Have you noticed that juice is the new low fat? Everywhere I go, I see juice being touted as an incredible health food, packed full of nutrients and healthy stuff (the details are usually light on the so-called healthy stuff). But what’s important to consider is that the term “health” is not objective, but oh so relative. Take this situation for example. I was having lunch at TAFE one day (minding my own business) and decided I would have strawberries with heavy cream (as you do). Another teacher wandered on over and peered into my bowl and then said a little smugly “Splurging are we?” Now you would all be very proud of me as I smiled, said nothing and kept eating my lunch (instead of beating him over the head with my cheese stick). This teacher saw the cream and connected cream with fat concluding that my lunch was unhealthy. Therefore, it’s clear that what I consider healthy, others may not and vice versa. So to give this topic some context we can start with how much sugar is in Coke. I think it’s safe to say that everyone agrees that coke is not healthy. To show you how much sugar is in Coke, I have screen captured the image below directly from the Coke website. Then for comparison, I took some photos of popular juices – try to not cry at the 5 star ratings on these fruit juices that have the same amount of sugar as coke.
Is it any wonder that parents are confused. How can juice get a 5 star rating when it has exactly the same amount of sugar as coke? Yes there is a teeny tiny bit of fibre but that is it. Any vitamin and mineral content would be all but destroyed during the processing of this drink. This rating system is out of control. Look at poor old milk – it only manages a four star rating because of its fat content yet chocolate milk gets a 4.5 star rating. I am literally shaking my head and would laugh if it wasn’t so serious. How is it that nutrition “science” is still stuck back in the 1960s while the rest of the sciences are making discoveries and advances in leaps and bounds. It’s embarrassing!!
For so long we have been scared of fat which has had the intended (yes intended) side effect of giving sugar a free pass; allowing it into every processed food conceivable. This means that just about every pre-packaged food you’ll find on the shelves at the supermarket will have sugar in it. Sweet or savoury – it will contain sugar. This means that if your diet contains a lot of pre-packaged food, you are eating a lot of hidden sugar!
So why does this matter? Well because we all know sugar is terrible for us! Really really terrible. But what’s really concerning is that I hear nutrition professionals stating that we should not single out one nutrient to blame for our health problems. On this I absolutely agree. Fats, carbs and protein are all good for us (when we consume the right type). BUT sugar is NOT A NUTRIENT! Repeat after me. Sugar is NOT a nutrient. You cannot develop a nutrient deficiency by excluding sugar form your diet. I’ve also heard that we should not exclude food groups (in reference to sugar). Ummm excuse me? I missed the lecture on sugar being a nutrient and a food group. Maybe that was an extra lecture presented by Nestle or Arnotts? To try and suggest that sugar is a nutrient and/or a food group is like suggesting that Coke is a health food company……..hang on a minute 😉
So let’s talk a little science. Why is sugar so bad for us? Well, glad you asked!
When consumed in excess (i.e. as would happen if you are following a typical pre-packaged, high carb diet), sugar is a metabolic disaster for the body (namely the fructose component of sugar). It affects our blood glucose, promotes hyperinsulinaemia  and insulin resistance [2-5], it promotes dyslipidaemia [3, 6, 7] (disordered blood lipids), high blood pressure , promotes inflammation , negatively affects our gut , promotes weight gain [2, 3, 6, 10], interferes in normal appetite control , promotes metabolic syndrome  and cardiovascular disease [1, 5] … need I go on?
In Australia, we are in a diabetes and cardiovascular disease epidemic. Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic illness and cardiovascular disease is the number one killer both here in Australia and around the globe. Two significant risk factors for these conditions are:
- Hyperinsulinaemia (elevated insulin in the blood)
- Hyperglycaemia (elevated glucose in the blood)
Both of these risk factors are strongly correlated to excessive sugar consumption and are very dangerous to the body.
Hyperinsulinaemia leads to:
- blood vessel damage
- high blood pressure
- high triglycerides
- low HDL
- kidney damage
- nerve damage
- eye damage
- weight gain
Chronic hyperglycaemia is particularly dangerous and something to avoid at all costs. Hyperglycaemia leads to:
- glycated proteins namely haemoglobin and lipoproteins
- glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) leads to impaired oxygen delivery to the body where the extremities (hands and feet) suffer. This leads to poor wound healing, ulcers, gangrene and nerve death (neuropathies)
- glycated lipoproteins leads to increased LDL-p, increased oxidised LDL, increased reactive oxygen species, decreased maturation of HDL, increased “shedding” of HDL driving up triglycerides
- increased reactive oxygen species which affects mitochondrial function
- damage to nerves, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and the heart
Ultimately, high insulin and high glucose are the perfect combination for either a heart attack and/or a stroke. The best way to elevate both insulin and glucose – sugar! A diet that is chronically high in sugar leads to chronically elevated blood glucose which leads to chronically elevated insulin – a recipe for disaster. So one of the best things you can do for yourself today is to only eat sugar deliberately i.e. eat it as a dessert or treat. Don’t eat it in your breakfast, lunch and dinner and only eat it occasionally.
Don’t let clever, manipulative marketing fool you. Fruit juice is not healthy and if you want to have fruit, eat the whole piece of fruit – skin, fibre and all.
- diNichlantonio, J. and J. O’Keefe, Added sugars drive coronary heart disease via insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia: a new paradigm. Open Heart, 2017. 4.
- Bremer, A., P. Auinger, and R. Byrd, Relationship Between Insulin Resistance–Associated Metabolic Parameters and Anthropometric Measurements With Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake and Physical Activity Levels in US Adolescents Findings From the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. JAMA, 2009. 163(4): p. 328-335.
- Samuel, V., Fructose induced lipogenesis: from sugar to fat to insulin resistance. Trends In Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2011. 22(2): p. 60-65.
- Castro, M., et al., Fructose-induced inflammation, insulin resistance and oxidative stress: A liver pathological triad effectively disrupted by lipoic acid. Life Sciences, 2015. 15(137): p. 1-6.
- Kraemer, F. and H. Ginsberg, Gerald M. Reaven, MD: Demonstration of the Central Role of Insulin Resistance in Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. Diabetes Care, 2014. 37(5): p. 1178-1181.
- Basciano, H., L. Federico, and K. Adeli, Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia. Nutrition and Metabolism, 2005. 2(5).
- Hudgins, L., et al., A Dual Sugar Challenge Test for Lipogenic Sensitivity to Dietary Fructose. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2011. 96(3).
- diNichlantonio, J. and S. Lucan, The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease. Open Heart, 2014. 1.
- Cani, P., et al., Involvement of gut microbiota in the development of low-grade inflammation and type 2 diabetes associated with obesity. Gut Microbes, 2011.
- Ding, S. and P. Lund, Role of intestinal inflammation as an early event in obesity and insulin resistance. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 2011. 14(4): p. 328-333.
- Lowette, K., et al., Effects of High-Fructose Diets on Central Appetite Signaling and Cognitive Function. Front Nutr, 2015. 2(5).
- Yun-Huei, K., et al., The Correlation Between Body Fat, Visceral Fat, and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, 2017.