Well, my dad told me that back in the 60’s, and as a kid I hated the idea! In my training in preventive medicine, we’ve also known that was the case as the research pointing in that direction was accumulating. But now it’s reached the mainstream media with Dr. Sanjay Gupta doing a “60 Minutes” special on the subject just this last week. If you missed it, I’d suggest that you listen to it here.
With the rates of diabetes and heart disease soaring in this country (and the world), it’s time to stop and ask ourselves, “why?” And the answer is primarily, our addiction to sugar. Now I realize that may trigger you, but its true none-the-less. As a teacher of mine once said, “What you react to is what you need to pay attention to the most!” Just to let you know, I like sweets too and this information is something I also have to pay attention to.
Just to be clear, high fructose corn syrup is the same as sugar.
Same sweet taste we like so much and the same bad calories that cause the same deleterious effects in our bodies.
It’s shown by brain studies that the same pleasure centers of the brain that respond to cocaine light up in response to sugar. This firing of the reward centers increases the output of dopamine, which is the “happy hormone” that gives us the lift we may be seeking whether from drugs, alcohol, sodas, or ice cream. The more we eat sugar, however, the more the happy “reward response” declines because we are building up a tolerance. This creates a spiral of eating more and more to get the same good feeling we had in the beginning. That is what addiction is all about.
I have been in Preventive Medicine for over 30 years and have seen enormous changes in what we know and advise our patients regarding nutrition. You probably remember that fats were the enemies in the 70’s. Over time, however, we have learned that this is true only in the case of too much saturated fat and all trans-fats, but really not true for lower amounts of saturated fats and absolutely not true regarding monosaturated fats, which are required by our bodies for continued good health and weight normalization.
The real bad guy is sugar!
And high fructose corn syrup and high glycemic index/load foods along with high insulin producing foods (see last July’s edition of this newsletter by guest author, Dr. Alan McDaniel).
So, besides being addictive, “What’s the big deal about eating sugar?” you might ask.
Years ago when we were advised to start eating less fat, the food industry substituted sugars and carbohydrates in our diets for flavor and pleasure. The results of that have been soaring obesity and diabetes rates – creating a crisis in our health and health care system.
Sugar consumption is directly related to the development of cardiovascular disease with high cholesterol (yes, caused by sugar!), elevated blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and more, resulting in cardiovascular disease being the most common cause of death in this country for men and women.
Excess intake of sugar causes the liver to get overloaded.
It then stores the excess sugar (glucose) as fats, packing them into our livers and releasing them into the blood stream. The levels of triglycerides and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) in our blood are shown to be directly related to our intake of sugar, as is shown in the research study reported by Dr. Gupta. The presence of these elevated fats is often what causes us to begin weight gain around the waist and hips, resulting in Metabolic Syndrome – the fast track to developing diabetes.
High sugar intake increases the production of insulin, which in time creates insulin resistance at the cell membrane so that the sugar (glucose) can’t get into the cell where it is needed to be burned as fuel for energy.
Elevated levels of insulin have their own health risks.
With any consumption of sugar (even the taste of sweetness from any source, including artificial sweeteners!) the body naturally produces a spike of insulin. These elevated insulin levels have adverse effects on tissues and actually increase our risks of cancer!
We know that tumor cells have adapted to have numerous insulin receptors on their surface. That means that they consume the blood glucose at high rates, which promotes faster growth of the tumor. So, if you want to decrease your risk of developing cancer, you must limit the amount of sugar you consume. If you have cancer and want to be proactive, you really should not be eating sugar at all.
And now you may be wondering, what about the sugar in fruit?
Eating the whole fruit has the benefit of improving the metabolism of glucose. The fiber in the fruit slows down the absorption of the glucose so that the body is less likely to be overwhelmed. The fruit also contains many vitamins and minerals that are beneficial.
But some types of fruit, like tropical fruits or even fruit juices, absorb quickly and cause the same rise in glucose and insulin as eating sugar. These are the principles of the glycemic index and glycemic load that you can read about on reliable websites or in popular books today. If you are my patient, I have probably discussed this with you already!
So, rather than eating the average American diet of 1/3 pound of sugar per day (130 pounds per person per year!) the recommendations from the researchers in this documentary were to limit our daily consumption of sugar to only 150 calories for men; and for us women, only 100 calories of sugar per day!!!! No, life isn’t fair!
Somehow amidst all of what this can stir up inside us (resentment, anger, sabotage, defiance, martyrdom – and you can add your favorite!), we have to think of the implications for our long term health and make responsible choices.
There is so much we know now that we can do to prevent these disease processes and even reverse risks in many cases.
If you are facing these disease risks, cut out sugar or at least significantly limit your consumption and you’ll be making a tremendous step towards greater health. Then we can talk about what else you can do to support your body.
Happy Spring and skip the sugar!
Jane Kennedy, CFNP, MN, MPH