There’s a lot of talk in the media these days about the dangers of sugar, but is it accurate? Is there any amount of sugar that’s OK?
First of all, it’s important to note that some sugar occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, which are important for a healthful diet. Glucose is an example of this type of sugar. It is used directly for energy in the body and can also be converted into glycogen, which is fuel for the body’s muscles. Fructose is another natural sugar, which is found in fruit and honey. Similarly, lactose is the sugar found in milk. Our bodies have the enzyme that’s necessary for us to process this type of sugar. People who lack this enzyme are lactose-intolerant.
Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, vitamins and other nutrients that help balance out the sugar they contain and also help the body more easily process these naturally occurring sugars. When people speak of the “dangers of sugar,” they are talking about processed or refined sugars.
Processed sugars contain no nutritional value: they are empty calories. There’s no fiber, no healthful enzymes, no vitamins and no minerals. Therefore, when you consume these types of sugars, the body must borrow nutrients from healthy cells in the body in order to process them. This causes harmful stress to the body and can create long-term damage. For example, the body will pull calcium from our teeth and bones in order to help process refined sugar. Over a long period of time, this calcium depletion can lead to tooth decay and even osteoporosis.
Processed or refined sugars can also stress the liver. Our liver converts glucose into glycogen from the healthful foods we eat and stores it to be used as the body needs it. Since it already has this glycogen storage, it converts processed sugars into fat. Some of this fat gets transported into the body as triglycerides, some of it remains in the liver, which can contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eventually, the liver can become insulin-resistant.
Regular consumption of processed sugars creates a rapid rise in blood-sugar levels. This causes the pancreas to work overtime trying to produce enough insulin to stabilize the level of sugar in the blood. When they are no longer able to do so, blood-sugar levels elevate significantly, and without the proper amount of insulin to even it out, the body develops diabetes.
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, the body can safely process six teaspoons of sugar per day. Most Americans consume over three times that amount.
This excess consumption causes metabolic dysfunction, which creates weight gain, high blood pressure and elevated blood-sugar levels and triglycerides. It also turns off the body’s appetite-control system, basically tricking your body into thinking it has not been satisfied, causing you to crave more and more. It creates a dependence or addiction in the brain, the same way alcohol or drugs do.
The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has discovered that processed-sugar consumption can greatly increase the risk of cancer. According to the studies done by AACR, the way the body metabolizes these sugars is “pivotal” for cancer growth. Cancer cells use processed sugars to increase the growth of the diseased cells and also to spread them throughout the body, greatly decreasing the chances of survival.
Processed foods are everywhere today, so it is very important to pay attention to what you are consuming. In order for the body to function well, it needs to be fed well. This means eating healthful, natural foods as much as possible and limiting the amount of processed foods, in particular, processed or refined sugars.
Be Well Tips
- Consult a physician before changing or starting a new diet.
- Limit the amount of processed foods consumed.
- Eat primarily natural foods.
- Limit sugar to 25 grams per day.
- Drink plenty of water.