A couple months ago, I promised a blog post on sugar. I had been putting it off because I knew I could probably write a book on this topic and I'm trying to keep my blog posts succinct and to the point. (If you do want to read a book on the topic, check out JJ Virgin's Sugar Impact Diet or the companion cookbook: Sugar Impact Diet Cookbook.) Did you know that the average American used to consume 5 lbs of sugar a year, and now it is up to 60 lbs (74.5 grams per day) only 150 years later!! You'll notice this chart I found also has the obesity rate jumping from like 3% to 42% in the same time frame. Now, if this doesn't make the connection that consuming sugar makes you fat, I don't know what will.
How did this happen? Well, sugar is cheap. It became more readily available to people around 1850 as the manufacturing process was refined and trade routes established and running by train. During the Napoleonic war, Britain blocked cane sugar from reaching Napoleon, so he encouraged the effort of extracting sugar from beets. This has been a popular alternate and has been made into a GMO crop in the U.S. 93% of sugar beets are now genetically modified. This brings on a new issue of GMO consumption that also deserves its own blog post, but for now, I'll leave you with GMOs have been banned or restricted in 60 other countries and linked to leaky gut syndrome, cancer and other ailments. They are usually modified to withstand being sprayed with glyphosphate which is a herbicide. This isn't washed off easily and will be consumed with the food that was sprayed.
How else did high sugar consumption begin? When someone hypothesized that saturated fats were bad and the cause of heart disease, food manufacturers took all the fats out of foods and replaced them with sugar so there would be flavor. Oops. That hypothesis has been proved wrong, yet we are all so ingrained with the idea it was truth instead of a hypothesis. (Want more on this topic? Check out my article What's the Skinny on Fat.)
What about high-fructose corn syrup? (Which, by the way, is consumed at an average of 35 pounds per year which is 43 grams/day in addition to sugar.) Well, HFCS is made from corn, which is a crop heavily subsidized by the U.S. Government. This corn used is more than likely GMO as well (88% of U.S. corn production is GMO crops). But even if you don't care about the subsidies being over-used and probably a waste of tax dollars, or that GMOs are eating away at your intestinal lining, read on for the difference in how your body processes fructose, sucrose (white table sugar) and glucose (found in fruits.)
Glucose is the preferred form of sugar to be consumed in the body. It is transformed into energy or stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen to be used as energy later. Fructose, however, has to be metabolized in the liver before it can be used as energy in the body. It converts to fat in the blood 2 to 5 times more than fructose. Sucrose is a mixture of glucose and fructose, so the body will use the glucose as energy and if it doesn't use the fructose as energy at the same time, it will convert it into fat. Your body's insulin response works more correctly with the intake of glucose rather than fructose as well.
Most people realize that diabetes is caused when the body's insulin response stops working correctly. Well, consuming all forms of sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, in high amounts is typically to blame for this disease. Luckily, it is something that can be reversed and healed with dietary changes. (Check out Dr. Gabriel Cousens' work on this topic.) But did you know that cancer cells thrive when a body is constantly fed sugar? Also, yeast infections, bacterial infections and viruses all thrive on the sugar you eat. So, "a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down" is terrible advice when one is sick. All sugar should be avoided to stop feeding the invading germs so your body can fight them off quicker and easier. High sugar consumption can also lead to difficulty concentrating, anxiety, anti-social behavior, hyperactivity followed by decreased activity, crankiness (mood swings from the drastic changes in blood sugar), tooth decay (really, if you drink some water after eating to wash the food particles off your teeth, that will do wonders for your dental health.) The list goes on and on... (see Sugar Addiction: 76 Ways Sugar Can Ruin Your Health for more.)
Sugar is like a drug in the way it affects people. It is very addicting (hence over-eating the sugar filled foods) and very difficult to quit cold turkey. When I stopped eating so much sugar, I did so over the course of a year. Now, if I had one of the ailments listed above and needed to take more drastic action, I would have done so over the course of weeks by weaning. JJ Virgin has a plan outlined in her book, but I would start by throwing out everything that has high-fructose corn syrup in it and avoid that like the plague. Next would be to replace high sugar foods with lower sugar foods and foods higher in healthy saturated fats so that you feel full after eating. Continue reducing sugary foods until they are just about gone from your diet; reserved for treats to be consumed on occasion, like a birthday cake at a birthday party.
Everyone knows sugar is in obvious places like soda, ice cream and cookies. Where are some places sugar hides? Condiments like salad dressing, barbecue sauce and ketchup, meat rubs, spaghetti sauce, bread products, crackers, beer, wine, flavored commercial yogurts, "energy" or granola bars, canned soups, baby formula, energy and sports drinks and fruit juices. Look at your food labels. Anything ended in -ose is a form of sugar; dextrose, sucrose, fructose. Anything that has "syrup" is also a sugar; brown rice syrup, maple syrup, & high-fructose corn syrup. Food labels also show how much sugar is in a serving, so you could go through and see how quickly your total sugar consumption adds up to that 118 grams per day on average. (74.5 grams sugar + 43.5 grams HFCS = 118 total grams.) By the way, 118 grams is 23.6 teaspoons or just shy of 1/2 cup.
The good news is, there are sweetener alternates you can use that won't have the affects of raising your blood sugar and feeding the bad bacteria and yeasts in your body.
Agave syrup is not one as it is very high in fructose. Commercial sugar replacements such as aspartame or Sucralose are definitely not options either. They have been shown to contribute to obesity; just what they are touted to prevent as well as Alzheimer's, strokes, migraines and other ailments. They are basically worse than the sugar they are supposed to be saving you from. Check out "How Artificial Sweeteners Confuse Your Body into Storing Fat and Inducing Diabetes" for more info on artificial sweeteners and why they should be avoided.
Xylitol, stevia, erythritol are some that I use. Also, raw honey as it has medicinal affects as well. I also use 100% maple syrup on occasion, but maple syrup and honey are both fairly high in fructose, so they should still be used sparingly, especially if you are trying to control your blood sugar and insulin levels.
But really, if you start adding good fats back into your diet and eating food as close to nature as you can, you will stop craving the sweets. The fats will make you feel full and you'll have energy, so no need for that candy bar to pick you up in the afternoon. Some vegetables are naturally sweet when eaten fresh and not covered with cheese sauce; carrots, beets, all varieties of peas. Of course, eating fresh fruit is a better option than processed sugar because at least you get some fiber, vitamins and the water content which will make you feel full sooner as well as the fact fruit is mostly glucose which if you remember, is the body's preferred form of sugar. Other ways to sweeten your food is with vanilla or coconut flavorings.
To recap: Cutting back on sugar will help regulate your weight, mood and risks of cancer and Alzheimer's disease. The body's preferred form of sugar is glucose, found in fruits. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and Sucralose have been shown to cause obesity and other ailments. Sugars have been added to everything to improve taste and to make you crave, eat and buy more. Adding healthy fats back into your diet will help your sugar cravings go down, regulate your weight and mood. There are some safer sugar substitutes that can be used, but still in moderation; Xylitol, erythritol, stevia and raw honey.
Stay tuned for next week which I'll give some recipes to help you replace some sugar-laden foods like soda, barbecue sauce and salad dressing. Sign up for my e-mail list so you don't miss out.
What action are you going to take to reduce your sugar consumption? Let me know in the comments!
With love, hugs and smiles,
"The Truth About Sugar Addiction" by Dr. Mercola, http://articles.mercola.com/sugar-addiction.aspx
"What Is the Difference Between Sucrose, Glucose & Fructose?" by Kimberly Ancira, Demand Media, http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-sucrose-glucose-fructose-8704.html
"How Artificial Sweeteners Confuse Your Body into Storing Fat and Inducing Diabetes" by Dr. Mercola, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/12/23/artificial-sweeteners-confuse-body.aspx