The Bittersweet Truth About Sugar

December 11, 2019

The Bittersweet Truth About Sugar

As a child growing up in Latin America, my sister and I got to choose what and when to eat, so we chose to drink Coca-Cola for breakfast! After all, it was the latest rage and since our mother wanted us to have freedom to choose, we chose Coke. That’s right; in grade school, middle school and high school I drank Coke all day long, starting with breakfast. Before you judge my mother harshly, she wanted us to have an upbringing different than the very restrictive life she had as a child.

 

Although my mother let us choose anything we wanted to eat and there were wholesome foods at home, I always gravitated toward candy. Wouldn’t you do the same?  Most children given the choice will choose sugar. It’s an innate human desire to go for sweets that make us happy temporarily and give us quick energy. So, what is wrong with making sugar a big part of our diets? Read on.

 

The not-so surprising data from the latest health studies show that excessive sugar consumption is at the core of all chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and autoimmunity. So, what is sugar and where is it found? What’s the sugar connection to chronic disease? What steps can we take to change this? This article will attempt to answer some of these questions and leave you with some action items that will help you explore steps you can take to minimize or reduce the effect of sugar on your health.

 

It’s important to note that all our organs and systems are connected. When one organ or system is affected, there is an effect on the rest of the body. Our bodies are one complete system; our cells don’t act independently from each other. They communicate and are connected together. There’s no such thing as compartmentalizing the human body. Another key point to consider is that our diets and lifestyles are very different today than they were 100 years ago. Today we are eating food that is grown in nutritionally depleted soil and most people are choosing prepared or convenience foods daily. All these factors are taken into account when trying to answer the questions above. With this in mind, let’s look at sugar and its effect on health.

 

What is sugar and where is it found?

The typical American consumes 17-24 tsp. of sugar per day, according to a Harvard report.  If this is true, where is it coming from? Sugar is hidden in all kinds of places and the place where we find it most often is in beverages such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, alcohol, sports and energy drinks. Whole fruit juices also have naturally occurring sugars in them and although they have vitamins and minerals, the amount of sugar in fruit juices can be just as harmful to your health, due to the fast absorption of the simple carbs found in them.

 

If sugar occurs naturally in all carbohydrate-containing foods and carbs are the energy source for our bodies, how does the intake of carbs affect our health? Excessive simple and processed carb intake wreaks havoc with our blood sugar metabolism, our energy, our sleep and hormonal health. It’s the amount and type of carbohydrate that determines the effect on our bodies.

 

Carbohydrates are divided into simple and complex and they all get absorbed into the cells to provide us with energy, with the help of the hormone insulin. Simple carbohydrates are naturally sweet and are absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. They’re found in nature in the form of fruits or honey and in processed foods and beverages like soda and coffee drinks in the form of refined sugar or syrups. In a culture where convenience is at the core of our lifestyle, this means that unless we’re eating a diet free from processed foods, we’re eating more sugar than we think. Simple carbs are usually hidden in nut butters, salad dressings, breads, condiments, dairy products and sauces. Sweets and desserts like brownies, cakes, donuts, cookies and ice cream are also processed and chockfull of sugar. This is where the 24 tsp. of sugar are beginning to make sense!

 

On the other hand, complex carbs are found in nature and contain fiber. They include starchy vegetables like squashes, root vegetables, legumes, grains, leafy vegetables and plants. Fruits have a combination of simple and complex carbs. Complex carbs take longer to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, the key to utilizing carbs for energy is delayed absorption. The higher the fiber content in a food, the slower the sugar absorption into the bloodstream and the more beneficial it is for health.

 

What’s the sugar connection to chronic disease?

Chronic disease exists in a terrain or an environment that is conducive to feeding that condition. The gut, pancreas, liver, immune system, circulation and brain are all affected by this environment. Conditions that did not exist before, start developing. For example, when sugar intake is high, harmful sugar-loving bacteria thrive in the gastrointestinal tract leading to candida; insulin resistance develops when the pancreas and liver cannot keep up with the high sugar levels, leading to weight gain, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The arteries and circulatory system develop inflammation in the presence of high amounts of sugar, as they’re trying to defend the body against the foreign invader; the immune system is involved in all of this and so is the brain, which gets inflamed causing brain fog, confusion, and possibly Alzheimer’s, which has been dubbed “diabetes type 3”.  In osteoporosis sugar displaces nutrients like calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, D and K, leading to a decrease in bone metabolism and an increase in bone loss.

 

Action Steps to Shift the Terrain:

 

  1. Minimize refined sugar and processed flours in your diet.
  2. Choose complex carbohydrates over simple sugars.
  3. Add vegetables and fruits to each meal in order to increase fiber in your diet.
  4. Most people think they eat a “healthy diet”. Think again: Change one habit per day to improve your diet. Start small.
  5. Decrease alcohol intake to decrease the effect of sugar on your liver and other organs.
  6. Substitute sugar-containing drinks with pure filtered water, herbal tea or water with a splash of real fruit juice or some cut up fruit like lemon and strawberries.
  7. Include legumes and high fiber starchy vegetables in your diet (try squashes, plantain, sweet potatoes, beets).
  8. Include healthy fats in your diet (avocado, olive oil, olives, nut butters). This helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
  9. Reduce the amount of sugar you use in baking or use coconut sugar, maple syrup or honey as a replacement. They are lower glycemic index and contain enzymes, which are beneficial for your body.
  10. Remember to flush your system thoroughly by drinking at least half your body weight in lbs. in ounces of water. For example, if your weight is 150 lbs., drink 75 oz. of water per day.

 

The effect of sugar on our bodies is greater than we ever thought. The connection to chronic disease is real and proven. Any changes you can make today will provide you with great benefits in the future. If you need any help navigating your nutritional changes, please reach out to me at monica@nourishedfn.com.

 

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Yours in wellness,

- Monica

Monica Paz, MS, CN, FNLP




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