The debate goes on…some say sugar is a good energy source and not to be feared while others say it is far more addictive than cocaine…one of the most addictive and harmful substances currently known.
What is sugar and is it all alike? Sucrose, glucose and fructose are important carbohydrates, commonly referred to as simple sugars. Sugar is found naturally in whole foods and is often added to processed foods to sweeten them and increase flavor. Your taste buds can’t quite distinguish between these sugars, but your body can tell the difference. They all provide the same amount of energy per gram, but are processed and used differently throughout the body.
Simple carbs are either made up on one sugar unit (monosaccharides) or have a pair of linked sugar molecules (disaccharides). Glucose is the most important monosaccharid and is the body’s preferred energy source. It is also called blood sugar; it circulates in the blood. Most of the carbs you eat are turned into glucose and used immediately for energy or stored in muscle cells or liver as glycogen for use later. Insulin is secreted mainly in response to elevated blood levels of glucose.
Fructose is a sugar found naturally in many fruits and veggies and is added to various beverages (sodas and fruit-flavored drinks). Fructose is only metabolized in the liver and is more fat-producing, not being a preferred energy source for muscles or the brain. It does not cause insulin to be released. It appears to behave more like fat in the body than like other carbs.
Sucrose is commonly called table sugar and is obtained from processing sugar cane or sugar beets. Fruits and veggies naturally contain sucrose. When you eat sucrose, an enzyme separates sucrose into units of glucose and fructose and then each sugar is taken up by their specific transport system. The body responds to the glucose as it does and the fructose uptake occurs at the same time. The body uses glucose first. Any excess fructose is poured into fat synthesis, which is stimulated by the insulin response to glucose.
Maltose is formed during the germination of certain grains, the number one being barley, which is converted into malt. Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk. The enzyme lactase breaks this down during digestion. Children have this enzyme but some adults no longer form it and they can’t digest lactose.
Granulated sugars go through processing to remove the natural color and whiten it as well as turning it into granular form. Milled sugars are powdered sugars. Brown sugar is granulated sugar coated in molasses to produce the color. Liquid sugars are strong syrups consisting of 67% granulated sugar dissolved in water. Low-calorie sugars and sweeteners are often made of malodextrin with added sweeteners. Malodextrin is an easily digestible synthetic polysaccharide consisting of short chains of glucose molecules and is made by the partial hydrolysis of starch. The added sweeteners are often aspartame, saccharin, stevia, or sucralose.
It is believed that sugar raises blood glucose levels more quickly than starch because of its simple chemical structure. There is a glycemic index for foods, showing how quickly a food that is eaten raises blood sugar levels and glycemic load. Trials have shown without a doubt that sugar-sweetened beverages increase body weight and body fat. Other studies show a ink between refined sugar consumption and the onset of diabetes. Many studies in animals suggest that chronic use of refined sugars can harm the metabolism and cardiovascular function. Some medical people believe refined fructose is worse than refined glucose as far as heart health is concerned. Eating added sugars has been positively associated with multiple measures known to increase cardio disease risk in teens as well as adults. High glycemic load carbs are more dangerous to the heart than the impact of saturated fatty acids. Claims have been made that there is a sugar-Alzheimer’s connection, but nothing is conclusive. Various studies have shown that eating simple carbs has an impact on dental carries, while complex carbs is associated with a lower rate of dental caries. Hyperactivity in children is blamed on sugar consumption, but studies using placebos tend to disprove this.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that the average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar per year. Regardless of where you come down on the sugar debate, eating sugar does suppress the immune system. Sugar is also the food of choice for many GI parasites and cancer cells that are starting to grow abnormally. It is implicated in premature aging, loss of muscle mass, decreased ability to absorb calcium and magnesium, osteoporosis and yeast infections. Signs of a sugar hangover can be fuzzy thinking, fatigue after meals, gas, bloating or an extended stomach after meals, headache, joint pain, constipation or diarrhea depending on how your body rolls, skin problems, allergies and mood swings.
If you plan on giving up sugar, it’s good to know that there is a difference between a craving and hunger. Craving is not your body calling for energy; it is the brain calling for a release of dopamine. Any food can relieve hunger. That is not so with cravings. The bottom line: some bodies just cannot metabolize sugar while others can.
Here are a few tips in the war against your sugar cravings:
1. Sour foods – apple cider vinegar will naturally curb your craving for sugar.
2. Fermented foods and probiotic beverages – full of beneficial bacteria which can drive out the ‘bugs’ in your GI tract that increase our desire for sugar.
3. Fat and protein – a diet light in these foods will result in sugar cravings.