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Sugar: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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Sugar:  The good, the bad, and the ugly.

By Carolyn Fetters, Founder of Balanced Habits

You wake up.

You're in a hurry to get out the door so you decide to microwave one of those Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar packets (with water) for breakfast. You've checked the Nutrition Facts on the box...12 grams of sugar.

You're willing to live with starting your day off with that amount of sugar.

But as it's microwaving, you think to yourself, "Should I add a banana to it?"

You decide against it as you've heard bananas are high in sugar and you don't want to push your luck sugar wise.  According to the SELFNutrition Data website a long banana (8" to 8 7/8") has a whopping 17 grams of sugar.

If you had both the oatmeal and the banana, you'd be consuming a whopping 29 grams of sugar -- and you haven't even had your morning coffee yet!

Why is that a big deal?

The American Heart Association recommends that people dramatically cut back on sugar. Women should have no more than six teaspoons a day, men no more than nine teaspoons a day.  With one teaspoon of sugar at 4.2 grams that translates into 25.2 grams for women and 37.8 grams per men.

If you're a woman, 29 grams would be over your recommended daily sugar intake and if you're a male it would be about three quarters of your recommended daily sugar intake.

The Good

But hold your horses for one second,  I've got some good news for you.

That banana?  If sugar occurs naturally like it does in that banana and other fruits, according to the World Health Association, you don't have to count it towards your daily intake. 

This is important for two reasons:  1) It shows you the importance of having an abundance of fruit (and vegetables - yes they contain sugar too, generally between 1 and 3 grams of sugar per 100 grams) in your diet; 2) It shows you the importance of keeping a close tab on how much sugar you are consuming per day.

It's the second point I'm going to focus on today. 

Because, in my opinion, too much sugar in people's diets is one of, if not the leading cause of obesity and disease in the world.

Let's take a quick look at what sugar is and what happens when it enters your body.

Sugar is made up of two molecules:  glucose and fructose.  When sugar enters your body it separates the glucose and the fructose.  Both make their way to your liver.

The glucose is dealt with immediately.  It's either used for energy (feeding your muscles, cells and brain) or it's stored for later. 

Note: Also in the sugar family is "lactose" which is the sugar present in milk.

The Bad

Here's where the problem begins...

When you have too much fructose going to your liver, your liver turns it into liver fat.  And it's liver fat that is the cause for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  Plus it increases your risk for insulin resistance.

In addition, too much fructose also results in more fat than necessary being sent out to your blood stream as triglycerides.  This can lead to excess weight gain, blocked arteries and heart disease.

Let's take a look at one way that sugar contributes to weight gain.  When glucose enters your body, insulin is released.  Insulin's role is to enable our cells to remove the glucose from the bloodstream and burn it for energy.  The more glucose in the blood, the more insulin is released.  But here's the thing...while insulin is dealing with the glucose, it tells our fat cells to hold onto the fat—essentially turning off our fat burning processes.  If you're having problem losing weight, this could be the source of your problem.

A 2015 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that nearly 50% of adults living in the U.S. have diabetes or prediabetes.  (The Canadian Diabetes Association estimates that over one in four Canadians (over 8.8 million people) lives with diabetes or prediabetes).

Robert H. Lustig MD, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology University of California, San Francisco, says that sugar "without a doubt" is the proximate cause of diabetes worldwide.  Lustig points to his decade long study where he compared diabetes rates in 175 countries and concluded that "sugar and only sugar" is responsible for the increased rate of diabetes worldwide.

The organ in your body that produces insulin, of course, is the pancreas.   When you consistently eat too much sugar your pancreas becomes overwhelmed and is no longer able to produce a sufficient amount of insulin.  The result is type 2 diabetes and other long term health problems.

The Ugly

In the 2016 National Geographic documentary Sugar Crash (available for free on YouTube) they feature a segment on a man called John Hancox.   Hancox, 68, is in a wheelchair.  Thirty years ago, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  Hancox explains that medication-wise he takes 14 pills in the morning and 12 pills at night plus five injections throughout each day.  He's had to have a kidney transplant, double by-pass surgery and due to gangrene he's had both legs removed. 

He blames it all on his years of high sugar intake.  He describes himself as being "addicted" to sugar.

Lustig recommends four things to the patients of his clinic:

1) Get rid of sugared liquids.  American author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, "Water is the only drink of a wise man." 
2) Eat your carbohydrates with fiber.  Another way to put this would be to avoid refined sugar and focus on fruits and vegetables.
3) Wait twenty minutes before eating a second portion.   It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it's full, so after waiting you might find you no longer have an urge for a second helping.
4) Buy your screen time minute for minute with your physical activity.  Meaning for every half hour of television you watch, exercise for half an hour.  Lustig admits that this is the toughest one to follow.

And, of course, the one that goes without saying make sure your daily intake of sugar is within the recommended levels.  Your health and your family's health both today and down the road just might depend on it.


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