“Dr. Blake, if I were to make one healthy change to my diet what would you say is most important? Meat, carbs, candy, sodas, or gluten?” Historians are calling the time in which we live the Age of Information. I like to call it the Age of Misinformation. For every good piece of information we find there is at least two pieces of equally as bad information out there. Diet is a prime example of this. We are more confused now than ever on what we should be putting into our bodies. There’s controversy surrounding most food groups such as meat and carbohydrates, however, there is virtually no debate on the negative effects sugar has on the human body.
In 1815 the average sugar consumption was 15 pounds per person per year. In 2017 it was 135 pounds per person per year. That’s an astronomical rise! You know what else is on the rise? Practically, every chronic disease known to man: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, allergies, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and the list goes on and on. These diseases that used to only affect the elderly are now being seen in our children. As a matter of fact, one out of four children are developing diabetes or prediabetes. This is setting the next generation up for so many burdens, not only physically but also mentally, socially, and economically.
It’s safe to say that most Americans are addicted to sugar. I’m even honest enough to say that I’m one of them! People look at me crazy when I say sugar should be a controlled substance but let’s compare sugar to another controlled substance such as cocaine. When they are in refined powdered form it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two. Both are refined from plant extracts. Both cause withdrawals when attempting to reduce dependence. You can see how similar the two are. There are a couple of differences though. First, sugar has been shown to be eight times more addicting than cocaine. Functional MRI’s show that sugar will stimulate the reward center of brain more so than cocaine does. The other key difference is the effects sugar has on the body.
When we consume sugar, it causes an immediate rise in blood sugar levels which causes a release of dopamine (also known as the “feel good” hormone). It also triggers a massive release of insulin to try and regulate the high blood sugar level. High levels of insulin in the blood then triggers the body to begin fat storage. During this stage the body will miss the high levels of blood sugar and dopamine release and create intense cravings for more sugar. Then the cycle repeats. This constant rise and fall in blood sugar levels creates mood and energy swings which most of us remedy by eating or drinking more sugar!
Sugar is also an inflammation inducing substance. This means sugar can cause unnecessary inflammation throughout the body. Chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body can cause or contribute to things like arthritis, asthma, obesity, allergies, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, cancer, autoimmune conditions, and digestive issues, just to name a few. The common treatment for inflammation is taking anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Tylenol but those will always be necessary until we cut the cause from our diet.
Cutting back on sugar can be an overwhelming task. There are over 44 different names that sugar can hide behind in our foods. Rather than spending hours hunting these down and looking at food labels, I always encourage practice members to start easy. Sodas and desserts have the highest concentrations of sugar so start there. Stay hydrated and eat whole foods to remain full longer and when you get a sugar craving try eating your favorite fruit. Fruit has a form of sugar known as fructose that doesn’t cause the drastic swings in blood sugar levels. Plus, fruit just tastes good! I challenge everyone reading this to reduce sodas and desserts (and sweet tea if you are feeling bold) for one month and see if you don’t feel better.