So, first things first, what is sugar?
As this article explains: ”Dextrose, fructose, and glucose are all monosaccharides, known as simple sugars. The primary difference between them is how your body metabolizes them. Glucose and dextrose are essentially the same sugar. [Fructose is primarily metabolized in the liver]
The simple sugars can combine to form more complex sugars, like the disaccharide sucrose (table sugar), which is half glucose and half fructose.”
Some of these sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruits (ex: fructose), vegetables (ex: glucose) and milk (lactose). Others are added in the foods during preparation or processing, or added by ourselves to enhance the flavor.
Added sugar contains no essential nutrients and are thus considered to be ”empty calories”. They can also potentially crowd out more nutritious foods.
What are the main health dangers in sugar?
Beside causing dental caries (cavities) — which in turn can cause infections — research shows that sugar also is linked to various chronic diseases.
SugarScience, the authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health, explains that:
”Overconsumption of added sugar, over long periods of time, is associated with being overweight or obese, which are risk factors for a wide range of health problems [e.g. high blood fats or triglycerides, high cholesterol, high blood pressure = key elements of Metabolic Syndrome]. However, even in people who aren’t overweight or obese, long-term sugar consumption has been linked to chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. Taken together, chronic diseases are the main cause of death worldwide. Researchers are currently studying the relationships between sugar overconsumption and a range of other diseases, including some cancers, addiction, Alzheimer’s disease and decreased cognitive function.”
Dr Mercola suggests that you should keep your insulin levels as low as possible to avoid insulin resistance (a stepping stone towards metabolic syndrome and diabetes) and in turn reduce your risk of disease. This means minimizing your added sugar intake by avoiding processed foods and sweetened beverages.
It’s also important to know that there are certain food items that raise blood sugar even more than regular table sugar. These are foods with higher glycemic index, such as white flour, white potatoes and refined starch.
Tools such as Glycemic Index or Glycemic Load (the concept of Glycemic Index combined with total intake of the food) offers information about how foods affect blood sugar and insulin and can help you determine which foods to minimize/avoid. The lower a food’s GI/GL = the less it affects blood sugar and insulin levels.
The Harmful Effects of Fructose
There are however some exceptions: agave syrup for example ranks relatively low on the glycemic index but has a high content of fructose. It even has a higher fructose content than high fructose corn syrup. Regardless its low GI, too much fructose can still, according to Dr Oz, increase insulin resistance for both diabetics and non-diabetics.
He explains further that: ”as it gets metabolized, uric acid and free radicals form, which can trigger inflammation and damage cells. Plus, one of the most dangerous final products of fructose metabolism is triglycerides, which can contribute to the fatty arterial plaques responsible for cardiovascular disease. High triglycerides are particularly dangerous for women, whose risk for cardiovascular disease rises three times as much for every single unit increase in triglycerides compared to men.”
As fructose mainly metabolizes in the liver (and much of it converts to fat when taken in excess), it has also been linked to:
- ”Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): This is characterized by excess fat build-up in the liver.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): This is characterized by fatty liver, inflammation and “steatosis,” which is essentially scarring as the liver tries to heal its injuries. That scarring gradually cuts off vital blood flow to the liver.
About one-quarter of NASH patients will progress on to non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis, which requires a liver transplant or else it can lead to death.” (SugarScience)
Small amounts of fructose in, for example, fruits, are not a problem for your liver as the fiber in fruits slows down the digestive process.
According to SugarScience: ”You should be concerned if you or your kids have a “sugar belly” or belly fat. If your waist is larger than your hips, you should ask your doctor for a blood test that checks for triglyceride levels.
A sugar belly occurs when the liver detects more fructose than can be used by the body for energy. That excess fructose is broken down by the liver and transformed into fat globules (triglycerides), some of which are exported into the bloodstream and selectively deposited around your midsection and internal organs. Just as people who drink too much get a “beer belly,” those who eat or drink too much fructose can get a “sugar belly.”
Fat cells that accumulate around your midsection send out disruptive hormonal messages that upset your body’s normal chemical balance. Scientists are actively studying how these hormonal imbalances become implicated in a wide variety of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”
To learn more about sugar I recommend visiting www.sugarscience.com, watching this video by Robert H. Lustig, MD and reading The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman, MD (affiliate link) as well as Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD (affiliate link).
With that said, here comes your first wellness challenge! :) Aim for 21 days without any added sugar (it actually takes 66 days, on average, to form a new habit, but let’s stick to 21 days…). I also encourage you to invite your friends and family to join the challenge!
You can use #TWSchallenge on Twitter and/or Instagram if you have any questions or comments, or just want to share your “noaddedsugar-journey” with The Wellness Souk community.
Wishing you health, happiness & healing.