Join me in this first of a 3-part series addressing different issues around the way sugar impacts our lives….
I used to have a raging sugar addiction. I lived every moment for my next sugar fix. I felt horribly sick after every binge. My blood sugar soared, then plummeted. I’d be filled with self-loathing and throw away all the sweets in the house, swearing it off for good. Only to go slinking back to it like a bad-for-you lover you just can’t shake.
Sugar interrupted my sleep, left me depressed and constipated, suppressed my immunity, and wreaked havoc with my blood sugar levels. And yet, I couldn’t stay away from it. I broke up with sugar more times than I could possibly count.
When you go to the grocery store, the shelves are lined with aisle after aisle of sugar-filled foods. Most of them you might not even recognize as sugary: sauces, salad dressings, breakfast cereals, yogurt, juice, crackers, breads, peanut butter. The list goes on and on. Then there’s all the foods that aren’t hiding that they are meant to be sweet. The sodas and desserts and danishes.
In 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year. In 2009, that number has jumped tenfold to 180 pounds of sugar! It’s no coincidence that incidence of obesity, heart disease and diabetes have been rising right along side this increase in sugar consumption.
Let’s examine the two forms of sugar that we hear the most about, glucose and fructose, both of which are monosaccharides or simple sugars.
Glucose is the sugar that we use to produce energy and can be found in vegetables and grains. It is metabolized in our intestines.
Fructose is the sugar found in fruit and also highly processed sugars like High Fructose Corn Syrup (which is 55% glucose and 45% fructose). Fructose is very different in that it is metabolized in the liver. There is some evidence to suggest that the sustained burden on the liver of metabolizing fructose can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Simple sugars like fructose and glucose can combine to form complex sugars or disaccharides like table sugar. Table sugar is half fructose and half glucose.
What’s With All The Hype About Fructose?
People often don’t understand why the fructose in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is bad when the fructose in fruit is not.
- For starters, the sheer amount of fructose in HFCS is excessive. I would no sooner advise you to sit down and eat 5 apples than I would a bottle of soda full of HFCS.
- Fructose in fruits and vegetables is accompanied by fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial phytonutrients which work together in a synergistic package, making it less of a burden on your body to metabolize and delivering nutrition the way nature intended.
- Yet another strike against HFCS is that the fructose and glucose is not chemically bound as they are in table sugar. That means your body doesn’t have to break them down which translates to an immediate spike in your blood sugar and stress on your liver. If your body has to work to break apart the fructose and glucose, the sugar gets absorbed more slowly and your metabolism fires up. You want your metabolism to work so that it speeds up. A lazy metabolism that doesn’t have to split sugars doesn’t work to burn fat.
- When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat.
In case you’re skimming, the bottom line is: Fructose makes you fat!
- Metabolization of fructose produces uric acid which cause chronic low-level inflammation and increases the risk for hypertension, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and preeclampsia in pregnant women.
- Sugar causes the release of adrenaline and cortisol in a physiological-stressor reaction.
- Sugar impairs white blood cell functioning, disabling your immune system.
- Sugar sets you up to gain weight by interfering with the hormones that regulate your appetite. Sugar increases the production of grehlin (the hunger hormone) and decreases production of leptin (the hormone that signals that you are full).
- Sugar contributes to abdominal obesity. If you want to lose weight in your belly, try cutting out sugar for a few weeks as an experiment and see what happens.
- Sugar contributes to adult-onset diabetes, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and other blood sugar related problems.
- Sugar feeds Candida yeast in the gut which leads to an imbalance in beneficial bacteria flora.
- Brain scans show sugar is as addictive as cocaine!
What Can You Do?
Adopting a healthy sugar intake is a critical step on the road to vibrant health. The very first step is to start becoming aware of exactly how much sugar you’re consuming.
- For one week, eat what you normally eat and record how much sugar you’re eating and the source.
- This requires you to read your ingredient labels, which is a good habit to get into anyway.
- A good target is to keep your sugar consumption below 25 grams per day. If you have insulin resistance, diabetes, are overweight or have severe digestive issues, as little as 15 grams would be advisable.
- The third part of this blog series on sugar will provide some strategies for breaking a sugar addition.
Take the 1-week Sugar Challenge!
Spend one week recording just how much sugar you’re getting and from what sources. Then report your findings in the comments below. I’m excited to hear about your Sugar Challenge results!
Check out this video showing the actual amount of sugar in some of your favorite products. You might be surprised!
This post is linked to Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager.