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Know Your Sugars, Sugar

by Javier Bobadilla


Bacon, eggs, hash browns… Oh did I just make you hungry? I’m sorry.

Close your eyes and picture your ultimate meal. Mine would be steak, mashed potatoes, preferably garlic and cheddar infused. Throw some sautéed onions and mushrooms on top, pour me a pint and I’m a happy camper. Most of us would be reluctant about sharing our dream meal with our doctor. We’ve all heard the artery clogging, heart-unhealthy “don’t eat that“ speech enough times.
Watching our cholesterol and saturated fat intake is hard enough. Now, a growing body of research suggests that among the worst foods for your heart are those high in sugar. So step aside, fat.

Those seemingly healthy cereals we eat for breakfast, morning coffee, the mid-day pick-me-up cola, and of course your favorite dessert all have added sugars. Furthermore, we feel the need to add more on top of that. In fact, on average, Americans eat or drink 120 grams of sugar each day, according to a 2010 study done by the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention. That’s equivalent to 30 teaspoons of table sugar straight out of the bag. That’s way more then the daily recommended amount by the American Heart Association of 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men. A single cola has 39 grams of sugar. Shocked right? So do the math, if you’re having one cola a day then you’re already over your limit. Try to limit cola to no more than 3 times a week. It will make a huge difference, I promise. With that in mind, even if you don’t consider yourself to have a sweet tooth, you’re probably consuming more sugar then you realize.

So what can you do?

The best way to protect your health is knowing about the various types of sugars and what they do. For instance, table sugar is made up 2 different sugars, glucose and fructose. Glucose is an important carbohydrate. It’s our body’s cell’s primary source of energy. In contrast, fructose blunts our body’s release of the hormone insulin, which ultimately results in lower blood levels of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that play a major factor in regulating your appetite. In essence, fructose makes you hungrier.

Fructose seems to harm the heart in more direct ways, too. Dr. Stanhope, a professor at the University of California, proved that sweetened beverages raised the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (LDL cholesterol is your arch nemesis. It contributes to the build up of plaque on your arteries walls, clogging the flow of blood to your heart and brain, potentially causing a heart attack or stroke. This is called artherosclerosis). Basically, your body just converts fructose into fat. These LDL cholesterol particles are small, but they add up. In the meantime, your liver tries to help you out as a natural response by acting as a filter, but incidentally becomes compromised as well. Thus, increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes.


So what’s the easiest way to cut back on sugar, and fructose in particular?

- The best thing you can do is read labels. Total sugars are listed on the back of everything. Try to stay under your daily limit.
- A good general goal to start down the right path is replacing one item of processed food with whole, real food such as an apple or banana.
- More then half of your daily consumption of sugar comes from sweetened beverages. If on a daily basis you have coffee or soda, replace one with water once per day.
- If possible, don’t add crème and sugar to your coffee.
- Eat fish! Omega-3 fats temper the harmful effects of sugar. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to moderation. You don’t have to say goodbye to all the foods and drinks you like. It’s possible to be heart-conscious without being heart broken. You can still have candy, chips and even ice cream. These should be periodic indulgences, not daily ones however. Don’t wait until you’re diagnosed with diabetes, or coronary heart disease to make the change, do it now.

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