My first article in this category, What is so BAD about Sodium, was a real eye-opener for many people. This week I’m going to try to accomplish the same with the next big hitter – Sugar.
History of Sugar
The history of sugar is rather intriguing. Back in the eighteenth century, sugar wasn’t available to just anyone like it is today. The extraction process of simple sugars from plants was a very difficult task and only the rich and noble could afford it.
Sugar was a luxury.
But things quickly changed with the invention of machinery that could drastically simplify the extraction process. Sugar quickly became the cheap commodity that it is today. It was also the ideal fuel for cheap labor workers in European factories and its consumption exploded as it became a household item.
That being said, it was also 200 years ago that doctors first noticed the negative effects sugar had on the human body.
Back in the eighteenth century, the average individual consumed roughly 4 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes a ridiculous 2-3 pounds of sugar per WEEK!
It also happened to be that back in the early 1900’s, cardiovascular disease and cancer were virtually unknown. Today, they are two of the leading causes of death in the US.
Maybe there’s some correlation here…
In fact, the American Dietetic Association and American Diabetic Association have both stated that sugar consumption is one of the three major causes of degenerative disease in the US.
I was surprised to find that there is no official Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) listed for sugar. Thankfully, the US Department of Agriculture advises that adults who eat a 2,000 calorie diet should not consume more than 40g of added sugar per day.
Note that 40g is roughly 10 teaspoons and that “added” refers to refined or processed sugars. There doesn’t seem to be a limit on natural sugars so if you get a craving for something sweet, grab some fruit.
What is so BAD About Sugar?
Did you know that your brain uses half of all the sugar energy in your body?
Certain studies have found that sugar affects the brain chemistry in a way that causes addictive behavior – kind of like a drug.
It looks a lot like cocaine, but acts more like heroin when it hits the brain. It appears that sugar, and even the taste of sweetness, activates beta endorphin receptor sites in the brain – the same receptor sites activated by heroin.
No wonder you want another coke!
How Sugar Affects Your Body
I could write an extensive novel describing the thousands of negative effects habitual, over-consumption of sugar has on your body. But here I’m only going to discuss what I find to be the major issues.
Some scientists and researchers have classified refined/processed sugar as a poison. Maybe a little bit drastic but you can’t deny their reasoning. When consumed, sugar provides what nutritionists call “empty” calories – all vital, natural nutrients and minerals that were present in the original plant have been stripped away during the refining process. All that’s left is a highly addictive, body-damaging substance.
So what happens to your body when you consume sugar?
Let’s say you just chugged a can of coke. (Please don’t) The massive dose of sugar you just consumed races into your bloodstream and causes your blood sugar levels to skyrocket. Your body quickly triggers the release of insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels and keep them at a nice, safe level.
Now, let’s say you chug one can of coke every day (PLEASE don’t!). Your blood sugar levels go through one hell of a roller coaster ride causing your insulin levels to fluctuate accordingly.
But wait, doesn’t insulin also promote the storage of fat?
Let’s just say sugar won’t get you ready for beach season.
The liver can only hold so much glucose. When it reaches its max capacity, it releases excess glycogen back to the blood in form of fatty acids. These are then inconveniently taken to the most inactive areas of your body – butt, breasts, belly and thighs. (Not cool!)
If staying thin and sexy isn’t your thing, then hold on. Once those inactive areas are completely filled, those fatty acids are subsequently distributed to your active organs – you know, like your heart or kidneys (kind of important).
Here’s something I found really interesting.
We all know that when a cold strikes, our white blood cells are there to protect us. Like little soldiers, they will fight to the death to keep us healthy. So to help them out a bit, we arm them with some Vitamin C.
But then you eat something sugary.
As research shows, Vitamin C and glucose have a very similar chemical structure. It just happens to be that the same thing that controls the entry of glucose into the cells also controls the entry of Vitamin C into the cells. What this means is that the two will have to duel it out for which one gets to enter the cell. And the cell can only hold so much.
Long story short, if there is more glucose present, less Vitamin C will be able to enter the cell and so consuming excess sugar drastically weakens the immune system.
And that, my friends, is the real deal.
Regardless of whether we’re talking about a stuffy nose or cancer, the root is always going to be at the cellular level and excess sugar plays a big role.
How you can Fight Back
Understand the Glycemic Index
I think we’ve all heard of the Glycemix index – a simple measure of how a certain food affects blood-sugar levels. Each food item is assigned a numbered rating, with sugar being at the top.
The lower the rating is, the slower the absorption and digestion process and thus the slower the infusion of sugars into the bloodstream. A slower infusion of sugars into the bloodstream is a healthier infusion. For instance, complex carbohydrates have a lower glycemic index than simple carbohydrates and are thus easier on the body.
The higher the rating, the more quickly the sugar gets absorbed into the bloodstream and the faster (and more often) insulin is secreted to stabilize blood-sugar levels. These rapid fluctuations cause excess stress on the body.
Choose foods with a lower glycemic index rating. The Online Glycemic Index Database is a great resource to help you pick lower rated foods.
Learn to Read Food Labels
This was one of my big tips for sodium, but it’s a valuable tip for every nutrient. Learn how to read and understand the food labels.
NutritionData is a great resource for finding all the nutritional data on any food item. You can use the information here to analyze foods before going to the grocery store.
Eliminate the Junk
This is the easiest tip and the one you need to implement immediately. Go to your fridge and throw out every can of pop you can find. I’ll wait here.
Next, get rid of the juice.
Go to your pantry. Throw out all processed ‘goodies’. Anything that is in a box and is sweet needs to go in the garbage.
Use common sense. If it’s junk, throw it out and stay away from it. This is the easiest way to get a head start on the fight against sugar.
There’s no doubt about it – sugar makes our lives a little bit sweeter. But before you let your sweet tooth take over, remember that heavy consumption of sugar may lead to a bitter end.
Are you a sugar fiend? Do you have any interesting methods for lowering sugar consumption? Share your thoughts in the comments below!