Think twice before giving in to that sweet tooth. The epic battle of the bulge in our waistlines starts with sugar.
Sugar is sugar, according to the latest ad campaigns concerning corn sugar. They actually have a point. Once sugar enters the blood stream, it is metabolized by our body in pretty much the same way, no matter the source. Table sugar, corn sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, coconut sugar, and even the sugars found in fruits are absorbed, broken down, and stored in much the same way. But sugar sources and the amounts that come with them are not the same.
The problem is the average consumption of sugar has risen sharply over the years, and our bodies are ill equipped to handle this change. Before the 1800s, each person consumed a mere four pounds of sugar per year. This amount slowly climbed as the cheaper cane sugar became more available. Then corn syrup hit the market in the 1970s, offering an even cheaper alternative. Our consumption continued to rise. More and more companies started adding these inexpensive extra sugars to a multitude of products to make them more appealing, flavorful, and a little addictive.
Most processed food contains some amount of sugar now. It hides in foods we may not even suspect, things like ketchup, hot dogs, salad dressings, cereal, and even canned vegetables. We drink it in soda and juices that are masked with healthy labels. Our consumption has skyrocketed. Believe it or not, the average American now consumes roughly one hundred and eighty pounds of sugar a year. That’s forty-five times what our great-grandparents were eating. Can we assume such a drastic change comes without any consequence?
Our bodies were designed to absorb the sugars found in fruits, vegetables, and grains that are slowed by fiber and water content. Processed foods concentrate sugars and this elevated level of sugars in our systems alters the way we metabolize them. When the body absorbs fructose, it sends this simple sugar to the liver to be transformed into the more usable glucose that any cell in our body can use. When flooded with large amounts of fructose quickly, the liver is overwhelmed and begins to turn fructose into fats instead, including triglycerides. This quickly leads to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity. Obesity then increases the risk of diabetes, further complicates heart conditions, and raises the chance of developing certain cancers.
Large amounts of sugar interfere with the hormones insulin and leptin, creating resistance to these important signals that tell our body when to take up glucose and when to burn fats. Sugar triggers the release of pleasant endorphins in the reward center of the brain, much like many drugs. It can be highly addictive and hard to resist for many of us. Fructose also doesn’t trigger the same feeling of satiety that glucose does, making it even harder to satisfy or resist the cravings.
So, what can we do to be healthier? I’d say eliminate all cane sugar, corn syrup, and processed white flour from our diets, but I know not everyone is ready for that. So, let’s start by drastically limiting our sugar intake. It’s time to start paying attention to labels on our food. Look for sugar and know that it can be concealed under many names like syrup, malt, caramel, crystallized, honey, juice concentrate, dextran, maltodextrin, and anything that ends in -ose. If any type of sugar is in the first three ingredients, don’t buy it.
We can use spices to flavor and sweeten food. Add cinnamon or vanilla to your coffee and other beverages instead of sugar. Many recipes use sugar just to add flavor where you can use spices. Cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, cardamom, and allspice all add a note of pleasant sweetness without the downsides of sugar. They are also full of powerful antioxidants. Cinnamon may actually help stabilize blood sugar too. In baking, reducing the amount of sugar often doesn’t affect the recipe much, or you can use fruit puree substitutes like applesauce, bananas, or prunes.
Remove soda and juices that aren’t 100% juice from your diet. Fresh fruit makes a better addition to our meals. Use fruit on waffles, pancakes, in our cereal, or as a sweet snack when we need that rewarding boost. Yes, fruit has sugar in it too, but in smaller amounts and combined by nature with fiber that slows absorption, vitamins for health, and antioxidants that naturally fight against aging.
This is just the beginning of your battle to win back your health and your weight from the devastating effects of sugar. You can do it!