I love sugar. I have always loved sugar for as long as I can remember and I come by it honestly – growing up, my entire family loved sweets – ice cream, cereals such as granola, pastries and pies. As a teenager I often found myself at the Dairy Queen with friends and often we would have not one, but two hot fudge sundaes. (The only sweet item I never liked were soft drinks).
I wasn’t alone with my penchant for sweets.. Addiction to sugar begins at a very young age, with the average Canadian consuming 20 per cent of their daily calories as sugar. This is roughly 18 teaspoons of added sugar each day, in addition to the sugar naturally found in our food. Not surprising, considering the many forms and names sugar is hiding behind. Sugar is a carbohydrate that is not particularly healthy, especially when consumed in excess or from refined or processed forms. Not only is it used as a sweetener, but it’s also hidden in the preparation of many other foods you wouldn’t expect to find it in such as tomato sauce, salad dressings and baby food.
What’s Wrong With Excess Sugar?
While glucose is what our body, our cells and our brain use as fuel for energy, most of us use it too much. The body can’t use what’s being put in it, so it is stored as fat. High sugar intake is associated with a variety of problems including nutrient deficiencies, increased risk of cancer, obesity, immune dysfunction, heart disease, tooth decay, diabetes, PMS and mood disorders.
Fructose, when consumed in large quantities from unnatural sources, is associated with impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, high blood fats and hypertension. Fructose is metabolized by the liver, where most of it gets converted to fat and sent to fat cells, which is why diets high in fructose also lead to obesity and diabetes. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid fruit altogether, but it does mean you should avoid fructose in processed foods.
Sugar is a stressor on the immune system; it actually paralyzes immune cells! T-cell activity is impaired for up to an hour after sugar consumption while neutrophil phagocytes are depressed for up to five hours. In simple terms, sugar promotes disease and inflammation.
Cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes account for almost 70 per cent of all deaths in Canada and the common link they all share is inflammation. As mentioned earlier, a diet high in sugar and other refined starches promotes inflammation.
What You Can Do About It
Quitting sugar is simple, but it’s not easy. The change requires motivation and time to allow for withdrawal to take place. The good news is, the more you choose natural foods, the quicker you lose your taste for unnatural, over-sweetened foods. Most people that kick their sugar habit find that they can no longer tolerate sugar very well when they do eat it.
The World Health Organization, as well as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, advises that sugar consumption should amount to no more than 10 per cent of calories per day. Ideally, added sugar should be limited to less than 5 per cent of calories consumed in a day.
I have dealt with chronic inflammation for many years; I just wasn’t aware of how dangerous it can be. Time Magazine calls inflammation “The Secret Killer” for good reason. Many consider inflammation to be the foremost contributor to chronic disease and illness. I believe it was a significant contributor to my development of both autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s) and cancer.
I have kicked my sugar habit and currently I eat a ketogenic diet, which consists of absolutely no sugar and very few carbohydrates, at under 40 grams per day, consisting of mostly green vegetables. To put it simply, a ketogenic diet is extremely low in carbohydrates, consists of a moderate amount of protein, and is very high in good fats such as olive oil, coconut oil and saturated fats. This way of eating is a far cry from the amount of sugar I used to eat, but with my tendency to slip into inflammation and with the threat of chronic disease hanging over my head (cancer), I really have no choice. Fortunately, as a result of eating this way for six months now, my inflammation has declined a lot (not only do I feel less inflammatory, but I have benefitted from a reduction of some inflammation markers in my blood). I also feel more energetic with great mental clarity.
It is important to become familiar with the dozens of names for sugar used on food labels. Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or glucose/fructose are the absolute worst culprits. If you are going to consume added sugar, the best options are pure maple syrup, honey, coconut palm sugar, evaporated cane juice and fruit derived sugars like ripe banana, unsweetened apple sauce and whole dates.
Balch, Phyllis A., Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2006. New York, NY. Avery.
Haas, Elson M., Staying Healthy with Nutrition. 2006. New York, NY. Ten Speed Press.
Perlmutter, David., Grain Brain. 2013. New York, NY. Little, Brown and Company. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2868080/