Too much sugar in one's diet leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health-related issues. Reducing the level of sugar in our diet typically means cutting back on the obvious: cookies, ice cream and chocolate bars. Desserts make up 14 percent of the sugar in our diet, dairy products like ice cream account for six percent, and candy shares another six percent of the blame.

However, a little detective work will reveal that sugar extends way beyond the dessert plate.  Sweetened drinks are responsible for more than a third of the added sugar in our diet. Did you know that a 16-ounce bottle of soda has about 13 teaspoons of sugar in it? Imagine drinking a glass of water after someone dumped 13 packets of sugar into it.  Yuck!

A recent study found almost 200,000 deaths worldwide can be directly linked to the consumption of these tasty drinks. Just this week, a new study concluded that those of us who crave sweetened drinks will not only gain weight, but increase our risk of developing coronary artery disease by 35 percent, diabetes by 26 percent, and stroke by 16 percent.

A story in the New York Times this summer detailed the fact that Coca Cola has funded research to the tune of $120 million over the last five years, suggesting sugar consumption is not a problem as long as people exercise.  Moreover, the American College of Cardiology was one of the largest recipients of coke dollars, receiving 3.1 million. Unfortunately, the things that "go better with coke" may be insulin and cholesterol medication.

Hidden sources of sugar can sneak under our radar, often camouflaged as healthy choices.  A Nature Valley Granola bar contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar in one package.  Strawberry flavored Yoplait yogurt is 99 percent fat free but it contains six teaspoons of sugar in a 6-ounce portion.  One tablespoon of ketchup, the amount you might put on your hamburger, has one teaspoon of sugar.  Who knew that it takes a teaspoon of sugar to make the burger go down?

Fortunately, it's easy to become a sugar sleuth. Look for words on the label like "high fructose corn syrup" and "dextrose", which are basically code names for sugar.

Here are some simple strategies to eliminate hidden sugars:

Start by drinking water. If you are bored with that choice or miss the fizz of soda, an alternative could be seltzer or club soda mixed with an ounce or two of fruit juice.  Try to avoid a whole glass of fruit juice, as it has almost as much sugar as soda.  One eight-ounce glass of apple juice has the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar.  Energy drinks and sweetened tea have just as much sugar.  Diet beverages are better, but all of the chemicals that replace the sugar are not worth the risk.

Eat more vegetables and fruit.  The sugar in fruit is naturally occurring and therefore a good heart-healthy choice.  Try to eat whole grain products rather than white flour, as the body is less likely to break whole grains down into sugar.

Though Coke may advertise that it is the "real thing", the truth is that sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and multiple other health related issues.  The folks from Coke are doing their best to convince us to exercise more and not worry about sugar.  Yet, if we follow their message, the results will likely be bittersweet.

Dr. David Becker is a board certified cardiologist with Chestnut Hill Temple Cardiology in Flourtown, Pa. and has been in practice for 25 years. In 1993, after extensive research, Dr. Becker launched Healthy Change of Heart™, an innovative 10-week program designed to reverse heart disease and improve quality of life through diet, exercise, and stress management. Since then, thousands of patients have participated in the program, achieving significant results in improving cardiac wellness.


Read more from the Check Up blog »