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Jarrett Hammer: Utahns are making themselves ill with sugar sweetened beverages

(Matt Rourke | AP photo) In this March 16, 2017, photo, sugar tax stickers are posted by sweetened beverages at the IGA supermarket in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Drive-thru soda shops. They are “popping” up everywhere. There are flavor shots, lime wedges, cream and raspberry purée, all to mix in to your favorite bubbly beverage. Utahns love them! Even better, when you go through these drive-throughs they have many more sugar-laden options for you like cookies, pretzels, donuts and candy to go with your “Dirty Dr. Pepper.”

It is all so tasty, isn’t it? And the demand for these soda shops seems quite high. At any point in the day the lines for these soft drink boutiques seem as long as the line of a Seattle Starbucks on Monday morning.

The problem is, this stuff is addicting! It is laden with sugar and caffeine (and often fat) and our brains and our bodies keep craving for more. The owners of these shops are raking in the cash at $4 to $5 per “pop.”

Now, let’s talk about sugar.

If you were to get a regular 44-ounce soda with the typical six flavor shots you would be getting just over 300 grams of straight sugar (all in the form of high fructose corn syrup). That is 1.5 cups of sugar in 1 drink.

Two hundred years ago, the average American ate only two pounds of sugar in a year, which would equal just about three of these drinks. Immediately upon taking your first sip, your taste buds start on a wild joyride with the bubbles, the sugar and the taste. Your brain releases dopamine, satisfying your current craving and potentially even your carbohydrate addiction.

When the drink hits your stomach, it signals the pancreas to produce insulin. The more sugar, the more insulin is secreted. You get a short burst of energy and mental clarity usually only lasting a few hours. You soon need to decide what to do about the headache, fatigue and the cravings.

“Should I get another,” you ask.

The next morning, your brain tells you “I want some more of that!”

So, instead of going directly to work, you find yourself in the drive-thru to get another sugary bit of heaven. And the cycle continues.

What’s so bad about sugar?

First, the high fructose corn syrup in the soda and flavor shots is almost like poison to our bodies due to how much it raises blood sugar and insulin. The job of insulin is to distribute that sugar (glucose) to our muscles, heart and brain. If we don’t use it up, the rest goes to our fat cells, where they soak it up and turn it to more fat to save for later.

Insulin is a storage hormone. It tells our bodies to rest and digest. No, it’s not tryptophan that makes us tired after a Thanksgiving dinner, it’s insulin. It’s not the turkey, it’s the carbs. And why do we want pie within a few hours of eating that delicious meal? It’s because the insulin has worn off, the glucose has been transported into our fat cells, and our brain is crying for more. “More sugar, more insulin!!”

What I regularly see in my clinic are patients whom this cycle has been playing on for years. Now they are obese. They have pre-diabetes, or worse yet, full-blown type 2 diabetes. They are tired. Their joints ache. They are depressed. And they don’t know what to do.

The answer, stop the madness. Stop ingesting so many processed sugars. Don’t go drink soda anymore. Even though there was outrage in New York City about the soda ban, maybe they had it right there for a while by putting a ban on sugary drinks?

What should be done?

Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. Frequently drinking SSBs is associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and gout. Stop drinking them now. You will feel better.

More than 180,000 Utahns have been diagnosed with diabetes, that’s almost 10% of us. Let’s fight the epidemic of diabetes in our state by decreasing our consumption of all the sugary drinks.

Jarrett Hammer

Jarrett Hammer, D.O., is a family medicine physician in Spanish Fork.