Trick or Treat

Dylan, my four year old, gets so excited around Halloween. He loves the idea of changing persona one day out of the year and getting rewarded for it. Last year, he dressed as a stormtrooper from Star Wars and got so much candy from it that he wanted to wear the costume the following day and do it all over again. The thing is that he isn’t allowed to eat too much candy as it would result in us chasing him around for the next week. Of the bag of candy that he got last year, he was only allowed to eat four pieces, and even that was too much.

Candy, in and of itself, isn’t bad, but too much of it is obviously not a good thing. Most people know this. My diabetic patients frequently come to the clinic, wondering how they got the disease when they don’t eat very many sweets. “I hate candy,” they say. When someone has diabetes, truth be told, I never worry about the candy. It’s the other sugar that’s the problem, the one that masquerades as something healthy and isn’t that sweet at all.

The risks of too much sugar consumption are well documented. Over time, chronic inflammation and blood pressure changes can lead to vascular bed damage. Diabetes, fatty liver disease, and obesity related medical problems like sleep apnea and atherosclerosis can also occur, which can ultimately lead to stroke and heart attack. Dietary control of sugar consumption is crucial in prevention of these diseases, which most patients understand. Unfortunately, so does the sugar industry.

The American Heart Association recommends that the average male consume no more than 150 calories from added sugar on a daily basis and 100 calories for female. As Americans, we consume way more sugar than we need, but it is in the form of something other than sugar. Sugar is in everything. “Healthy” products like yogurt are loaded with sugar, as well as cereals, pasta sauces, granola bars, and sports drinks. The most common form of added sugar consumption, or sugar that is added in the process of making something, is in the form of soda. Almost half of all consumed added sugar is in the form of soda. Even “diet” sodas are problematic as the sugar alternatives can actually trick the body into craving the real thing even more than it should and it can lead to water retention and change the way the mind perceives the way food should taste. In other words, what should be sweet is now bland, and what is overwhelmingly sweet is now normal. Not to mention the possible cancer risks associated with certain sugar alternatives.

Other sugar laden foods disguised as “healthy” are in the form of salad dressings, oatmeals, fruit juices like orange and apple juice, nut butters, nut milks, wheat breads, frozen yogurts, and protein powders. What people think of as a nice healthy treat is actually a trick. My diabetic patients know that sugar is bad for them, but with these deceptive products, “bad” might not be the first word that comes to mind. It’s important to follow the nutrition labels on food products and see exactly how much hidden sugar is there. As a matter of fact, I tell patients to enjoy their sugar, even my diabetic ones, because at least that way, they know what they are consuming. They know the way it tastes and they know when enough is enough. As an alternative to sugar, honey is also a good solution as it contains antioxidants.

When sugar gets dressed up and tries to disguise itself as something healthy, the trick is always on the consumer. The bottom line: read the package labels. I tell patients to read the ingredients in the products they buy, and if they can’t pronounce something, chances are that it isn’t that great for them. Patients need to pay attention to serving size as well as the sugar content on the nutrition label. Also, I tell them to cook and prep their own meals so that they know exactly what is going in their food.

And stop hating on fruit. I like to call fruit nature’s candy. Fruit is one of the best forms of sugar consumption, as fruit also contain fiber and antioxidants. The fiber in fruit allows for the slower digestion of the sugar, resulting in a steady glucose load. It’s when the fiber is separated from fruit in the form of juice that the problem starts. At least with fruit, what you see is what you get. That’s how it should be.

I always preach to Dylan that he shouldn’t eat too much candy. It’s bad for his teeth. It makes him fat. It makes him hyper. He gets it, so he keeps it in moderation. This Halloween, I’m sure Dylan and most of my patients will know how much sugar they consume when they eat their candy. It’s the other 364 days out of the year that I worry about.

By: Dr. Juan Borja
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