Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is Sugar Toxic?

Over the last few years there has been a heap of news on the evils of refined sugars. Many physicians and researchers are now stating that refined sugars can take a serious toll on your health. It is estimated than more than 35 million deaths could be contributed to sugar.

One health trend over the last 3 decades is the low-fat craze. But in order to make these fat-free, tasteless foods more palatable, sugar is added. These low-fat, sugar-filled foods have not seemed to make a difference, as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancers are still on the rise.

We've known for some time that sugar is linked to insulin resistance and diabetes, but what if sugar is responsible for heart disease and maybe even cancer? Insulin has a major growth factor, so cancerous tumors can grow as insulin feeds them.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a California endocrinologist and professor at University of California, San Francisco, has authored over 85 research papers and is a recognized authority in neuroendocrinology. He became well-known for his lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” posted on YouTube, has been viewed more than 2.3 million times. Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently reported on 60 minutes with Dr. Lustig as a guest. Lustig's controversial viewpoint is that sugar is a poison and should be treated like alcohol or tobacco and have warning labels. But let's get this straight: he is referring to refined sucrose and fructose, not unrefined sugars in whole foods like a banana or apple, or those in starches like bread or potatoes. When you eat fruit, fiber helps slow the absorption rate of sugar. When you eat a refined sweetener, it can cause the liver to work harder to metabolize these sugars, and most of it is converted to fat. This can cause an increase in the dense cholesterol or LDLs, which can then attach to arteries and contribute to heart disease.

Dr. Lustig was not the only researcher to make a similar discovery. Sir Frederick Banting, the codiscoverer of insulin, noticed in 1929 in Panama that, among sugar plantation owners who ate large amounts of their refined stuff, diabetes was common. Among native cane-cutters, who only got to chew the raw cane, he saw no diabetes.

Research dentist Dr. Weston A. Price published a book in the 1930s, called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects. This book was the conclusion to his studies, which revealed those societies that ate unrefined foods were in excellent health. Those who were "civilized" and ate refined sugars and processed foods suffered more from ailments and physical degeneration.

Why reduce sugar in your diet?  One reason is that sugar is "empty calories" and does not contain any nutritional value. In 1957, Dr. William Coda Martin's working definition of "poison" was: "Medically: Any substance applied to the body, ingested or developed within the body, which causes or may cause disease. Physically: Any substance which inhibits the activity of a catalyst which is a minor substance, chemical or enzyme that activates a reaction."1 The dictionary gives an even broader definition for "poison": "to exert a harmful influence on, or to pervert."

Sugar has been found to have addictive properties.The brain releases dopamine just as it does with drugs and alcohol. Dopamine is a "feel good" substance that registers in the brain as pleasure. I remember seeing my niece's eyes light up after eating chocolate for the first time. Now all she wants to do is eat snickers' bars!  Luckily, my sister teaches her healthier eating habits.

Of course there are many studies that will refute this science. Unfortunately, many scientific studies today are funded by a sponsor that has an ulterior motive. Who do we believe? Common sense would be to trust those who really have no reason to be disingenuous or do not have a motive or benefit in skewing the truth.

Sugar is everywhere and can be hard to avoid. Think fruit flavored, friendly bacteria-filled yogurts are healthy? Most have 20-30 grams of sugar, or about 75% of what a soda contains. A better option would be to buy plain yogurt and swirl in some no sugar added preserves. And that fruit juice or smoothie bar you stop in at several times a week after the gym? Most of that is pure sugar without the fiber to slow it down, causing high insulin spikes. Many cereals contain large amounts of sugar. Read nutrition labels for sugar content. Different names for sugar include glucose, dextrose, fructose, invert syrup, corn syrup or corn sugar, raw, brown or demerara sugar, glucose syrup, lactose, maltose, hydrolysed starch or treacle. My suggestion: try natural alternatives like pure Stevia extract.

How do we cut back on our sugar dependency for better health? Dr. Lustig states, "I'm not suggesting that we take the sugar out of processed food. I'm suggesting that we eat real food." That's some pretty sound advice in my opinion, and I have applied this to my overall nutrition plan. While I love food, I don't live to eat, I eat to live.

Want to read more about this controversial health topic?  See a recent Los Angeles Times article here Sounding the sugar alarms

MSNBC also reported on the topic here, and so did the Huffington Post 

Dr. Lustig has written a book called Fat Chance: beating the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity, and disease. The book is set to be out in December.

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