Overdoing Dietary Sugar is No Sweet Deal for Your Body
Cast your eyes along almost any grocery store shelf. It sometimes seems as if there’s a low-fat or fat-free version of nearly every commercial food product.
Nutritional research studies show we just eat these foods up. Years of concerted effort to educate consumers about the relationship between a high fat diet and heart disease really made the low-fat mantra part of the consumer consciousness.
Indeed, the percentage of fat in the average American’s diet has actually declined over the last 20 years, so why are Americans themselves still getting fatter and fatter?
Probably because fat isn’t the only villain in the obesity epidemic. While high-cholesterol dietary fats are definitely a chief contributor to the problems of heart disease, when we talk about the rapid increase in the rates of obesity and diabetes, the fat isn’t where it’s at.
No, more than likely, it’s the sugar. Research shows that while we so painstakingly avoided fats, Americans’ consumption of sugar has increased by 30 percent over the last couple decades. The average American adult eats nearly 200 pounds of sugar a year!
But it’s not just the obvious offenders like candy, snacks and soda. Even things we think of as good for us are full of sugar: juice and sport drinks, breakfast cereals, baked goods.
Canned fruits and vegetables are often full of added sugar, even those we don’t tend to think of as “sweet.” Pick up almost any canned tomato product; sugar is likely to be listed second or third among the ingredients.
The USDA recommends that we eat no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugars a day, but many foods provide that maximum in just one serving!
A cup of regular fruit yogurt provides 70 percent of a day’s worth of added sugar; a 12-ounce Pepsi provides 103 percent, and a Hostess Lemon Fruit Pie provides 115 percent.
So what is sugar, exactly? Physiologically speaking, sugar is the most basic source of fuel for our bodies. All our foods can eventually be broken down into molecular sugars, and indeed, they must be, in order for us to convert them to energy.
The complex processes of digestion and metabolism do that job. Carbohydrates are easiest for the body to convert, followed by proteins and dietary fats. But the highly processed sugar in most commercial foods is already close to the pure form our digestion process is supposed to produce.
That makes it much more quickly absorbed, which will cause a spike in the blood sugar. That, in turn, causes a spike in the production of insulin, the hormone that processes normal blood sugars into cellular energy.
All that extra insulin gets to work cramming sugar into our cells for storage, but because it’s already so processed, the job doesn’t take as long as it should, and the insulin overdrive then causes a sudden drop in blood sugars.
We may not know the cause, but most of us recognize the symptoms of that drop: feeling irritable, tired, headachy, dizzy and hungry. And what do we do to feel better? We eat! And given our typical diets, that usually means eating more sugar!
Foods that make the body work harder to digest them have a different, less dramatic effect in the body. Proteins and complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and metabolize, and don’t produce those jarring fluctuations in the blood sugar.
If your snack or meal doesn’t have some of these for your body to work on, you’re about five minutes from your sugar high, and just an hour or two from your crash.
Yet the discomfort of that rollercoaster isn’t the real problem with a diet high in processed carbs and sugar. Nutritionally speaking, these are mostly low-value, even empty calories. Yet the more we eat of these foods, the more we tend to want, even crave them.
And over time, all that highly processed sugar changes how our bodies function, raising our insulin production to help handle the sugar load, and slowing the metabolic process in general, so that our bodies turn more and more of it into—you guessed it—fat.
Those metabolic changes have even more serious consequences. Left unchecked, that spike-and-crash cycle evolves into conditions like insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome, precursors for diabetes. Not surprisingly, diabetes rates in this country are skyrocketing right along with the rates of obesity.
Further, the more we eat of the processed foods that are taking us on that rocket ride, the less room we leave for the whole grains, fresh vegetables and protein-rich foods our bodies really need to help us stay healthy and grounded.
According to USDA data, people who eat diets high in sugar get less calcium, fiber, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, iron, and other nutrients. They also consume fewer fruits and vegetables.
Sadly, a lot of people think more about the quality of the fuel they put in their cars than the quality of fuel they provide their bodies. Complex, high-powered machines need premium grade—the good stuff—not just whatever’s cheap and easy at the local gas-n-go mart.
THROUGH THICK & THIN:
When you read food labels, look for these terms in the ingredients. If one appears among the first two or three ingredients, you’ve got a sugar bomb in your hands. And if there is more than one listed, chances are high that the overall sugar content is high: Brown sugar, Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, Dextrose, Fructose, Fruit juice concentrate, Glucose, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Invert sugar, Lactose, Maltose, Molasses, Raw sugar, Sucrose, Syrup
To learn more, please call our office at 239-494-6159.