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We Might Yet Win the War with Big Sugar

The American public is waking up to the dangerous of Big Sugar. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that people with diabetes, prediabetes, and those at risk of prediabetes have won the war yet.

The people of four American cities — Boulder, Colorado, San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany, California — passed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages on November 8, 2016. Previously, only one American city — Berkeley, California — had voted for this tax (although the Philadelphia city council imposed such a tax in June 2016). Earlier, the sugar industry had campaigned successfully against taxes on sugary soda more than 40 times, and in 2014 won its suit defeating New York City’s Board of Health 2012 ban of the sale of large fountain sodas.

Sugar studies

At about the same time, peer-reviewed scientific journals published more studies about the connection between drinking sugar-sweetened soda and prediabetes, diabetes, and obesity. These are hardly the first studies showing a connection between drinking either sugar-sweetened beverages or diet drinks and Type 2 diabetes.

A review by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, that the Annals of Internal Medicine published in November 2016, looked at the 60 studies of soft drink consumption and its relationship to obesity and diabetes between 2001 and 2016 (only the abstract of the review is free online, but the lead author emailed me a copy of the full text at my request). When independent researchers led the studies, they showed clear links between drinking soda and diabetes or obesity. However, 26 of the 60 studies found no such link. The difference was that the sugar industry funded every one of these 26 studies.

Just two drinks?

Another new study, this one by Swedish researchers that the European Journal of Endocrinology published online in advance of being printed in December 2016, looked at sweetened drink consumption by people with Type 2 diabetes. The study found that daily drinking of more than two drinks sweetened either with sugar or artificial sweeteners could double the risk of diabetes.

Meanwhile, a third new study, this one by British researchers that the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism published online in October 2016 in advance of print, found that obese women who have Type 2 diabetes and replaced diet beverages with water lose more weight.

“This study was the first randomized controlled trial in women with Type 2 diabetes that assessed the impact of excluding diet beverages during a voluntary weight reduction program for 24 weeks,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Just one drink!

Finally, here’s the abstract of latest study of sugar-sweetened beverages. Researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts that The Journal of Nutrition published online the day after the November 2016 election. (At my request, a Tufts media relations specialist emailed me the full text of the study). It found that over a 14-year period, adult Americans who regularly consumed about one can of sugar-sweetened beverages daily had a 46 percent higher risk of developing prediabetes compared to low- or non-consumers.

As a result of these studies as well as the new taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, we can expect that many of us will consume less sugar. This will help people with diabetes to manage it better and for people with prediabetes to avoid getting diabetes. It’s a step forward, but it’s not enough.

Just baby steps

Sugar sweetened drinks are the biggest source of added sugars in the American diet, accounting for almost half of it. When you cut back on these drinks, you are doing your body a favor because sugar is nothing but empty calories. But even if you eliminated all added sugar from your diet, you would be taking only baby steps toward good health.

Focusing only on sugar-sweetened sodas misses the big picture. Starch, the highest glycemic form of carbohydrates, is even more pervasive in our diet than sugar. More experts on diabetes and obesity, like Richard Johnson, M.D., of the University of Colorado, are enlarging their area of concern from sugar to carbohydrates in general.

Starch is next

Reducing starch consumption needs to be of even greater concern to people with prediabetes and diabetes and issues of weight than sugar. Limiting starch has to come next.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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