Sugar - Proceed with Caution
Over the last 25 years the health and well-being of the average American has declined. Waist sizes, as well as the number of chronic diseases have increased, and still we seem to be trying to figure out what caused this and what can be done about it. This blog (based on Catherine Guthrie's article Sugar Breakdown) will outline one of the biggest contributors to declining health: sugar.
I was shocked to find out that in the last 25 years, the average American went from eating 123 pounds of sugar a year to 160 pounds. Ironically, much of the increase in sugar-filled foods occurred after the USDA started recommending a low- or no-fat diet (see previous blog post, Go ahead, eat some (healthy) fat), but replacing high fat diets with high sugar diets proved to be replacing one evil with another.
Sugar can be either a simple or complex carbohydrate, and it is the former that can present problems for our health. Simple carbs are released into the bloodstream quickly, while complex carbs take time for the body to break down and is released into your blood more gradually.
When we eat either a lot of sugar or simple carbs, the blood gets a surge of sugar and the only way for the body to off-set this surge is by releasing insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. High-carb diets leave our pancreas overworked and very often our cells become desensitized to the constant presence of insulin. In other words our cells are less efficient at taking that sugar out of the blood stream and storing it in the liver, and so our blood sugar levels remain elevated, which leaves us open to inflammation and which is quite damaging to many tissues in our body. Further, any sugar that cannot be stored in the liver, is converted to fat, and so sugar in excess of what your body needs always leads to weight gain.
Regardless of weight and age, decreasing our overall carb/sugar intake is beneficial to our health. While it is ideal to reduce the amount of refined, simple carbs, it is not reasonable to completely remove them from our diets. Here are some things you can do to decrease your sugar and simple carb intake:
Replace soda and sugary fruit juices (the largest sugar culprit) with water, herbal tea or juice you squeeze at home. And if you are drinking juice, have it with a meal to reduce the impact of the sugar spike.
Cut back on refined carbs such as breads, white pasta and cereals.
Replace white sugar sweeteners with natural sweeteners such as agave or malted barley.
Swap out a bread or baked pastry with whole fruits. While fruits still have carbs and sugar, the body is able to break down the fruit as a complex carb, slowly over time.
If you eat rice or pasta, choose brown rice and whole grain pasta.