Q. Glen, I like Sweets! How bad is Sweets and Sugar?
A.Here's a news bulletin for you: The most damaging ingredient in the American diet is not fat.
No kidding. As a "health hazard", fat has gotten the lion's share of attention -- but it may well turn out that our attention was focused in the wrong place. High sugar diets are now linked to increased risk for diabetes, Alzheimer's, some types of cancer, and obesity. Sugar depresses the immune system, ages the body, creates inflammation, and contributes to cravings, mood swings, PMS, and a host of other conditions.
And the news about our consumption isn't good, either. USDA surveys show that the average American is consuming about 20 teaspoons of the stuff a day. Sugar now accounts for over 15% of the average adult's calories and 20% of the average teenager's.
So why exactly does sugar cause such a problem?
Let's start with insulin.
When you eat sugar, your blood sugar rises (quickly) and your pancreas immediately jumps into action. It responds to the increase in blood sugar by secreting the hormone insulin, whose job -- among other things -- is to get that sugar out of the bloodstream pronto... by delivering it to the muscle cells where it can be used for energy. That's because if sugar hangs around the bloodstream, it ultimately does a lot of damage -- glomming onto red blood cells and creating sticky compounds that ultimately clog up the works.
But there are two problems with the way our bodies handle sugar. First, most of us aren't using those muscle cells enough to create much of a demand for the sugar, so the muscle cells eventually shut their doors. (It doesn't require too much sugar to power the muscles used to move the mouse on your computer.) So sugar either goes into fat cells, or continues to hang out in the bloodstream, like an accident waiting to happen.
The second problem is that the small amount of insulin needed to manage a moderate amount of sugar from a natural food -- like an apple, for example -- isn't enough to manage a diet of 900-calorie "no-fat" muffins from Starbucks. The pancreas has to shoot more and more insulin into the system to get the job done, and high levels of insulin create a whole other set of problems.
Insulin, for example, tells the kidneys to hold onto sodium, increasing blood pressure. Chronically high insulin levels have also been linked to Metabolic Syndrome (a kind of "pre-diabetes" which increases the risk for heart disease). That's just the short list...
And it's not just plain old garden variety table sugar that has this effect on the body. Some of the worst offenders when it comes to raising blood sugar are mashed potatoes, most breads, rice, fruit punch, pancakes, virtually all desserts, and even cornflakes. These foods convert quickly to sugar in the body. Your pancreas can't tell the difference.
Sugar's not just non-nutritive, it's actually anti-nutritive. Here's why: When sugar is found in real life foods and plants (like apples or berries, or even for goodness sake, actual sugar cane), it comes complete with the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes needed for its complete digestion. That's pretty amazing!
But when it's found in your sugar bowl -- or in any of the typical chemical compounds that food manufacturers use to sweeten their goods --like "brown rice syrup" or the disaster known as high fructose corn syrup -- it contains nothing of any value.
Your body actually has to "borrow" from its stores of nutrients in order to process it. That's one reason sugar is considered to be an immune system depressor. In order to be metabolized, sugar literally "eats up" nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.
And if you think sugar isn't addictive, think again. Research at Princeton University has found that the brains of rats change in response to sugar.1 Rats that were allowed to binge on sugar showed signs of "withdrawal" when the pleasure centers of the brain were blocked, an experience all-too-familiar to many of us who can't get our nightly fix of Ben and Jerry's. The researchers suggested that sugar triggers production of the brain's natural opioids.
Whether sugar is a true "addiction" or a dependence, remains an open question. I say, "Who cares?" The fact remains that sugar consumption is a big problem for a whole lot of people.
According to Connie Bennett, whose excellent book, "Sugar Shock!" details her own personal journey out of "sugar hell", there are an estimated 74-147 million Americans who have difficulty processing sweets and refined carbs. "Ultimately, (the) insidious roller-coaster effect which occurs whenever you eat lots of sweets and quickie carbs hampers sufferers' ability to function at full or even half throttle", she writes.
In my first book I wrote that you may not be able to eliminate sugar from your diet completely, but to the extent that you can, you will be doing yourself an enormous favor. That's just as true now as it was then.
Get off the sugar roller coaster. Your body -- and your brain --will thank you for it.
Reference: Connie Bennett
Any personal health questions or problems mental or physical or before starting any diet or exercise program. Please consult your physician !
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Yours in good health