Sugar and your health: Sweet or bitter relationship

Sugar—which often reminds us of sweetness and happiness—has gotten very bad reputation in recent years. So is it true that it is not good for our body? And if it is not good for us, then why do we crave it? Why are we addicted to it? And why is sugar the one substance that can always give us happiness?

To understand, let’s trace our history back to our evolution.

We have evolved from primates that were herbivores—mainly “fructivores” for about 20 million years. We evolved meat and fat-adaptive genes only about 2 million year ago, when we evolved into hominids. We still had this fructose-adaptive gene for about 18 million years before we acquired our meat and fat adaptive genes. Sugar has been part of our genetic diet for millions of years!

This sweetness, this fructose, has given us survival advantage. When our ancient ancestors were faced with “flight or fight” situations for physical survival, the immediate source of energy was sugar. The fructose they consumed from sweet fruits and plants gave their muscles an instant energy reserve to run or to fight. It’s no wonder our brain has evolved to like sweet taste. It’s no wonder our brain has reward center for sugar: sugar has always been part of our “survival instinct kit.”

So how and when did we turn this very sweet relationship into a bitter one? The problem arose when we started to refine and manufacture these amazing sources of energy that nature has wonderfully mixed with fibers for an optimum steady supply of energy.

We pat ourselves on the back for our ingenious ability to manipulate nature’s food, but the reality is that our body is not designed to use refined carbohydrates for optimum health. Glucose is an essential nutrient for our body. If our blood sugar goes below the normal range we may die from it in few minutes. No other nutrient is as vital to our survival as glucose.

Just as low glucose can result in immediate death, high glucose or even an intermittent spike in glucose levels in our blood can result in chronic sufferings and slow death. This is the problem we are facing in our modern society today.

More than 80% of food items we see on grocery store shelves consist of refined carbohydrates or sugars, which result in intermittent—and relatively high—spikes in blood sugar even, if we are not diabetic.
Intermittent spikes in blood glucose levels derange our metabolism and our hormonal regulations over a period of time and make our cells resistant to one of the most important hormones in our body: insulin.

Insulin resistance is the mother of many chronic medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and many others.

The only way to fight insulin resistance it is to stop eating refined sugar and refined carbohydrates, and to be physically more active.

Facts about Sugar:

  • Sugar consumption has increased by 19 percent since 1970.
  • Today, the average American consumes 100 pounds of sugar each year!
  • Average American consumes about 22 teaspoon of sugar while average child consumes whopping 32 teaspoon of sugar a day.
  • As per American heart associations- women should not have more than 6 teaspoon ( 24 gm) and men should not have more than 9 teaspoon (36gm) of sugar per day. This recommendation is for healthy normal weight person. If you are overweight or have any medical disease then sugar in your diet should be less than this.
  • In American diet added sugar alone can contribute to additional 300-500 calories a day.
  • Eating sugar has a systemic effect on your entire body, including increased risk for diabetes, increased appetite, weight gain, heart and liver problems, decreased immune, system, certain cancers and even your brain function to name a few.
  • Sugar increases physical and mental stress- always remember desserts is stressed spelled backwards!!
    Carbonated drinks and sugar sweetened drinks are the largest source of refined sugar in diet.
  • A 64 oz soda can contain about 53 teaspoon of sugar!
  • Refined sugar has no nutritional value and is very addictive.
  • The drug morphine, cocaine and sugar all stimulate the same brain receptors.
  • Artificial sweeteners are as damaging or in some cases more damaging than refined sugar.
  • Low fat product can be harmful as most of them contains high amount of sugar.
  • Many of the processed food has sugar in it even if the food is not sweet.
  • Sugar can be hidden under 56+ different names in ingredients list.
  • Sugar from fruits is healthy in moderation but not from fruits juices as juice does not have fibers that comes with fruits.

Be sugar smart.

  • Familiarize yourself with all different names of sugar and refined carbohydrates
  • If you are really tempted to eat food with refined sugar- first fill your stomach with fiber, fat, protein containing food – that will help to prevent some of damaging effect of sugar
  • Never eat sugar or refined carbohydrate on empty stomach
  • Exercising after sugar containing meal also protect against blood sugar spike
  • Dance after you eat desserts! Sugar rush is good for you—be physically hyper after having sugar

This post written by Sheetal Shah, MD