One of the easiest ways to eat healthier and also improve your stability is to watch your sugar intake. That said – THIS IS VERY HARD!
To help arm you, this week’s blog is a full series concentrating on sugar: how it impacts your health, how to slowly cut down on your intake, and the “hidden/sneaky” ways food manufacturer’s sneak it into most processed foods and places you just wouldn’t believe.
Today’s Lesson: Basics and How Sugar Impacts Your Health
Today, let’s look at how too much sugar (in all it’s various forms) can negatively impact your health. As humans, we are hard-wired to like the taste of “sweet”. If you put a little sugar on a baby’s tongue a few hours after birth, they smile! Cavemen and then hunter-gathers used sweet tasting berries and fruit to supplement their diets and our desire for “the sweet stuff” has only increased over time.
The bottom line is that our bodies eventually convert everything we eat to glucose for use by the cells for energy and especially our brains. The difference between protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrates versus plain refined sugar and sugar heavy foods are the vitamins, minerals, and other substances in the first group that aids in necesssary processes throughout the body and sugar uses excess B-vitamins and can actually deprive the body of important nutrients.
“Sugar: The Bitter Truth” – a YouTube Sensation:
Dr. Robert Lustig, a nationally-recognized authority on obesity and UCSF Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, produced and put up on YouTube a 90-minute tour through the biochemistry and politics of sugar, putting his finger on the root cause of our present obesity epidemic: sugar. The name of the video is: “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”. Much more than that, he lays out the evidence for how our historically high intake of sugar (HFCS and sucrose) is the smoking gun for the Western lifestyles diseases of Type 2 Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, Obesity, many types of Heart Disease—and quite possibly Cancer.
This YouTube video is a great place to start but there are scads of books and entire sites online dedicated to the topic. The fact is that, with obesity typically comes elevated glucose levels – the amount of sugar you are eating can’t all by used by the body so it stays in the bloodstream in the form of glucose. The higher the level, the more difficulty your body has in metabolizing all of it and the greater your risk for a number of different conditions, most importantly Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. The risk of having type 2 diabetes increases as a person gets older.
The cause of type 2 diabetes is largely unknown, but genetics and lifestyle clearly play roles. Type 2 diabetes has been linked to obesity, genetic risk factors, and inactivity. An important note: Some racial and ethnic groups are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. These include American Indians, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
But how does excess sugar affect how I feel?:
On the mood disorder front, there is a direct link between mood and blood sugar balance. As mentioned, all carbohydrate foods are broken down into glucose and your brain runs on glucose. The more uneven your blood sugar supply the more uneven your mood.
Eating lots of sugar is going to give you sudden peaks and troughs in the amount of glucose in your blood; symptoms that this is going on include fatigue, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, excessive sweating (especially at night), poor concentration and forgetfulness, excessive thirst, depression and crying spells, digestive disturbances and blurred vision. Since the brain depends on an even supply of glucose it is no surprise to find that sugar has been implicated in aggressive behaviour, anxiety, and depression, and fatigue.
Lots of refined sugar and refined carbohydrates (meaning white bread, pasta, rice and most processed foods,) is also linked with depression because these foods not only supply very little in the way of nutrients but they also use up the mood enhancing B vitamins; turning each teaspoon of sugar into energy needs B vitamins. Sugar also uses up other important nutrients.
The best way to keep your blood sugar level even is to eat what is called a low Glycemic Load (GL) diet and avoid, as much as you can, refined sugar and refined foods, eating instead whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and regular meals. There are a number of books that explain the low-GL diet in detail including the Holford Low GL Diet Bible. Caffeine also has a direct effect on your blood sugar and your mood and is best kept to a minimum, as is alcohol.
Hopefully this has given you a good starting point to understanding how sugar is used by the body and also how excessive intake can impact your health in many different areas. We’ll continue tomorrow with a discussion about lower Glycemic foods and how you can start to take control of how much sugar you consume, in all it’s forms.
Your body is an absolute miracle! From the fact that it automatically sustains itself without you even having to consciously think about it to how it allows you to interact with your environment on a conscious level. 99.99999% of the body’s processes go on in the background, humming along to do their best to keep us alive, vertical, and at our best. Then we do everything we can to throw monkey wrenches in the “works” by overeating, not getting enough rest, not being active enough to keep the machine well oiled and optimal, and generally abusing this incredible gift we’ve been given. Decide today to eliminate or decrease one type of sugar in your diet. Tomorrow we’ll explore the hidden sugars in foods to see which ones you think you can work on. But today, just take that one step to decide that you can take more control in this one area. I promise you will see a healthier, and happier, future for it!