Sweet Misery: How our sweet tooth is killing us

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There are lots of things in the standard American diet that we could do without. Anything that turns something whole and real into what Michael Pollan so aptly calls “edible food-like substances,” is doing nothing for our health or our waistlines. Today I want to focus on one of these in particular: sugar.

Sugar is, in my mind, one of the most evil substances in our diet. For one, it’s ubiquitous. I’m on week two of a two-week sugar cleanse and it has shocked me (even me, and I know lots about this stuff) how sugar is in EVERYTHING. From your sauces, salad dressings, your bacon (yes, almost all processed meats, and bacon does qualify as processed, have some form of sugar), your morning yogurt and cereal, all of them contain sugar. The only place that’s safe (unsurprisingly) is whole, real, fresh food.

Sugar was once a rarity – only consumed by the wealthy and on special occasions. In 1700 we only consumed about four pounds of sugar per person per year – that’s not a lot. Now, more than half of Americans consume a half pound of sugar daily. That’s 180 pounds of sugar per year. Egads.

Sugar’s omnipresence wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t so bad for us. Eating sugar, or any meal dominated by starchy carbohydrates for that matter, causes a spike in blood sugar which causes a spike in insulin.

Basically, insulin’s job is to take the excess sugar out of our blood, and store it as fat for later use. When our blood sugar spikes too quickly (you know, the sugar high we love so much), that insulin does such a good job that our sugar levels then dive down too low (that oh-my-god I need a nap feeling of the sugar crash) and what do we do? Reach for more sugar, or a cup of coffee (a subject for a whole other post) to bring us out of that funk. And the cycle repeats.

If you’re paying attention to the finer details, you’ll notice that in this sugar high and crash cycle, we’re storing fat, but not necessarily using it when we crash. At that point of crashing, our body’s in a state of emergency and can’t mobilize the fat quickly enough. So it goes something like this: eat sugar – woo-hoo sugar high! – store fat – uh-oh sugar low -’ emergency!- eat more sugar/drink coffee – repeat.

This cycle equals weight gain, and is a direct path to diabetes and a host of other sugar handling problems.

And it’s not just about the weight. Sugar damages our bodies in many ways:

  • it’s highly acidifying (an environment in which diseases thrive)
  • it’s inflammatory (think of all those inflammation-based conditions we struggle with: all the ‘itis’s” – arthritis, colitis, bronchitis…)
  • it contributes to depression and other mood disorders
  • it’s addictive
  • it’s a major factor in messing with our cholesterol levels and increasing triglycerides (those numbers your Doc is watching closely)
  • it suppresses your immune system
  • it can cause digestive distress and headaches

And I could go on. (If you want the full skinny on how sugar is messing with us on a grand scale, check out this great and very comprehensive article on Dr. Mercola’s site)

So, what is the one most powerful thing you can do for your health? Cut the sweet stuff. It can be that simple.

If you need a little help and want to kick your sugar habit to the curb, join me and others on the sugar cleanse.

9 Comments

  1. Margaret. This post is so poignant. Sugar is one of the 2 things that I was told to cut out post cancer. The other was alcohol. They didn’t seem to mind coffee too much – which is a bit weird, but have weaned myself off that too. Super informative. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much, Nicola! It’s one of my “pet” issues so to speak.

  2. That insulin spike also damages our skin cells, damaging and aging your skin faster (see The Perricone Prescription). If the other reasons aren’t enough to limit your sugar intake, that reason will at least inspire people in LA to do so!

    Hint: to avoid spiking your blood sugar, always eat some protein first to bring your blood sugar level up slowly, then eat the sweets.

    Thanks for the valuable info, Margaret!

    • That’s absolutely correct, Robert. Generally speaking, sugar causes faster aging in all aspects of your body. It should be the first thing removed if one is concerned with looking & feeling young for as long as possible.

  3. Sierra

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    What about sugar in fruit? I find I seem to be overeating fruit lately trying to avoid “sugar” like chocolate. Will fruit make you fat?

    • Hi Sierra – great question about the sugar in fruit. In small quantities (1-2 pieces of fruit per day, max – and definitely NOT juice) then it’s okay because it comes with all sorts of other nutrients plus the fiber that slows down the body’s absorption of the sugar. But fructose is actually on the fast track to fat in the body regardless of its source. So, enjoy some fruit, but – as with all things – in moderation.

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