It’s holiday season again and everyone starts baking (or buying) holiday cookies, cakes, and candies. After all, treats are part of celebrating. Unfortunately, they are usually extremely high in sugar and it’s almost a guarantee that they will be high in refined carbohydrates—the bad kind of carbohydrates. As a nutritionist, I am often asked, “Is sugar really that bad?”
The short answer is yes. The long answer includes a discussion about the way sugar works in our bodies and the dangers of consuming high amounts of the stuff.
How Sugar Affects the Body
Studies show that sugar can suppress the immune system; it messes the hormonal and chemical relationships within your body, elevating glucose and insulin responses, and damaging cells. Sugar feeds bacterial and viral infections in all your systems, causing things like mold, and yeast overgrowth and excess mucous in the sinuses and lungs.
Sugar causes tooth decay. Sugar interferes with the body’s ability to absorb other vital nutrients like vitamins, magnesium, and calcium. It can contribute to an acidic condition, disturbing the body’s natural chemistry.
Sugar leads to hypoglycemia (or the “sugar blues”). Consuming excessive sugary foods can lead to obesity, insulin sensitivity, and finally to Type 2 Diabetes, a disease that has reached epidemic proportions in our country.
As we get older, a lifetime of consuming too much sugar and high glucose foods can contribute to degenerative diseases that can remain hidden until our organs and systems age…including cancer.
A Parents Sugar Dilemma
Nearly every mother knows that sugar causes hyperactivity in children, difficulty in concentrating and irritability. The white stuff they all seem to crave impairs DNA structure, can encourage obesity and a host of other diseases (and as they get older this list includes alcoholism. Alcohol is converted to sugar in the bloodstream and can set up the addiction in susceptible individuals.
Sugar causes food allergies, it can worsen symptoms of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and it can even affect your child’s school grades. Convenience foods like breakfast cereals are high in sugar and low in nutritional value…no wonder our kids don’t fare well during a learning day at school.
What’s a Body to Do?
Most of us have something of a sweet tooth. What can we do?
The list of negative influences the consumption of sugar can cause goes on and on. I could write a book on the subject of the dangers of overuse of sugar. But rather than leave you with the unrequited desire to avoid the dessert table during the holidays, I’d prefer to emphasize the alternatives to sweets, with just a brief mention of sugar substitutes. I’d also like to suggest some of the possibilities that augmenting your diet with foods designed to address sugar craving while producing health!
Trying to break a sugar addiction by going cold turkey is a losing proposition. Like any addiction it can lead back to an increased desire for the stuff because of the psychology of deprivation among other issues. It is much better to ease out of a sugar jones by using an allowable substitute, like stevia, which comes from a leaf and, like licorice, is naturally sweet. Be careful of some of the additives used in some brands by reading labels carefully. Sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol are all suspect because they contain sugar alcohols and are made from sugar. They generally contain half the calories of sugar, but because of their sugar origin and processed nature, it would be best to avoid consuming sugar substitutes containing these substances. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet when it comes to substitutes for sugar.
Agave, maple syrup and honey have been touted as “safe” and “natural” substitutes. And, because they are more natural than white processed sugar, they are a “better” choice. But restricted consumption should be observed, as finally, these substitutes overstress the body by acting just like sugar, aggravating all the symptoms that high glucose causes within the body.