Sugar: A Love/Hate Relationship

We all love our sweets. For some, it’s a daily fight – that urge to consume sweet things. It can be so hard to limit these items in our everyday eating plan. Throw in carefree summer days, holidays and special occasions and our sweet-tooth can become so strong we give in regularly. Who can resist ice cream cones on hot summer days… donuts fresh from the bakery… iced coffees, lattes or frappes just because they are so good!

But the over-consumption of sugar is not to be taken lightly.

When people find out I work in nutrition they sometimes implicate themselves in the area of sugar before we get past introductions. They enter confession and justification mode about what slipped into their diet and the reason they couldn’t help it. It can be really quite comical, but I assure you, the over-consumption of sugar is not a laughing matter.

I’m not intentionally trying to be a Debbie Downer here. Our current American food culture has created an unprecedented need to reduce sugar consumption. In the early 1800’s the average American consumed about 10 pounds of sugar annually. Most of these were probably natural sugars like honey, molasses or maple syrup. Today, the average sugar intake is about 180 pounds per year! That’s half a pound of sugar a day!

Sugar is in everything from the obvious candies and sodas to salad dressings and soups. The label may not say “sugar” but it’s there. There are over 200 alternate names for sugars and sweeteners; some natural and some artificial. Beware!

All of the artificial sweeteners have side effects and cause damage to the body. Even the most naturally occurring sweeteners like honey should be used sparingly and not over-consumed. Our bodies were not meant to metabolize loads of sugar.

The human body does not need sugar in the diet. Any energy produced from the consumption of sugar can readily be found and made from healthier options like vegetables, meats and fats.

Sugar causes so many processes in the body to malfunction. It even causes direct damage to molecules on contact when used in excess.

Glycation is the process where sugar reacts with protein or fat molecules resulting in literally a “sticky molecule”. The kidneys can work to clean up this sticky mess but with a high sugar diet the kidneys become overwhelmed.

As a result of glycation, the molecules cannot be used for their intended purposes of structure building and cell to cell communication. Eating more dietary sugars accelerate the sticking process. The sticky molecules become “cross-linked” (they stick to each other) and begin to form chains inhibiting the flow of blood in small vessels.

Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) are proteins or fats that have been damaged by glycation. AGEs can damage DNA, retina cells in the eyes and beta-cells in the pancreas over time. AGEs can cause stiffening of the collagen in blood vessel walls leading to higher blood pressure. Similarly, they cause the same stiffening in the collagen of the joints creating arthritis. AGEs can also cause blood vessel walls to weaken triggering an inflammatory response from the liver which sends out low density lipoproteins (LDL) to “patch” and “support” the weaken area. It is this patching that becomes the clog in the vessel that can then result in heart attacks, aneurisms and strokes.

Did you catch that? It’s not the LDL or cholesterol that causes plaque in the arteries, it’s the damaging effects of sugar on the vessel walls that trigger the body to repair with the LDL to keep the vessels from collapsing in on themselves.

AGEs are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, cataract formation, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, reduced muscle function (neuropathy), oxidative stress and inflammation.

All this damage because we can’t say “No!” to our sweet tooth!

When you eat sugar or foods that break down into simple sugars your pancreas excretes the hormone insulin to help your cells use the sugar in the energy process of ATP. If your system has too much sugar and the pancreas has to continually excrete insulin your cells become unresponsive to the insulin message because they are too full and cannot use anymore sugar. At this point, the only choice the body has is to turn the sugar into fat cells and store it or let the sugar continue to flow freely around the bloodstream. This cellular shut down process is called insulin resistance. Symptoms and studies are beginning to show that insulin resistance is rampant in America and spreading.

The quality of our health is literally in our hands. Do we really need a dessert after every meal – or even every day? Do we need sugar laden cereals for breakfast, dessert-like coffee drinks mid-morn and a fast food or processed lunch dripping with artificial sugars? Do we need another coffee or candy bar mid-afternoon to pull us through, a dinner with sugary carbs and breads topped off with a bowl of ice cream or handful of cookies before bed? Does a diet like this sound like it might add up to about half a pound of sugar a day? Absolutely!!

If you are not overweight or not dealing with cavities you might think you are getting away with your sugary treats. Many of the internal damaging effects of sugar are not noticeable on the surface or scale. You cannot see the condition of your kidney function or if your blood vessels are clear or clogged. You can’t see an exhausted pancreas or worn out adrenals but you may be experiencing the effects of this dysfunction.

Do you hit an afternoon lull where you can literally put your head on your desk and take a nap? Do you get “hangry” (hungry anger) when you can’t have a meal on time? Do you “need” your coffee every day? Do you get the shakes between meals? Do you get headaches if you miss or delay a meal? Do you crave bread or potatoes? Do you experience digestive upset following meals? Do you suffer from joint stiffness, pain or systemic inflammation?

These are all symptoms of sugar dependence. Do you know that sugar is as addicting as alcohol or cocaine? Those sugar/bread cravings are real! You are probably addicted!

If you think you are getting away with a sugar addiction you are not. It is wreaking havoc on your system.

Americans are literally burning out the organs involved in the metabolism of sugar because they eat too much of it. Add in chronic stress, poor sleep, lack of nutrient dense foods and a sedentary lifestyle and you have a short path to the grave.

Sugar is killing us, one donut at a time.

Are you sick and tired of feeling sick and tired?

Follow these simple steps to get your blood sugar back on track and gain control of your life again.

  1. Eat nutrient dense whole foods. Strive to fill half your plate with veggies. Pick as many colorful whole foods as possible.
  2. Make sure each meal includes quality meat, eggs or dairy. The fats and proteins are vital to whole health.
  3. Begin weaning off of sugar laden desserts. Limit desserts to 1 per day, then every other day, then 1 per week. Save desserts for special occasions. As you limit sugars in your eating plan, fruits will taste sweeter and meals will burst with rich flavor! Enjoy the REAL taste of your food.
  4. Use fruit, especially berries, for dessert instead of sugars and baked goods. Fruit is nutrient dense and can fulfill the sweet craving. Use yummy frozen fruits during hot weather.
  5. Enjoy your caffeinated beverages in moderation. Reduce them to one per day or special occasions to be sure you are not dealing with a caffeine addiction that disrupts hormones and sleep patterns.
  6. The lower you can reduce your sugar and grain intake the faster you will see results.
  7. Add 30 minutes of daily movement that suits you to energize your body and prime your metabolism.

This is not a fool proof plan because each human body responds a little differently, but on the whole, the principles above will produce good results if you stick with them for at least a month.

Before you dish up the next bowl of ice cream, seriously consider your health and what you may be doing to yourself. A little food adjustment now can add back years to your life and save you a world of suffering!

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