Is sugar the new tobacco?

 Smokes vs. sweets. Sugar vs. tobacco. Sounds like an odd competition, but it’s been quite the medical debate lately.

Those that say yes, sugar is the new tobacco, argue that fewer people are smoking now than 40 years ago. But during that same period, we’ve been eating much more sugar, which leads to obesity and a whole host of health problems like diabetes, blood pressure, high cholesterol, the list goes on.

Dr. Paige Quintero is a bariatric and general surgeon at Baptist Health Paducah. She deals with patients’ obesity and sugar issues on a daily basis.

“I think that one of our big problems in America is the availability of cheap, sugary food,” Quintero says. “That taste great, so we all eat it.”

Sandra Farthing is a registered dietitian at Lourdes Hospital and says even when you read the labels, it’s hard to tell what’s in there.

“It may say ‘low fat’ but they had to add something,” Farthing says. “So when you look at the sugar content, it may have 10 grams of sugar in it. So you start looking at the ingredients, like ‘Oh! This has corn syrup in it and it’s got artificial sweeteners in it’.”

Farthing goes on to say that sweets tend to make us want more sweets.

“The sugar we add is sweeter than regular sugar, so it’s almost like we crave the sweeter,” Farthing says.

“We have emerging technology that shows brain MRIs,” Farthing says. “When you eat sugar, it lights up the same place in your brain that lights up when you do something like smoke a cigarette or drink an alcoholic drink.”

Which brings us back to the original question: Is sugar the new tobacco?

“Sugar is okay, I mean, what’s naturally in our foods is going to be better for you,” Farthing says.

“I think that tobacco is harmful. I don’t think that all sugar is harmful. I think that too much sugar is harmful,” Quintero says.

Farthing says there’s sugar added to some crackers, a food more associated with salt. Even yogurt has sugar, which we tend to associate with dairy, calcium and heavy eating.

Farthing and Quintero says we as a nation need to drink more water. Energy drinks, sports drinks, soft drinks all are usually packed with sugar and even the diet ones have artificial sweeteners.

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