Friday, June 21, 2013

Sugar – How can something we love, be so bad for us?

Oh how we love sugar!  Birthday cakes with buttercream frosting, smarties that make your salivary glands go into over drive and cotton candy at a fair. We can all name our favorite sugary treat.  

A few years back I read about a study that followed addicts in rehab. They divided them into two groups.  One group could have sugar while in rehab and the second group could not.  The group that did not have sugar had fewer addicts relapse than the group that could have sugar.  The conclusion was that the group who could have sugar just replaced one addiction with another.  More on this in a minute…..

While I was working on my Nutrition Certification we were given a list of 78 ways sugar can ruin your health.  Don’t worry I’m not going to give you all 78 but here are a few. 

  • Sugar can increase the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Sugar interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium.  (a symptom of calcium and magnesium deficiency is sugar cravings – a vicious cycle)
  • Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines
  • Sugar can contribute to hormonal imbalances
  • Sugar can increase the body’s fluid retention
  • Sugar can increase the amount of fat in the liver
If you want to lose weight and reduce body fat, it makes sense to dramatically cut the amount of sugar in your diet. If you want to live a healthy life and reduce your risk for disease, take out the sugar.

What about fruit?  Fruit is a healthy choice because it contains vitamins, minerals and fiber along with the sugar.  And that sugar is naturally occurring.  Very different from what you get in a Twinkie or Skittles.   Here is a list of fruit according to sugar content.  My advice is to watch how you react or feel after eating the high sugar fruits.  If you feel shaky after eating a piece of high sugar fruit as a snack then you probably want to have it with some protein and fat.  An example would be some grapes with a handful of almonds or maybe you only eat that fruit after a meal.  The other choice is to avoid the high sugar fruits and just eat the low sugar fruits. 

Lowest in Sugar
Small Amounts of Lemon and Lime

Low to Medium in Sugar
Casaba Melon
Honeydew Melons

Fairly High in Sugar
Pears Pineapple

Very High in Sugar
Dried Fruit 

  • Dates
  • Raisins
  • Dried Apricots
  • Prunes
So back to sugar and addiction.   Dr. Daniel Amen has written many books on health and diet.  He recently released an ebook titled “Sugar on the Brain:  How to Avoid Psychobetes”.  He explains that all types of sugar, bread, pasta and rice can trigger a release of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in your brain that boosts your mood and makes you feel relaxed.   And guess what?  When that feeling goes away, what do you do?  You seek sugar to get that feeling again. Dopamine (the reward neurotransmitter) comes into play next.   It makes you feel energized and excited.  It’s like Vegas!

This may sound a bit left field but dopamine is what makes you feel high when you use cocaine.  This excerpt from Dr Amen’s ebook explains the cocaine reference: 
“Recent research has shown that eating something sweet can actually be more rewarding than cocaine.  In a study published in the journal PLoS One researchers took two groups of rats and let them choose between water sweetened with saccharine and intravenous cocaine.  The results were stunning.”
“A whopping 94 percent of the animals chose the sweetened water over cocaine.  As if this weren’t enough to blow the researchers away, they decided to repeat the experiment using sucrose – regular old table sugar.  The results were exactly the same.  In fact, the rats continued to choose sweet flavors over cocaine even after they had been injected with the drug and the amounts were escalated in patterns classically seen in addicts.  No matter how much cocaine they gave the rats, the vast majority of them continued to choose sugar.”
Here is what researchers concluded: 
Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and addicted individuals.  We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants.  In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants.  The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.”

Ok one last thing from Dr Amen’s book:
“Our ancient ancestors ate only about 22 teaspoons of sugar a year.  That’s about 110 grams, which is equivalent to one large apple – per year!  Today, American’s eat between 150-180 pounds of sugar per person per year or about half a pound (454 grams) a day.”

For this next week, pay attention to your sugar consumption.  Dramatically reducing your sugar intake will definitely get you closer to your health goals

To your health,
Anne Allen, NC

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