Healthwise: Why free sugar can be costly

Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 11:19 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - For most people, Easter weekend tends to be a time for a sugar overload.

The holiday comes on the heels of a study in the British Medical Journal that reviewed more than eight thousand studies to find a common culprit, free sugar, linked to at least 45 negative health outcomes. 

KCBD went to the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center today to find out more about free sugar and why it could be costly.

Dr. Drew Payne is an obesity researcher in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. He says the term “free sugar” is a buzz word. It means added sugar.

We all need some sugar - or glucose - to produce energy. However, Payne says, “When sugar gets to be high levels, it can cause increased inflammation. Then, we over time develop increased risk for certain illnesses. And those illnesses are mainly cardiovascular illness. Some types of cancer, and it can affect how you sleep.”

However, he says sugar does not directly cause the 45 illnesses highlighted in the BMJ study, but that dozens of illnesses may be affected when sugar levels are high.

He adds that one really good way to cut back on added sugar is to limit or stop drinking sugary sodas.

He says, “In soda, there’s as much calories and sugar as there is found in a sandwich. So, when patients sit down and have a lunch with a sandwich and a soda, that’s basically like eating two sandwiches.”

For example, a 20-ounce bottle of Coke includes 65 grams of sugar.

With four grams of sugar in a teaspoon, that means a single bottle of coke contains 16 teaspoons of sugar.

Based on that, diet drinks would appear to be the better option, but Dr. Payne says it is still not the best beverage choice.

“I tell my patients that there’s a hierarchy of good liquids to drink. The worst being sugar filled drinks, and the best thing: water.”