How a typical journalist misunderstands sugar

A friend sent me an article from the magazine “Bicycling,” warning readers to avoid some lies about sugar. A link to the article follows below. I recommending reading it now, and seeing what you think, before considering my opinion in the balance of this post.

I enjoyed the article, but mostly for the entertaining nonsense.

The author’s very first statement, that people who stop eating sugar don’t have long to live, is completely wrong. She probably is thinking about how the body uses glucose for energy on a cellular level, but the digestive system converts starches and even proteins into glucose, too; sugar itself isn’t at all necessary. In fact, carbs are the only nutrient with no minimum safe level – there are many documented cases of people going decades without eating a single carb, much less sugar. Take Eskimos, for example.

Now, for sure, I’m not discounting that endurance athletes probably find sugar to be performance-enhancing. My friend, a pro bike rider, pointed this out, and I’m sure there’s good science for why it’s true.

But this article itself doesn’t contain any actual science. Their expert, Leslie, is a “registered dietitian,” and she reflects the bad old days of our nutrition science. (Fat makes you fat, Count Calories, etc.)

More of her incorrect statements:

1. “The brain only can use glucose.” Wrong, the brain can also work quite well on ketone bodies, or ketones, which is what it gets in ketosis.

2. “The body primarily uses glucose”. Nope, the body ONLY uses glucose – except in ketosis, when it also toodles along happily on ketone bodies.

3. She’s also implying that you need to eat sugar to have glucose available to your cells, which isn’t at all the case, as I mentioned above, although it may be an efficient way to do it during intense physical activity.

3. “Artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain, diabetes, destruction of gut bacteria, etc.” Actually these studies are anything but conclusive, and are blown up far beyond their importance by journalists who know that ironic conspiracy theories sell advertising. The health costs to sugared soda drinking are crystal clear and well-documented in comparison.



Obesity Spreads Across World

Take a look at this frightening article in today’s New York Times: Global Diabetes Rates are Rising as Obesity Spreads. Yikes!
Yes, obesity is spreading across the world, with its sinister little side-effects: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The rates of all those things rise as poor countries develop into less-poor ones.
The good news is that death rates due to obesity related diseases are actually lower because of improved medical care for these diseases. The bad news? That medical care costs billions.
And what does this all come down to? Insulin. Grains and sugars raise our insulin levels and with a high insulin level you gain weight and eventually get diabetes, etc. When countries improve economically, people eat more. Which is great – except when they’re eating foods that the human body is not designed to eat, foods that spike insulin levels unnaturally, foods that cause disease and death.

NY Times article

Blood Work Results are In

So, the blood test results are in. Finally. My TV show friends had wisely suggested that it might make a cleaner experiment if I didn’t know the results from the first test, before I drank the Diet Cokes, until we got the results from the blood tests AFTER the experiment.
In other words, I didn’t have a clue what to expect.
To briefly recap: after drinking 10 Diet Cokes a day for 30 days, my basic physiological condition did not change: no weight gain at all, no changes in fasting blood glucose measurements, or blood pressure. Felt good, had energy, slept well, no cravings.
But what really happened – inside, might be much worse than a little bit of weight gain, so I had very sophisticated blood work done before and after the test and then the results analyzed by a doctor.
Here’s what the blood tests showed: Nothing really happened. My Lipid profile shifted very slightly. Not really anything else. 300 Diet Cokes in.
I’m going to create a chart to post on the site with details from the blood work, but here’s some of the basics for now:
Total Cholesterol went from 318 to 326 mg/dL
But the good HDL went from 106 to 124
And the Bad LDL improved slightly 197 to 190
The level of insulin in my blood rose slightly from 1.2 to 2.8 uIU/mL – but the reference range is 2.6 -24.9, so these are both super-low readings.
Yeah, it’s all pretty boring. Nothing happened. And when it was regular Coke I was drinking, my body and health blew up. I’ll post the rest of the details of the blood work Monday, but for now, I gotta tell you… I’m wondering if it’s sugar industry lobbyists who are creating the “Diet Soda is Bad For You” articles.

First day of not drinking Diet Cokes

This is my first day without drinking Diet Cokes. I feel fine. No withdrawal. Switched back to espresso and water. Easy so far, and soooo nice not to have to go the bathroom fifteen times a day. Since yesterday was my last day of 30 Days of Diet Coke, today I went to the blood lab to get my second blood analysis. This time I didn’t forget to take a picture of the blood they took from me today at Labcorp. 6 Vials. Bye-bye, blood. Have a fun trip. Here was Dr. Pinzone’s request to the lab: CBC, CMP, Lipid Panel, HgbAIC, insulin, glucagon, leptin, hsCRP, LH, FSH, Prolactin, Total, Free, and BioAvailable Testosterone, TSH, and Free T4. That’s a pretty thorough blood workup, and I’m pretty excited to hear what the doctor finds out from these tests. On the one hand, I think it would be really interesting to see that clear and potentially dangerous change in my body attributable to drinking 300 Diet Cokes in a month, but on the other hand, I don’t really want to harm my long-term health. A little weight-gain that I lose right away is okay, but kidney failure or dissolved bones would not be cool. Of course I’ll post the results from these tests on the website when I get them, and that feels a little uncomfortable, too, since the tests are so complex and thorough, and seem to reveal intimate things about my health. I just want to say in advance that my Testosterone is just fine, whatever the lab says. Except for the lab results, however, all the rest of my data is now posted on my website. Front page. Bottom. It’s pretty boring, actually. My weight went from 168 to 169 lbs. My blood pressure slightly improved. My fasting blood sugar slightly lowered. My body fat percentage stayed the same. Drinking 300 Diet Cokes in a month didn’t do me any obvious, exterior, harm. The lab tests will tell us more of the story. But all I know is that after 30 days of the same amount of regular Coke, I gained 23 pounds and had early stage diabetes. I’m going to reserve further judgement until the tests come in. For now, I can say that it is a relief not to have to drink Diet Coke all day. It wasn’t THAT bad – but it sure seemed like a long month.

Last Day of Diet Coke Drinking

I have to say, I’m a little sad that this is the last day of Diet Coke drinking. Okay, not that sad – but it had gotten pretty easy to live with by the last week or so. It wasn’t really difficult or unpleasant.

I worked out a routine where I would have two Diet Cokes in the morning when I got up and during breakfast. That left just eight to drink at the office, and if I just kept a can going while I talked on the phone and worked, I was usually done drinking soda by 4 pm or so.

The Diet Coke has come to seem like a little friend – a long line of cans across my desk, the day’s work, and the office strewn with empties like an out-of-control aluminum hoarder.

My weight is steady today, at one pound more than I started the experiment. We’ll see final results tomorrow, but this morning I recorded a very low fasting insulin level of 73 mg/dl, but it’s been holding the same as I started. This is the part that has been kind of boring, actually: In the first Coke experiment, my weight was constantly increasing, my vitals continually getting poorer. So, it’s not very exciting. Everyday the same weight.

The one thing I won’t miss is pricking my finger every morning to take a fasting blood glucose measurement. I know I’m being a baby, and there are a lot of people out there with diabetes who must do this all day – but I feel for you. At least if it’s Type II you do have the ability to improve or cure it by cutting out sugar and grains and fruit.

But I’m not a doctor. I’m just glad I don’t have to keep drawing blood every morning. It’s like “Welcome to your day! Here’s a sharp poke in the finger!”

I’ve got only 3 more Cokes to go today and then I’m done. I’ve had 297 Diet Cokes in the last 30 days.  Tomorrow, speaking of pokes in the finger, I go to get blood drawn for lab tests again. And then next week my doctor looks at the results… and tells me what?


3 Weeks of Diet Coke! Only 9 more days to go!

I wish I had a picture of the 7 vials – SEVEN! – of my blood that the blood test lab drew on the day before I began drinking 10 Diet Cokes a day, but I was dizzy and queasy and tired after the day of testing and the blood loss, and I completely forgot.

I don’t like giving blood, but The Doctors TV show asked their doctor, Dr. Pinzone, an endocrinologist, to thoroughly examine me, before and after the test, to see what changes the 300 Diet Cokes caused to my health.

And those results are now looking like the only real chance we now have to determine how bad, or not bad, drinking Diet Coke REALLY is.

Because I’m not showing any of the health problems that I had when I drank regular Cokes. My body weight is the same – within a pound or 2 of where I started – and I haven’t noticed real changes to my fasting blood sugar or blood pressure. More than that, I feel fine. At the three week point in drinking regular Coke, I didn’t feel great.

The biggest problem I have with the Diet Coke drinking is related to the sheer volume of liquid; I’m making a dozen trips to the bathroom while I sit in the office drinking diet soda all day. I think that if I was drinking caffeinated water (which you can buy, actually), I would feel the same. Caffeinated and needing to pee.

But no one believes it. I’m still hearing from so many people who believe that Diet is worse for you than sugared soda.  I was on a talk radio program the other day, following a doctor who was warning that diet sodas cause diabetes and weight gain, but as soon as said that he might be exaggerating the dangers, I was off the program. “Diet Coke is Bad For You” = interesting news. Sells toothpaste. “Diet Coke isn’t that Bad For You” – Boring. Turn the channel.

Except for the millions of people dying from diseases related to high insulin, which is caused so dramatically more by sugar than artificial sweetener. It could be very damaging to dissuade people from switching from sugared soda to Diet because of exaggerated fears about the dangers of diet.

So, it’s all coming down to the blood lab tests and Dr. Pinzone. Will he find changes in my blood labs that show Diet to be even worse than sugared soda? Nine more days, 90 more Diet Cokes.


Ugghh. Tired of drinking so much Diet Coke

Tomorrow I’m going to have to look for some Diet Cherry Coke or something to break the monotony. It seems like there’s always a long line of Diet Cokes ahead of me. Like that fairy tale about the porridge pot that keeps refilling itself as soon as its empty – until you say the magic word for STOP. But I can’t stop now. I’ve got about 10 more days to go. Only 100 more Diets to go, in a little more than a week.

Ugh. Tired of drinking so much Diet Coke. It’s five o’clock and I’m choking down #10. A full day’s work. On the other hand, my health still seems to be under control. Saw a minor weight gain over the weekend of two pounds, but that’s probably a normal variation for me, and also maybe related to eating a bunch of Mexican food, margaritas, and breaded seafood.

We’ll see tomorrow, when the first three weeks are completed.

New Artificial Sweetener Study No Excuse to Resume Drinking Full-Calorie Soda

While I’ve been trying to weigh all the sketchy evidence about the dangers of diet soda, I found this statement from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The CSPI has been crusading for better nutrition and food safety for 40 years.

Statement of CSPI Senior Scientist Lisa Lefferts

September 17, 2014
Intriguing findings in a paper published in Nature raise serious questions about the effect of saccharin and possibly other artificial sweeteners on the microbial world inside our digestive tracts and the resulting impact on blood sugar and metabolism. What these chemicals do in our gut deserves further study. But consumers already have ample reason to avoid saccharin and aspartame, and reason to be cautious about sucralose, primarily because of evidence from animal studies that they may cause cancer.
However, it would be a mistake to conclude that diet sodas are worse than drinks sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, and no diet-soda drinker should interpret the new study as license to switch to regular soda. The study does not overturn the best studies that show that people who drink diet soda don’t have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes (unlike people who drink regular soda), and that people are more likely to gain weight on sugar-sweetened than diet beverages. These risks from sugar drinks far out-weigh the new concerns raised today about artificial sweeteners.

Another day of Diet Coke Drinking

Three more diet Cokes to go today. Whatever – it’s still early afternoon. I start the day with ten cans lined up across the desk and just work my way through.

Took my blood pressure in the morning, and then again this afternoon, and in spike of the 7 Diet Cokes, it is only marginally higher. 127/79 this morning, and 130/83 at 2 pm. And my BP is typically higher in the afternoon than morning, so the rise doesn’t mean much. I’m just glad it’s down in a reasonable range.

The excellent doctor who examined me before the experiment and will examine me afterwards, and look at the results of our blood tests, also wanted me to make sure and take my BP readings at the same time all day, so I’m measuring in the a.m.

Caffeine and dehydration haven’t been bothering me as much in the office this week.

Have a great weekend.

First Day of Diet Coke Drinking

Today was the first day of 10 Diet Cokes a day, and it was tough start – partly because I’m in Nashville setting up a trade show for business, so I woke up in a hotel and couldn’t get my hands on a Diet Coke until I got to the Nashville Music City Center, where Diet Cokes were $3 a piece. Drank two there in the morning, and then made it out to a Walmart to buy a case and drank the rest throughout the rest of the day – out in the freezing rain, while setting up our outdoor booth. Rough.

Another thing was that the caffeine content of the Diet Cokes seems much stronger than in the regular Cokes. Have to look it up, but every time I drank a Diet Coke I got a definite caffeine buzz, and now, at 10:30 at night back in the hotel, I’m still wired and not ready to sleep, even though we have to be up early for the Expo. On the other hand, actually drinking the Diet Cokes is much easier than drinking the regular Cokes. No feeling of sluggishness from the blood sugar peaks and valleys, no feeling of fullness; they go down pretty easy.

No changes in weight or blood pressure yet, and we’ll have a look at blood glucose in the a.m.

Tomorrow I’ll be outside all day in 25 degrees F and 6 inches of snow, chugging Diet Cokes. Should be fun. And buzzy. Hope I don’t get too addicted to the caffeine. Maybe I’ll write a novel. Like right now. Before bed.