Calories make you fat, but sugary calories make you fat and diabetic
Pick your poison.
Drink a can of sugary soda every day, increase your chance of developing diabetes by 1.1 percent.
Drink two cans a day, instead of none, and your risk increases by 2.2 percent.
That was the sobering and very specific conclusion of an exhaustive worldwide study of diets, obesity rates, and Type 2 diabetes: For every 150 calories of sugar that a person wolfs down every day, whether that sugar was squeezed out of sugar cane, beets, or corn, that person becomes 1.1 percent more likely to develop the disease. Type 2 diabetes is the form of the disease caused by lifestyle; type 1 is genetic.
A 12-ounce can of soda typically harbors about 150 sugary calories (which scientists, including the authors of the new study, confusingly call kilocalories). Many candy bars contain more calories than that, though not all from sugar.
The Californian scientists who conducted the 175-nation study, published this week in PLOS ONE, showed that it is not merely the amount of calories in somebody’s diet that affects whether they are likely to develop diabetes. It’s where they get their calories from. New Zealanders, for example, are growing more obese yet fewer of them are developing diabetes. That’s because they’re getting their extra calories from such things as oil, meat, and fiber, not from sugar.
The scientists concluded that those other sources of calories do not increase diabetes rates. Well maybe a tiny bit, but not to an extent regarded as statistically significant. That means that somebody with a big appetite but an aversion to sugar could become obese without becoming a candidate for daily dates with needle-tipped insulin pens. It also means that sugar junkies are putting themselves at risk both of becoming obese, with the myriad health complications that brings, and also of developing diabetes. From the study:
Sugars added to processed food, in particular the monosaccharide fructose, can contribute to obesity, but also appear to have properties that increase diabetes risk independently from obesity.
The study was the icing on the cake for theories that sugar is toxic. As columnist Mark Bittman wrote in The New York Times:
The study demonstrates [that sugar, not obesity, causes diabetes] with the same level of confidence that linked cigarettes and lung cancer in the 1960s. As Rob Lustig, one of the study’s authors and a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said to me, “You could not enact a real-world study that would be more conclusive than this one.”
Bittman thinks the findings should prompt the federal government to do something about the poison that is sugar:
The next steps are obvious, logical, clear and up to the Food and Drug Administration. To fulfill its mission, the agency must respond to this information by re-evaluating the toxicity of sugar, arriving at a daily value — how much added sugar is safe? — and ideally removing fructose (the “sweet” molecule in sugar that causes the damage) from the “generally recognized as safe” list, because that’s what gives the industry license to contaminate our food supply.
John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who
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