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ABC News discovers digestion
Trevor Butterworth, May 20, 2010
The results of drinking 20 ounces of Coca Cola on an empty stomach shocks starving journalist into having a sugar high.

Recently, two ABC News reporters, Yunji de Nies and Hanna Siegel, headed to the University of Pennsylvania's Rodebaugh Diabetes Center. Their assignment was to act as human guinea pigs in an “experiment” designed to show the malevolent effects of drinking soda on blood sugar levels and the human body drank 20 ounces of Coca Cola on an empty stomach and then had her blood sugar measured. The results were broadcast on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer with the tag, “Do you know what an average soda does to your body”:

“The glucose in the sugar, or corn syrup, is quickly turned into energy, fructose, which is sweeter, is more likely to turn into fat.

After you drink a soda, the glucose hits your bloodstream, and your pancreas immediately begins making insulin to balance the sugar rush.

My glucose level started at 79, and then it rapidly shot up, because I had just put the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of sugar into my body. That is 10 more teaspoons of sugar than the American Heart Association recommends a woman like me consume in an entire day.

After 40 minutes, my glucose level had reached 107.”

This  is  called digestion, absorption, and metabolism – and it happens whenever you eat.Something similar would have happened if the ABC reporter had eaten any carbohydrates for breakfast These break down into sugars and are absorbed into the bloodstream where they are either used immediately to power the body or stored as easily-accessible fuel in the form of glycogen. (Simple carbohydrates like sugars are absorbed more quickly than complex carbohydrates like starches and dietary fiber – see illustration)




But the way ABC News reports this phenomenon suggests that your body is furiously making insulin to combat the influx of sugar and it just might be better off if it didn’t have to do this. This is misleading. Insulin converts glucose to glycogen and stores it in the liver and in muscles, where it is slowly released to maintain blood sugar levels between meals. As you can see from the following graph, which charts diets high in starches and sugars, this process is happening multiple times a day every day with different high points depending on the composition of your diet.

glucose graph

(Graph by Jakob Suckale and Michele Solimena, 2008 Frontiers in Bioscience PMID 18508724, preprint PDF from Nature Precedings, original data: Daly et al. 1998 PMID 9625092, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Living requires energy, and your body depends on carbohydrates/glycogen as its primary energy source with fat as the secondary fuel, and protein when all else is exhausted. A marathon runner who “carbo loads” should be able to store enough glycogen in his or her body to power them through the entire race; if not, they will suddenly fatigue.

So when the ABC reporter reports that, “A full two hours later, my glucose levels had finally normalized, leaving us with a question: Does one drink of soda make a difference?”One has to ask in response, make a difference to what? There’s nothing abnormal about a blood sugar levels spiking. They do so after every meal. Obviously, you can eat or drink beyond your calorie expenditure and capacity to store glycogen and end up putting on weight. But if you didn’t continue to absorb glucose, you would eventually “normalize” into a coma.

Moreover, for those who follow low glycemic diets, such as the South Beach Diet, Coca Cola is only a mid-range glycemic food; ABC’s reporter might have discovered she had even higher glucose levels if she had eaten watermelon or waffles – or, brace yourself – both for breakfast.





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