The sugar effects of wheat bread, alcohol and other common foods

It has been well-proven [1] that excess simple sugar consumption (and especially sugary drinks) and empty calories make you fatter. That’s a generalization, since everyone’s metabolism is different.

It’s likely that you already know how your body reacts to empty calories and high sugar food consumption over time. In this article I’ll look at the calorie content and health benefit of three common food items that have been traditionally touted as healthy. Then I’ll give you some tips on how to get high sugar foods out of your mind and out of your life.

The beer belly

Do you think of alcoholic drinks as being high in sugar? They certainly don’t taste sweet, but they can still be loaded with calories. That’s because a gram of alcohol contains 7 calories. Compare that to the nearly 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein, and the 9 calories per gram for fat. Beer contains 100-200 calories per 12 ounces. [2] Just 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (there are 8 ounces in a cup) contains nearly 100 calories, but with mixers, syrups and sodas added, you’ll get several hundred calories in one serving—a 6-ounce pina colada has approximately 380 calories.

It’s not just the calories in alcohol that can be a problem for your health. There are worse things that do occur from alcohol ingestion:

  • Drinking alcohol reduces your body’s fat-burning capability. [3]
  • Drinking alcohol lowers your blood sugar and fills you with more empty calories (no nutritional value), so that you more easily and more mindlessly will eat more.
  • You can’t store alcohol in your body so your body naturally makes it a priority to eliminate it as soon as possible. Therefore the process of absorbing nutrients and burning fat get interrupted.
  • Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach affects your brain within one minute because no digestion is needed. Who knows what behavior comes next. Therefore, if you choose to drink, remember that your liver only processes ½ ounce of ethanol per hour.
  • Drinking alcohol triggers hormones to cause increased urination and fluid loss—leading to relative dehydration and increased thirst. Drinking more alcohol worsens this cycle.
  • Drinking too much alcohol over time causes repeated increased urination so the body loses the important electrolytes calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Plus, drinking too much interferes with vitamin absorption and the use of nutrients, even to the point of inhibiting natural synthesis of needed proteins, leading to decreased immune function and waning mental function.

I suppose these are reasons for the beer belly appearance that develops over time in heavier beer drinkers—and the dysfunctional health and personal lives who allow alcohol to rule them.

Wine not really necessary for heart health

I have long heard from my friends who drink wine that in small amounts, wine has been proven to have cardiovascular health benefits. So I looked further at the studies to find out what exactly in wine makes it beneficial. Is it the alcohol portion or the antioxidant portion?

What I discovered from the scientific literature is that both wine and alcohol alone reduce the risk of heart attack and that they have differing mechanisms of cardio protection. [4] In other words, the polyphenolic antioxidants in wine and the alcohol in wine each have independent mechanisms for their healthy heart effects. It appears that the alcohol elevates HDL cholesterol, lowers fibrinogen and platelet; while the antioxidants relax blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and reduce clotting among many other beneficial effects. [5]

Which do you think is the healthier contributing portion of wine? Consider that you must keep your daily alcohol intake to less than one drink for women and one or two drinks for men or you will increase your heart disease risk; [6] but you can consume phytonutrients, super foods and other natural antioxidants all day long and you’ll just get healthier. Also know that dealcoholized red wine has also been proven to be cardioprotective. [7] Moreover, grape juice has also been proven to be cardioprotective. [8] Even grape seed proanthocyanidin (without any wine or juice) is proven to be cardioprotective against ischemic reperfusion injury like wine. [9] Do you really need the alcohol?

Wheat bread belly

Until recently the USDA recommended approximately 60 percent of food be consumed from “healthy whole grains” and nearly 90 percent of these are from wheat. If only wheat bread didn’t have such a high glycemic index of 71 (according to Harvard Medical School [10])…

Wheat bread has other problems with it—worse problems. Studies show that it causes more than 15 percent of us to have symptoms of gluten intolerance [11] characterized by digestive troubles, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, migraine headaches or mood swings after eating it. But there is more.

There are other problematic adverse health effects from our modern hybridized wheat that we are not being told. Recent studies of the effects of wheat gluten proteins are largely responsible for destruction of lining of our small intestinal lining. [12] When the tight junction of small intestinal lining is weakened, a condition known as “leaky gut” occurs, allowing leakage of food proteins into your body [13] and triggering auto-immune inflammation [14] [15] [16] of various types. This means that wheat bread is a major contributor to chronic inflammatory illnesses, including autoimmune disorders.

To make matters worse, the wheat gluten protein has now been shown to be an appetite stimulant. [17] Now I understand why I love wheat bread so much! Wheat bread is not thought to be a major cause for abdominal obesity which is rapidly on the rise.

Yogurt, too

I just want to point out that there are other foods that are touted as health foods. One of these is yogurt (not plain yogurt). Don’t be fooled by the “low fat” advertising. Read the ingredients list on the label and you’ll find sugar to be its 2nd ingredient. That means it is the second most prevalent ingredient, ahead of the subsequent 11 ingredients. So, it may be low fat, but it is high in sugar (26 grams per serving!). Therefore, even though its probiotic content is beneficial, the high glycemic load feeds you and your gut yeast.

To feeling good with healthy sweeteners and foods,

Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options

This is the fourth in this series on sweeteners. Previous articles in this series on sweeteners are:
Sweetness for sickness or health
Artificial sweeteners not for health
Natural sweeteners that are good for your health


[1] Morenga LT, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ 2013; 346
[3] Annual Reviews website, ‘Alcohol: Its Metabolism and Interaction with Nutrients.’ Annual Review of Nutrition Vol. 20: 395-430, July 2000. Online at:
[4] Sato M, Maulik N, Das DK. Cardioprotection with alcohol: role of both alcohol and polyphenolic antioxidants. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 May; 957:122-35.
[5] Rotondo S, Di Castelnuovo A, de Gaetano G. The relationship between wine consumption and cardiovascular risk: from epidemiological evidence to biological plausibility. Ital Heart J. 2001 Jan; 2(1):1-8.
[6] Cushman WC. Alcohol consumption and hypertension. J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2001 May-Jun;3(3):166-70.
[7] Chiva-Blanch G, Urpi-Sarda M, Ros E, Arranz S, Valderas-Martínez P, Casas R, Sacanella E, Llorach R, Lamuela-Raventos RM, Andres-Lacueva C, Estruch R. Dealcoholized red wine decreases systolic and diastolic blood pressure and increases plasma nitric oxide: short communication. Circ Res. 2012 Sep 28;111(8):1065-8.
[8] Stein JH, Keevil JG, Wiebe DA, Aeschlimann S, Folts JD. Purple grape juice improves endothelial function and reduces the susceptibility of LDL cholesterol to oxidation in patients with coronary artery disease. Circulation. 1999 Sep 7;100(10):1050-5.
[9] Sato M, Maulik G, Ray PS, Bagchi D, Das DK.Cardioprotective effects of grape seed proanthocyanidin against ischemic reperfusion injury. J Mol Cell Cardiol. 1999 Jun;31(6):1289-97.
[11] Biesiekierski, Jessica R et al (March 2011). “Gluten Causes Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Subjects Without Celiac Disease: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial”. Am J Gastroenterol 106 (3): 508–514.
[12] Thomas KE, Sapone A, Fasano A, Vogel SN (February 2006). Gliadin stimulation of murine macrophage inflammatory gene expression and intestinal permeability are MyD88-dependent: role of the innate response in Celiac disease. J. Immunol. 176 (4): 2512–21
[13] Lammers KM, Lu R, Brownley J, et al. (March 2008). “Gliadin Induces an Increase in Intestinal Permeability and Zonulin Release by Binding to the Chemokine Receptor CXCR3”. Gastroenterology 135 (1): 194–204.e3.
[14] Fasano A (2001) Pathological and therapeutic implications of macromolecule passage through the tight junction. In Tight Junctions. CRC Press, Inc, Boca Raton, pp 697–722.
[15] Yu QH, Yang Q (2009) Diversity of tight junctions (TJs) between gastrointestinal epithelial cells and their function in maintaining the mucosal barrier. Cell Biol Int 33:78–82.
[16] Fasano A (2001) Intestinal zonulin: open sesame! Gut 49:159–162.


Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.