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Sugar Deadly Sugar

The New York Times - The Workout Enigma

Sugar may be the most deadly ingredient in the American diet. When I use the word sugar, I don't just mean High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). I'm talking about all sugars, from the syrup on your pancakes, the honey in your tea to the sweeteners in soft drinks we consume every year.

In 2005, when I wrote my first article about sugar, I encouraged people to go against the prevailing wisdom of the time. When the whole world was counting carbohydrates, I said it was more important to count the sugar. Here's why.

Reducing or eliminating carbs was a bad idea because it meant dieters were eating less fiber. What many people didn't realize then or now, is that fiber is a carbohydrate. Repeat that out loud. Fiber is a carbohydrate. When you indiscriminately cut out the carbs in your diet, you also lower your intake of fiber.

But lowering the amount of fiber we eat is exactly the wrong thing to do. People who have diets higher in cereal fiber have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Fiber has also been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by an amazing 40%. Instead of cutting back on carbs from fiber, we should be doubling down!

It's not the carbs, it's the sugar. I'd like you to consider two sources of sugar.

Whole Medium Orange A single medium orange has about 12 grams of sugar.
Orange Juice A twelve-ounce glass of orange juice has 30 grams of sugar.

When you eat a piece of fruit like an orange, your liver takes a little time to process everything. The fiber slows down the digestion. Chewing each piece slows it down some more. Even the act of peeling and separating the slices out, slows down how fast the sugar in that orange hits your liver.

When you drink a glass of orange juice (or any fruit juice), things are different. The sugar hits the liver more quickly, in greater volume and your body has less time to process it all. (30 grams in a serving of orange juice versus 12 grams in an orange.) With more sugar coming in and less time to deal with it, your liver turns much of it into fat. Over time, constant sugar shocks to your system induce a condition known as insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is believed to be the fundamental problem in obesity. It's also been implicated in type 2 diabetes, heart disease and may be the underlying trigger for as much as 30% of all cancers.

It's not just fruit juice. The same thing happens when we drink sugar-filled sodas or eat sugar-filled foods. Our bodies are taking in far more sugar in each serving than they were designed to handle.

Instead of dealing with the problem head-on, Americans are looking for salvation in pills, supplements and radical dietary makeovers. We move from one "get-slim-quick" solution to the next as we continue to get fatter and sicker.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy person should get no more than 6-10% of their total calories from sugar. That works out to about 50 grams for someone on a 2,000 calorie diet and 65 grams if you're eating a 2,500 calorie a day diet.

For the next 10 days, count how many grams of sugar you're consuming. I don't want you to stress too much about reducing it, I just want you to be aware of how much you're taking in from everything you eat and drink. If you aren't sure how to start, the easiest way is on your computer or smartphone with programs like (our favorite) MyFitnessPal, CalorieKing or SparkPeople.

After the 10 days are over, if you're taking in too much, I want you to look at ways of reducing it. Find out the things that are pushing your numbers over the top and replace them with lower-sugar options. You'll look better, feel better and your body will thank you.

Update 10/8/2015

Dr Nita Forouhi, of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge led a study into the effects of sugary drinks. More than 25,000 men and women were studied and followed up on for nearly 11 years. Dr. Forouhi and his team found that "there was an approximately 22% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes per extra serving per day habitually of each of soft drinks, sweetened milk beverages and artificially sweetened beverages consumed..."

Their research also found that "if study participants had replaced a habitual daily serving of soft drinks with a serving of water or unsweetened tea or coffee, the risk of diabetes could have been cut by 14%, and by replacing a habitual serving of sweetened milk beverage with water or unsweetened tea or coffee, that reduction could have been 20%–25%."

In the next 5 years, 2 million new cases of diabetes in Americans could be prevented just by ending a daily sugary drink habit.

A Tufts University study was even more critical of soda and sugary drinks. After analyzing the dietary information from more than 600,000 people, over a 30-year span and 51 countries, they concluded that EVERY YEAR sugary drinks are responsible for:

133,000 deaths from diabetes
45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease
6,450 deaths from cancer

Use our suggestions above to start cutting back! The research was published in the journal Circulation on June 29, 2015.

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Updated 4/2/2012
Updated 4/22/2014
Updated 10/8/2015

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  • Cancer - Sugar Connection

    For those of you who wonder about the cancer claim, here are the details. Cancer relies on insulin to grow and multiply. The more insulin a body has, the better cancer does. When we eat something sweet, it raises our blood sugar, which then triggers a release of insulin to get things under control.

    Eating more sugar, causes the release of more insulin, which gives cancer more food to grow. That's a rather simplistic view, but it sums up rather nicely how things work.

    We were right, too much sugar kills!

    There was a remarkable study published in the April, 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers found that people who took in 20% of their calories from sugar, were 38% more likely to die of heart disease than people who kept it to 10% or lower.

    We've been telling people to keep sugar intake to 10% or less of calories since 2009 based on informatin from the World Health Organization. Looks like that advice has been right all along.