While humanity struggled for generations to get enough calories to stay alive, in the United States we now struggle to manage too many calories and must learn to eat in healthful balance. Perhaps the most devastating calories in our modern diet come from sugar.
What Makes Sugar Toxic?
The term sugar refers to a group of carbohydrate molecules consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – the most relevant type, sucrose, is comprised of glucose and fructose stuck together into a single molecule. Glucose and fructose are metabolized in different ways in the body and are both harmful. Glucose raises the blood sugar abruptly, causing a spike in insulin production, which causes the body to store fat. Fructose is metabolized differently, and although it doesn’t increase the blood sugar as abruptly as glucose, it is much better at causing the deposition of fat into the liver, which can scar the liver and lead to cirrhosis.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has gotten the lion’s share of bad press of late, is actually quite similar to sucrose – whereas sucrose is 50% each glucose and fructose, HFCS is 45% glucose and 55% fructose – not much of a difference at all. The important message is not that fructose is more harmful than glucose, but rather that they are both very harmful and should be avoided as often as possible.
What Does Sugar Do To You?
– It causes inflammation which increases pain and risk of cancer and heart disease
– It causes you to develop diabetes, which leads to more heart disease, stroke, painful neuropathy, blindness, and amputation
– It causes you to release dopamine which makes you crave it more and more, and leaves you always unsatisfied
– It makes you tired and sluggish
– It makes you fat, which raises your risk of heart disease, dementia, and cancer
– It causes fatty liver disease, which leads to cirrhosis
– It causes bloating and flatulence and disturbs the function of your gut
Why Do We Love Sugar So Much?
Sugar stimulates the release of the same neurotransmitters, in particular dopamine, that are released by other drugs like nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. This dopamine release causes a pleasurable feeling that causes us to seek it more and more, but the more we ingest, the less dopamine we secrete, which drives us to consume even more sugar. This is called addiction. We have become addicted to sugar as a society. In the 18th century the amount of sugar consumed per person increased from 4 pounds/year to 18 pounds/year. In the 19th century our intake increased 16-fold, and now we consume about 120 pounds per person per year! Diabetes was relatively unknown in 1900; now 10% of our population over age 20 has diabetes, and over a third of people in our country are obese. In spite of all of the suffering that sugar causes, we continue to eat more of it each year.
Tips To Cut Down Your Sugar Consumption
Don’t worry about the little bit of natural sugar that occurs in vegetables and unsweetened dairy – in those cases the natural sugar is balanced out by fiber, fat, and protein so that it doesn’t cause your blood sugar to spike. Be careful with fruit – it is easy to overeat because of the perception that fruit is healthy. Fruit can still contain too much sugar for people who are insulin resistant or struggling with their weight. Do avoid grains and added sugar as completely as possible. Processed sugars including high fructose corn syrup can hide in your foods, so watch out for names such as dextrose, maltose and fruit juice concentrate. Don’t drink caloric beverages as a rule. Don’t sweeten your coffee or your tea. Limit dessert to no more than once per week. If you must use stevia as a sweetener temporarily to transition away from sugar, please do so, but have a plan for getting off the stevia eventually as well so that your palate acclimates to a less sweet diet.
Moderation Is Not Key…AVOIDANCE IS!
Remember that sugar is an addictive drug like cocaine or heroin – it causes a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. Getting out from the bondage of sugar consumption takes planning and perseverance, but it can be done. Please think of sugar as the poison that it is and get it out of your life.