Which of the following would you like to have?
- Depressed Immune System
- Your Body to Age Quicker
- Mood Swings
- Increased Risk of a Heart Attack
- Kidney Stones
- Ok, I'll stop here, but just know that there's more...
I'm going to tell you one thing that will help you stay away from all of that, since obviously no one wants any of those. And it doesn't even involve exercise. Are you ready for this? Stop eating sugar! You don't even have to go to the gym and it doesn't cost you anything...in fact you'll probably save money. Not only on food, but on health care costs.
The USDA surveys show that the average American consumes 32 teaspoons of added sugar and sweeteners every day. That amounts to 103 pounds each year! So, beside being 103 pounds lighter, you'll avoid a host of other health detriments as well.
How does sugar accomplish that entire list of horrible consequences?
When you eat sugar, your blood sugar rises (quickly) and your pancreas immediately jumps into overdrive. This increase in blood sugar causes the pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin. Insulin's job is to get that sugar out of the bloodstream by delivering it to cells where it can be used for energy. But, what if there's no demand for energy? It gets stored as fat. If it stays in your bloodstream, it is toxic sludge and must be removed. Now, the body steps up its efforts to achieve homeostasis by releasing both adrenaline and cortisol (your stress hormones). Your heat rate is higher and you may feel a little flushed at this point or even nauseous. But that "sugar high" (which doesn't even sound that good, does it?) is short-lived, and you will soon experience the "sugar crash". This happens when all the sugar is out of your bloodstream and you start to feel sluggish and tired.
You didn't think I was finished, did you? You have opened Pandora's box - the swing of glucose and insulin, the cortisol and adrenaline - have sent your immune system into a tailspin. Free radicals have their heyday within the first few hours, but a Venti Caramel Macchiato can compromise your immune system for up to 24 hours. So the cold going around your office is a much bigger threat when you're munching the secretary's jar of candy all day.
What happens when we eat natural sugars, like fruits and milk? Well, the amount of sugar in an apple is easily managed by a small amount of insulin. And the apple comes complete with nutrients, where added sugars are completely void of any health benefit. The story changes when you wolf down some Hazelnut Coffee Cake (42 grams of sugar) and a Venti Double Chocolaty Chip Frappacino (82 grams of sugar! I'm seriously starting to feel sick...). That's 127 added grams of sugar! I sincerely hope no one in the history of the world has ever ordered that combo. But, back to the story. When you pick up a pastry and foofy drink from Starbucks, your pancreas has to pour more insulin into the system to get the job done. Chronic sugar consumption leads to high levels of insulin and insulin resistance, which is the last thing in the world that you want.
Beware of all forms of sugar...
Okay, so you're going to change routes to work to avoid Starbucks. That's a great start! But be careful...it's not just table sugar that has this effect on your body. Other culprits that raise blood sugar and insulin sneak in on your dinner plate. Refined carbs (breads, rice, pasta) and potatoes are converted to sugar as soon as they enter your body. Your pancreas can't tell the difference. Carrabba's Tour of Italy is going to have much the same response as your coffee extravaganza.
But their is another side of this argument. The Sugar Association (comprised of growers, refiners, transporters and sellers of sugar...no bias there or anything), says:
"Clearly, individuals can enjoy sugar as part of a balanced, nutritious diet with no fear of negative health effects. Even people with diabetes can enjoy sugar-sweetened foods."
Yes, sure you can. If you're suicidal. I don't think I need to entertain this any further.
I'm just not sure what kind of morals these people at the Sugar Association have to promote a substance that potentially had a hand in the deaths of 1,564,701 people in 2005 (more recent data is not yet available, although I'm sure it's similar, if not worse). This only omits deaths from accidents, respiratory diseases (although some respiratory diseases are caused from working in sugar cane factories), nephritis & septicemia (both of which, with a little more research, I could probably find satisfactory evidence sugar contributes in these cases as well). You can Google every other disease and add "+ sugar" and you will find solid studies and evidence that suggest sugar is a culprit in each of the diseases.
So, that's great for population control, which I suppose is important. But, if one of those 1.5 million people that die happens to be you...well, that sucks.
Deaths - Leading Causes, 2005
So, now we're clear on the dangers of sugar. What the heck are you supposed to eat? I've just ruled out about 90% of your daily fare. Since I'm on a roll, I'll just keep going. Here are some other common foods and their sugar content. These aren't as obvious as cookies and candy bars; these are sneaky little buggers:
|Ketchup||12 grams per tbs|
|Yoplait Non-fat Plain Yogurt||17 grams per cup|
|Yopliat Low-fat Strawberrty-Banana Yogurt||28 grams per cup|
|Low-fat Granola Cereal||40 grams per cup|
|All Bran Cereal Bars||11 grams per bar|
|Nutri-Grain Bars||13 grams per bar|
|Coke-a-Cola||28 grams per can|
|Skinny Vanilla Latte||17 grams per Grande|
|Barbeque Sauce||9 grams per 2 tbs|
|Teriyaki Sauce||10 grams per 2 tbs|
All data taken from the USDA Nutritional Database
So, what are we supposed to eat?
Now, let's get to an action plan. Is it really possible to eliminate all sugar from your diet? No. You need some natural sugars (fruit) and the nutrients they contain, but it's entirely possible to eighty-six all added sugar. Strictly speaking, that would mean you eat fish & meats, nuts & seeds, lots of veggies, and some fruit. But, understandably, most of us that breathe are not nearly that disciplined. And, well, if you really love your grandmothers apple pie, you're going to eat it every once in a while. That's ok. But, what you want to do is cut out as much sugar as you can so your overall health is better and your body is able to recover from eating sugar much more efficiently. Start by observing and recording how much added sugar you eat each day - you will probably be surprised. Then eliminate your biggest sugar offender. Live without it for a week. Move down the list. It will get easier as you break yourself from the habit of eating sugar so often.
Cutting out sugar is one of the best things you can do for your health, but with everything else worth doing, it's not easy. However, you will feel better and your overall health will improve dramatically. Find healthy (or even healthier alternatives). Here are some ideas:
|Replace This||With This|
|Sweet Tea & Soft Drinks||Unsweet Tea or Flavored Water|
|Yogurt||Cottage Cheese with Fresh Fruit|
|Low-fat Granola Cereal||Eggs and Bacon|
|Sugary Desserts||Fresh Fruit|
|Sugary snacks like granola bars, M&M's and other processed foods||Cut up Veggies & Deli Meat|
|Skinny Vanilla Latte||Chai Tea|
|Sauces, Dressing & Condiments high in sugar||Herbs & Spices|
When baking, up to 1/3 of the sugar called for in a recipe can be eliminated without replacement. You can additionally replace some of the sugar with sugar-free applesauce of fruit concentrates. Natural sugar is just as sweet and provides nutrients as well. Experiment and see how it goes!
And what about sugar substitutes, alcohols and "natural" sugars?
Now, one last thing - what about sugar substitutes, like sucralose, aspertame, saccharine? Or the herb-based Stevie? I will refer you to Mark's Daily Apple post on the subject - he did his research and has some great info! And then there are the sugar alcohols, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, etc? The International Food Information Council has a good summary. And, finally, there's honey, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice and the like. Modern Forager has some interesting info on these. So, what's the bottom line? Sugar is sugar. Yes, honey and agave nectar are more "natural". But your body treats them much the same. Your best bet is to grab a piece of fruit when your sweet tooth calls and use any of the above in moderation. You only get to live once, so have your cake and eat it too....but only once in a while. The more control you have over your sugar cravings, the more control you will have over your life and the quality of it.
Are you addicted?
Additional Supporting Research:
Twenty-four-hour endocrine and metabolic profiles following consumption of high-fructose corn syrup-, sucrose-, fructose-, and glucose-sweetened beverages with meals. - Stanhope KLGriffen SC, Bair BR, Swarbrick MM, Keim NL, Havel PJ