We live in a sugar-addicted fast food nation filled with processed convenience foods. The American diet has changed more in the last 50 years then it has in the last millennia; putting our immune system in quite a precarious overload. Everyday, more children are diagnosed with allergies, ADHD, obesity, celiac disease, diabetes, autism and the like. Why are our children so overweight and sick, congruently, why are we as Americans so overweight and sick?
The food you feed your body, is the food that fuels your body. Imagine your general everyday diet is like a car, if you perform proper maintenance and regular oil changes, it should chug along for many years to come. But, if you ignore the warning lights and skip the maintenance, your car will eventually leave you stranded on the side of the road with smoke pouring from the hood. So too will your body. The old adage is true, you are what you eat.
Instilling healthier eating habits now creates healthier eating habits in the future. You have to start asking yourself, what is America eating? What really is in our food?
America in the last 30 years has watched obesity double in children and quadruple in adults. Harvard Medical estimates in 2010 nearly 43 million children worldwide under the age of 5 were considered overweight. The children today are not just a little ‘heavy’, the children today are obese; 39% of them in fact, ages 6-19. Which means, that over 1/3 of our children have a much higher chance of obesity following them into adulthood.
Harvard Medical also estimates that if changes do not occur quickly, that by 2020 “9% of preschoolers will be overweight or obese, nearly 60 million children”, that is quite an unsettling thought. This is not just America’s problem, it is rapidly becoming a global epidemic. Though the western diet is defined as a large consumption of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, fats, and animal-source foods, seems to be a major contributing factor to this growing problem, the decline of Americans exercising and living more sedentary lifestyles is also a major contributing factor. According to Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a professor of pediatrics and an obesity specialist at the University of California, San Francisco,
“In the 1800s and early 1900s, the average American took in about 15 grams of fructose (about half an ounce), mostly from eating fruits and vegetables. Today we average 55 grams per day (73 grams for adolescents).”
Here are some of the top weight gain culprits:
- Sugar (sucrose, maltose, lactose, fructose, glucose)
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- Corn syrup
- Refined flour
- Processed foods
- Trans fat
- Sedentary lifestyles
Unfortunately most of what is on that list is also in much of what we eat and in what our children are eating. Sugar and its derivatives are empty calories devoid of any vitamins or minerals and are highly refined. These nutrient defunct additives leave the brain feeling drowsy, foggy headed, cranky & depressed. You may not think you are eating tons of sugar daily, but it is in almost everything. For example, a staple in most American homes is spaghetti sauce and 9 out of 10 on a grocery store shelf, all contain sugar. Add the pasta, beverage of choice, maybe dessert and It all adds up very quickly.
Keep in mind that four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. Recently I did a little experiment where I set out plastic cups with a big bowl of sugar and a teaspoon. I then picked several choices of drinks that I thought were healthy and some that I knew were not. Then I read the back of those said labels and filled up each plastic cup with how many teaspoons that those products contained. A few examples:
- Coca Cola – 16oz – 52g sugar – 13tsp of sugar – almost a 1/2 cup of sugar
- Chocolate Milk – 8oz – 24g sugar – 8tsp of sugar – 1/4 cup of sugar
- Orange Juice – 8oz – 25g sugar – 8+tsp of sugar – 1/4 cup of sugar
The moral of the story is that sugar is in everything and the actual amount that a person is ingesting daily is astounding. 50 teaspoons of sugar sounds like a lot, especially when you are looking at a full glass of it, so, consider what you eat in day: sugar or creamer with your coffee, snacks (even healthy ones), juices, chips, ketchup, fruit, bread, are just a few to consider and it all adds up.
Here are some different types of sugars
Glucose is converted straight to energy and used by almost every cell in the body, enabling it to function properly. As the body digests food, glucose is released into the bloodstream, triggering the pancreas to release insulin and regulate the blood sugar. Glucose is found in legumes, vegetables, fruits, healthy grains and contains fiber, which allows for a slow release of sugar into the bloodstream instead of spiking it. In essence, by making it harder for your body to digest, it creates a natural form of time-released energy.
The brain uses 10% of the total glucose metabolized and requires twice the energy in comparison to the rest of the body. Which means, in order to utilize your mental capabilities to full capacity everyday, the glucose needs to be constantly refueled to maintain concentration, focus and memory. Whatever the body cannot eliminate immediately gets stored as fat.
Fructose is a simple sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and is converted to glucose for energy to cells. Where it becomes dietetically dangerous and problematic is in sugary, over-processed foods and drinks where fructose levels are higher than glucose and your intake levels are higher that your ability and need to use that energy. Like I said previously, whatever the body cannot eliminate immediately gets stored as fat.
When eating foods with high fructose levels, like processed foods, the glucose goes directly to bloodstream, the fructose straight to the liver and skips the digestion process. This causes sugar levels to spike, insulin to be released and the cells to pull all the glucose in the body to store as fat; causing your brain to panic or crash. This then forces the body to pull key vitamins and minerals from anywhere it can to stabilize the sugar effect and regulate the blood back to normal.
Every cell in the body uses glucose for energy, but, the liver is the only organ that is able to break down fructose. Throughout the day as your sugar intake increases, so does the capacity needed for the liver to properly function in breaking down and eliminating the fructose. When the liver becomes overwhelmed from too much fructose it releases the excess back into the bloodstream as triglycerides (a form of fat that leads to plaque build up in the arteries), dangerous free radicals (damage cells and cause disease) and uric acid (turns off production of nitrous oxide which protects arteries from damage). Your liver’s answer to this flood of fructose is to turn most of it into fat and find places in the body to store it.
As glucose is removed from the blood stream, insulin levels go down and your cells start using fat for fuel instead of glucose. For example, when you’re sleeping, your cells rely on fat for fuel. Having a problem losing that unwanted belly weight or fitting into your favorite jeans? Fatty acid pockets due to high sugar diets may be the reason you are having such a problem.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Some say that High Fructose Corn Syrup is not much different from table sugar (sucrose), but the name should give it away, High Fructose, 45% glucose – 55% fructose.
In 1957, Richard Marshall and Earl Kool discovered HFCS but were unsuccessful in perfecting it because they were using arsenic as a catalyst to complete the process and for obvious reasons that was rendered unsafe. In 1961, Japanese chemist, Dr. Kei Yamanaka discovered the perfect catalyst to make the highly refined HFCS from extracting the glucose in corn syrup, but did not know how to produce on large scale. Then in 1971, Dr. Yoshiyuki Takasaki found a heat stable enzyme to create a cost-effective, industrial size way to create HFCS and patented the formula. In the 1970’s companies decided to replace sugar, Coca Cola was the first, which was increasingly becoming more and more expensive, with corn, which was cheaper because of government farm subsidies and could be made into a much sweeter end product.
In 2010, researchers at Princeton University
conducted an experiment on obesity using 3 groups of rats. One group was fed only high fat, one fed only sugar and the last fed high fructose corn syrup. The ones given HFCS gained 300% more weight over the ones fed sugar or the high fat diet.
The scientists concluded that, “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”[i]
High Fructose Corn Syrup = Obesity, that is simple enough. But also too many calories and not enough moving is also a huge contributor to that fact as well. There is a definite correlation between high consumptions of HFCS leading to obesity, high triglyceride levels, and increasing the chance type 2 diabetes to develop. Even moderate consumption of HFCS causes weight gain. And now, thanks to the FDA, companies will be allowed to add HFCS on labels as a ‘natural sweetener’ instead of labeling it as HFCS.
Function and Structure of Sugars
When it comes to the structure of HFCS and Sucrose, they both are made up of the same two sugar molecules, glucose and fructose, which are both monosaccharides (single sugars). Which means they are made up of the same atoms but arranged differently (structural isomers) and so have the same chemical formula C6H12O6.
These monosaccharides join together by a glycosidic bond (the -OH of one sugar molecule is joined with another sugar molecule) and a covalent bond is formed through dehydration reaction. This results in the loss of a water molecule and forms a longer chained polymer from two monomers. Because of these differences in their structures, the metabolism of glucose and fructose is quite different, glucose is mainly used to fuel the brain and every cell in the body, while the abundance of fructose we consume in a day is generally stored as fat.
Sugars are carbohydrates and carbohydrate means “hydrated carbon” , making them organic molecules. Carbs are the body’s main source of fuel and ATP production, which the body needs to create energy for every cell in your body. This happens through the oxidation of glucose, meaning it adds oxygen to the reaction, and the glucose bonds are then broken and energy is released for immediate use. When though, that energy cannot be used, as in the case of when we overeat or too many carbohydrates are eaten or we lead mainly sedentary lifestyles, that energy (excess sugar, fructose, and starch) is then converted to glycogen or fat, in the liver, and stored in various places all over the body, like the belly, hips and butt.
The Liver and Sugar
The liver is one of the most vital organs in the body and one of the busiest. It controls carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar control, fat metabolism, synthesis of cholesterol, protein metabolism and helps to detox the body are just a few of its functions.
The liver works with the pancreas and insulin, to make sure that glucose levels in the body are not to high or to low. When levels are too high, the liver responds to the insulin by absorbing glucose, when levels are to low, the liver releases some of that glucose back into the bloodstream. But, things do not always work out that perfectly, as with diabetes and diabetes II. In these cases, the liver cannot produce or process glucose normally and added measures needed to be taken in order for blood sugar to maintained at a homeostasis level.
The Liver and Fat
Processing the body’s fat is a key job for the liver. Once the liver is full of glycogen, it starts turning the glucose it absorbs from the blood into fatty acids, for long-term storage as body fat. The fatty acids and cholesterol are stored in fat tissues all over the body, generally the ones we hate the most.
On top of America’s sugar addiction leading to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, sugar has now been linked to a brand new disease that in the past has only been seen in alcoholics, fatty liver disease. Though because the damage is caused my sugar and not alcohol, it is so named, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
According to Harvard Medical School,
“There’s a fair amount of guesswork to the estimates, but perhaps as
many as 20% of American adults have some degree of fatty liver disease,
a condition that used to occur almost exclusively in people who drink excessively.
The epidemics of obesity and diabetes are to blame. Fatty liver affects between
70% and 90% of people with those conditions, so as obesity and diabetes
have become more common, so has fatty liver disease.”
If you are suffering from diabetes, overweight or obese, or/and carry extra weight around your middle section, you might be a candidate for fatty liver and should be checked by your health care provider. The main points your doctor will most likely suggest are eating healthy, losing weight and getting regular exercise.
Is Sugar Addictive
On average, people are consuming 22 teaspoons of sugar or 88 grams per day; the recommended daily supply is 25g (6tsp) for women and 38g (9tsp) for men. Sugar addiction is an important question to be asking considering sugar is not only in practically everything we eat, but is consumed in massively large quantities. Food companies have become our drug dealers, pushing sugar, additives and high fructose corn syrup, among many other ingredients that only a scientist can pronounce. They are in hidden in our breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, condiments and drinks.
Over the last 40 years we have seen an alarming rise in obesity, heart and autoimmune diseases, cancer and diabetes I & II. To say there is no correlation here is simply ignoring the facts. There has been a long-standing controversy whether it is possible to be addicted to sugar. Can sugar really be compared to cocaine? Like I mentioned, it depends on who you ask. The culprit responsible for all this uproar is a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine, which is released in the reward center of the brain. Its function, in the broadest terms, is to inhibit or to excite.
Dopamine is responsible for mood, pleasure, learning, sleep, depression, behavior and it has a highly motivating reward system; strong enough to lure unwitting victims back with less of a high to offer each time. This is where the controversy lies, addictive drugs and food use the same reward system eliciting similar responses. Your brain gets excited with chocolate but not so much with broccoli. Needless to say, the brain is not your friend or on your side when it comes to giving up food that excites it.
Caffeine, also affected by the same area, has addictive qualities and withdrawal is similar to drugs, so why not sugar? Sugar has comparable symptoms of withdrawal: irritation, headaches, body-aches, fatigue and cravings. If you are a sugarholic, you know how hard it is to give it up.
Minimizing Sugar Intake
Here are a few tips:
- Minimize the sugar withdrawal by supplying the body with enough healthy fats, proteins and fiber rich glucose to balance blood sugar and nourish the body at the same time. This is one of the keys to success for changing a habit successfully; if you deprive the body of something, you need to replace it with something else.
- People tend to focus on one component of becoming healthy like, giving up salt, reducing sugar or becoming a vegetarian, to the detriment of the rest of the body. Going to the source (your diet) to deal with the root of the problem (overall nutrition) is how the problem is solved and a plan created. Attack the issue as a whole, cleaning out the old oil and bringing in the new
- A poor diet, high in sugary/processed foods is linked to obesity, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, thyroid problems, heart disease, cancer and stroke. It is also possibly linked to dementia, Alzheimer and possibly Parkinson’s.
- Once you start making a habit of reading labels you will realize that HFSC is in most of the food around us. Once the ‘food’ aspect is removed from our food, there is nothing left but fillers, sugars, flavoring and chemicals, running havoc on our systems. Making healthier choices daily not only increases your life expectancy, but also lessens the risk of serious disease
- Ditch the Diet Live the Lifestyle
Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology