Our fatal attraction to sugar

Our fatal attraction to sugar

Foods more sugary than two Krispy Kreme doughnuts: • 8 ounces Tropicana orange juice • Yoplait® Original yogurt • 20 ounces Vitamin Water • California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch Salad • Odwalla® Superfood smoothie Source: motherjones.com

Foods more sugary than two Krispy Kreme doughnuts:
• 8 ounces Tropicana orange juice
• Yoplait® Original yogurt
• 20 ounces Vitamin Water
• California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch Salad
• Odwalla® Superfood smoothie
Source: motherjones.com

by Mary Budinger — 

Most of us are sugar addicts. Sugar triggers endorphins and makes us feel good. For many of us, sugar is one of the most addictive substances in the world; two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

One can of soda has 39 grams of sugar — 8 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends women eat no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar in a day and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men. So just one soda pretty much puts us over the limit. Let us look at a “healthy” breakfast of a whole-grain bagel and orange juice. That 12-ounce glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice has 9 teaspoons of sugar, plus the refined starchy carbs in the bagel that the body will process as another several teaspoons of sugar.

In 1821, the average American ate about 10 pounds of refined sugar a year. Today, that figure is somewhere between 100 and 200 pounds of refined sugar a year. We have a river of sugar rushing through us.

Mother Nature did not design us to run on sugar. She built us for the nomadic lifestyle, moving around a lot every day. She figured our biggest need would be to bump up our blood sugar levels for energy. So, she gave us three hormones to raise blood sugar, but only one hormone to lower it. Whoops.

That one hormone to lower blood sugar is insulin. Insulin is constantly called upon to get our daily overdoses of sugar out of the bloodstream and safely into storage — hello weight gain. But overuse starts to burn out that mechanism over time, and we become “insulin resistant” and hypoglycemic. Some call this state of affairs “pre-diabetic.”

It would be great if we could evolve in a few generations to handle 150 pounds of dietary sugar per year. But we simply cannot do it. The human body is designed to handle a constant and slow release of sugar into the blood stream, not big dumps, which happen when we eat processed carbs and sweetened beverages.


Hormones swing on sugar’s pendulum

You eat a slice of cake and your pancreas panics. It promptly releases as much insulin as it can to bring your blood sugar level back down to normal. But it tends to overestimate the emergency; your blood sugar level drops a bit too much. So now, those three hormones that can raise the blood sugar level are dispatched by the adrenal glands to the scene. And like the big pendulum in a grandfather clock, the blood sugar levels swing too far the other way.

That swinging pendulum makes us hungry and tired. Nearby is a pick-me-up — something sweet or caffeinated. The pendulum swings back and forth again. At the end of the day, we may feel worn out without having done much.

If we keep the body in this continual state of stress, with its need to regulate excess sugar, our adrenal glands are constantly releasing the stress hormone cortisol. With too much cortisol, the world starts to look competitive — a place of win-lose or fight-or-flight. We tend to call that a Type A person, but it can also represent a person in a constant state of stress.

If your physiology is not balanced, your psychology is not balanced. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include mental sluggishness, sleepiness, irritability, inability to complete routine tasks, visual disturbances and even seizures.

One of modern medicine’s disconnects is that those who work in the psychological field have not been taught to consider how widespread blood sugar dysregulation is and its impact on a person’s moods and behaviors.


Death by sugar’s sticky proteins

Think of a piece of bread — soft and pliable. But toast it, and it becomes hard. When browning a piece of bread, the sugars start to bind with the proteins. Excess sugar levels do the same thing inside our bodies. This is called glycation, a process by which sugar and protein molecules combine to form a tangled mess of tissue.

High blood sugar glycates the cells so that they cannot receive insulin. This is called insulin resistance.

When the glycated proteins begin to harden, we call them advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

Connective tissue is made with collagen, which is a protein. When AGEs bind with collagen in an artery, you have irritation/inflammation/plaque. Inside a joint, you have arthritis. Inside a cornea, you have blindness because the AGEs clog the smaller capillaries.

If glycation starts on the inside of arteries or blood vessels within the heart, the process injures walls and blocks the function of the immune system. When artery walls have started glycating, the immune system’s white blood cells cannot get in. So the immune system says, “I must inflame the area so the white blood cells can get in.” But you do not want inflammation inside the arteries — that opens the door to heart disease. Earlier this year, a large study by the Centers for Disease Control found that high sugar consumption can double the chance of dying from heart disease, as well as fuel other chronic diseases.

We see AGEs in Alzheimer’s disease — they bind to nerve cell receptor sites. In fact, some researchers are beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s disease as “type 3 diabetes.”


Embrace the fat

Never before in the history of mankind have we had such a constant need to lower blood sugar. Our species did not survive the Ice Age thanks to vanilla coffee lattes and cheesecake. Throughout most of our history, we ate a diet that was likely 50 to 70 percent fat. Our metabolism is designed to work better with fats than with sugar. Fats provide that slow and steady fuel our body likes to use for energy.

So bring on the bacon and eggs for breakfast. That serving of protein and fat is good fuel that can last until lunch. If lunch is a salad, include some protein in the form of an egg or meat, and start creating your own salad dressing made with a good fat, because most commercial dressings are made with poorly processed and genetically modified oil. Want an afternoon snack? Try celery with nut butter or a hard-boiled egg.

The good news is that our cells can re-sensitize themselves to insulin. Usually you can get your fasting glucose levels back to normal by saying “no” to processed foods with their sugar and unhealthy fats. It is worth facing up to and ending our sugar addiction.


Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about nutrition and integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 33, Number 3, June/July 2014.

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