“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Mary Poppins
Americans consumed 152 pounds per person per year of refined sugar. And it is killing us. Worldwide there are 422 million diabetics.
Humans are the ultimate “flex fuel” creatures. Flex fuel cars can run on gasoline, ethanol, or a combination. Big deal. Humans can run on almost anything edible. Humans can extract nutrition from many plants, animals, insects, fungi, and more. We digest these varied foods and then burn for fuel carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, or even ethanol (alcohol). Blood sugar levels are kept in a narrow range, when we are healthy. When blood sugar levels fall below 40 mg/deciliter we get jittery, mean, depressed, weak, and more. When blood sugar levels go above 100 mg% for any lengthy period of time we begin to destroy the body in many complex pathways. Glucotoxicity is a topic of great interest among scientists who wish to help more of the 30 million diabetics in America and 60 million more prediabetics.
While the natural sugars and complex carbohydrates from real food is good for you, the highly processed complex carbs and sugars from the whites (sugar, rice, potato, flour) can be very harmful.
Sugar systematically harms almost all vital organs of your body in addition to increasing your weight.
Several research studies have shown that added sugar in your food significantly increases your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, heart disease, dementia and cirrhosis of the liver.
Considering its addictive power and grave consequences on human health, UN has even warned that sugar could be the ‘new tobacco’.
Why is Sugar Bad For You?
Natural food primarily has two types of carbohydrates:
1) Simple sugars (one molecule: glucose, fructose, galactose) and (two molecules: sucrose, maltose, lactose);
2) Complex forms (starch and fiber).
During digestion both types of carbohydrates break down into single molecules of glucose inside your body. These carbohydrates are then used to generate energy or converted into glycogen and stored in liver and muscle to use later as fuel. Mostly whole natural foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains) contain simple sugars with complex carbohydrates and vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals and fiber. These nutrients and fiber in the food take longer to digest and significantly slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
However, when processed and refined sweeteners (simple sugars) are added to foods by you or the manufacturer (during processing, cooking or at the table), you consume pure empty calories without any nutrients or fiber. This added sugar is bad for your health, as it is not digested in the mouth or the stomach but passes directly to the lower intestine and then to the bloodstream.
High blood sugar symptoms
Sugars “quick” access to blood disrupts body’s usual hormonal balance and increases your risk of gaining weight. Other illnesses can include developing chronic inflammatory degenerative diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, hypertension, kidney disease, macular degeneration, dementia and cancer. Recent research suggests that added sugar decreases your life expectancy by slowly and systematically destroying your vital organs such as liver, pancreas, kidneys, and heart.
As the source of sweetness in your diet decides how much sugar you consume, how it enters your body and how bad it is for your health, you need to limit foods with high level of simple sugar in your everyday diet. Processed foods like yogurt, ready meals, frozen desserts, candy bars, biscuits, baked goods, juice, soft drinks and other sweet liquids have damaging levels of added sugar. This can lead to tooth decay, poor energy levels and cravings for more sugary stuff. Some of the other everyday foods that hide lots of sugar include tomato sauce, fat free dressing, tonic water, marinates, crackers and even bread.
Keeping in mind the damaging effect of added sugar on your health, American Heart Association recommends that added sugars should be limited to 100 calories (6 tsp) per day for women and 150 calories (9 tsp) per day for men. I recommend much less refined sugar.
Here we are listing down the most damaging effects of added sugar on your health:
1. How many calories in sugar?
Sugar provides empty calories as it has no-nutritional value. Empty-calorie foods like sugary foods and drinks are nutritionally poor food choices as these energy-dense foods contain more calories than nutrients. So, when you eat sugary stuff you replace nutrient-dense foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds) that provide fewer calories and are excellent source of vital nutrients with empty calories.
Nutrients such as protein, healthy fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals are essential to maintain health; therefore high intake of empty-calorie foods may cause weight gain and in the long run can lead to nutritional deficiencies in people, who consume up to 10-20% of their daily calories from sugar.
Commonly consumed empty-calorie foods are highly processed foods like baked products (cakes, cookies, pies and pastries), puddings, doughnuts, jams, syrups, jelly, sweetened fruit drinks and ice cream.
2. Effects of sugar on the brain
The empty calories from sugar don’t fill you up instead it releases a hormone cascade in your brain that encourages you to eat more of sugary stuff. This massive dopamine release in the reward center of the brain by sugar and other junk foods is a sure shot for many people to get hooked. Scientists believe that no mammals’ sweet receptors are naturally adapted to the high concentrations of sugar in processed foods eaten these days.
Various experiments also prove that sugar has highly addictive powers. In one study French scientists found that rats chose sugar over cocaine. These scientists reported that the intense stimulation caused by sugar-rich diets generate a supra-normal reward signal in the brain that has the potential to override self-control mechanisms leading to addiction. This effect of sugar on hormones and brain decreases satiety and makes people lose control over their consumption, as a result this overeating leads to weight gain.
3. Does sugar make you fat?
Added sugar consumption is strongly associated with obesity. Studies suggest that people who consume the most sugar are the ones who are most likely to become overweight or obese. This link is especially strong in children, where each daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with 60% increased risk of obesity.
Added sugar contributes to weight gain by doing two things:
1) It displaces natural, healthy, whole foods from your diet: Foods that are high in added sugar are not high in nutrition, so you are eating empty calories without providing any nutrition to your body, this leads to low satiety value and you tend to eat more calories. For example: A cookie is equal to a large salad in terms of calories.
2) It adds calories to your diet: As sugar is a calorie dense food, you can consume a lot of calories from foods that contain added sugar.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the main culprits, as you don’t get a feel that you had something while pumping empty calories in your body. Besides this, a 2010 study found that these fructose-laden beverages specifically promote accumulation of fat in the trunk area. This belly fat also decreases your life expectancy by increasing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A 2013 study estimated that 180,000 deaths worldwide and 25,000 deaths in United States alone in 2010 may be attributed to consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.
4. Does sugar cause inflammation?
Sugar in any form (raw, brown, corn syrup) affects the body in a powerful way. The amount of sugar you consume from processed foods these days (sometimes as high as 1/2 cup a day) produces an over-acid condition and to rectify this upset in body’s chemistry more and more minerals are leached out from the body. Eventually it leads to general weakening of your body by affecting every organ in the body. This condition also causes inflammatory response inside your body and decreases your body’s immunity.
While systemic inflammation is the main reason behind high prevalence of chronic degenerative diseases. Research suggests that eating too much sugar can seriously compromise your body’s ability to fight viruses, bacteria and parasites. In a 2009 study, eating sugar has depressed the immunity of healthy volunteers by about 50 percent for up to 5 hours, so if you eat sugar 2-3 times a day, your immune system might be functioning at half-capacity.
5. Blood sugar
Added sugar is highly toxic, as it causes insulin resistance that leads to diabetes and related complications like blindness. Insulin is a hormone in your body that facilitates blood sugar to enter into body’s cells from the bloodstream and stimulates cells to start burning glucose instead of fat. When you eat high levels of sugar in your diet, your cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, in this case the beta cells in your pancreas start making more insulin. However, eventually, this insulin resistance becomes worse, as pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels down. This situation of chronically elevated blood sugar levels is diagnosed as type II diabetes.
Robert Lustig, professor at University of California and author of “Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar”, suggests that not all calories are equal, as added sugar is 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories because table sugar is not metabolized in the same way that a carbohydrate such as flour. Epidemiological research studies also suggest that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages are at high risk of diabetes.
Added sugar worsens the situation, if you already have diabetes or a diabetes-related condition, as besides increasing blood sugar levels, it will increase your triglycerides and lipid levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
What about Fruit?
Since fruit is a rich composite of natural sugars (fructose, glucose, sucrose), pectin, fiber, antioxidants, etc. you might think that fruit is harmful to the health. Which is, unfortunately, what the paleo and ketogenic people think. The evidence is quite the opposite. In a Harvard study of 75,000 women over 24 year period, those who ate 2 servings of peaches each week had a 40% reduction in the incidence of breast cancer. In a study in London, senior citiziens who ate the most fruit had the lowest risk of shingles, a nasty viral infection. In a Harvard study of men in Hawaii, the men who ate the most fruit had the lowest risk of prostate cancer. In several studies, consumption of fruit lowered the risk for diabetes. We could go on.
The point is: real food is good for you. Fake food, like white sugar, is not.