Can sugar contribute to obesity? Yes.
Can a person eat a lot of sugar and stay slim? Also if.
Many lean people eat a diet rich in refined sugar. Think of all the teenagers who live on soda and fast food. Therefore, logically, sugar is not the only cause of obesity. Of my four children, my son, who never has to worry about his weight, eats more sugar than his siblings and yet remains thin without trying.
There is no doubt that eating more calories than the body consumes leads to obesity. But does the body care if the calories come from sugar or a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables, meat, and potatoes?
In many cases at least, the answer appears to be no. When patients are admitted to the hospital, they are commonly given intravenous fluids which are primarily sugar water. Many of these patients lose weight, despite consuming most of their calories in the form of glucose. Cancer patients and other seriously ill people survive on tube feeding alone for months or years. Many of these patients lose weight, despite the high carbohydrate content of the liquid diet. The total calories ingested are simply insufficient to meet the body’s needs. The body feeds on itself to compensate for an improper diet and weight loss occurs.
On the other hand, patients who are already overweight or obese often develop a craving for sugar or simple carbohydrates and find that these foods tend to maintain or worsen the overweight condition.
Stays here? Do doctors and scientists understand what is happening?
A few years ago they thought they had the answer. The discovery of leptin deficiency in massively obese mice led scientists to believe that they also had the answer for overweight humans. Leptin tends to suppress your appetite. Lack of this hormone causes mice (and people) to eat voraciously. However, it turns out that most overweight people have more leptin than slimmer people. The biological system that controls appetite and weight turns out to be much more complicated than previously believed.
Scientists discovered that certain humans have the mutation that leads to leptin deficiency and obesity at a young age. Treating these children with leptin helps to significantly reduce their body weight.
But what about the middle-aged adult who has seen their spare tire inflate over the years? We currently have no good answer except to eat less and exercise more. Avoiding sugar is not a bad idea; it is so difficult to limit intake to a reasonable amount that total abstinence may be an easier answer. But other simple carbohydrates can be just as bad for the body: white bread, white rice, white potatoes, breakfast cereals, and pasta.
The healthiest diet is one that consists mainly of vegetables and fruits, but many find it unsatisfactory. No matter what scientists discover, a pill cannot be the answer for modern man. We simply need to exercise more and eat healthier. The very idea makes me hungry for a piece of cake. What should a person do? I’m pretty sure if we had to grow our own food, we’d all be slimmer, I know we would be. Can I use my teens as an excuse for now?
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD