays volleyball at the local pool is a pint of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

How significant are the UCSF findings? Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and the author of Food Politics feels "at this point, we have enough circumstantial evidence to advise people to keep their sugar [intake] a lot lower than it normally is."

A May 2010 article in Consumer Reports on Health estimated that women get about 300 calories a day from added sugars, about triple what the American Heart Association suggests. Men generally consume 400 calories of added sugars per day, yet should get no more than 150, according to the AHA.

Other research released by the American Dietetic Association this March shows the result of added sugar consumption: a marked increase in the cost the United States spends on diabetes. In 2007, the estimate was that the total cost direct medical costs and indirect ones such as absenteeism and loss of productivity was $174 billion.

The new estimate is $245 billion, an increase of 41 percent in five years.

Considering that 26 million Americans already have diabetes, but three times that number have prediabetes, the risk factors that make you a candidate for developing the disease, it's safe to say that the economic burden on U.S. health care from diabetes will continue to increase.

Unless something dramatic takes places, something like the restriction on soda that the New York City mayor has called for and had been vilified for.

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