Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Scoop on Sugar: What We Need to Know

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It's the month of January and most of us have our New Year's resolutions of losing weight, eating better and exercising more.  So following this trend, I thought a post about a sneaky health culprit would be in order.

Now, I happen to have a sweet tooth.  I mean...I like sugar.  However, I have felt its effects for some time now and so I've made a conscious effort to cut it back if not almost out of my diet (except at Christmas!)  At least refined sugars (sugars taken out of their natural state.)  

So this post is meant to be informative and to help you come to your own conclusions regarding sugar.  I won't be trying to say to not eat a cookie or ice cream ever again, but maybe raise some awareness of what sugar (in all its different forms) is;  based on just a bit of the vast amount of information out there.

There is so much to read and study about sugar but I won't be doing that here.  I just want to share a few things I learned along the way and also a few things I discovered personally with sugar consumption.

1. The only sugar form your body needs or will use is glucose. 

 Although the body does require sugar (glucose), as this is the only fuel the brain can use, it is important to remember the physiology of digestion. The properly functioning human organism can produce all the glucose the brain needs through the digestion of whole, natural, unprocessed foods. 1  Dr. John Yudkin of Queens College, London, states "all human nutritional needs can be met in full without having to take a single spoonful of white or brown or raw sugar." 2

So, understanding that our body doesn't NEED any additional sugar beyond what we can get from fruits and unprocessed whole grains helps us to see where sugar should be in our diet.  After all, sugar shouldn't be in our food pyramid at all as we don't need it.  I mean, in America we are going to consume it, but need to understand that it's not just an empty calorie,  it's  been found to be detrimental to our health when we consume it in quantity every day.

Americans typically consume around 150 pounds of sugar a year based on a USDA finding.  That includes sugar we add to our food as well as processed food, soda, bread, crackers, candy, desserts and so on...  3

I found different stats online for this but the point is, we as Americans eat A LOT of sugar!  So, therein the problem lies. 

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2. Sugar is sugar is sugar.

Now this is true up to a point.  High-Fructose Sugar is a different form of sugar which can only be metabolized in the liver.  It is therefore thought to be worse than sucrose or the conventional white sugar.  But, sugar is still sugar.  So, be it brown, raw, turbinado, agave, molasses and even's still sugar.  

So when baking, it really doesn't matter too much if you use white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, or agave nectar ((Read: The Truth About Agave).

Why? Because most sugars have the same effect on the body.  So, there really isn't a "healthy sugar" except what is naturally occurring in fruits and unprocessed foods.

BlackStrap molasses was actually the only sugar that had some beneficial properties.  In one tablespoon, it has 14% of the RDA for calcium and 28% for iron. 4  It's still sugar, but it does at least give you a bit of nutrition with it.
I personally believe that raw honey is a better sugar for you as well. As long as it's unrefined and not pasteurized, it has some healing properties in it that make it valuable for a natural remedy.  It still needs to be used in moderation as it actually "raises blood sugar levels more than sucrose (white sugar)." 5  

The reason this information is important is so we understand that no matter what type of sugar we're eating, it's still sugar and needs to be moderated.  As Americans we tend to think, "it's the healthy version so I can eat as much as I want" and that's just not true.

3. Sugar has a negative impact on our overall health. 

It seems a bit amazing to me to see that so many studies need to be done in order to link sugar consumption to health issues and obesity.  You'll still find conflicting studies as cola producers who conduct their own research say "Why, no! Soda doesn't make children fat."  It seems we've lost the common sense of better times to think we need to spend millions of dollars to prove what we're already seeing...sugar leads to obesity and obesity can lead to health problems.

We've all seen the effects of sugar on a group of toddlers before...if you haven't then trust me, it's not fun!  So, why is it difficult for us to believe that sugar consumed in large amounts doesn't cause other issues?

Here are a few: 

Tooth decay - bacteria on our teeth "grabs" the sugar, feeds on it and turns it into plaque...yuck. 

Raises your Insulin Level - Our bodies produce insulin to suppress the effects of sugar in our bodies.  However, if we start to produce too much insulin, this can lead to high blood pressure, sodium retention and osteoporosis.

Depresses the Immune System - White blood cells need a large amount of vitamin C to fight bacteria and viruses.  Sugar however, has a chemical composition very similar to Vitamin C. When there's too much sugar around, it ends up taking the place of vitamin C.

Upsets the Body's Mineral Balance - "Refined sugars contain no nutrients (vitamins and minerals) of their own. So in order for them to be absorbed by the body, they have to use the nutrients already stored in the body. They thus reduce the levels of essential minerals and vitamins in the body without providing any benefits."6

Contributes to Weight Gain - "When the body receives an appropriate amount of sugar, in more complex forms, throughout the day, it can absorb and process the sugar as energy over the course of the day. However, when the body has too much sugar, two things happen: first, the body will concentrate on burning the sugar, because it is a toxic substance, instead of burning the fat reserves you already have. Second, what the body can't burn right away, it will store as additional saturated fat stores. So too much sugar not only keeps you from maintaining a good weight or even losing weight, but it definitely adds to the fat you have to carry around." 7

It Can Show Up in Your Skin - When we consume too much sugar, it leads to a rapid blood sugar spike which ultimately leads to inflammation.  This will show up through your skin, your bodies largest organ. 8
I personally have noticed a difference when I don't eat much sugar.  I have chronic eczema (an allergic type dermatitis) and found that it cleared up when I cut sugar out of my diet.  The only time it breaks out now is when I start eating sugar.  Now, it could be the sugar and the fats that are included in what I would be eating (like cookies/ice cream) but I've noticed this time and time again.  Our two teen sons know this when their skin starts to break out...they cut out sweets and cut back on junk food/fast food.

I didn't even mention diabetes either. I also read some information linking sugar to cardiovascular problems and even gout! 

So what does this all mean?  I guess to sum it all up; "a little sugar goes a long way."  It's most important to know as much as we can so we can make the best informed food choices for us and our families.  (And again, I hardly mentioned high fructose corn syrup which would be a post in itself!  HFC is found in almost every processed food, including bread to barbeque sauce.)

 Kids are naturally drawn to sugar and they have been the biggest victims so far.  Fruit juices (there's no need for a fruit juice...whole fruit is so much better), soda, candy, chips, pretzels and so on are a constant distraction for them.  

We never made the mistake of "outlawing" these foods to our kids, but instead helped them to understand how the food would impact them.  Sometimes they would listen, other times they would overeat junk food, but so far, they are making some really great food choices for ages 16 and 19.  Isn't that the point anyway?  To help them to learn how to choose wisely?

Okay, that's it! Hope you were able to learn a few things...blessings!

Notes and Bibliography:

2. Yudkin, John, Sweet and Dangerous, Wyden, 1972.

Of further interest: 

Sugar: The Bitter Truth (Video: Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods.

Linked to these amazing blog hops:  Seasonal Celebration Wednesdays
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  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! Especially the part about sugar is sugar is sugar. A lot of people are on an agave kick right now because they think it is better than white sugar. I do tend to use honey whenever I can over other sweeteners, for the healing properties like you mentioned.

    I am trying to drastically cut down on my sugar intake but I have a major sweet tooth so it is hard! After each meal I always want something sweet to round it out. But after reading this it gives me more motivation to kick it!

    1. Yes, I agree. Some things tend to be fads. I have a sweet tooth too...I have a small bowl of fruit after lunch and that helps me a lot. I found out that sugar is "addictive" too so once I stop eating very much of it I am ok. I also try to eat added sugar with lots of fiber (like in oatmeal) so the fiber helps to offset the effects of the sugar. I hate to be a "kill-joy" with the post, but learning about sugar (especially as I got older) has helped me out quite a bit. I still enjoy desserts once in a great while so I know that I can eat them if I want. Somehow it works for me mentally. :)

    2. Yes, I agree. I have a major sweet tooth, but I am almost 53. I think the sugar is taking it's toll. Lately when I've eaten it, I feel horrible. I am trying to stay away from it and I feel so much better. I get my sweet tooth satisfied lately with whole fruit and some organic peanut butter. Sometimes very dark chocolate. It's hard!

    3. Agreed Estelle! I find that fruit tastes so much better when I'm not eating much sugar too. :)

  2. There are various kind of non sugar plastic bottled drinks in Japan. We would drink green tea without sugar usually. So when I would drink a plastic bottled green tea in USA. I was suprised that it was very sweet.

    1. That's great that they sell them unsweetened. We have one or two companies that sell them unsweetened, but they don't sell well!

  3. I've been switching to honey and organic sugar and trying to cut back too. I don't make nearly as many sweets as I used to.
    Thanks for linking up to The HomeAcre Hop!

  4. Thanks Nancy, most these things I'd heard before but it never hurts to be reminded. Much of the same applies to high GI carbs too.

  5. You make a lot of good points, and I like how you were able to make them without being "preachy". :) It's an every day struggle to convince my children that they don't need dessert all the time, but that it is called a "treat" for a reason!

    1. I so remember when our boys were little and it would be a struggle with them about eating sweets, but it paid off eventually! We just don't keep a lot of sweet stuff around the house and if I bake, I just figure they're going to eat it up pretty fast. So I either freeze some of it or let everyone get their fill and not bake for awhile. Not eating much sugar makes fruit much more tempting for us non-fruit lovers... Thanks for reading! :)

  6. Hi Nancy,
    Visiting from Deborah Jean's. I'm going to pin your post for future reference. I am also a blogger, believer, a gardener in suburbia and a veteran home-schooler -- fascinated by everything healthy. So, of course, I've signed up to follow your blog. ~Blessings

    My husband and I both grew up in Buffalo. BTW.

    1. It's great to connect with you and we do have lots in common! You definitely understand Lake Effect Snow for one thing! :) Thanks for following, I am following you back as blessed!

  7. Great post and I appreciate your use of references! Good reminder about the sugar is sugar is sugar. I always substitute honey for sugar in recipes, cutting the amount in half usually. Since I've gone off sugar it's amazing how much sweeter things taste naturally!!

    Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not, Nancy. Also, I'm giving away a copy of a new GF Paleo cookbook, Primal Cuisine, so stop by and enter if you haven't already :)

    1. Thanks for your comments and it's true that a little sugar goes a long way after it's limited in your diet. It definitely makes fruit taste sweeter! Thanks for visiting and hosting the party. :)

  8. Hi Nancy, we have kept our sugar consumption down to the bare minimum and as a result, although I am nearly 48, I only have one filling and our three children have none and they are all in their teens or grown up. My husband had a mouthful of fillings as a child, but after living together these past 24 years, he's not had to have any more! So it's proof that keeping sugar off the menu is good for dental health!
    Thank you for sharing and delighted you popped by Seasonal Celebration Wednesday.Hope to welcome you back tomorrow! Rebecca @ Natural Mothers Network x

    1. A great testimony for sure...thanks for sharing your experience. I really love hearing people's own testimonials when it comes to nutrition and natural remedies. It helps having people who go on before and can share what they've learned. Thanks so much for hosting!

  9. I just went off sugar in January. I was having medical issues related to it and never have I felt so good. I've been posting on my blog about it if you'd like to read about my sugar free adventure. So glad I've found a kindred spirit (I mean I totally appreciate the fun posts of cupcakes, etc.) but they just can't be part of my diet anymore...oh well..I can admire from afar and be healthy.


    1. I will definitely check out your posts! I understand too...I really don't bake anymore because it's too tempting to eat it now. So, I try to save sweets for a special treat once in awhile or for things like my oatmeal...:)