Warning ahead: This is not the usual easy read blog post. If you’re more of a TL;DR-type person, then by all means, jump to the last paragraph. I give you permission!
An article I shared on social media (“How to Stop Eating Sugar”) certainly generated a lot of debate and discussion. I thought it was necessary to go a little “deep in the weeds” and explain why, after all these years of having eaten more than my share of sugar, I suddenly pause to consider every bite I take (aside from the creme brûlée of course!) – and I hope you will too after reading this.
For years we thought salt or fat was the enemy, right? We were encouraged to go on low-sodium diets for our blood pressure problems (still partially true), but the government actually told us and told our kids that FAT was evil. How ironic was it that during the low-fat diet craze, we actually became heavier, and obesity became an epidemic? If you believe in conspiracy theories – which I think always have some element of truth buried in them somewhere – the government was trying to market the low-fat diet to avoid having us focus on sugar. There was a billion-dollar ad movement paid for by food manufactures to have people focus on salt instead of sugar, or anything besides sugar. This took place approximately 15+ years ago, and is the reason why people 50 and older still tend to be focused on it, while younger people now consider sugar to literally be white poison. Interestingly enough, food manufactures are now changing soda and food labels to say “no sugar” or “no added sugar.”
Like Bad News, Sugar is *Everywhere*
First, let’s learn a simple way to measure the sugar in any particular food: The Glycemic Index, which uses a score to tell us how quickly that food turns into sugar in the body. Consider it a scale of 1-100, and glucose (sugar) is the top student, assigned a score of 100. The closer a food is to the top of the scale, the more sugar it has, and also, the first noticeable thing is it gets more “white.” After all, sugar and glucose are white, right? Think white flour – in bread, pancakes, pastries, cookies – rice and grains, particularly white rice, instant oatmeal, popcorn and breakfast cereals, and potatoes in all its forms – fries, chips, mashed. (Sweet potatoes have a slightly lower score).
The GI is just one quick, simple way to recognize sugar, but did you know sugar has multiple aliases? Alternative names for sugar, in addition to those in the image above, are:
Acesulfame-K Agave * Agave * Nectar * Aspartame * Barbados sugar * Barley malt * Beet sugar * Blackstrap molasses * Brown Rice Syrup * Brown sugar * Buttered syrup * Cane crystals * Cane sugar * Cane-juice crystals * Caramel * Carob syrup * Castor sugar * Coconut Palm Sugar * Confectioner’s sugar * Corn sweetener * Corn syrup * Corn syrup solids * Crystalline fructose *Date sugar* Demerara Sugar * Dextran * Dextrin * Dextrose * Diastic malt * Diatase D-mannose * Erythritol * Ethyl maltol * Evaporated cane juice * Exthyl maltol * Florida Chrystals * Free Flowing Fructose * Fruit juice *Fruit juice concentrate *Galactose * Glucose * Glucose solids* Golden sugar * Golden syrup * Granulated sugar * Grape juice * Grape sugar * High fructose corn syrup (don’t EVEN get me started on this one!) * Honey * Hydrogenated Starch Icing sugar * Malt syrup Maltodextrin * Maltose Mannitol Maple syrup * Molasses * Muscovado sugar * Organic raw sugar * Panocha Powdered sugar * Raw sugar * Refiner’s syrup Rice Syrup * Sorbitol Sorghum * Sorghum syrup * Sucrose sugar * Sugar * Syrup * Table sugar * Treacle * Turbinado sugar * Xylitol (lethal for dogs, by the way) * yellow sugar
Is your head spinning yet? QUICK TIP: To discern sugar in a product, simply look for a form of the sugar from the names above, or for any words that end with -ose.
What’s the Big Deal?
Sugar is quick energy that the body can use immediately. But, unless it’s used immediately, it gathers in your bloodstream. The problem is that the bloodstream can only accommodate a couple of tablespoons or so at once. The overflow clogs the drain, so to speak.
To give you a vivid illustration, think of a sugar cube, which is made up of millions of grains of sugar formed into that square. Now imagine that sugar cube is actually one GIANT grain of sugar. The edges are rough and irregular, almost like a piece of jagged glass.
We once had a cat who ate Christmas lights, and would – ahem – eliminate them through very painful trips to the litter box. Can you imagine it? Now, imagine that sugar cube going through your equally tender blood vessels, except we don’t have nerve endings there and don’t feel the pain the same way. Have I painted a picture for you? Those rough edges are causing nicks in your blood vessels, causing damage.
The body tries to patch the nicks with its own manufactured patches – LDL (the “lousy” cholesterol). The more damage there is, the more LDL patches there are. When that LDL gets thick enough it restricts blood flow, like a clogged drain pipe restricts water. Pieces of the LDL can even break off, like the cold patch used for potholes in winter, and begin traveling, until they come to a smaller pipe they can’t get through and become stuck. This is a very vivid illustration of how sugar causes a problem that eventually can lead to heart attacks and strokes. That clogged smaller pipe is cardiovascular disease.
The body continues to try to heal itself by getting rid of the extra sugar in the blood by shuffling it into the cells. However, sugar can’t just walk in the cell door; it needs a key, held by a jailer. In this instance, the jailer (pancreas) with the key (insulin) is working hard to find enough keys to keep up with the sugar load in the blood knocking on the door of the cell. Eventually though, the jailer gets tired of making that same trek to the cell to open the door with the key because he can’t keep up with the demand. He needs more and more keys on a more frequent basis to keep up with the sugar load. In the end, the jailer can’t handle the demand, resulting in insulin resistance and diabetes.
For the insulin that did get in the cell door, however, there isn’t enough “room in the inn,” and the sugar has to convert from the quick energy we know it to be, to fat – energy in a storehouse to be used later. This fat is actually triglycerides, another issue stemming from sugar overload, and overall obesity (because our bodies are the “storehouse). Other diseases (and yes, obesity is a disease), can include various forms of cancer, which eat sugar as energy first, before anything else in the body. Eating sugar essentially means you’re “feeding” any cancer cells that may be hanging around in your body. In addition, Alzheimer’s and dementia are sometimes referred to as Type 3 diabetes due to the link between these diseases and sugar being more obvious. (http://mayocl.in/2ppGCAf)
Why Do We Crave Sugar Above All Other Things?
It’s no mystery that sugar unlocks pleasure chemicals in the brain that make us, at least temporarily, feel good. Know what else does that? Alcohol, smoking, opiates like heroin, oxycontin and morphine – all of these cause the release of feel-good chemicals giving us that sensation of pleasure. Anything that’s addictive will do this, and most of them we can quit. But we have to eat, right?
Sugar – I Wish I Could Quit You!
Is sugary food your reward for working out, eating healthy all week, or accomplishing something major in your life’s goal. Food is a common element in the seasons of life – birth, death, graduation, marriage, etc. But using it as THE reward for every thing for you deem worthy of treating is feeding the cycle of pleasure.
Unfortunately, in my case, the best answer was to completely quit refined sugar, desserts, candy, etc. The first couple of weeks I felt hungover and in withdrawal, some days worse than others, but afterward felt amazing!
Is There Any Hope?
Instead of using sugar as a reward, put a fence around the yard and control what comes in. Boundaries I’ve set for myself include not having overly processed food in my home and no sweets in the house, and eating anything sugary sweet among other adults so I, too, treat it like an adult and not like my inner 2-year-old who wants ALL the candy any time I want it.
Bottom line – avoid all processed food and sugar except for occasionally (as in once a week at most). By putting boundaries around your intake, you too can beat the sugar habit and put yourself on a healthier road, traveling away from the ultimate dead end of cardiovascular disease and obesity.