Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Nutrition Debate #128: Sugary Drinks and Added Sugars

This “dead horse” has been beaten enough that I don’t need to do it, so...oh well, maybe once more. It’s different. Twenty years ago my doctor (who died recently – see #95, an Appreciation) employed a dietitian to help his patients lose weight. Her ‘prescription’ was, then as now, to eat less (of a balanced diet – in other words, starve – and exercise more. Needless to say, it didn’t work. But one thing she said still sticks in my memory: “Don’t drink orange juice. They’re just empty calories.” Of course, she was not saying don’t eat fruit (even though she knew I was then, as now, a type 2 diabetic). She was saying that I should eat the whole fruit instead of fruit juice. She counseled that I wouldn’t eat as many calories as I would drink (#100 “Liquid Calories”), I would get extra benefit from the fiber, and that the real fruit would trigger different hormones signaling that I had eaten real food, not drunk the more easily digested liquid form.

I remember that it all made sense to me at the time. But that was before I discovered Very Low Carb dieting to lose weight and control my blood sugar. Today, I avoid eating virtually all fruit and many other foods that contain fructose because of the effect of that simple sugar on my overall health. See #97Fructose in Foods,” #29Fructose, formerly known as Fruit Sugar,” #30Is Fructose a Liver Toxin?” and #31Carbohydrates and Sugar.” If you haven’t seen it, you should also watch the viral video (3.7 million hits) of Dr. Robert Lustig’s lecture, “Sugar: the Bitter Truth.”

Somehow this message has escaped our nation’s food policymakers. To them, real fruit juice is a permitted beverage because it contains enough of the body’s required nutrients to be “allowed.” The recommended portion size, although it’s not mentioned in the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010), is 6 ounces, or about 72 grams of carbohydrate, assuming no added sugars. The message from the dietary Dictocrats is that the added sugar in the enumerated sugary drinks – “soda, energy drinks and sports drinks” and “fruit drinks” – is not nutritious. But fruit juice is alright? Even though the Guidelines admit, …the body’s response to sugars does not depend on whether they are naturally present in food or added to foods”? Where is Nanny Bloomberg when you need him? Wait a minute! When did he become expert?

The Guidelines do include a fairly comprehensive list of added sugars: “Added sugars include high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, and crystal dextrose.” But wait, where is “organic malted barley”? What’s that you say? How is that an “added sugar”? Well, it is, although well concealed I must admit. It is the third ingredient listed, after “organic sprouted wheat” and “filtered water” in a loaf of Food for Life 7 Sprouted Grains bread. Who’d o’ thunk it? This “healthiest” bread has added sugar as its 3rd listed ingredient! Feel snookered? Join the crowd. That’s Agribusiness for you. You try to walk the straight and narrow, and you get sandbagged.

What is “malted barley”? It’s a malted grain. According to Wikipedia, “Malting grains develops the enzymes required to modify the grain's starches into sugars, including the monosaccharide glucose, the disaccharide maltose, the trisaccharide maltotriose, and higher sugars called maltodextrines. It also develops other enzymes, such as proteases, which break down the proteins in the grain into forms that can be used by yeast. Malt also contains small amounts of other sugars, such as sucrose and fructose, which are not products of starch modification but were already in the grain.” And just in case I am not being clear: Every single one of those chemical compounds (other than protease) in the “malted barley” will quickly digest to a single-molecule sugar, pure and simple.

What’s the point of this? Well, Chapter 3 of the Policy Document from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans points out that of the “Refined Grains in the Diets of the U. S.  Population,” “yeast breads” are by far the largest category (25.9%), according to the NHANES study (2003-2004) footnote of the National Cancer Institute. And according to the NHANES study (2005-2006) footnote, “yeast breads” constitutes 2.1% of the “Added Sugars in the Diets of the U. S. Population.” Yet, nowhere in the Dietary Guidelines are we guided not to eat bread. I guess this refined grain with added sugar is just too engrained (sorry) in our culture to be shunned. But I challenge you to find any loaf of bread on your supermarket shelf that does not contain some form of sugar as the 3rd ingredient by weight, after flour and water. Even Pepperidge Farm, Arnold or any so-called “whole grain” (flour) bread. It’s my challenge to you. Check it out.
I don’t mean to pick on Food for Life or any processed or refined food manufacturer. I mean to pick on all of them. If you want to avoid becoming a victim of clever and deceptive marketing, take a chemistry class, or just eat whole foods: grass fed and grass finished meats, eggs from free-range pastured chickens, seafood (both fin and shell), especially sardines, wild salmon and other cold water fish, and non-starchy vegetables. Avoid all wheat, excessive fructose, and excessive Omega 6s from liquid vegetable and seed oils. Eat butter, olive oil and coconut oil. Pay no attention to your government or to the media. They are hopelessly misinformed, misled and misguided. Finally, read this blog regularly. I will always try to share with you the best and most reliable information for living a long and healthy life. That’s what I intend to do.


  1. A friend took up my challenge that the 3rd ingredient in virtually every loaf of bread is some form of sugar and emailed me this morning a PDF file of a label from a loaf of “Organic Peasant Bread”, manufactured by Bread Alone and sold in our local supermarket. She said (triumphantly) that it contains “no sugar!” The ingredients list is as follows: “Unbleached white flour, water, organic sourdough, organic whole wheat flour, sea salt, and yeast.”
    I was, of course, suspicious, so I looked up sourdough and emailed her back that sourdough, the 3rd ingredient, is made with a natural fermentation process, which produces sugar (maltose) naturally instead of with added sugar. So, the sugar is carefully concealed by the label. Sourdough adds "flavor," they say.
    When wheat flour comes into contact with water, naturally occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into maltose; the enzyme maltase converts the maltose sugar into glucose, which yeast can metabolize, according to Wikipedia.
    So, like the malted barley in the Food for Life 7 Sprouted Grains Bread in this column, even the “healthiest” of breads has “sugar” (in some form) as the 3rd ingredient, after flour and water. Natural or added, they all become glucose in your blood in minutes.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.