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Soft Drinks: Not the Best Summer Treat

Eating better in the summer months

We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” But it should say you are what you swallow or better yet, you are what you chew. If you want to start eating healthier, just chew your foods. Digestion starts in your mouth, not in your stomach.

But the real issue revolves around sugar intake.

Mmmm Sugar

What’s so sweet about sugar? Is it bad for you? Is it a toxin? Or is it good for you? Where should you get your sugar from? How much, if any, should you eat?

Before you turn bitter, let me give you a better understanding of sugar, this white substance we consume so much of. There are a variety of sugary substances that you should familiarize yourself with, some considered better than others:

  • White sugar, more commonly known as table sugar, is called sucrose
  • Brown sugar is sucrose with molasses
  • Liquid sugar is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Fructose is the natural sugar in fruit, a sugar that is good for us
  • Lactose is the sugar found in milk
  • Raw sugar is rapadura/processed or minimally processed sugarcane
  • Vegan sugar is sugarcane with no animal bones. Fun fact: when you buy sucrose, it’s heated with an animal corpse. Years ago, material called ‘bone char’ was used to remove color from raw cane sugar during the refining process. Today, bone char colorization has been mostly replaced, though it is still used in some refineries.
  • Glucose is the result of your body breaking down food. It is essentially your source of energy for everything you do. It’s what the body runs on, like fuel for your automobile.

Sugar has values of sweetness, all of which translate to an index. To better understand sugar values, keep in mind that a low index is below 55, medium is 56 to 71 and high is considered over 72. Ideally, your sugar intake should be taken with fiber and in moderation. Whatever value you decide to eat, always remember that sugar is fuel for the body. Exercise often and enjoy the good life of fresh fruit.

Now to the sugar index. Sucrose, for example, has an index of 100, glucose has an index of 74, HFCS a whopping 120 and crystallize fructose (“lab fructose”) catapults to 173. This is a significantly high value and what’s worse, it is the most frequent type of sugar used in soft drinks because it’s sweeter and cheaper to use. We’ve all been told that drinking too much soda isn’t good for you, but very few people actually know why. The reason is that soft drinks are loaded with salt and more sugar to hide the salt, which in turn only makes you thirstier.

One of the most interesting facts about sugar and the way our bodies digest it is that our bodies don’t recognize the difference between sucrose and HFCS. What’s more, the body becomes addicted to sugar as you consume more and more.

Too much of a good thing is not so sweet

To sum up what we’ve discussed so far, too much sugar can make you thirstier, make you hungrier and can cause an addiction. Too much sugar can also cause some significant problems, starting long before you’re born. Studies have shown that during pregnancy, sugar can enter the placenta and affect the fetus, which could prevent developmental programming within the brain.

So what sugar is good for you?

Fructose, the sugar found in fruit, is actually very good for you. In March 2010, I wrote an article about fiber that addresses the benefits of eating fruit. Fruit is great for you because it limits the amount of fructose in your diet, and wherever you find fructose in nature, you’ll find a whole bunch of fiber!

Moderation is key, however, even with the “good sugar.” Fructose doesn’t suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin (ghrelin is from the stomach), and acute fructose consumption doesn’t stimulate insulin or leptin. If leptin doesn’t go up, your brain doesn’t register that you ate something, so you continue to eat. Take a look at children today and you’ll notice the epidemic. I often see children drinking Gatorade, encouraged by their parents who say “fructose is natural so it has to be good.”

What’s going up faster than silver and gold? It’s obesity, type two diabetes, lipid problems, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Our children, our future voters, are so overweight that quite honestly, they may not be able to fit in the booth to vote. They won’t be capable of walking a mile, swimming 50 yards, running one meter or sitting comfortably in coach on a typical airline. Why? The inability to moderate sugar intake.

Believe it or not, sugar is not bad!

In fact, sugar is our greatest provider of energy, as long as we don’t abuse it. Having too much sugar is a bad thing and the problem lies with HFCS. It is in everything. Where we should reduce the value, we don’t. Instead, we increase the value—and therefore the sweetness—so you crave more. The USDA regulates chronic toxins, medications, alcohol and cigarettes, but it doesn’t regulate acute toxins. So you may ask yourself is HCFS dangerous for consumption?

Is water bad for you?

The answer: it depends on how you use it. By drinking too much water, you’ll deplete your body of sodium, which leads to hypernatremia and could result in death.

Nothing is really bad for you. It’s all about the amount consumed and how often you do it. You don’t initiate cancer with one cigarette, and plaque doesn’t build up with one succulent pig dinner. It’s the 100,000 high fructose muffins, scones, cakes and ice cream, it’s the 30,000 packs of cigarettes, and it’s the 80,000 pork dinners that leads to problems.

So if you’re craving sugar, reach for something that includes the mother-nature made kind. If you prefer the processed items, it’s important for you to know that when you consume more of these types of foods, not only are you missing out on nutrients, but your body never recognizes what you ate as food. As a result, you’ll just eat more. It becomes a vicious cycle as you continue to eat, gain more weight and wonder why it’s happening. Many people chalk it up to getting older, or how busy their schedules are. In reality, it’s a choice to limit the amount of sugar intake. Eventually, I promise you; your cravings will drive you to select more of the better sugars and your taste buds will supersede your intelligence.

Here’s your challenge: eliminate white sugar from your diet. If you do, you’ll discover two very important things. First, you’ll realize how difficult this is. It’s eye-opening to realize how much sucrose you ingest on a daily basis since it’s found in so many foods and drinks. Second, with the reduction of white sugar, you’ll lose weight and sleep better.

Enjoy the sweet recipe!

Sweet Summer Fruit Shake


1.     2 Mango’s

2.     6 oz Unsweetened Rice, Almond or Coconut Milk

3.     4 Strawberries & Raspberries

4.     Clove Garlic

5.     Handful Cacao Beans

6.     Juice of 1 lemon wedge

7.     6 Ice Cubes

8.     Pinch of Cinnamon or Clove Powder (optional)

9.     1 TBSP Hemp Oil


On high speed – combine ingredients 1 – 8, blend well for 2 minutes. Stop, add hemp oil and pulse 4 times.  Here are a few options; banana’s,  blueberries, peaches or watermelon.

Tony Polito is a chef and food consultant in Boston and New York. Tony’s specialty is helping people get fit, starting in the kitchen. He not only teaches people what to eat, but also how to eat. He recently finished his first cookbook, “Fresh,” which is available now on his website, cookingwithtony.com.

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