In my practice, I spend a lot of time trying to educate my patients about food. One of the major learning curves for my patients is sugar. It is truly astounding how much sugar is in our food. I blog about this all the time. So I thought I would address the number one myth that I encounter in my practice:
“I don’t add sugar to my foods, so I am ok, right?”
You don’t have to add the sugar, it is already there.
Most people believe that “added sugar” means the sugar you add to your iced tea or put on your cereal. The Centers for Disease Control defines added sugar as “all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods such as cereals, breads, cakes, soft drinks, jams, chocolates, ice cream, and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table.” Examples of added sugars include:
➢ Coconut sugar
➢ Brown sugar
➢ Raw sugar
➢ Corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup
➢ Malt syrup
➢ Maple syrup
➢ Pancake syrup
➢ Fructose sweetener
➢ Liquid fructose
➢ Anhydrous dextrose, crystal dextrose, and dextrin
Sugar has developed a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous. In its natural form, however, it is one of the most important sources of energy we have. For humans, sugar is the only carbohydrate that circulates in the blood stream and serves as the primary energy source for the brain and the cells throughout the body. In the plant world, it is formed through photosynthesis, and is vital to the propagation of the species of each plant. Sugar is found naturally in many foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and even in milk.
The two main types of sugar that we must know about in order to be healthy are glucose and fructose.
Glucose is a monosaccharide (simple sugar) found in the sap of plants, and in the bloodstream of humans where it is referred to as “blood sugar.”
Glucose is one of the analytics your doctor looks at when you have a physical. The normal concentration of glucose in the blood is about .1%, or between 70mg/dl to 120mg/dl. It can be too high, as in pre-diabetes or Type II diabetes, or it can be too low, as in hypoglycemia. Because it is the primary source of energy for the brain, it influences psychological processes such as self-control, decision-making and mood. Thus, when glucose is low, these mental processes may be impaired. When it is too high, we end up with insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes.
Glucose From Grains
Glucose may come from fruits or grains. The one that gives us the most trouble is the glucose from grain. The majority of the glucose found in grain is called either amylose or amylopectin. Both are starches and as such have a higher glycemic load, a term used to describe how fast a sugar raises blood sugar levels. This is important because, gaining weight and diabetes are more about high blood sugar levels than anything else. Keep your blood sugar levels under control and your weight will be much easier to manage and you will not be at risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, weight gain is not nearly as much about the number of calories you eat as it is about how high your glycemic load is or how high your blood sugar levels are.
Not all starches are created equal in terms of how much they raise blood sugar levels. Those with fiber have a lower glycemic load than those without it. Legumes, (beans) for example, convert from amylose into glucose + fructose, which lowers their blood sugar level. Whereas sticky rice and potatoes convert from amylopectin into glucose + glucose, which makes them two of the worst foods you can eat if you are trying to keep your blood sugars levels under control and manage your weight. (Raise your hand if you thought rice was good for you.)
U.S. grown grains have been hyper-hybridized to make them cheaper to grow. They are also starchier, more addicting and more fattening because they have a very high glycemic load. Grains in Europe, on the other hand, are still fairly simple genetically, which is one of the reasons that you can eat pasta in Italy and not worry about gaining weight. That’s how pasta got the rep for being good for you. The problem is that it doesn’t hold true here in the U.S. so if you are eating home-grown pasta, you are likely raising your blood sugar levels and gaining weight.
Glucose from Fruit – Fructose
Natural fructose, or fruit sugar, is a simple monosaccharide found in many plants. It is absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion. Fructose is found naturally in plant sources such as honey, tree and vine fruits, flowers, berries, and most root vegetables. In this form it is not harmful, unless your health is already compromised, in which case, you may have to limit even these foods until your blood sugar levels stabilize. In general eating fruit is better than eating most grains, especially hyper-hybridized grains, because the fruit has more water and fiber which is why it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as much as a starchy grain might.
Sugars to Avoid
Commercially derived fructose is “made” from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn, all of which are usually genetically engineered. This is where things get sticky. Commercially derived sugars are really just chemicals that resemble sugar. Most of the sweeteners in U.S. foods are no longer sugar, but are toxic chemicals designed to delight the glutamate receptors in the brain and basically fake them out. Unfortunately, sugar is one of the most common ingredients in processed foods. There are three important forms of commercially derived fructose: crystalline, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
This form of commercial sugar is a monosaccharide. It is usually created from cornstarch, but other starches such as rice and wheat can also be used. In this method, corn is first milled to produce cornstarch, then processed to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose. The glucose obtained is treated with a series of chemicals to convert nearly all of it into fructose. The fructose is then allowed to crystallize, and is finally dried and milled to produce crystalline fructose.
Sucrose (Table Sugar)
This commercial sugar is a disaccharide compound made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. It is the organic compound commonly known as table sugar. A white, odorless, crystalline powder with a sweet taste, it is best known for its role as a food enhancer, meaning it registers in the brain in a way that makes us want to eat more of anything containing it. It is used in baked goods because it dissolves easily.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
HFCS is both a food additive and a preservative made from GMO corn that is ground into a fine powder and then broken down further with a fungus and a bacterium. It lasts longer than real sugar, tastes sweeter, and most importantly, from the food manufacturer’s perspective, it is cheaper and therefore much more profitable. Most important of all though, is that it is highly addicting and almost guarantees that the consumer will be more likely to repurchase any product containing it. This gives new meaning to the term consumer loyalty. Never mind that our bodies don’t know how to digest it and it can lead to a fatty liver (see below), Type 2 Diabetes, or obesity.
The best sugars on the market are:
Unrefined Coconut sugar or Coconut Sugar Syrup (coconut nectar) – They both come from the coconut, have a relatively low glycemic load and taste delicious. Both can easily be used in recipes. It is light brown in color so it looks more like brown sugar. Here are some of the main benefits:
Raw Manuka Honey – Honey has many medicinal properties. But the best is the raw Manuka honey in my humble opinion. I put a teaspoon in my sleepytime tea every night with a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar.
Hospitals around the world have been using bandages soaked in Manuka honey on patients in order to reduce inflammation and prevent MRSA staph infection in wounds and sores. One study found that when Manuka was used to treat infected caesarean and hysterectomy wounds, it had a success rate of 85 percent.
➢ Wound Healing
Not only is Manuka anti-bacterial, but it has also been found to help wounds heal faster.
Studies have found Manuka honey to have powerful anti-fungal properties. When used in its raw, natural form, Manuka honey is a great way to treat various types of fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and jock itch.
➢ Gum Disease Fighter
Studies have found that Manuka fights off three different types of mouth bacteria that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. It might seem counterintuitive to rub a sugary substance on the gums, but research has found that rubbing Manuka on the gums after brushing can reduce plaque and bacteria in the mouth.
➢ Sore Throat Treatment
Manuka fights several bacteria that cause sore throats. When sore throat rears its ugly head, take a teaspoon of Manuka several times per day, swishing it in your mouth before swallowing.
➢ Acne Treatment
Studies have been done on Manuka as an acne treatment with positive results. When applied to the skin, Manuka can fight bacteria associated with acne and when taken internally, it can help fight bacteria in the intestines that may lead to skin blemishes as well as balance intestinal flora that are thrown off by antibiotics prescribed to combat acne.
➢ Sunburn Treatment
When applied to sunburned skin, Manuka can soothe the soreness and speed healing.
Manuka is a natural anti-inflammatory, which explains why it helps in wound healing, soothes sunburn and sore throat, and boosts the overall health of the body.
➢ Acid Reflux
Manuka honey can help with acid reflux because it coats the esophagus and intestinal tract which prevents damage from stomach acid and relieves symptoms. Manuka may also help to heal the damage already caused by acid reflux.
➢ Digestive Support
Using Manuka honey on a regular basis can prevent and treat bowel problems such as ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Manuka also encourages the growth of “good” bacteria in the intestines and gets rid of unwanted bacteria.
➢ Stomach Ulcer Treatment and Prevention
Research has found that Manuka honey prevents the growth of h. pylori (helicobacter pylori), the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers while maintaining good bacteria in the stomach.
➢ Energy Booster
Studies have found Manuka to be a great source of energy thanks to its healthy carbs and has also been found to improve the performance of endurance athletes. It assists the body in post-workout muscle repair and helps the body to maintain blood sugar levels during and after exercise.
Monk Fruit Sugar – Only buy it if it is without additives unless the additive is Erythritol, as Etythritol is a sugar alcohol that has a very low glycemic load. (See section on sugar alcohols below.) Monk fruit is indigenous to China and Thailand and is said to be 500 times sweeter than sugar. It’s colloquially referred to as monk fruit because it was said to have first been used by monks in China in the 13th century for medicinal purposes. Today it is thought to help in treating a cough and sore throat. The only problem I see with it, is that the hyper-sweetness makes it harder for us to appreciate natural sweetness.
So Just How Do I Cut Out All This Added Sugar?
➢ Limit processed foods as much as possible.
➢ Cut out sugary sports drinks, soda and flavored milk.
➢ Cut out artificially sweetened foods altogether. “Diet” foods, such as diet soda, are the worst and have been shown to increase cravings for sugary foods and to have neurotoxic effects on the brain.
➢ Replace sugary foods with those that are naturally low in added sugar. This can include fresh fruit, small amounts of unsweetened dried fruits or unsweetened cacao nibs. Jovial Foods makes a delicious ginger cookie that has a small amount of coconut sugar. Or make your own baked goods using coconut sugar, raw Manuka honey, or Xylitol sparingly as sweeteners or on hemp cereal.
➢ Avoid foods that contain any sugar made with corn, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup like the plague as these sugars are like sugar on steroids and they will make your child crave sugar all the time. Look for foods that contain “no added sugar” or “reduced sugar.” Just make sure that the sugar hasn’t been replaced with an artificial sweetener.
➢ Avoid processed foods that are marketed as being “low fat.” When food manufacturers remove fat from a product, they often add in more sugar to compensate for the reduction in flavor and texture. This is especially true of milk. Buy only 100% grass-fed milk.
➢ Avoid products that contain “hidden” sources of sugar such as flavored yogurt, processed cereal, granola bars, dried (sweetened) fruits which also often has canola oil added as well, energy bars, apple sauce, ketchup, flavored instant oatmeal, fruit spread, store-bought salad dressings, store-bought bread, etc. You can make your own versions of these foods and sweeten them naturally or find the ones that are not sweetened with harmful sweeteners. A good rule of thumb is the fewer the ingredients, the healthier the food if it is processed.
How to Eliminate Artificial Sweeteners From Your Diet
➢ Check your food labels at home and throw out everything that has in it: Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium (K), Saccharin or Sucralose, Equal®, NutraSweet® or Splenda®
➢ Use natural sweeteners like coconut crystals, coconut nectar or organic raw honey, Monk fruit or Xylitol.
➢ Avoid products that are labeled “low calorie,” “diet,” or “sugar free,” since they all likely contain sugar additives, some of which are likely to be artificial sweeteners.
➢ Drink purified water instead of diet drinks.
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (BED), as well as obesity.
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Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship. This information is not necessarily the position of Dr. J. Renae Norton or The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity.
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