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Poisoned!? What every mom needs to know about sugar

How your child’s organic, unsweetened juice is poisoning them almost as fast as a beer, a can of soda, or an HFCS-laden sports drink.

I love research and I love nutrition.  So when in one week a friend sent me a funny SNL skit mocking High Fructose Corn Syrup commercials and another friend sent me a lecture by Robert Lustig on why sugar is a poison,  I knew it was time to delve deeper into the issue of sugar.

Fructose (sugar) is a poison that is causing an obesity epidemic is the moral of the lecture by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. I encourage you to watch the entire hour and half lecture, it is accessible to the lay person, but because I know that most of you will watch the funny commercial but not the whole lecture, I am going to tell you how it applies to you (and give you a much condensed, standing at the water cooler in heels that pinch version).

You and your CHILD are in danger of being part of the obesity epedemic if either of you drink JUICE (yes, even unsweetened, even organic), soda pop, sports drinks, BABY FORMULA, store-bought breads, cookies, or almost every food sold as LOW-FAT. 


How bad is HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup)?

In short, it is bad. Very bad. We consume now an average of 63 pounds of HFCS a year per person. That consumption has grown from zero in 1966 which was when HCFS was developed by the Japanese.

If you drink one soda a day—you will gain an average of 15.6 pound a year. There is plenty of research (Dr. Lustig point out much of it) linking drinking soda with Type II diabetes.

Sugar is just as bad as HCFS and we are getting a lot of it too

Prior to WW@ we got 16 to 24 gm/day of fructose on average. Today, adolescents get 7.8 grams/day of fructose—it is 12% of caloric intake. We are each consuming about 141 pounds of sugar a year.

Juice causes obesity too.  Dr. Lustig pointed to a study done on inner city Harlem toddlers that showed that the number of juice servings per day effects (increases) the BMI (body mass index): the more juice, the fatter the babies. (The juice, by the way, is given to these Harlem toddlers as part of WIC (the government entitlement program to help poor U.S. women and children).

Dr. Lustig’s calculations for adults were that one glass of fruit juice a day, equals about 7 extra pounds a year.

Fat doesn’t make us fat, sugar does

In 1982 everyone gave up fat. Why? Because the USDA, AMA (American Medical Association), and AHA (Heart Association) told everyone that fat causes heart disease.  So, North Americans started eating less fat and getting more heart disease.  Why? Because the USDA, AMA, and AHA got it wrong. What the science is showing us now (and Dr. Lustig shows a fair number of these studies) is that it is fructose that is making us fat and causing heart disease and a plethora of other problems. The low-fat craze made things worse because processed foods added sugar in replace of fat to make the food taste like food and not cardboard.

The metabolic syndrome is a conglomerate of obesity, hypertension, lipid problems, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 Diabetes and all of these things are made worse or caused by fructose.

Furthermore, fructose is even more problematic because unlike other carbohydrates or fat is does not suppress ghreliin (the hunger hormone) and it does not stimulate insulin which means are brains tell us we are still hungry after we eat the sugar.

Sugar is worse than an empty calorie: it is a killer

A calorie is not just a calorie. Carbohydrates behave differently in the body. Glucose is processed and used, but fructose behaves like ethanol (alcohol) in the liver. Or, as Dr. Lustic says in summary, a class of soda is to your liver the same as a can of beer, but without the buzz.

Let’s take a look at 120 calories in three forms and what happens to those calories in the body

Glucose (two slices of white bread)

  • 80% will be used by your body.
  • 20% will hit the liver—that’s 24 calories. Much of that will become glycogen, which can be stored in the liver.
  • About  ½ calorie ends up in the cell’s mitochondria as VLDL. (VLDL—causes heart disease and is a substrate for obesity).
  • And your brain thinks you have eaten.

Ethanol (a shot of Maker’s Mark)

  • 24 calories are processed or used by the body,
  • 80% or 96 calories hit the liver where it causes proteins to cross link and much of it becomes VLDL. (Can cause fatty liver in heavy drinkers).

Sucrose (a glass of orange juice)

  • Sucrose is half fructose and half glucose. 60 calories are glucose, 48 of those used by body.
  • All 60 of the fructose calories hit the liver because only the liver can metabolize fructose (similar to alcohol) for a total (with 12 from the glucose) of 72 calories hitting the liver. In the liver, these calories cause many of the same problems as the ethanol does and much of it also becomes VLDL. Thus, you can get non-alcoholic hepatitis (fatty liver) from fructose. In fact, in your liver ethanol and fructose act similarly. They can cause many of the same side effects including hypertension.
  • Fructose consumption makes your brain think you are starving even as your fat cells are full.

Let’s look in short at why Dr. Lustig says that soda is beer without the buzz…

                                                            Soda Pop                        Beer

  • Calories                                                150                                   150
  • Calories Reaching the Liver                 90              &n
    bsp;                     92

Diseases associated with fructose consumption include: gout, uric acid and hypertension, and heart disease.

Isn’t fructose natural?

Sure fructose is natural says Dr. Lustig, but so is tobacco and alcohol. In nature wherever you find fructose you find it with WAY more fiber (look at sugar cane—it is basically a stick with some sugar thrown in). Fruit is okay because it is a limited amount of fructose and a lot of fiber, an essential nutrient, and other nutrients too. Fiber, in short, is good for you he says and the more the better.


Does baby formula prepare babies to be soda pop drinkers?

The must disturbing part of the whole talk (or second most for me as I love—loved—juice) is when he dissects a can of Similac Isomil baby formula.

Baby formula

  • 43.2% Corn syrup solids
  • 14.6% soy protein isolate
  • 11.5% high oleic safflower oil
  • 10.3% sugar (sucrose)
  • 8.4% soy oil
  • 8.1% coconut oil

“It’s a baby milkshake” says Dr. Lustig. Formula is 10.3% sugar and soda is 10.5% sugar. (Lactose is what makes breastmilk sweet, not fructose. The body breaks lactose down into two simpler sugars— glucose and galactose).

The earlier you expose a child to sweets, the more they crave it later says Dr. Lustig referencing a growing body of literature and, just as disturbing, he said that new literature is also suggesting that the  more sugar a pregnant woman eats the more that gets across the placenta and programs the unborn baby to crave sugar before they are even born.

What should a mother do about it?

Well, maybe now isn’t the time to write this section as I feel a bit panicky about it all. Sugar, as we know, is everywhere. It is in almost every loaf of bread on the grocery store shelf (and it is certainly in that yummy chocolate-covered  coconut macaroon I just ate). Sugar is in almost EVERY item sold for a child’s consumption:  It is added to the organic baby yoghurt, added to the apple sauce, and to many purred and packaged baby foods. And, even if it isn’t added to the fruit juice your toddler just ran off with, it is still as bad for his body as if you just gave him a beer without the buzz. (Can I get that can of buzz without the sugar, that would be useful…)


Dr. Lustig says to start this is what we do:

  • Get rid of all sugared liquids—only water and milk
  • Eat your carbohydrates with fiber
  • Wait 20 minutes for second portion
  • Buy screen time minute-for-minute with physical activity

The Green Mama also suggests

  • Read labels!I know, I suggest that anyway.  Now, it is just another thing to look for on your label: Is it organic? Is it processed? Does it have added sugar? How many grams of sucrose? Of fiber? (I started doing this today and I, a very careful shopper, am already apalled.)
  • If you have a baby at home examine your formula label. (And see my upcoming blog on formula).  Don’t buy formula with sucrose in place of lactose.
  • Boycott baby foods (or baby yoghurt, or baby anything) with added sugar (why, oh why could I find NO organic apple sauce without added sugar? That’s crazy. )
  • Don’t let your baby drink juice! (I know it gets harder with older kids, but then treat it as a special treat.)
  • Give your child whole apples instead of apple sauce or fruit roll ups; oranges instead of orange juice; the fiber content should far outweigh the sugar content (and nature does this naturally).
  • Consider baby-led feeding (letting babies handle real food instead of always feeding them purees).
  • AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:Start getting yourself and your child used to eating whole foods and liking lots of flavors.

Of course it is easier to start when they are six months and don’t know any better, but start introducing a variety of flavors now–whenever now is.  Let them try sour, unsweetened yoghurt (as you can tell sweetened baby yoghurt is a real pet peeve of mine); make your own baby food at least some of the time so they  can get flavors that are more diverse (home-made sweet potato tastes way more interesting than the canned stuff); feed your young child interesting things off your own plate (i.e. don’t make it more work for you). Try and try again.

If you can’t convince your child to try them, then eat them yourself. Eventually, your good example might wear off.

Article by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. Information excerpted from a lecture by Dr. Lustig, MD.

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