January 4, 2017

By Virender Sodhi, MD (Ayurveda), ND & Priya Walia, ND, MS (Ayurveda)

Sugar Sweetness – Do Not Be Fooled By This Addictive Killer

Happy New Year! May this New Year bring health, wisdom and happiness! We have an appropriately great topic on sugar. Sugar is all around us, some of it is hidden and some of it is very obvious. In a society where we tend to put emphasis on doing what feels good, we often go without considering the implications. When it comes to sugar do not be fooled, it is very addictive and even a killer. Most of the sugars we consume today are highly concentrated; the only real sugar is Honey. All mass-produced sugars are not similar to what Mother Nature intended us to consume and we may not be genetically designed for it. Americans consume, on average, 160 pounds of sugar per year, making it about 17% of their daily caloric intake. This sugar is largely comprised of no nutritional value, and instead contains many harmful toxic compounds.

Ancient Ayurvedic Wisdom has regarded sweet to be one of our six essential tastes- the others being sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Sweet taste is very balancing for our meals and nourishes our mental, emotional and physical health. Once we consume sweet foods, they get converted to fine sugars and stored in our bodies as fuel. Liver and muscles are the biggest warehouses of sugar where sugar is stored as glycogen. The sweet taste comes from grains, dairy, fruits, starchy vegetables, and honey. However, the source of sweetness today has changed, which is the crux of the issue today. Where are we getting our sweetness from? What is the best source? Do certain sources have particular health implications?

In Mother Nature, the sweet taste naturally resides in unrefined and unadultered grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. In these forms, sugar is attached to fiber, with lots of phytonutrients and is in complex form. Intelligentsia of human wants the purest form of sugar and that is where all problems with health start. When sugar is consumed in naturally occurring substances, the body’s intelligence knows how to process and handle it; it becomes more nourishing than detrimental to our overall health.

Unfortunately, what our society today recognizes is refined, processed forms of sugar and its by-products are highly addictive and set us for cravings. The most common form of sugar consumed by the society is white sugar. Most of it is from cane sugar or beets. First, it is highly concentrated and striped off all the essential nutrients. Then, in processing, it is bleached with animal bone charcoal and can have up to 3% chlorine.

Is Sugar, Sugar?

Table sugar is sucrose, which contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose. This form of sugar can be found in ice cream, candy, pastries, cookies, soda, fruit juices, canned fruit, processed meat, breakfast cereals, ketchup and a lot more.

The primary difference lies in glucose and fructose metabolism. Glucose can be utilized by liver but highly refined fructose becomes burden on liver. Much of the glucose consumed is utilized in the body, whereas fructose converts into fat: fatty acids, VLDL (the bad cholesterol), and triglycerides (fat sugar), and deposit into the liver and muscles. Glucose also affects appetite by suppressing it, whereas fructose interferes with the appetite suppressing hormone, leptin, allowing for overeating and cravings.[1]

Sugar has graciously attained many names today, which include[2]:

  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Buttered syrup
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Fruit juice and concentrate
  • Agave
  • Honey
  • Beet sugar
  • Date sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Florida crystals
  • Golden syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Refiner’s syrup
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucanat
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado
  • Barley malt
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Diastatic malt
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Glucose
  • Glucose solids
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • D-ribose
  • Rice syrup
  • Galactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Caster
  • And more …

What Makes Things Worse?

The Sugar Association, industry, and Corn Refiners Association have tried, and succeeded, for the longest time to cover up the true facts and implications regarding sugar. What makes matters worse is that our FDA has ranked fructose as GRAS: Generally Regarded as Safe. Additionally the source of fructose, which is most often from corn, has been manufactured from genetically modified corn, which present itself with its own risks.[3]

The Controversy with the Sugar Industry

The Sugar Association paid Harvard scientists to publish a review of research literature in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which indicated there was minimal link between sugar and heart disease, and, instead blamed fat and saturated fat consumption for heart disease. U.S. Health officials and other health experts have touted a low-fat diet regimen to prevent heart disease, which has actually resulted in high sugar and low-fat consumption. With these recommendations our society got more fatter and diabetic and did not even cut heart disease.[3]

Big cola companies paid the association to suppress the link between soda intake and obesity. These cola companies supported research that indicated diet soda was far better off than drinking water alone for weight loss. Diet Sodas have actually been found to increase the risk of stroke, while also containing harmful additives like colors, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners that promote cancer, anxiety, bone loss, and production of formaldehyde in the body.[4, 5] The Sugar Association is coming around and apologizing, although the true shift is going to take time and increasing in awareness around the issue.

What is the true effect of sugar consumption on our body?

The Research behind Sugar’s Implications

Researchers have shown a positive correlation between sugar consumption and rising rates of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, liver disease, high cholesterol, inflammation, gastro-intestinal problems, accelerated aging, compromised immunity, and cancer.

A 2014 study revealed that 10% of Americans consume 25%+ of their daily calories from added sugar, while 71.4% of adults get about 10% of daily calories from sugar. Those who consumed 21% or more of sugar calories were more likely die from heart disease, tripling the risk factor for heart disease.[6] Now the situation is so grave that our children are getting fatter, diabetic and even suffering with cardiovascular diseases. Studies done in mice revealed that high sugar intake leads to change in gut bacteria that were correlated with loss in cognitive flexibility. This makes sense as our gut communicates with our brain.[7, 8] Imagine the potential effects– where we affect immunity, the gut biome and digestion. Inflammatory compounds that are made in the gut have impact on mental, emotional and physical health.

Excessive sugar consumption has also been linked to poor test performance and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance has been linked to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and even cancer. [9, 10]

Correlations have been made with refined fructose to block insulin’s ability to regulate brain storage and use of sugar for energy in addition to poor memory and learning capabilities.[11]

Human trials have shown memory decline with elevated blood sugar levels. The volume, size and structural integrity of brain structures were smaller and compromised in higher blood sugar levels.[12]

With higher sugar consumption we are on the path to memory loss, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension and even cancer. Cancer cells love sugar and they grow like wild fire with excessive sugar. That is why in certain cancers a ketogenic diet is given, where the consumption of sugars and even carbohydrates are very limited.

Dr. Richard Johnson, in his book The Fat Switch, has explained that refined fructose consumption has been linked to insulin resistance and obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal levels of triglycerides and elevated LDL, reduction in absorption of vitamins and minerals leading to mal-absorption, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, arthritis, and gout.

Excessive sugar consumption has been also linked to Alzheimer’s disease. By 2013, 5.2 million Americans were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. [13]

Other studies have linked fructose to:

  • High blood pressure[14, 15]
  • Increase in uric acid levels, leading to Gout and/or metabolic syndrome[16, 17]
  • Accelerate chronic kidney disease[18]
  • Narrowing and hardening of arteries[19]
  • Injury to structures in the kidney[20]

What Amount of Sugar is Recommended?

The American Health Association has issued an updated sugar intake, according to gender and age:

  • 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for toddlers and teens between the ages of 2 and 18
  • Zero added sugars for kids under the age of 2

What We Recommend:

  • If you do get the sugar craving, limit intake of sugar to a daily dose of 2 teaspoons of raw, organic honey or any other minimally processed form of sugar like shakkar, gur, coconut sugar, Sucanat etc.
  • Avoid all artificial sweeteners, which lead to weight gain and increase in insulin resistance.
  • Avoid agave syrup since it is highly processed. It is actually 70 and 90% fructose.[21]
  • Avoid sugary drinks like cola’s and carbonated drinks. Instead use pure water or fresh coconut water. Luckily, fresh coconuts are available in almost all grocery stores. Almost all sport drinks are often laden with extra sugar, extra salt, and chemical additives.
  • Emphasize the consumption of fresh, seasonal whole foods including vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, whole grains, beans and lentils.
  • Consume healthy oils: unrefined, unprocessed, cold pressed organic oils.
  • Use fresh fruit in recipes that require added sugar.
  • Don’t drink fruit juices as they contain the sugar content without the natural fiber and nutrients that is found in the whole fruit.
  • Use spices like fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and saffron to add more flavor to meals and drinks.
  • Consume naturally fermented foods like yogurt, unsweetened lassi, kefir, pickles, Kim chi and sauerkraut to maintain and establish healthy gut flora. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring strains of probiotics.

Fruits and vegetables are different and have no negative effects on health as they contain fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and other nutrients that serve to protect excess uptake of sugar in the body.[22]

Conclusion

Ultimately, always ask yourself before consuming any sugar: Is it found naturally in nature?

References

  • [1] Mercola. “Sugar May be Bad, But this Sweetener Called Fructose is Far More Deadly.” 2010.
  • [2] Bjarnadottie, A. “The 56 Most Common Names for Sugar (Some are Tricky)” Authority Nutrition
  • [3] Anh-USA (2016). “Diet coke is healthier than water” The Pulse of Natural Health Newsletter.
  • [4] Nestle, M. Food Industry Funding of Nutrition Research: The Relevance of History for Current Debates. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1685-1686. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5400
  • [5] JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516-524. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563
  • [6] Schmidt, C. (2015). “Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut.” Scientific American.
  • [7] Rubin, R. (2015). “’Gut Feelings’: More than Heartburn Indigestion?” WebMD Health News
  • [8] Mercola. “Unearthed Correspondence Reveals How Sugar Industry Manipulated Nutritional Science for Decades.” 2016.
  • [9] K.R. Magnusson, L. Hauck, B.M. Jeffrey, et al. Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience, Volume 300, Issue null, Pages 128-140.
  • [10] Magnusson, K. (2015). Fat, sugar cause bacterial changes that may relate to loss of cognitive function. News and Research Communications Oregon State University.
  • [11] Agrawal R, Gomez-Pinilla F. 'Metabolic syndrome' in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signaling and cognition. J Physiol. 2012 May 15;590(10):2485-99. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.230078. Epub 2012 Apr 2
  • [12] Lucia Kerti, MA, A. Veronica Witte, PhD, Angela Winkler, MA, et al. “Higher glucose levels associated with lower memory and reduced hippocampal microstructure.” Neurology 10.1212/01.wnl.0000435561.00234.e
  • [13] Mercola. “Alzheimer’s – A Disease Fed by Sugar.” (2015).
  • [14] S E Perez-Pozo, J Schold, T Nakagawa, L G Sánchez-Lozada, R J Johnson, J López Lillo. Excessive fructose intake induces the features of metabolic syndrome in healthy adult men: role of uric acid in the hypertensive response. Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Mar;34(3):454-61. Epub 2009 Dec 22. PMID: 20029377
  • [15] Vera Farah, Khalid M Elased, Yanfang Chen, Mary P Key, Tatiana S Cunha, Maria Claudia Irigoyen, Mariana Morris. Nocturnal hypertension in mice consuming a high fructose diet. Auton Neurosci. 2006 Dec 30;130(1-2):41-50. Epub 2006 Jul 13. PMID: 16843071
  • [16] Stephanie Nguyen, Hyon K Choi, Robert H Lustig, Chi-yuan Hsu. Sugar-sweetened beverages, serum uric acid, and blood pressure in adolescents. J Pediatr. 2009 Jun;154(6):807-13. Epub 2009 Apr 17. PMID: 19375714
  • [17] Takahiko Nakagawa, Hanbo Hu, Sergey Zharikov, et al. A causal role for uric acid in fructose-induced metabolic syndrome. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2006 Mar;290(3):F625-31. Epub 2005 Oct 18. PMID: 16234313
  • [18] Michael S Gersch, Wei Mu, Pietro Cirillo, Sirirat Reungjui, et al. Fructose, but not dextrose, accelerates the progression of chronic kidney disease. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2007 Oct;293(4):F1256-61. Epub 2007 Aug 1. PMID: 17670904
  • [19] Masakazu Suzuki, Daisuke Yamamoto, Teruo Suzuki, et al. High fat and high fructose diet induced intracranial atherosclerosis and enhanced vasoconstrictor responses in non-human primate. Life Sci. 2006 Dec 23;80(3):200-4. Epub 2006 Sep 12. PMID: 17023007
  • [20] Takahiro Nakayama, Tomoki Kosugi, Michael Gersch, et al. Dietary fructose causes tubulointerstitial injury in the normal rat kidney. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2010 Mar;298(3):F712-20. Epub 2010 Jan 13. PMID: 20071464
  • [21] Leech, J. “Agave Nectar: A Sweetener that is Even Worse than Sugar” Authority Nutrition.
  • [22] Greger, M. 2016. Sugar.