When I decided to live with diabetes but without sugar, I had no idea how hard reaching my goal would be. Three-fourths of all the foods for sale in America have added sweeteners, according to an analysis of 85,451 foods that Dr. Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina and his team studied.
As a careful shopper, I thought that I could kick added sugar right out of my life. After all, I buy all my groceries at Whole Foods and at an even more selective local natural foods store. As Humphrey Bogart said in the film Casablanca, “I was misinformed.”
Ever since 2007 I have followed a very low-carb lifestyle. You might call it my diet, but I prefer to think of it as the way I prefer to eat for the rest of my life. On this so-called “diet” I have kept my A1C and weight levels right where I want them to be.
Added sugar doesn’t fit in my life. Sugar is not only empty calories, which people might think of as being neutral, neither good nor bad. But one sugar in particular can also be hard for our bodies to handle.
When we talk about the dangers of sugar, we have to be clear what we are referring to. Several types of sugar exist, and they aren’t all created equal.
The most dangerous sugar is fructose, which ironically has the lowest glycemic index. That fact has misled many people into thinking that sweeteners like agave nectar, which is almost pure fructose, is “safe for diabetics,” as you can often see it advertised. Scientists now realize that more than the minimal amounts of fructose found in fruit can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and high triglyceride levels. Ever since 1972 when John Yudkin published his seminal work on the subject, Pure, White, and Deadly, we have know that fructose uniquely raises serum triglycerides and insulin levels. I know from my own experience before I started eating low-carb foods, my triglyceride level dropped from 160 to 42. One of the best predictors of the risk of developing heart disease is the ratio of triglycerides to HDL. “If you have a ratio of around 2, you should be happy, indeed, regardless of your cholesterol levels,” while a ratio of 5, “is problematic,” write Drs. Johnny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra in The Great Cholesterol Myths, which I reviewed here. My triglycerides were up in my most recent lipid profile, but only to 51, and my HDL level was 64, giving me a ratio of less than 1.
We get most of our fructose in table sugar, which is half fructose and half glucose (also known as dextrose), as well as in high-fructose corn syrup (or HFCS), which has about the same ratio. Other sugars include galactose, maltose, and lactose, but we don’t get enough of them to be concerned about nor do they have the same consequences as eating a lot of fructose.
Years ago I gave away my sugar bowl, and the only sweetener I have in my apartment is stevia. I thought doing this would settle the matter.
Since what I eat is mostly fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs, yogurt, fish, and a little red meat and chicken, I don’t give food processors much opportunity to add sugar to my meals. But I do eat some prepared foods, and that’s the rub.