The Dark Side of Sugar

By Madiha Saeed, MD
We are under attack! Take cover! Our lives are being hijacked! From what you say?
Think about the ways that sugar creeps into every corner of our lives: From frosted breakfast cereal to lollipop rewards at the doctor’s office. And then the parties, holidays and celebrations! The cake, candy, cookies, ice cream and the list goes on and on. Sugar is everywhere. Eating sugar creates more cravings, so feeding kids sugar increases their desire to eat more sugar. Did you know that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine?! (And we thought they just really liked it. Their little bodies are addicted to it! Crazy and scary at the same time).

The Not So Sweet Truth
Is sugar really that bad? Our bodies have sugar receptors all over the digestive system that communicate with the brain. Sugar aggravates the digestive system, leading to inflammation. Sugar impairs the function of immune cells, making you more vulnerable to sickness. It accelerates aging through oxidative stress, leading to further inflammation. Sugar can also cause blood sugar imbalances and surges that can be dangerous and can lead to low energy, brain fog, and anxiety or mood swings. It can cause your insulin levels to spike, reduce HDL (“good cholesterol”) and raise LDL (“bad cholesterol”), cause weight gain and the accumulation of belly fat. Sugar in all of its forms is one of the main causes of the obesity epidemic and because it leads to inflammation and chronic disease, it is a major part of what is weakening each subsequent generation. It’s scary that we feed so much to our children!

Here, There and Everywhere!
Sugar permeates our daily lives and is found in over 70% of packaged foods and even in products one doesn’t even realize like ketchup, bread, salad dressings, tomato sauce and even salads! Next time you walk down the supermarket aisle, pick up any packaged food and look for the sugar hiding in the label. You’ll be surprised how ubiquitous it is!
Sugar’s Secret Agent: High Fructose Corn Syrup
While we were all busy villainizing fat as the diet bad guy, processed sugar made its debut! As a replacement for fat, sugar and its secret agents sneaked into our daily lives. The mission was to deliver the super sweetness that we all love but at a fraction of the cost—that’s when processed liquid sugar hit the market, secret code name: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

HFCS Play #1- Sabotaging Our Appetite
When we eat, our pancreas releases insulin so that glucose can enter the cells to be used as energy, and also leptin, which inhibits our appetite, telling us that we have had enough to eat. Foods containing sneaky HFCS lower the circulating insulin and leptin which leads to increased hunger and weight gain.

HFCS Play #2- Destroying Our Gut
High fructose corn syrup not only sabotages our appetite causing us to gain weight, but it also contributes to leaky gut syndrome, increasing inflammation and the likelihood of developing chronic disease. Compared to the fructose in fruit, HFCS demands more energy to be absorbed by the gut and depletes the body’s energy stores. With extra strain on the intestines, HFCS can punch holes contributing to leaky gut syndrome or increased intestinal permeability. This then sets our kids up for the development of chronic conditions like ear infections, sinus issues, allergies, ADHD, obesity, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other autoimmune conditions.

Say No to Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemicals that have been shown to cause allergic re¬actions and various health problems. Studies have shown that people who use artificial sweeteners actu¬ally gain weight instead of losing it, by altering the gut microbiome, causing gas, bloating and increased hunger. Some studies have even connected aspartame consumption with neurological conditions, like migraines and brain cancer.

Healthier Alternatives
Now that we know the dangers of sugar and artificial sweeteners, what can be done to combat those sweet cravings? Remember, many times those cravings are a function of an existing addiction to sugar, and you may even be feeling those cravings because of the types of microbes living in your gut! Often times, an overgrowth of opportunistic microorganisms like candida albicans in your gut can worsen sugar cravings. The first step is to choose natural alternatives to sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Raw honey, real maple syrup, date sugar, stevia and blackstrap molasses are alternative sweeteners that can be used to help wean off of more conventional or artificial forms of sugar. All these options have the added bonuses of being rich in nutrients, and antioxidants. Some people who choose to go “cold turkey” and eliminate sugar or sweet alternatives often find that their cravings for sweet things reduce dramatically after a week or so. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the amount of sweets consumed, but choosing natural alternatives is a great step in the right direction.

Next time I will give you Five Steps to Tame the Sugar Monster from Within!

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