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Sugar and Processed Foods
November 3, 2019
We hear there might be a few folks who could benefit from a post-Halloween sugar-detox?
Although it may be unrealistic to propose we will never eat sugar again, it isn’t a bad idea to step away from it once in awhile since the more sugar we eat…. the more we crave it.
"Sugar is the alcohol of the child" - Dr. Robert Lustig
Refer to this post from January that touches on 20 dangers of sugar.
Caution: we are about to get science-y:
but understanding a few of these concepts might help us make better food choices as we discuss 2 of the different types of sugar.
Fructose and glucose are metabolized very differently. Both are simple sugars (single molecules) . Starches like rice, pasta, and potatoes are long chains of glucose (very little fructose). Table sugar (sucrose) is 1/2 fructose, 1/2 glucose.
When you eat glucose, your blood glucose increases and insulin is released to "deal" with it. Glucose is metabolized by every single cell in the body.
Fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruits, fruit juices, some vegetables and honey. It sounds healthy, doesn't it? The problem is when it is not in it's natural state, the nutrients and fiber are stripped away making it an empty carbohydrate that is metabolized very quickly. Fructose Is commonly added to processed foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in foods such as soda, candy, sweetened yogurts. HFCS is linked to obesity and many diseases.
When you eat fructose your blood glucose does not increase so insulin does not immediately spike— for years people thought that was a really good thing.
Here's the problem: unlike glucose, organs and muscles can’t use fructose so it goes straight into the liver because it is the only organ that metabolizes fructose. The liver has the ability to turn fructose into glucose but it usually doesn’t because the body has plenty of glucose to use and doesn’t need more; therefore, the liver usually converts the fructose into fat which leads to insulin resistance it's many related diseases.
So a 150 pound individual who consumes glucose, there is 150 pounds in their body that is able to utilize it. If that same individual consumes fructose, only the liver (which weighs 5 pounds) is trying to metabolize an equal amount of fructose. Keep in mind, though, that the excess glucose not utilized by the body is stored in the liver and muscle cells. The excess glucose is converted to fat and is stored as adipose tissue.
If you don't have a sweet tooth and tend to grab for things like chips, crackers, and bagels; although low in sugar, these high glycemic processed carbohydrates produce the same response in the body as sugar.
How about diet soda and sugar-free foods?
While artificial sweeteners don't contain the calories like sugar, the body is fooled by the sweet taste (just as our taste buds are) triggering an insulin release. So sugar-free, calorie-free foods don’t affect blood glucose but still elicit an insulin response leading to varying degrees of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance expresses itself differently in everyone - some develop obesity, others Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, auto-immune diseases, fatty liver, dementia — so even if you are not overweight, having high insulin levels is not good for anyone.
So now we know that consuming sugar is not just about excess of empty calories. If it was all about calories, then eating 100 calories of steak should have the same response in our bodies as eating 100 calories of Skittles. We know this is not the case simply by the differences in how we feel after eating them.
There are other hormones besides insulin that play an important role in food consumption. Dr Jason Fung author of The Obesity Code says losing weight is more about controlling hunger and satiety than it is about controlling calories.
Leptin is a hormone that produces satiety (feeling full and satisfied).
Sugar causes a resistance to leptin, so eating cereal for breakfast rarely leaves you feeling satisfied. Protein kick-starts your leptin levels, which is why we often feel more satisfied after bacon and eggs. Research shows that inflammation also blocks leptin. When we eat processed foods we increase inflammation- we block leptin and eat more processed food.
Ghrelin is a hormone that tells us we are hungry and promotes fat storage.
Eating food supresses ghrelin but sugar and processed foods suppress it far less than whole foods —which is why we tend to easily over eat junk food.
Do you need another reason to make sleep a priority? Sleep deprivation causes reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin which is why we almost always eat more food on the days following a poor night of sleep.
Gastroenterologist, Dr Ken Brown, says another reason for an intense sugar craving may actually be gut-related. Processed food consumption produces a narrow microbiome of the type of organism that wants more processed food.
Regular use of artificial sweeteners also changes the balance of our gut bacteria.
It is also not uncommon to have a Candida (yeast) overgrowth in the intestinal linings and these organisms feed on sugar. So intense cravings could not just be you craving the sugar but the yeast organisms in your gut craving it. Symptoms of SIFO (small intestine fungul overgrowith) are: belching, bloating, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, and gas. If you suspect you may have Candida overgrowth, consult a physician who may prescribe an antifungal (there are also natural remedies out there like oil of oregano). Be aware of Candida "Die-off" symptoms as the yeast cells die and release toxins-- it won't kill you, but you might feel worse before you feel better.
Now that you are informed of the physiological and hormonal effects of sugar and processed foods, challenge yourself to toss the rest of that left-over Halloween candy and take a break from the sweet and processed stuff! Replace it with whole, unprocessed foods and you will find yourself feeling more satisfied, less inflamed, and more energetic.