by Dr. Renae Norton
If there is one thing that you should consider eliminating from your diet more than any other, it is probably sugar, especially GMO versions of sugar and most especially High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Sugar causes inflammation. Inflammation weakens the immune system. We are more likely to be infected with coronavirus if we have a weakened immune system, so avoiding sugar is more important right now than ever before. You may think that fruit is not sweet enough to satisfy your need for something sweet. Sticking to natural sweeteners and fruits that are naturally sweet is the key. Real fruit will taste much sweeter once you stop overloading your taste buds with fake sugars like HFCS and lo-cal sweeteners.
Let’s begin with the damage that sugar can do. Processed sugars and sweeteners are inflammatory triggers that contribute to:
- Vascular Disease
- Autoimmune Disorders such as asthma, MS, and fibromyalgia
- Premature aging
- Food addictions
- Eating disorders
The U.S. diet is laced with sugar. For most people, processed sugar and sweeteners cycle continuously through the blood where they affect nerves, organs, connective tissues, joints, and muscles. The more processed the sugar is, the higher it raises blood sugar levels. The higher the blood sugar levels, the more damage there is to organs and systems.
The latest research shows that sugars excite the same receptors in the brain that are activated by cocaine, heroine, and other major drugs of abuse and further that the sugar is more addicting.
Two hundred years ago, the average American ate 1-2 pounds of sugar a year, or ½ to 1 teaspoon of sugar per day. Today, the average American consumes over 100 pounds of sugar in one year. Other estimates suggest an average of the equivalent of 42.5 teaspoons or 170 grams of sugar per day.
There are 12 teaspoons of sugar in a soft drink. If you tried to eat 12 teaspoons of sugar, it would be difficult to do and you would likely feel nauseous. Yet many people drink 3 or 4 soft drinks per day.
Cereals targeted at children are often more than 50% sugar, and not the good kind, which means that they become addicted to sugar and often end up with a leaky gut. (See Leaky Gut Article)
Diets high in processed sugar reduce the production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). Decreased BDNF increases the likelihood that you will be overweight over time because decreased levels of BDNF negatively affect leptin (the primary hormone that regulates eating behavior) and insulin levels resulting in an increased tendency to overeat and store fat. This ultimately drives the conditions that cause Type 2 diabetes.
Cutting back on dietary sugar is the simplest and most effective way to increase levels of BDNF. There are also several simple lifestyle changes that can be made to increase and maintain healthy brain levels of BDNF besides cutting back on dietary sugar:
- The most effective way to increase BDNF levels in the brain is through aerobic exercise. After exercising, levels of BDNF surge. Exercise regularly and BDNF levels remain at a higher level.
- BDNF can also be increased through dietary changes involving reduced sugar intake, eating more blueberries, adding curcumin to dishes.
- Supplementing with Acetyl-L-Carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in fish oil), pantetheine, have all been shown to increase or maintain BDNF levels.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) = Sugar on Steroids
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. Yum!
HFCS is in almost every processed food. It lasts longer than real sugar, tastes much sweeter, and most importantly, from the food manufacturer’s perspective, 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.
The biggest problem with HFCS is that our bodies don’t know how to digest it so it is sent to the liver and often leads to a condition known as a fatty liver. It also contributes to type 2 diabetes and obesity.
But there’s more: Processed Fructose interferes with the hormone regulating eating, Leptin, which results in overeating. Because the body does not know what to do with HFCS, it is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, and is stored as fat.
So it is processed fructose (HFCS) sugar that raises bad cholesterol and triglycerides?? Yep!! Who knew?
When you eat 120 calories of fructose, 40 calories are being stored as fat. Consuming HFCS = storing fat!
In addition the metabolism of HFCS by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and causes gout. The first thing I tell patients with gout, is to cut way back on HFCS, and when they do, they rarely need medication for the gout.
Finally, the fatty acids from processed fructose accumulate as fat droplets in the liver and in skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes and also drives hypertension.
Glucose is found in most fruits and dairy products, honey and some vegetables.
With Glucose, the liver only has to break down 20 percent of it. Every cell in the body, including the brain, utilizes glucose. Therefore, much of it is “burned up” immediately after we consume it, unless we consume too much of it. When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than 1 calorie is stored as fat. That’s why fruits and vegetables are not “fattening” unless you eat too much of them.
Glucose suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates leptin, which is the hormone that suppresses your appetite. So it does not trigger food cravings or overeating. In fact it does the opposite by creating satiation. This is a good thing.
How to Make Life Sweeter the Safe Way
- Manuka Honey – Is right up there at the top of the list. The medicinal benefits are amazing, it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels too much and it is also delicious! Zero fat and zero protein, it only has 17 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon. Use it in tea, in pastries or just add it to your cashew butter. It rocks!
- Dates – are so sweet. Have one as a treat, or make a paste out of them and you can use the paste in recipes or drinks. I have a great coconut date ball recipe. (See below)
- Maple Syrup – A high quality, dark grade maple syrup is a great source of manganese, zinc, potassium and calcium. I recommend the #3 Dark (D) grade of maple syrup to maximize available nutrients. It can be used instead of table sugar for baking.
- Lucuma Powder – which tastes a lot like maple syrup is made from the whole Peruvian lucuma fruit. Like Manuka honey it is low-glycemic. It contains many nutrients like beta-carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium and protein!
- Fruit Juice – made from fruit that is going south is a great way to start a smoothie. Not only does it make it naturally sweet, it adds the vitamins minerals, and phytonutrients we need. Did you know that you can dehydrate it in a shallow dish and then scrape up what is left, blend it in a blender and you have your own natural fruit sweetener, way better than a synthetic sweetener.
- Puréed Banana – Puréed Banana doesn’t just make a great sweetener, it is also a wonderful egg substitute. I use mashed bananas in oatmeal instead of adding sugar. In a recipe, puréed bananas can be substituted for 1 cup of sugar in a recipe – just put 1 cup of over-ripe bananas in a blender with a couple tablespoons of water and blend until smooth.
- Crushed Berries – I am on Keto right now, so the only fruit I can eat are raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. I eat them raw, but when they start to go south, I blend them together and freeze them in little muffin cups. They are the basis for my smoothies! They’re antioxidant-rich, which means they support the immune system. If you want to make jelly, just mix them with some date paste and chia seeds. Trust me, you’ll never go back to conventional jams again.
If you battle sugar addiction or just want to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle, we can help! Contact The Norton Wellness Institute at 513-205-6543 today!
Dr. Renae Norton
Coconut Date Balls – 2 ingredients!
1 cup dates soaked in water for an hour or two
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Blend dates. Add ¾ of the shredded coconut and blend some more. Scoop out a spoonful and roll into a ball and roll in the rest of the shredded coconut. Refrigerate.
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Materials contained on this site are made available solely for educational purposes and as part of an effort to raise general awareness of the psychological treatments available to individuals with health issues. These materials are not intended to be, and are not a substitute for, direct professional medical or psychological care based on your individual condition and circumstances. Dr. J. Renae Norton does not diagnose or treat medical conditions. While this site may contain descriptions of pharmacological, psychiatric and psychological treatments, such descriptions and any related materials should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem without consulting a qualified mental health care provider. You are advised to consult your medical health provider about your personal questions or concerns.