Could our love affair with sugar and artificial sweeteners literally break our hearts?

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: State of the candy industry pictured in Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 14, 2020. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Candy – all that sugar! – is not good for you. Now, artificial sweeteners have been linked to a higher risk of “adverse cardiac events.” (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

I love sugar and as a child I had a lot of cavities.

Once, when I was in college, my dentist, the late Harvey Levinson, looked at me sternly and said, “If you keep eating sugar, you won’t have any teeth when you’re an adult.”

(It’s not sequential, but with awards season in full swing, do me a favor: when I was in high school, Levinson, who practiced in Studio City, created the mouthpiece that turned Marlon Brando into a jowly bulldog for ‘The Godfather.’ Brando won the Oscar for his portrayal of Don Corleone, but famously turned it down, sending Sacheen Littlefeather on stage in his place. He was my closest contact with fame at that time.)

Anyway, sugar.

What Dr. Levinson always knew is generally accepted now: too much sugar is bad for your health.

It can cause dental problems, sure, but it can also lead to obesity, diabetes, and inflammation, which can lead to all kinds of nasty results.

In 2014, Harvard researchers published the results of a 15-year study showing an association between a high-sugar diet and an increased risk of dying from heart disease. In the Harvard Health newsletter, nutrition professor Frank Hu, who led the study, said: “The impact of excess sugar on obesity and diabetes is well documented, but one area that can surprising many…is how their taste for sugar can have a serious impact on their health.” heart health.”

People who eat a diet high in sugar, experts say, have a greater risk of dying from heart disease.

My father is a good example. I’m pretty sure his sugar intake was crowding out other more beneficial nutrients in his diet. Sure enough, he died of a severe stroke. Sure, he was 91, but he could have turned 92 if he’d consumed less of his beloved Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered peanut butter cups or Ralph’s slices of lemon bread. We’ll never know.

Our intense love for sugar and the knowledge that sugar can negatively impact health, especially for people with diabetes and/or obesity, has led to a booming market for artificial sweeteners – 7, $2 billion worldwide in 2021. This, in turn, has led to a proliferation of studies investigating whether artificial sweeteners might also have adverse health effects.

In three words, the definitive answer so far: Maybe. Maybe not.

Last week we learned that a popular sugar substitute – erythritol – has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots. Cleveland Clinic researchers studied more than 4,000 people in the United States and Europe and found that people with high levels of erythritol in their blood were at high risk of having a “major adverse cardiac event such as than a heart attack, stroke or death”.

But of course, the researchers point out, correlation is not causation and, as always, more studies are needed. There is no point in demonizing sugar or sugar substitutes, or raising our already high levels of anxiety about our eating habits as we report the latest incremental research. I enjoyed the cautious headline of last week’s New York Times article on erythritol research: “Study Suggests Possible Link Between Sugar Substitutes and Heart Problems. Experts Say, Don’t Panic not.” Not all outlets were so circumspect.

But we know that people around the world are consuming more sugar than ever before, especially in the form of high-sugar drinks. Some have called this “the softening of the global diet”.

Three-quarters of Americans eat more sugar than they should; the federal government places the suggested maximum amount of daily added sugar (that is, sugar not normally found in the foods you eat) at less than 12.5 teaspoons, or 50 grams.

The guideline of the American Heart Assn. is even stricter: men should consume no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar per day, which equals 150 calories. And women, unfortunately, shouldn’t consume more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day. That’s barely 100 calories, less than the typical amount of sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda.

This can of soda should probably only make a rare appearance on your table. Sugary drinks don’t really satisfy hunger. So you end up eating as much food as you normally would, plus the empty calories of soda or lemonade on top of that.

And, just to play with conventional wisdom (which is the point of research, after all), some studies have shown that using artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain by increasing appetite and cravings. of sugar, perhaps because the lack of calories “prevents the activation of the food reward pathway.

At this point, my food reward pathways are well worn ruts. I tried to cut out as much sugar and artificial sweeteners as possible, because it’s best for my health. But I’m also drawn to the hedonism of Anthony Bourdain, who in his 2000 memoir “Kitchen Confidential” wrote, “Your body isn’t a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride. “

I have enjoyed the ride so far and am happy to report that Dr. Levinson’s terrible reprimand was too harsh. Despite all the sugar I’ve consumed in my life, I still have all my teeth.

GOOD, almost all.


This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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