New evidence indicates that the fructose in added sugars may send more of those calories to your belly-the worst place possible to store fat. A recent article in Nutrition Action Health Letter cites several studies that show that our out-of-control sweet tooth is connected to our out-of-control belly fat. People aren’t just eating more calories; it’s the source of those types of extra calories. The oft-used adage that “a calorie is just a calorie” doesn’t appear to apply anymore. Belly fat is the kind of fat that sets the stage for diabetes and heart disease. “There is strong evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages to weight,” says Vasanti Malik, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. For example, when she and her colleagues tracked 50,000 women for four years, they found that weight gain was greatest (10 pounds) among women who went from drinking no more than one sugar-sweetened beverage a week to at least one a day. Clearly, too many calories come from many sources; sugary beverages, beer, pizza, burger, fries, ice cream-helps explain why Americans are getting fat. But, calories from fructose (which is found only in added sugars and fruit) are more likely to end up around your waist. The first solid evidence regarding fructose came in 2009. Researchers gave 32 overweight or obese men and women 25 percent of their calories from beverages sweetened with either fructose or glucose for 10 weeks. Both groups gained the same weight (three pounds), but their new fat didn’t all go to the same place. “We saw an increase in visceral (deep belly) fat only in the people fed fructose,” says study author Kimber Stanhope of the University of California-Davis. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation 119: 1322, 2009. Visceral fat is more closely linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease than subcutaneous fat. Two newer studies have corroborated those findings; a Danish study and a Swiss study, published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94: 479, 2011. With three studies completed, and more in the pipeline, these data suggest that added sugars cause an increase in visceral fat. And, fructose doesn’t just go to the belly. Fructose also appears to boost liver and muscle fat. In the Danish study, the people who drank a liter a day of sweetened cola didn’t just have more visceral fat; their liver and muscle fat more than doubled. What so bad about liver fat? When the body stores fat anywhere but in fat cells, it’s called “ectopic” fat. Ectopic fat, especially in the liver, means trouble. When liver fat levels go up, insulin loses its ability to admit blood sugar into cells. It’s often the first step on the road to diabetes or heart disease. Liver fat may also explain why fructose leads to higher triglycerides. “Fructose gets metabolized very quickly by the liver,” says Emory University’s Jean Welsh. “When there is more sugar than the liver can process, it converts the sugar to fat. Some of the fat goes into the bloodstream, and that’s why we get elevated triglycerides.” What’s more, fructose drinkers burned less fat and more carbohydrates> “The body doesn’t make at and burn fat at the same time.” Personally, I want to burn fat, not store it.
Bottom line: 1). Aim for 100 calories (6 1/2 teaspoons) a day of added sugars if you’re a woman and 150 calories (9 1/2 teaspoons) a day if you’re a man. I shoot for less. 2). Stay away from sugar-sweetened beverages, and limit fruit juices to no more than one cup a day. 3). Limit all added sugars, including high-fructose corn syrup, cane or beet sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, and honey. 4). Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, milk, and plain yogurt. 5). If a food has little or no milk or fruit (which contain natural sugars), the “Sugars” number on the package’s Nutrition Facts panel will tell you how many grams of added sugars are in each serving. multiply the grams by 4 to get calories from sugar. Divide the grams by 4 to get teaspoons of sugar.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.