In Sept of 2016, a huge scientific conspiracy was blown wide open! Nope… not a fake moon landing or a flat earth, as some might guess but SUGAR! In case you haven’t heard… sugar is BAD news. It has been making headlines BIG TIME for the past few years. It’s led to a lot of head scratching, detoxing and come to Jesus moments. There is a huge sugar conspiracy!
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You!
So what exactly happened? Long story short, in the 60’s the sugar industry gave big bucks to scientists to entice them to blame fat instead of sugar for all of America’s health woes. How much is it worth to undermine American health and indirectly cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and new cases of type 2 diabetes a year? Apparently in today’s dollars less than 50k. Nope… not kidding! But I digress… It took until 2016 to blow the cover on this one and it was The New York Times that did it but it still isn’t the big news it should be. Two generations of Americans have grown into adulthood during this time. The younger of those has a shorter lifespan than the one prior, which has never happened before in history. A big reason why is SUGAR (& let’s face it… a lot of processed food).
The Misinformation Took Hold
The idea that people would believe that sugar is some kind of health food is hard to swallow. The thing is, that isn’t really how it worked. By focusing all attention on fat, sugar slipped under the radar. In fact, sugar sales increased because the demand for fat free and low fat foods took hold. Sugar, salt and chemical additives were increased, at alarming rates, to make these food palatable . No one even looked at the sugar content on labels and the sugar industry kept scooping in the dough!
I remember when my kids were young. I was talking to a close friend of mine about how difficult it was to pack a good healthy lunch. There was so much peer pressure at school for kids to have “fruit snacks” or chips or candy in their lunchboxes. She commented that she had found the solution and took a giant bag of gummy bears out of her pantry. It was entirely confusing. She quickly pointed out that gummy bears were 100% fat free. That meant, to her, that they were a completely appropriate snack.
Our kids are now in their 20’s and I have to tell you it turns out gummy bears weren’t the secret to healthy, kid approved lunches. They paved the way for a serious problems for her children and many more!
Sugar is Addictive
There’s NO doubt about it…sugar is addictive! I mean it is heroine and cocaine type addictive and it is rewiring your brain!
When you consume sugar there is a dopamine rush in your brain. This is the same chemical that releases in the body during drug use. Dopamine causes feelings of pleasure and happiness. The brain uses this to reinforce certain behaviors. Consuming foods that are easily converted into energy during times of scarcity is very important . It is a survival mechanism for your brain to produce dopamine when you consume something that is calorie dense and easily digested. This no longer serves you but you can’t just shut it off.
Furthermore, if you continually stimulate your brain to produce dopamine two things happen. First, it will become less sensitive to the stimulation. This causes your brain to produce less dopamine every time it is stimulated by the substance. So, you will need more and more to get the same results. This means that you will need to eat more sugar (or take higher doses of drugs) to get the same amount of dopamine. Secondly, your brain will lose it’s ability to produce dopamine without this outside stimulation.
Sugar imitates the behavior of illicit drug use so much that there are a multitude of articles and studies regarding sugar consumption in sobriety. In early sobriety sugar craving are especially intense. This is because in the absence of drugs the brain is trying to get it’s “high” through sugar. Giving in to these cravings and consuming as much sugar as you want is often encouraged in treatment programs. Clearly, sugar isn’t nearly as bad for you or as life altering as illicit drugs. In that situation a sugar addiction is the lesser of two evils. But if you aren’t in recovery for drug or alcohol addiction why would you willingly consume anything that would mirror those symptoms? Why would you want to create or continue an unhealthy addiction if you could avoid it?
Sugar Causes Inflammation
Seems like the 2 big buzzwords in health these days are “inflammation” and “micro-biome”. Yay! You get to see both in one post!
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural immune response and it is a good thing for healing something that’s actually damaged. You want extra blood to flow there and you want increased heat to burn off any infectious bug that might be trying to take advantage of the injury to set up shop. You also want extra fighter immune cells to show up and break down and carry off any damaged or dead cells. All of these functions cause some swelling, aka inflammation.
The sugar, inflammation connection
Here’s the thing… sugar is so bad for your body that it signals your immune system that there is damage and that causes inflammation. First of all, we should consider whether it’s a good idea to consume something that triggers our body to respond as if it’s been injured. That seems wrong on so many levels. Secondly, inflammation is really hard on the body. Inflammation causes all sorts of malfunction. It diverts focus from things that might actually need to be addressed. It causes irritation and discomfort because there is only so much room inside your body and when things swell that creates a tight fit. Inflammation can also interfere with functionality. For example, how well do you walk when your ankle is swollen? When you have internal inflammation it is essentially the same.
Inflammation can be a good thing when it’s necessary. The constant inflammation related to sugar consumption is detrimental to health. It is so detrimental that it is considered to be a key factor in many chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer disease . Are any of these worth the momentary satisfaction of a piece of candy?
Sugar Imbalances Your Microbiome
I’m going to be honest here and just tell you that I am obsessed with the microbiome! I could write an entire blog on nothing else! The Secret To Good Health: Your Microbiome, is a more detailed post on the subject. But for now, here are some hightlights…
Basics of the micro-biome
The microbiome includes all of the micro organisms that live on or in your body. It has been estimated that there are about 10 times more microbial cells than there are human cells in and on your body. The current estimated figure is around 100 trillion cells. The microbiota are so important that more than 30% of human breast milk is not digestible but instead feeds microbiota.
For some people this is a super cool idea. (ME! ME!) We have a symbiotic connection to some of the smallest of life forms. We can’t survive without each other. And, for some people this is really gross. (My germ-a-phobe husband!) Which ever category you fall in, it makes no difference. You are completely dependent on your microbiome for survival so you need to take care of it.
Everyone has bacteria living in their large intestine. These bacteria are the most famous of the microbiota and are, typically, what is being referred to when people say “microbiome”. They serve MANY functions. One thing they do is produce serotonin and other hormones and neurotransmitters. Another is they break down food for nutrients. And, they even give you “gut feelings” and send signals and information to your brain. When you are trying to make important decisions, they help.
Sugar and your microbiota
Now to complicate things. Not all of the microbiota that live in your body are helpful. Some are rogue, some are necessary but only in small number. And some are great but when they are over exposed to certain substances or influences they become troubling. Some even have a super strong survival instinct and will totally mess with your body to get what they want. Over consumption of sugar can cause or contribute to all of these issues.
When we eat a diet that is high in sugar we cause several imbalances in our micro-biome. I’ll give a couple of examples.
Firstly, we feed yeast. Yeast loves sugar. If you’ve ever made homemade bread I don’t have to tell you this. We all have a kind of yeast called candida living inside us. When we eat a lot of sugar we develop an overgrowth. Candida overgrowth causes all kinds of nasty symptoms including fatigue, urinary tract infections. digestive issues, sinus infections, joint pain etc. Candida overgrowth also causes other strains of bacteria that live in your gut to die off. This is because there is only so much room and so many resources in your gut. Often the strains of bacteria that die are already starving because let’s face it… diets high in sugar aren’t usually also high in insoluble fiber like fruits and veggies and that is what the best bacteria need to feed on.
Additionally, there are some rogue, super survivor bacteria. They relocate because they are tired of being being starved. Seriously, they move into your small intestine and make a home for themselves there! They quickly find an ample food source in sugar. Because it is so easily digested sugar doesn’t make it into your large intestine. It is, however, plentiful in the small intestine.
On the surface this sounds like a win-win. You get to enjoy sugar and so do your gut bacteria. Not so fast! This is so bad is’t actually a medical condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO (see-bow) for short. You may have heard of it recently. Common symptoms of SIBO include, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and vitamin and nutritional deficiencies (and all of the side effects from that). Long story short… it isn’t a good idea for bacteria to relocate to where they don’t belong.
A last note regarding the microbiome. Microbiota are necessary for life. Every day there are more diseases being connected to imbalances in the microbiome including many mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia), chronic diseases, auto-immune diseases and even obesity it’s self. It is imperative that you take care of your microbiota to preserve health and longevity. Eliminating or minimizing sugar is an important first step.
Sugar Contributes to Disease
Guess what the number 1 killer in America is now??? Nope, not smoking! Not violence! Not accidents! Nope, not even Opiods! That’s right, it’s diet! Almost 700,000 Americans die from chronic diseases directly related to diet every year. Yep, you read that right! EVERY YEAR! That is more Americans than died in World War 1, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf wars combined! I’ll bet you’ve never heard that before and I’ll bet that you’re pretty shocked and upset that this isn’t headline news! I know I was!
The dietary issues that are causing these diseases are basically, eating too much sugar and processed food and not enough real food (predominantly plants). Some of the diseases that are connected to sugar consumption are cancer, heart-disease, various auto-immune diseases, mental illness, dementia, Alzheimer disease, arthritis, fatty liver disease & diabetes.
Diabetes is NO JOKE
So, this one is near and dear to me. I grew up believing that Type 2 Diabetes “ran in my family” and it was likely that I would develop it as an adult. My great grandmother died from complications of this disease after several painful amputation surgeries. It seems that many people believe that developing Type 2 Diabetes is just a part of aging or is in their genes. This just isn’t true. There are things you can do to prevent and often even reverse this devastating disease and one of them is minimize or eliminate sugar.
What causes type 2 diabetes
Here’s a rundown on diabetes. When you eat sugar your body breaks it into it’s 2 components glucose and fructose. Fructose is sent to your liver where it is generally converted to fat and stored. Sometimes it accumulates and causes fatty liver disease which can lead to cirrhosis. Fructose doesn’t suppress appetite as much as glucose and can lead to over eating. This also applies to sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.
The presence of glucose signals your body to produce insulin (a hormone produced by your pancreas). Imagine Insulin as a master key to the front doors of all of your cells. It unlocks the doors so that the glucose can get in and provide the cells with energy. If the cells don’t need the energy because they are being bombarded with glucose they reject it and sometimes they even change the locks! This is called insulin resistance. When this happens there is extra sugar floating around the blood stream. The pancreas keeps producing more Insulin in an attempt to basically sop up all of the loose sugar. Eventually you aren’t able to produce enough insulin and that is when pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes occur.
An interesting thing to note about insulin is that when there is insulin in your blood stream your body will NOT burn fat no matter what you do. This is because your cells know that there is glucose present which is a more efficient form of energy. For this reason, if you have insulin resistance, the common precursor to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, it is very difficult to lose weight.
The rising costs of type 2 diabetes
Until recently type 2 diabetes was called “adult onset diabetes”. This is because it was considered to be an adults only disease. Now it is estimated that 1 in 2 minority children and 1 in 3 Caucasian children will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before their 18th birthday. According the the CDC 100 million American’s either has pre-diabetes or diabetes! That’s 1/3 of the US population! Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the US and the cost of just the diagnosed cases was over 227 billion (with a B) in 2012, which is 2.3 times higher than expenditures would be without it, and it’s on the rise!
Complications of Type 2 diabetes include peripheral neuropathy (lack of feeling in extremities), blindness, stroke, high blood pressure and many more. Type 2 diabetes shortens your life and health span. No one should feel resigned to developing type 2 diabetes just because of heredity or aging! There are many lifestyle changes you can make to prevent it including eliminating or minimizing sugar in your diet.
Sugar is Mood Altering
People often say that sugar makes children unruly, hyper-active and irritable. Is this true though? And, does it effect adults in the same way? What are the impacts of sugar on mood and behavior?
Often people describe the moods and behaviors related to sugar consumption as a sugar “roller coaster”. When you have just consumed sugar there is an increase in blood sugar and it causes an increase in energy and dopamine levels. Generally this makes you feel good and maybe even happy. But sugar levels that are too high can also cause confusion, irritability, diminished attention span, impaired thinking, anxiety and even increased cortisol levels (stress-hormones). When sugar levels drop people often feel tired and fatigued, cranky, and mentally foggy and they may even have headaches. This goes for both adults and children.
Sugar even has a negative effect on long term psychological health and can cause anxiety and depression
After 5 decades of misinformation we are left reeling. While this might not have been the biggest conspiracy you’ve ever heard of it is certainly the most far reaching. Three generations of American’s were completely lie to. Two generations of Americans spent their whole lives consuming a product that is addictive and detrimental to their health. Disease and death rates are on the rise and our health care system is over burdened and broke. How do we begin to unravel the damage? Clearly we need to make some serious changes and our best bet is to minimize or eliminate sugar from our diets. But how???
Sugar is Sneaky!
Here’s the problem! Sugar is SO sneaky. Just like the misleading stories about sugar and fat from the 60s, there are a million insidious misleading things about sugar in our diets. There are so many confusing misdirects here that it feels impossible to do anything about it. What about fruit or fruit juice? What about smoothies? Is high-fructose corn syrup the same? Why are there so many names for sugar anyway? How can you get it out of your diet especially if you are addicted? I’ll address all of these things in my follow up post 6 Ways to Minimize Sugar.
Were you surprised to read about the sugar conspiracy? Shocked by just how dangerous sugar is? What are your biggest challenges with sugar? Are you a sugar addict? Don’t forget to read the follow up post to learn more about minimizing sugar in your diet and getting on the path to good health!
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**Photo Credit: Madyson Olyvia Designs**