The Devil in your Kenmore

It’s no shocker that as a society we are all about instant gratification. Sadly, health and wellness cannot be won that way (oh but wouldn’t it be fun if it were…!?) However, there are a few simple ways to make immensely positive changes to one’s health. Notice I said simple, not easy. For example, sleep a little more, stress a little less. So yeah, not that easy. But here’s the whopper. If I had a gun to my head and had to pick JUST ONE thing a client could do to vastly improve their health on all levels it would be: eliminate sugar. Dum, dum, dum, dummmm… I know, I know—now I’m the devil. But before you click off this insane post, hear me out.

Added sugar, in my mind, one of the biggest causes of the world’s health problems. You name it—diabetes, obesity, food addiction, even ADD (attention deficit disorder) to name just a few of the negative effects that can result from consumption of the white devil. We often hear the argument that sugar is ok in moderation and that eliminating any “food group” is dangerous. Yes, it is true that avoiding actual macronutrients completely (carbohydrates, proteins or good fats) could be potentially problematic, but sugar is not a food group. Sugar in some form is naturally present in many foods. However, by itself, it contains no nutrients, no proteins, no healthy fats, no antioxidants —- NOTHING. NADA. Just a hormone cascade that makes you want MORE, MORE, MORE. Ever wonder why you can’t eat just one? Well, what about fruit you say?! That’s actually different. Naturally contained sugars in fruit and vegetables are balanced out by the fiber, vitamins, enzymes and other properties of the fruit/vegetable which slow sugar digestion and help the body deal with it more easily. Added sugar, on the other hand, provides none of these benefits.

“Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition says, “white refined sugar-is not a food. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways. Its true name is sucrose and its chemical formula is C12H22O11. It has 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms, 11 oxygen atoms, and absolutely nothing else to offer.” …The chemical formula for cocaine is C17H21NO4. Sugar’s formula again is C12H22O11. For all practical purposes, the difference is that sugar is missing the “N”, or nitrogen atom.”

In order to understand what is so bad about sugar, let’s go over a quick and dirty download on what it is. Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into simple sugars… glucose and fructose. The primary difference between these is how your body metabolizes them. Glucose is found in every living cell on the planet. If we don’t get it from our diet, our bodies produce it. However, fructose is different. Our bodies do not produce it in any significant amount and there is no physiological need for it. This is not a problem if we eat a little bit (such as from fruit) or we just finished an exercise session. In this case, the fructose will be turned into glycogen and stored in the liver until we need it. But if we overdose on fructose, our livers become overloaded and turn the fructose into fat. In today’s world, it’s not that hard to overdo fructose – in fact, it’s pretty easy. White bread, pasta, soda and candy are the obvious ones. But there are also hidden sugar bombs in salad dressings, yogurts, sauces, and smoothies as well. Killers in your kitchen….

Here are just a few of the ways sugar effects our bodies:

1. Sugar stresses the liver.
When we eat fructose, it goes to the liver. If liver glycogen is low, such as after exercise, the fructose will be used to replenish it (1). However, most people aren’t consuming fructose after a long workout and their livers are already full of glycogen (from eating processed foods). When this happens, the liver turns the fructose into fat (1). Some of the fat gets shipped out to the parts of your body you definitely don’t want it hanging out in, but part of it remains in the liver. The other problem is that fat can build up over time and ultimately lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (2, 3).

2. Sugar causes blood glucose to spike and plummet.
Unstable blood sugar often leads to mood swings, fatigue, headaches and cravings for more sugar. It also leads to insulin resistance, which is a leading driver of many diseases. Insulin is a very important hormone in the body that allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells from the bloodstream and tells the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat. Having too much glucose in the blood is highly toxic and one of the reasons for complications of diabetes.

3. Sugar is HIGHLY addictive.
When you eat refined sugar (hello cake!), it can cause a huge release of dopamine (a brain chemical that helps us feel happiness or pleasure) in the reward center of the brain. So we want more, more, more! The effects on our brains have actually been compared to cocaine (5). And the “happy feeling” you get from eating refined sugar can override the “I’ve had enough to eat” mechanism from leptin, another digestive hormone.

4. Sugar increases Bad Cholesterol and Triglycerides (4).
The study is entitled Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. Riveting. Seriously though, it’s important.

5. Sugar causes tooth decay.
With all the other life-threatening effects of sugar, we sometimes forget the most basic damage it does. When it sits on your teeth, it creates decay more efficiently than any other food substance. For a strong visual reminder, next time the Tooth Fairy visits, try the old tooth-in-a-glass-of-Coke experiment—the results will surely convince you that sugar isn’t good for your pearly whites.

I realize that in today’s world, it can be tough to completely avoid sugar since it is so readily available and in EVERY THING. Unfortunately, the widespread availability of sugar doesn’t make it any healthier. A few tips to reduce your intake without also reducing your sanity:

  • Focus only on whole, REAL foods – Im talking outskirts of the grocery store only.
  • Listen to your body – you will be able to tell when something doesn’t make you feel good after eating it. If so, pull it from the rotation.
  • Read labels—tricks abound!