We’ve already discovered that sugar comes from a vast variety of sources, and is often hidden in everyday food and drink products.
Even reducing the amount of table sugar we add to our foods and hot-drinks, sugar is a staple ingredient in almost every packet, tin, jar or bottle we have in our homes.
The world’s obesity rate has risen significantly since the introduction of these processed foods, and NOT (as is commonly believed) as a result of the amount of fat in our diet.
We know that not all sugar is created equal. For example, table sugar, honey, fruit and veg, all contain sugar in the form of fructose and glucose.
Recent studies, particularly those from Dr Robert Lustig at the University of California, suggest that fructose is far more damaging to our health than glucose. Unfortunately fructose is the most common part of sugar added to processed foods and drinks, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, agave (which is almost 100% fructose) and/or crystalline fructose.
Health Issues Of Consuming Too Much Fructose
Although fruit and vegetables have fructose in them, (fruit even more so) these naturally grown foods also contain significant amounts of other nutrients, fiber, enzymes and antioxidants the body needs.
One or two pieces of fruit a day is more than enough to benefit from their health properties, and their added fiber will help you feel fuller for longer. Avoid fruit juices though, as they are stripped of these natural benefits, leaving mostly sugar.
It is the damaging effect on our health from fructose found in processed foods and drinks that we really need to be concerned about.
According to Dr Lustig, too much fructose – particularly from processed foods and drinks – is associated with hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity and impaired lipid profile.
The scientific community has finally woken up to the health impact of fructose, with numerous studies linking it with illness and disease.
The GreenMedInfo.com website has links to around 30 different studies linking fructose to specific diseases and health problems.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
As already mentioned, unlike glucose, 100% of fructose has to be processed by the liver. Some of the fructose is turned into fat, a process known as lipogenesis.
A normal healthy liver should contain little or no fat.
However, too much fructose entering the liver causes tiny fat droplets to form in the liver cells.
Over time this can lead to fatty liver disease or non-alcoholic fatty lever disease. It is known as this because it looks much like the liver of people who drink too much alcohol.
Most people won’t display any symptoms or experience any complications of NAFLD, but for others it can cause fatigue, weight loss and a pain in the right side of the abdomen.
Left untreated it can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver and even liver failure.
This disease which was unheard of before 1980, now affects a staggering 30% of adults in the US and other developed countries.
Current research is indicating high fructose metabolism in the blood to be synonymous with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.
People with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and the subsequent increase in LDL cholesterol, are far more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than liver disease.
Unless we burn the fructose we consume as energy, it gets stored in our fat cells. Some of the fructose gets converted into free fatty acids (FFAs), very-low density lipoprotein (VLDL) (the ‘bad’ cholesterol), and ‘triglycerides’.
Dr. Lustig points out that a can of soda is virtually equivalent to a can of beer. It has the same number of calories, and is metabolized in the liver in the same way. So kids get ‘soda belly’ in the same way a ‘beer belly’ develops.
More studies are linking increased fructose consumption with the rise of obesity levels, and I’m sure it won’t be long before the connection is scientifically made.
As is already proven, obesity is related to a number of related health problems and diseases including:
- Coronary heart disease
- Increased insulin resistance, which can lead to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.
- Elevated blood pressure and hypertension.
- Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).
- Dyslipidemia (an unhealthy imbalance between good HDL levels and bad LDL cholesterol levels).
- Stroke. According to the National Stroke Association, high blood pressure, diabetes and raised cholesterol levels all contribute to an increased risk of having a stroke.
- Liver and gallbladder disease.
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems.
- Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and wearing down of a bone within a joint).
- Gynecological problems (ovulation issues, infertility).
Fructose and Cancer
Research suggests that it is sugar in the modern diet that may be the catalyst for some forms of cancer. A study in 2009 showed that having insulin resistance could actually promote tumor growth in patients with breast cancer.
The body has to produce more insulin and/or insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in order to repress elevated blood sugar levels. It is these acutely raised insulin levels that support cancer growth.
Other excess sugar conditions include:
- Intracranial atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries in your skull)
- Depletion in the amount of minerals we are able to absorb. Studies indicate that dietary fructose adversely affects macro-mineral homeostasis in humans.
- Accelerates the progression of chronic kidney disease
- Brain related conditions – Depression, mood swings, irritability, hyperactivity, anxiety or panic attacks, anti-social behavior, anger control issues, aggression, attention deficit, addiction
- Chromium deficiency
- Depletion of the adrenal glands
- Candida overgrowth
- Decreased immune function
- Neurotransmitter deficiencies
- Chronic fatigue
- Hormone imbalance
So What is The Answer?
The obvious answer is to stop consuming so much sugar. However it isn’t quite as easy as that if you have a family to feed.
It takes some thought and a little self-education, but the difference it will make to yours and your family’s health should be clear to see.
Dr. Lustig points to two natural ‘antidotes’ for excess fructose:
Exercise speeds up the metabolism, which causes more of the fructose to get converted to energy, rather than being converted to VLDL cholesterol and free fatty acids. It also lowers stress, which reduces appetite.
Fiber slows down the digestive process, so fructose is gradually processed at the liver, little by little, instead of all at once. The slower arrival rate also means that more of it is converted to energy.
How To Curb Your Sugar Cravings
It’s quite scary to think that most people eat and drink every single day without knowing what it is they are actually consuming or what affect it can have on their body and health.
First of all you have to realize that cutting back on a lot of sugar in your diet isn’t going to be easy.
You will be used to the way your current foods taste (with all the hidden sugar) and it might take some time to eliminate these foods, especially sauces and drinks.
I followed all of the tips listed below when I started to follow a mainly Paleo diet which naturally eliminated most added sugars.
Here are some tips to help you:
- Start slowly by cutting down on certain foods, such as carbs – especially white (or simple) carbs i.e. white bread, white rice, white pasta and white potatoes.
We tend to eat carbs at every meal, which simply metabolize into the blood stream as fructose and glucose.
Substitute them with whole grain bread and whole wheat pasta/rice and sweet potatoes. Still aim to reduce the amount of these foods you eat, but in the mean time you’ll at least benefit from a healthier alternative.
- Every now and again substitute these popular ‘carb-food’ with vegetables. This will make a huge difference to not only the amount of sugar your body has to process, but also your weight, and the amount of healthy nutrients you consume.
- Remove a lot of the sauces and dressings you apply to meals. These are packed with sugar.
- If you take sugar in your tea or coffee, try and reduce the amount you take. Even if it’s from 2 to 1.5 teaspoons. Once you get used to that amount, reduce down to just 1 teaspoon. Carry on until you’ve eliminated sugar altogether from your favorite hot drinks. Trust me, it will taste so much better without it!
A personal story: I took 2 sugars in my tea and coffee for over 30 years, and in 2006, when I was serving in Afghanistan, I decided to go ‘cold-turkey’ and stopped adding sugar altogether. It was hard at first but eventually I got used to it and then enjoyed my coffee much more without it.
Just over a year ago I also eliminated milk from my coffee. Again it took a while to get used to the taste but it was worth it.
Now I absolutely love drinking coffee. I grind my own coffee beans and it tastes like nothing else! If I ever had to drink coffee with milk and 2 sugars again I would probably throw up! The taste is a sweet, sickly-muck in comparison to the smooth, sugar-free black coffee I drink now.
Plus I’ve taken approx 8 teaspoons of sugar a day, out of my diet! If I can do it after 30 years, anyone can.
- You could also substitute sugar you have in your hot drinks with a natural sweetener such as a cinnamon stick or honey. Treat it like regular sugar though, and aim to totally eliminate this also.
- Cut down, or better still – stop drinking soda/fizzy drinks and regular soft drinks altogether – including sports and energy drinks which are loaded with sugar sodium and potentially harmful chemicals.
EVERY LIQUID you drink EXCEPT WATER must be filtered through the liver, as they all contain sugar or artificial sweeteners of some sort.
Get used to drinking just chilled, filtered water. Your liver and other vital organs will thank you for it.
- Cook more. By cooking more of your own meals, (rather than heating them up in a microwave) you will know exactly what sugar has or hasn’t gone into them.
- Eating out in your favorite restaurant may be enjoyable, but you’ve no idea how much sugar is added to your dishes. Eating in, is the new going out!
- Check out the internet for hundreds of delicious, healthy recipes you can easily cook. YouTube is a great place to find them and you get to see exactly how the meal is made. You can even learn how to bake your own healthy pizza!
- Read the Label. This goes without saying. When you’re shopping for groceries, take the time to read the ingredients, and remember those ingredients from part 1, that are ‘sugar’ but labeled something else.
- Limit candy, artificial syrups, pastries and desserts.
- Avoid: All artificial sweeteners which can be even more damaging than fructose. Use the herb stevia instead.
- Avoid: Agave syrup since it is a highly processed and virtually 100% fructose. Agave’s rapid rise in popularity is due to an extensive and misleading marketing campaign. Unfortunately any health benefits that originally came from the agave plant are processed out.
- Make homemade soup! O.K. I’m sounding a little crazy here!, but homemade soup is just amazing. You can make an incredible meal with a bunch of fresh, non-processed foods that are cheap, nutrient-dense, and will fill you up. I am a soup monster these days and often make a big batch and freeze a few servings.
You get the idea right? There are plenty of ways to cut right down on the amount of sugar you consume. Just think a little more carefully about what you eat, and do some basic research.
Healthier Sugar Substitutes
If you want/need to add a sweetener to foods try the following:
- Raw honey. Although honey contains a lot of sugar, it also provides a host of important antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients. Make sure it’s raw and not the processed stuff, and ideally get Manuka honey, for maximum health properties.
- Add sweetness to baked or non-baked foods with fresh or frozen fruit, or fruit canned in its own juice. Try sliced bananas, canned peaches, dates, raisins, frozen blueberries, or fresh strawberries.
- Select breakfast cereals with 5 grams of sugar or fewer per serving. Better still – avoid cereals altogether. Have eggs instead and/or some meat. I often enjoy leftovers from the previous evening’s meal for my breakfast. Far healthier than all of the processed, so-called ‘healthy cereals’ that fill stores shelves.
You Can Still Have Your Cake and Eat It!
With all this anti-sugar reading, you might be thinking you will never be able to eat your favorite pizza or ice cream ever again, or drink your favorite soda or beer etc.
Sure you can, as long as it’s in moderation and doesn’t become a daily activity. The idea is to gradually cut back on these less than healthy foods, and to gradually change your eating lifestyle.
It’s actually suggested that a ‘binge eating day’ every now and again may be good for us.
The idea is that your metabolism becomes sluggish, because it doesn’t have to work very hard to process natural, healthy foods. So when you have a day of eating pizza and cake, it fires up your metabolism which helps you to become more efficient in using calories.
I will follow-up that theory in due course, as I rather like the sound of it, and it does make sense!
It all comes down to a few basics:
Cut down on your sugar – right down! Do this by eating less processed foods, drinks, suaces and simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white pasta, white bread and white potatoes.
Eat a lot more vegetables, a little fruit, good quality meat (grass-fed beef, organic chicken etc. whenever you can) and eat healthy fats found in eggs, nuts and fish.
This will drastically reduce your sugar consumption and greatly benefit your overall health.
Remember sugar is not your enemy. It is the added and hidden sugar that is.