You are what you eat! This really does have meaning in our world. Specifically, this has more significance in this country than possibly other places on this planet.
I say this because, we in this country consume over one hundred and ninety pounds of sugar per year, per person for example. That’s a wheel barrel full of sweets! It’s in absolutely everything from condiments to prescription medications. Excessive sugar intake seems to be really at the heart of a lot of our health challenges unfortunately and as long as there is a market for it, it will continue to be packaged into everything.
The companies who make these candies, cookies, treats and whatever other forms they come in, are very crafty. They know how to sell products and that’s really what keeps this wheel turning. Sugar is addictive and it keeps consumers coming back over and over again like crack addicts. I get it! There is scientific proof that sugar impacts the reward centers of the brain by releasing dopamine. But what happens like with other addicting substances, it takes more of that substance to produce the same affect. So this is where these big junk food companies make their “killing” and its leveraging our weakness towards this white powder. There was a point in time in my own life where I couldn’t have just one of this or one of that! It beckoned me and called my name many times per day! Fast forward many years and I can say I am one of the fortunate ones to have grasped onto the concept that sugar is a killer. There is a reason why sugar has been nicknamed the “white death”. Some may think that sounds extreme, but it’s the truth if you really sit down and understand the basics of what sugar does to the human body.
Sugar is a relatively new concept in our history. It wasn’t really introduced until the 1600’s and then it was mostly the wealthy that consumed sugar and subsequently mostly the ones that had the dental issues. It was Dr. Weston Price, a dentist in the early 1900’s that really was a pioneer that embarked on many journeys to understand just why there were so many dental cavities in this country during this time. His discoveries uncovered that these new foods heavily impacted the societies that ate them as well as the offspring for many generations later. He predicted that there would be many new health epidemics as a result and he was spot on as we see very new conditions and worsening of old issues in this country. Granted it’s not just sugar that is the sole cause of our degeneration, but it’s really a focal point in our decline.
Take a look at any health condition and you will most likely see sugar as part of its origin. With the twenty five million people currently impacted by Diabetes and the many more yet to be diagnosed, it’s no wonder that Diabetes is the primary indicator of a diet high in refined sugars and carbs! This problem is impacting our young as well. At the turn of the century, on average one out of every three children will become a diabetic. We unfortunately start our lives with gobs of sugar and the cycle repeats! While Diabetes is the major result of the Standard American Diet, there are other conditions that point to excessive sugar consumption. The body spends a lot of energy to maintain an overall balance in the body. This is called homeostasis and it’s what the body does continuously. One major impact on the body outside of the load on all of the organs that regulate blood sugar, is the change in the acidity level of the blood. The blood must be between a pH of 7.35 and 7.45 and the body will do some miraculous things to keep it within these limits. But the body has its limitations and in a lot of cases we are not talking about just a smidgen over on sugar intake, we are referring to an extreme amount over what the body can handle. Take a soda pop for example. An average can of soda contains around thirty nine grams of sugar and most people just don’t have one. This same behavior repeats itself with many different sugary selections throughout the average day piled on top of one another. The average American consumes around one hundred grams of sugar per day and this is an average so someone is eating the share of those who don’t consume this much, so this number could be quite a bit higher. The actual recommendation for daily sugar intake is only around twenty five to thirty seven grams of sugar per day and actually the body can function on a lot less as you become a fat burner instead of using glucose as the primary fuel source. Anything over this is just too much for the body to handle and sets off a chain of events in the body that may ultimately be too much for the body to handle.
The primary visible impact to the body is the amount of fat that accumulates in the body as a result of excessive sugar. Contrary to popular belief it’s not good fats that contribute to weight gain, but the abundance of refined carbohydrates that we consume that end up getting stored as fat tissue. This outward indicator is indicative of what is going on inside the body. When you consume a sugary food, the body will work to deal with this blood sugar spike by releasing insulin from the Pancreas which will work to get the glucose into the cells so that it can be used for energy. When you consume more than the body can use, that sugar will be stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue and if that pathway is full it gets stored in the adipose tissue. Over time, the sugars will force the cells into insulin resistance which basically means the cells reject the glucose in turn starting the beginning path to type II Diabetes. As the body tries to deal with the excess sugar, the Pancreas will over compensate and release a large load of insulin. This repeated over time will simply wear out the Pancreas as well as the other organs that regulate blood sugar resulting in failure to release insulin and therefore needing to be controlled through medicine.
Another classic problem is adrenal fatigue. The adrenals work in tandem with the Pancreas to release cortisol to help manage the influx of glucose in the blood. This organ will also eventually respond to this repeated usage by decreasing its ability to work correctly and once that happens you have a whole host of issues. Adrenal Fatigue is not a condition that most standard doctors can treat. In fact unless you are at either side of the spectrum (hypoadrenia or hyperadrenia), adrenal fatigue won’t be a recognizable condition. Some common symptoms of adrenal fatigue are: Mild depression or anxiety, Multiple food and or inhalant allergies, Lethargy and lack of energy, Increased effort to perform daily tasks, Decreased ability to handle stress, Dry and thin skin, Low blood sugar, Low body temperature, Palpitation, unexplained hair loss, Alternating diarrhea or constipation.
Finally one other major impact of sugar intake is how it interacts with proteins in the body. These sugary substances form cross links with proteins and create what’s called a glycated end product. These produce a sticky substance that collects inside the body that ends up in deposits in blood vessels, impacts the connective tissue in the body and also impacts the cells ability to receive and connect with insulin among other impacts. Sugar impacts everything in the body and a whole article could be dedicated to each one, but just understand that there is not one single organ or system in the body that is not touched by this substance.
So now that I have painted this evil picture of sugar, let’s move in a different direction of what to do with this information. The choice is yours on how to respond to this. There are many similarities to other types of addictions, such as alcoholism and nicotine addiction. The pleasure centers of the brain are impacted in much the same way when we consume sugar. Indeed, this makes it hard to move away from sugar. Personally, I am now going on one and a half years without a refined sugar and my body has adapted very well by using fats as the primary fuel source. I think the major obstacle is that sugar in many forms is all around us and in order to make life sustaining choices, it will be best to find some alternatives to sugar, at least initially. Ultimately, the best practice is to really minimize any form of sugar. Even sugars in the form of fruit or honey for example should be limited daily. Over time sugars grip on you will diminish if you change your macronutrient ratios. Your body will shift from being a sugar burner to a fat burner and this is how the body is supposed to operate. With this approach you avoid the roller coaster of insulin spikes and glucose lows that cause such strain on your organs. In the next section I will outline common sources of sugar to avoid and general food selection guidelines. Also transition can be tricky especially if you have been eating refined sugars your whole life, so it’s good to highlight those as well to help on your journey.
First off you need to know what to look for so you can practice eliminating them from your diet. Sugars come in many code words and forms on labels and each one of these below are ones that should be avoided if you want to make this shift.
Proper Food Selection: By following these basic guidelines you can work to provide a good base diet
Incorporate proper balance of fat, carbohydrates and proteins into your diet
Transition: You need time to adjust most likely. In my opinion, only in unique cases, should you make a 100% shift from old to new! As I mentioned earlier, sugar is an addicting substance and you will be at your best if you add some additions before subtracting anything from your old diet and habits.
You don’t have to be a slave to sugar anymore. You can make a change and knowing the impacts of over sugar consumption may help to make a conscious choice before it’s too late to make a voluntary change. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t succeed. Just get back up and try again and know that every little bit of effort will produce favorable results in how you feel and your appearance! Good luck and do let me know if you have any questions!
Ian Sandage is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who speaks from the personal experience of someone with autoimmune disease and the highs and lows of a health journey