Did you know that the average American consumes two to three pounds of sugar each week? It’s true and not exactly surprising since 62 percent of adults and 34 percent of children in America today are overweight or obese. In the past twenty years, the consumption of sugar has drastically increased from 26 pounds to a whopping 135 pounds per person per year. This is bad news because sugar negatively affects us in many more ways than just weight gain.
First, we must realize that not all sugars are created equally. There are eight essential sugars called glyconutrients, which are necessary for optimal health. They let cells communicate with each other and function properly. These sugars are glucose (found in all carbohydrates), galactose (found in dairy products and some fruit pectins), mannose (found in aloe vera; some mushrooms, brans and fruits), xylose (found in some fruits and vegetables), fucose (found in seaweeds, several mushrooms, beer yeast and breast milk), N-acetyl-glucosamine (found in bovine and shark cartilage and shiitake mushrooms), N-acetyl-galactosamine (found in red algae and bovine and shark cartilage) and N-acetyl-neuraminic acid (found in whey protein isolate and hens’ eggs). Each of these sugars is critical to the human body, which naturally makes the last six I mentioned. Other naturally occurring sugars are lactose, which is only found in dairy (milk) products, and fructose (also known as levulose), found in fruits and some vegetables.
All of the sugars mentioned above are good when occurring naturally. That is an article by itself, so I won’t list and detail the benefits right now.
Now I can get down to the nitty-gritty with the bad-mouthing and negatives of sugar. When sugars are used as additives, they become bad. Even a naturally occurring sugar can be bad when added to foods. For example, fructose is good, but when added to packaged foods as high-fructose corn syrup, it becomes bad. It grows horns and a tail with a pitchfork in hand. Sucrose, alias white table sugar, is just glucose partnered up with fructose. The two “good” sugars together create one “bad” sugar. Children and many adults go crazy for that sweet stuff.
Honey, on the other hand, is natural but considered refined because it is 96 percent fructose, glucose and sucrose combined. It is higher in calories than white sugar with 65 per tablespoon, verses 48, and it decays teeth faster. It is little wonder that the honey bear is the only animal found in nature with a tooth-decay problem. It is rare for white sugar to win a battle over a natural sugar.
Another refined sugar is high-fructose corn syrup and it appears in ingredient lists everywhere. It is found in soda, yogurt, cereal, ice cream and ketchup, just to name a few. It is sold in the baking section of supermarkets labeled “light corn syrup” or “dark corn syrup” which is the key ingredient in many candies and some baked goods. Other refined sugars include brown, raw, confectioner’s (powdered), molasses and dextrose; and they are all unhealthy.
Sugar can create a host of problems, one of which is adversely affecting insulin levels. Sugar intake raises insulin, which inhibits the release of growth hormones, which, in turn, depresses the immune system. The raised levels of insulin promote weight gain and elevate triglyceride levels. In plain English, sugar’s domino effect can lead to cardiovascular disease, but it can also decrease insulin sensitivity over time and lead to diabetes.
Contrary to the essential sugars maintaining a body’s optimal health, the variant sweet additives can aggravate asthma; create mood swings, personality changes and mental illnesses; enhance nervous disorders; accelerate heart disease and hypertension; grow gallstones and cause arthritis. They can also weaken eyesight; increase systolic blood pressure; cause hemorrhoids, varicose veins, food allergies, premature aging, depression and antisocial behavior. The list goes on with negatively affecting bowel movements, deteriorating linings of capillaries, reducing learning capacity, causing hormonal imbalances (aggravating PMS!), causing drowsiness and decreased activity in children, increasing fluid retention and causing headaches (migraines included). With all of these negative effects of sugar, the saying “sugar feeds cancer” is not a wonder. After all, glucose is the favored fuel for cancer growth.
The World Health Organization recommends a total sugar intake of ten percent or less of total calories consumed, and since sugar is highly addictive, the sugar cravings need to stop. Some approaches are: to reduce consumption (the less eaten, the less craved), eat sweet vegetables (curbs cravings), drink more water, stay away from processed refined foods and eat whole grains and stay away from artificial sweeteners. Try to reduce amounts of sugar in recipes by adding only one- half to one-third. Reducing sugar intake will leave you with a better mood, more energy (ironically), better skin, hair and nails, and weight loss- a whole new you.