Sugar. It makes the world go around and one of the most heavily traded commodities. Added sugars are in everything that you eat and even drink, being added to satiate our sweet tooth and helping to make the usually non-palatable foods more tasty. It has become a national and international addiction and epidemic, so commonplace in our daily lives that you often do not realize or even give it a second thought. Is there a connection with your health? Is this sugar epidemic contributing to the multitude of health problems in our society from diabetes to mental health and even cancer? It’s a topic certainly worth 10 minutes of your attention. How much sugar do you consume each day?
Sugar comes in many forms, from white to brown sugar, fructose, corn syrups, and many other types that are automatically added to many of the foods you eat daily, or to the drinks that you consume. Now, of course, this is taking into consideration the average person and what is consumed on a daily basis regarding prepared meals, snacks, beverages, and restaurant meals.
Sugar is a generic term used for a soluble carbohydrate or monosaccharide, which includes glucose, fructose and galactose. Essentially, these are ‘simple’ sugars, which are readily absorbed via the mucous membranes in your mouth or in the digestive tract. Regular granulated or ‘table’ sugar, which is very common in our homes, is a dissaccharide formed from two monosaccharides bonded together, commonly called sucrose.
Carbohydrates are in the general classification of macronutrients which includes sugar, being monosaccharides or dissaccharides. In addition, there are oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, which are more complex chains of sugar molecules. Plant and natural foods often contain not only simple sugars, but the more complex polysaccharides, which includes starch and fiber.
When you consume sugar or a carbohydrate in any form, your body will secrete insulin which serves to shuttle the glucose molecules into the cells for energy production. Carbohydrates are needed and required by your body for cells to produce energy, on both a physical and cellular level. This release of insulin is natural, but can become problematic for many people. The bottom line, when it comes to sugar and your health, is that the more simple the form, the more readily available the molecule is for absorption. Simple sugars are absorbed faster and as a result, they stimulate an insulin response by your pancreas. This is compared to the more complex carbohydrates present in natural, whole-food sources, which require more time to break down into their more simple form. This delay of time equates to a slower absorption rate and a slower, more steady insulin response.
Sugar. How Much Do You Consume?
How much sugar do you consume every day, in the simple form? Have you ever given it some serious thought or are you like many, realizing there is a problem but choose to ignore it? I mean no offense by that statement, but offer it in all sincerity because this one factor in our lives may account for a large percentage of our health problems.
According to the Diabetes Council, the United States ranked first in the highest amount of sugar consumption with the average person consuming around 126 grams of sugar per day, which includes fructose. This is around 25 teaspoons of sugar, which is about 12 teaspoons above general recommendations. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men. For Children, there is a recommended range of 3-6 teaspoons per day, which equates to 12-25 grams of added sugars.
Overall, based on statistics, the average person is consuming up to 4-5 times more sugar than what is recommended for overall health protection !
Sugar. What’s the Big Deal?
Sugar is everything, right? So, what’s the big deal?
Well, the fact is that there is a major problem in our healthcare industry, and that problem is sugar. If you are suffering any health condition from joint pain to allergies, diabetes to cancer, this alarming fact should wake you up, at least if you are looking to make a difference in your health. You cannot treat or manage a health condition properly if one of the main contributors is still going on in your life. This is akin to having lung or breathing problems, yet still smoke heavily.
There are some pretty sobering facts on the Diabetes Council’s webpage, regarding sugar, which include:
- The daily intake of >25% of total calories from sugar resulted in more than 2x the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
- High intake of fructose or sugars is directly linked to an increased risk of gout.
- High sugar intake may lead to a lower level of the mineral Chromium, which may then predispose or worsen metabolic or diabetic conditions.
- Over-consumption of sugar is associated with suppression of the immune response.
- Sugar intake is directly associated with dental cavities.
- High intake of added sugars or fructose is associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer.
One of the biggest things I am focusing on here is the concept of ‘added sugars’. Plants and many other whole-foods do contain some sugars, in low levels, but are primarily sources of more complex carbohydrates. In addition, those natural, whole-foods, also contain high levels of fiber and other phytochemicals that not only slow down sugar metabolism from that food, but also impact the way sugar is regulated and utilized in the body. Thus, whole-foods, real plant foods, are the way to go and not the problem associated with the sugar epidemic. What I am referring to overall is the added sugars, which are found in almost every food that is prepackaged, served in a restaurant, found in drinks, or added to your drink on a daily basis.
Don’t believe there is a problem? Take a look at what you eat every day. If it is plant based, a food you prepare for yourself from whole-foods, then likely there is not a problem. But, if you buy foods at the grocery store, take a close look at that label, which includes many ‘healthy’ foods such as organic products, soups, and even prepared healthy meals. As an example, look at the average soft drink that many consume not just daily, but 2-3x times per day. A 20 oz soft drink on average contains 16 teaspoons of fructose, while the average energy drink contains 54-62 grams of fructose. Having just one of those drinks per day almost completely if not completely exhausts the daily recommended intake of sugar. Add one of those drinks to your coffee in the morning, which often contains many sweeteners and sugars, along with a sugary snack and a meal out at lunch, and you have gone way beyond. In addition, if you are taking a chewable or ‘gummie’ vitamin-mineral supplement or a smoothie in some fashion, check the sugar levels. You will often be unpleasantly surprised. At Nouvelle Research, all of our Cur-OST formulas include all natural, organic, whole-fruit apple or banana as the flavor with no added sugars.
These added sugars, especially when in high volumes, are contributing heavily to your health problems, weight concerns, and even include your joint pain. Sugar is used by the cells in your body for energy, and when it is supplied in a easily utilized form, being simple sugars, it is absorbed quickly, creates a fast and short insulin burst, and then dies down. This is what creates the ‘sugar highs and lows’ that you may experience during the day. This is also what creates the sugar addiction and cravings that you may have, needing one more ‘fix’ to get you through the day. For many people, they are sluggish, lack overall energy and have become dependent upon these snacks and drinks to get them through. While this is a common problem, the solution is not to ingest more, but to eliminate it.
Excess sugar consumption is directly associated with the rise in many health ailments from diabetes and obesity, to heart disease, allergies, cognitive concerns including ADD and ADHD, and even cancer. However, the solution here is to understand that there is a difference between real food and those with added sugars. You aid the better management of these health problems by eating properly, reducing or eliminating added sugars, not by avoiding whole foods which contain some sugar naturally. Remember. There is a far cry difference between a prepared meal with added sugars and a meal of green vegetables and even fruits which contain some simple sugars naturally. As an example, do some research on the benefits of berries, including blueberries, on cognitive issues and overall health.
In our current society, obesity is a real concern and becoming a major epidemic. Coincidentally, there is also a concurrent rise in many health problems from diabetes to cardiovascular disease, cognitive complaints, and cancer. This is not just in our adult population, but in our children as well. The habits of the parents are easily passed on to the child unfortunately. The Department of Health and Human Services has a nice PDF document discussing sugars and how to avoid them in the daily diet.
How Do Sugars Impact Your Health?
Sugars, especially added sugars in high volumes, can create major problems in your health. Many just think of dental cavities and tooth loss being associated with sugar consumption, but the list goes on an on.
- Sugar is used by every cell for energy, but above and beyond that, excess sugar consumption is directly linked to insulin and leptin dysfunction, usually due to the highs and lows throughout the day. This is then directly associated with diabetes, being type I or type II, and metabolic syndrome.
- Sugar can alter your body’s pH or level of acidity, which influences overall cellular health, emotions, and even body odor.
- Sugar consumption can influence many different microbiomes in your body from the digestive tract to your skin, mouth, and even vagina. This is then associated with oral problems such as tooth loss, cavities, foul breathe, digestive issues, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel issues, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, allergies, skin problems, rashes, eczema, general body odor, vaginal yeast infections, vaginal discharges, and vaginal odors.
- Sugar consumption is likely linked to a higher level of inflammation in the body, which then is connected with many health problems from diabetes to cardiovascular disease to cancer, including joint degeneration and pain.
Just keep in mind that sugar is a fuel used by the body, but is meant to be consumed in proper amounts and forms, ideally from whole-foods due to the presence of other vital substances such as fiber and cofactors. In an excess and readily available form, sugar can create major disturbances in your body, which then can predispose and worsen many health ailments.
Many of us, including myself, have a sweet tooth and that sweet tooth has been developed over time due to our introduction to sugars at one point or another. Even as a child I can remember not just consuming sugar and soft drinks, but adding 1-2 teaspoons of sugar to my already ‘sugar fortified’ breakfast cereal. In looking back, I am astounded at what was accepted in society and still is, especially considering the rise in health problems in our society. As a doctor, I have to accept ‘what is accepted’, as I cannot change another nor can I change the world of food or what is considered food in today’s society. However, I, like yourself, can recognize the problem, see it for what it is and make conscious choices to improve my own diet and with that my own health.
Sweetener alternatives that may actually be healthy: (Not including artificial sweeteners)
- Monk Fruit Extract
- Pure Stevia Extract (read labels carefully for added sugars)
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN