Healthy Living: Is sugar toxic?
It's been connected to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and some say we're addicted to it. Americans consume nearly 130 pounds of added sugars per year. It's a hard habit to break and some believe it's already causing a nationwide health crisis. Casey Bortnick reports.
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It's addictive, and it can be dangerous.
"It can lead to fatty liver and metabolic syndrome and it can eventually lead to diabetes,” said Dr. Stephen Hammes, endocrinologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
But is sugar really toxic?
"Anything taken in moderation is alright but the biggest problem with sugar is that it isn't taken in moderation,” said Hammes.
New research suggests sugar may be the driving force behind the country's leading health problems, like heart disease and even cancer. Beyond the debate, there's at least one link that's clear. A diet high in sugar leads to obesity.
"That's a pattern parents are in charge of,” said Dr. Rae-Ellen Kavey, pediatric cardiologist.
Doctors say most people get hooked on sugar at a young age. Since childhood eating habits are almost always carried into adulthood, parents can play a major role.
"I think one of the easiest things is to eliminate all drinks with sugar from children's diets,” said Kavey.
Soda and sports drinks have a high level of sugar. To help kids avoid these hidden calories, nutritionists say parents can simply lead by example.
“Try to eat the diet they want their kids to eat, and they may not do it on day one, but it will teach them to develop healthy habits,” said Heather Fiore, clinical nutritionist, URMC.
Drinking water instead of soda, and adding vegetables and fruit to their diets will encourage kids to follow suit.
Twenty-five million Americans have Type 2 diabetes. Another 73 million will develop this disease if they don't change their lifestyles.
"Where obesity goes, Type 2 diabetes tends to follow,” said Jane Lyons-Patterson, a diabetes educator.
Eating habits and a lack of exercise is part of the problem, but Lyons-Patterson says so is sugar. Patterson herself was diagnosed with diabetes in 2000.
"I picked up a can of tomato soup thinking it was a healthy choice, and its second ingredient was high fructose corn syrup,” she said.
Whether sugar is toxic or not, doctors say there's no question it's a major problem.
"I think that taking in too many calories is the biggest enemy and sugar, unfortunately, is one of the easiest ways to take in calories,” said Hammes.
A spokesperson for Gatorade wrote us with this information: "...the carbohydrates and calories are functional in Gatorade, a sports drink, and are meant to provide fuel specifically for athletes. The ingredients in Gatorade are backed by years of scientific research that support the need for carbohydrate sugars for fuel during training or competition and we only recommend Gatorade during the active occasion.
For those looking for a lower-calorie sports beverage, Gatorade offers G2, which delivers the same amount of electrolytes as original Gatorade but with half the calories. Gatorade also recently introduced G Series FIT 02 Perform, which is designed for a fitness athlete and has 10 calories per 8oz serving."