The last blog, “Let Food Be Thy Medicine” focused on food that tend to lead to inflammation in the body, with overwhelmingly the worst offender being sugar. There is a lot of confusion on how sugar can affect the human body, which ones are bad and which ones are okay to have in moderation. This blog expands on the history of sugar, the dangers of sugar and how to find the best sources for the occasional (or frequent) splurges.
Epidemic of Sugar Consumption
The single largest amount of calories consumed by the average American comes from sugar – specifically refined and processed sugars. Below is listed the mind blowing trend following sugar intake over the last 300 years in the United States and United Kingdom (Johnson, 2007, n.p.):
- In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year.
- In 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year.
- In 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year.
- Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year.
I recommend to my clients to limit 15-20 grams of processed, refined sugar daily if not fully eliminate it. When you look at the numbers above, the average American eating 152 pounds is intaking 181 grams of sugar daily!! How did it get to this?
Sugar as a Luxury
Processed sugar as a regular part of a human’s diet is a relatively new phenomena. For a large part of human history, sugar was a luxury reserved only for the wealthy and elite. However, with economic growth and agricultural advances, sugar has become more widely available for the general population. Unfortunately, due to historical and political factors, the consumption of sugar in the United States, and globally, has far surpassed what is healthy for people leading to chronic illness, chronic pain and even cancer.
The Secret History of Sugar
In 1968, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), a predecessor to the International Sugar Research Foundation, paid a researcher to lead a study with lab animals.
Initial results showed that diets high in sugar increased the amount of triglycerides, a fat in the blood, in these lab animals. In humans, high triglycerides are known to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. This study also showed that increased amounts of sugar in the diet led to higher levels of a specific enzyme linked to bladder cancer in the urin of these lab animals (Aubrey, 2017, n.p.).
Before the researcher could finish, the SRF pulled the plug on the study and never released the potential findings.
The Sugar Research Foundation’s (SRF) and the sugar industry as a whole continued to point the blame for common diseases, such as coronary heart disease, obesity, and others at saturated fat (Domonoske, 2016, n.p.). Americans listened and continue to listen, and with the decrease in consumption of fat, they dutifully continue to buy and consume more sugar in order to replace it.
The Different Types of Sugar
It is easy to become confused by the various sugars and sweeteners, which ones are fine to consume in moderation and which ones are not. Here are a few of the more common sugars (Mercola, 2010, n.p.):
- Simple sugars, which you will see labeled in food ingredients as dextrose, glucose, or fructose.
- High fructose corn syrup, which is part fructose, part glucose. This is a riskier type of sugar due its synthetic chemical formation.
- Sugar alcohols, such as glycerol and sorbitol, are not actually sugars, but are becoming common sweeteners. Your body absorbs them well; however, they can lead to bloating, flatulence, or diarrhea.
- Splenda (sucralose) is also not a sugar, and has detrimental health effects similar to aspartame and saccharin.
- Agave syrup, often labeled as being “natural” is actually incredibly processed and contains 80% fructose. There is next to nothing natural about it.
- Stevia is completely safe in its natural form, but the processing of this sugar can create issues in the human body.
- Honey is the best option when it comes to sweeteners, especially local honey.
Diseases linked to sugar
Excess amounts of sugar creates an inflammatory response in the body leading to a whole host of chronic illness. Many diseases can be linked to an increased consumption of sugar, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, infertility, and a study also linked sugar to bladder cancer and other types of cancer (Aubry, 2017, n.p.). In fact, sugar impacts every system of the body.
Sugar and Fibromyalgia
A more common issue that I am starting to see more consistently in my office is fibromyalgia. I have observed those clients who decide to remove processed foods, particularly sugar, are able to manage their pain much better. There is more peer reviewed research needed to draw clearer links between diet and fibromyalgia, but clinically there is evidence that eating less sugar and less processed foods can yield decreased chronic pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
Eric Stice, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute, concluded that sugar activates the same regions of the brain that are activated when someone is addicted to substances like cocaine. He also found that those who are heavy users of sugar can develop a tolerance creating a need for more and more sugar to feel the same effect. Tolerance is a symptom of substance dependence. Nora Volkow, M.D., a psychiatrist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has done research similar to Dr. Stice by using brain imaging techniques to show the similarities between the brains of people who are obese and people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol (Conason, 2012, n.p.).
What to do
If you’re feeling overwhelmed after reading this, do not fear! There is hope! Here are several steps to help guide you in the right direction. If you are able to follow all of these suggestions, that is obviously ideal. Even following one of these suggestions can be effective in changing your body for the better.
- Remember: Fat does NOT make you fat! Period. Sugar does!
- If addicted to sugar, focus on eating more healthy fats and proteins to help curb the cravings. Fats and proteins help to fill up the stomach and keep it feeling full longer.
- Diet sodas, although preferred over regular soda for those with diabetes, still are NOT good for you and should be avoided altogether. Even though your body does not metabolize these sugars like typical sugar, the sugars in diet sodas have been linked to dementia, neurotoxicity, and stroke.
- Be aware of labeling and ingredients. Look to see how much sugar is in each serving and pay attention to serving size. Know what you are putting into your body!
- Strive to limit processed/refined sugars to 15-20g daily, if not fully eliminate them altogether.
- Naturally occurring sugars found in whole fruit and honey are fine to eat in moderation.
- Drink plenty of water, which helps break down the sugar for an easier metabolic process. I encourage my clients to drink half their body weight in ounces every day.
- Eat lots of fiber, especially while eating sugar, to help decrease rate of insulin release, decreasing the risk for type II diabetes.
- When eating any kind of sugar, stick to high quality, organic sources. The less processed the better. This means more fruits and vegetables rather than man-made products.
Aubrey, A. (2017, November 21). What The Industry Knew About Sugar’s Health Effects, But Didn’t Tell Us. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/11/21/565766988/what-the-industry-knew-about-sugars-health-effects-but-didnt-tell-us
Conason, A. (2012, April 4). Sugar Addiction. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eating-mindfully/201204/sugar-addiction
Domonoske, C. (2016, September 13). 50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/13/493739074/50-years-ago-sugar-industry-quietly-paid-scientists-to-point-blame-at-fat
Johnson, R., & Segal, M. (2007, October 01). Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/4/899/4649308
Leslie, I. (2016, April 07). The sugar conspiracy | Ian Leslie. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/07/the-sugar-conspiracy-robert-lustig-john-yudkin
Mercola, J., Dr. (2010, April 20). The 76 Dangers of Sugar to Your Health. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/04/20/sugar-dangers.aspx.
New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. How Much Sugar Do You Eat? from https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf