Last time, I talked about my personal experience with sugar fasting. Today, in relation to our sugar fast, I want to talk some about the science I've seen involving the relationship between sugar intake and overall health.
Sugar and other nutrition
One of the biggest issues I have with junk foods is not what's in them, it's what's not in them. When we fill up on nutrient void junk food, we are replacing foods that would be nourishing our bodies with foods that can actually be damaging them. It's confusing to our systems because, in nature, most sweet foods are full of nutrition, and most calorie dense foods are very filling. Not so with processed, sugary treats. Our bodies want more and more because they're thinking "What am I supposed to do with this? Where is my nutrition? I don't feel satisfied for long with this."
Where's the sense in putting your body through that day in and day out?
(This is why I sometimes get frustrated when people don't understand why I limit the amount of junk food my Izzy gets. It's not a question of "what's wrong with a few cupcakes?", but a question of "Why would I give my daughter something that's not good for her - train her taste buds and body to crave it - when she'd be just as happy with a piece of fruit or some whole grain crackers?" I give her treats now and then when I'm having them, but it seems silly to fill my kid up with junk at a time when her body is growing so fast and desperately needs good nutritional building blocks to help. Ok, stepping off of soapbox now...well, that soap box, anyway.)
Sugar and disease
It's a well known fact that ongoing, excessive sugar (and refined carbohydrate) intake can trigger adult onset diabetes. I also struggled with frequent (at least once daily) bouts of hypoglycemia when I was pregnant with Izzy and was eating a lot of sugar. If my blood sugar started to drop, I'd eat something sweet. I didn't know that I was making the problem worse and adding momentum to my blood sugar roller coaster. This pregnancy, the only problems I've had with hypoglycemia came around Christmas when I was overdoing it on the desserts at all the parties we went to.
When your body is constantly receiving an onslaught of sugar, and responding with a big release of insulin, it's not long before the system gets off balance and you end up with either an overactive pancreas (reactive hypoglycemia) or one that gives up altogether (diabetes).
The constant battle to keep up with overconsumption of sugar also wears our your adrenals, triggering or worsening any syndrome associated with the adrenal system such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and the like. This, combined with the emotional roller coaster of high and low blood sugar can also aggravate emotional disorders and ADHD.
New evidence shows that sugar consumption is related to cancer growth. (I don't feel qualified enough to expand on this one, but it's out there, if you want to research it.)
Excessive sugar intake can also cause bone loss and tooth decay. I don't totally understand it, so I'm going to quote Sally Fallon here:
"Tooth decay and bone loss occur when the precise ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the blood ratio varies from the normal ratio of four parts phosphorus to ten parts calcium...sugar consumption causes phosphorous levels to drop and calcium to rise. Calcium rises because it is pulled from the teeth and the bones. The drop in phosphorous hinders the absorption of this calcium making it unusable and therefore toxic." - Nourishing Traditions, 24
This misplaced calcium either makes it's way out of the body through urine or is stored in unhealthy ways, such as in gallstones or kidney stones.
Sugar also suppresses the immune system for a number of hours after consumption, so if you (or your child) is getting sugar multiple times a day, you may be dealing with a constantly suppressed immune system and more viruses and infections.
Sugar promotes inflammation, which is probably why I have a fibromyalgia flare-up whenever I consume too much of it. This would also affect people dealing with athritis or any other chronic pain.
Sugar feeds bacteria in your tummy, bad bacteria. If you struggle with any type of ongoing "tummy issue" such as IBS, Crohn's, or Heartburn and Indigestion, you can bet that sugar consumption will aggravate it. Considering the fact that the standard american diet is completely devoid of foods containing beneficial bacteria, and we're constantly sanitizing away any that we might accidentally come in contact with, it seems very counterintuitive to be feeding the bad guys in our gut their favorite food every day.
Sugar and aging
Ok, if I haven't convinced you yet, here's a good inspiration for all of you ladies to give up the sweets - it makes you grow older, sooner. Sugar suppresses the release of Human Growth Hormone, which slows the aging process. It also promotes glycation, which speeds up the aging process and causes irreversible damage.
Ok, should I give up all sugars forever? What about fruit and milk? Don't they have sugar in them?
The resources I found all agree - it's the overconsumption of sugar that causes problems for most people. Also, sugars naturally occurring in food don't have the same effect because 1) They are still in their natural form and 2) They accompany nutrients like fiber, minerals, and fats that help the body process them more effectively.
How much is too much?
It depends on who you ask. The World Health Organization says no more than 10% of your total calories. For most people, that's around 50 grams a day. This is about the equivalent of what you'd find in a 20 oz soda. That seems like a lot to me, but everyone's body is different.
According to author and doctor Nancy Appleton, the average person can handle no more than 2 teaspoons of added sugar a day, no more than 2-3 times a day, and no more than 2 Tablespoons total in a day. This seems like a more reasonable amount for me personally, but it's kind of confusing. To help make it a little clearer, one teaspoon of sugar = about 4.2 grams. Something like 16-20 grams a day total. So, that breakfast cereal with 14 grams of sugar per 3/4 cup is probably not gonna make your list of health foods. Or that "healthy" granola bar with 11 grams of sugar per tiny bar.
Some studies have found that the body puts added sugars to good use immediately after a workout, so if you're looking for a way to squeeze in a cheat, or inspire yourself to work out more, make sweet treats a reward for a completed workout. (This makes sense to me because fruit juice usually makes me feel a little queasy, but I used to drink about 1/2 glass right before I would go running, and it would give me an energy boost without the usual sugar side effects.)
So, there you have it, a list (though I'm sure not exhaustive) of health issues caused or aggravated by the overconsumption of sugar. Watch your labels, read your ingredients, and give your body a chance to tell you how it can feel without being bogged down with sugar!
*All of the above information was found in these sources:
http://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/how-sugar-affects-your-body - I don't always agree with this gal, but she's pretty middle ground, which is good if you're looking for some balanced opinions. Sometimes the all-natural crown can get a little out there. (Yes, I'm talking about myself here.)
http://www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/zapping-sugar-cravings - This is the Weston A Price foundation.
I also referred to my Nourishing Traditions cookbook p23-25.
Do you or your family suffer from any of these afflictions? Have you tried limiting or giving up sugar as a way to manage them?
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