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The Not So Delightful Spoonful of Sugar

by Kasia Hopewell, ND

Sugar sweetens our lives in many ways. This may explain why sugar consumption has continued to rise every year until Americans are now consuming on average 142 pounds per person per year. Since 1970 we have added nearly a pound of sugar a year to our diets and many more to our waistlines. In contrast, Americans only eats about 9 pounds of broccoli per person a year, which is America’s most consumed vegetable. All this sugar is having a profound affect on our family’s health, with sugar consumption rates rising in tandem with many of the preventable diseases – heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc. That’s not to say sugar is the cause of all our health problems, but its increasing presence in our diet does little to promote health and wellbeing. Research has shown that moderate to high levels of sugar consumption depresses the immune system, something that over time can contribute to any a number of diseases.

Americans eat 2 times more sugar than the USDA’s recommendation. Where does all this sugar come from? US farmers produce 1000 calories more food than required to meet our Nation’s daily caloric needs. Adding these excess calories to the $700 million worth of imported sugar (in contrast, the US exports $13 million worth of sugar), what you get is a Wall Street driven food industry that is required to turn those excess calories into profit. This profit-driven junk food industry produces foods that have high market appeal with little or no nutritional value – a.k.a. junk food. This somewhat explains why sugary foods are so prevalent and are often more readily available than healthier, wholesome foods. In addition, these high sugar junk foods are cheaper per calorie. Just think of the last fundraiser food item you purchased. Was it full of sugar?

Limiting the sugar in our diet is challenging because it has found its way into nearly everything we eat. Honey aside, concentrated simple sugars are not readily found in nature. It takes a process to refine and concentrate sugar into the form we eat it. It is these refined simple sugars that impact our health the most. These sugars are often found as corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup, of which each American consumes on average 65 pounds a year, mostly in the 46 gallons a year of soft drinks we drink. Consumed at these levels, refined sugars are negatively impacting our health. Consuming large quantities of sugar causes blood sugar imbalances, which our body has to work hard to hormonally regulate. These shifts in hormones do more than affect our blood sugar. They also affect our emotions and moods, our appetite, our energy storage (think fat cells), and our immune system. One specific problem with rapid rises in blood sugar is the signaling to our cells to turn those excess sugars calories into fat. This particular fat is of the type we store in our organs and cells and the same type that contributes to hardening of the arteries. High sugar consumption is as much to blame, if not more, for heart disease, than is fat consumption.

Here are some tips to help reduce sugar in your diet:

1) Recognize your sugars – look on the label for corn syrups or high fructose corn syrups, or for words ending in –ose such as sucrose, or glucose.

2) Watch out for refined grains such as white flour and white rice. Though not a simple sugar product, they digest into sugar so quickly they can have the same effect on blood sugar as regular sugar. Choose whole grains instead.

3) Limit processed foods by choosing more whole foods. Whole foods have only one ingredient, itself, and you can picture it growing or living.

4) Keep sugary foods to a minimum in the house as they are designed for impulsive eating.

5) Replace dessert type foods with fresh or frozen fruit. Fruit has sugar, yes, but it also comes with all the vitamins and minerals and fiber needed to properly digest and utilize its sugar.

6) Don’t let dessert become a habit. It’s meant as a treat and will be more enjoyed on occasion.

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Family Medicine

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