I was scratching my head this morning, wondering what to write about for this issue, when I noticed
the calendar and then it hit me. Christmas is virtually upon us. It’s that time of the year when poor food choices abound. For some, it means an entire month of non-stop indulging. Oh sure, we bone up on our survival tactics, sneaking in healthy meals just to alleviate the guilt of poor choices at yesterday’s potluck (yet again). And by the time the holidays are done, most of us have put on between three and ve pounds of unwanted body fat.
But is weight gain the only damage caused by excessive sugar intake? The science community has recently issued a spate of news-worthy discoveries on the ill effects of sugar. In particular sugar has nally been outed for its role in obesity, diabetes, in ammatory disease and even cancer metabolism.
To help you be smart in your holiday treat selections get to know how this stuff affects your body. Blood glucose (sugar) and the insulin response is a tightly regulated biochemical process that is meant to keep the amount of sugar circulating in the body within a very narrow range. But what happens to that biochemical process when we dump too much sugar into our bodies?
When your body is faced with too much sugar, it uses what it needs and then stores the rest as fat. Part of this storage process places an enormous burden on your liver as this organ is the primary means of transforming and transporting sugar into usable energy or stored fat. Overtaxing your liver in this manner will ultimately have the same effect as years of drinking alcohol. According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now the most common liver disease in Canada.
Next, excessive sugar will also knock the hormones involved in hunger/satiety signaling out of whack. Here’s how: Insulin, the hormone used to manage the levels of sugar in the blood stream, is also the hormone needed to turn off Ghrelin. Because of overburdened Insulin, the Ghrelin messaging signals that control satiety never reach your brain. So, you literally keep eating because you do not know you’re full. Ultimately this means still more sugar is going into your body which perpetuates this cycle. And that is at one sitting. Shortly after eating, your hormone levels and blood sugar start to level out, but not for long. For as high as insulin spikes to manage all that sugar, is as low as it will dip during the recovery phase.
When your body detects that your blood sugar is low, you will feel hungry and eat again. Over time this can lead to an exhaustion of the insulin receptors found in the liver and can lead to insulin resistance or type-2 diabetes.
We’re not done yet. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that processed sugars trigger the release of in ammatory messengers called cytokines resulting in increased in ammation throughout the body. And the American Arthritis Foundation lists sugar as the number one food to avoid if you suffer from arthritis. It’s pretty clear; sugar plays a signi cant role in the body’s in am- matory response. In ammation is normal, lifesaving in fact. But when it becomes chronic it leads to a multitude of problems such as arthritis are ups, heart disease, even Alzheimer’s.
And most recently, after extensive study, researchers at Nature Communications have reported that “cancer cells share the unusual characteristic of favoring fermentation of sugar over respiration” which lends creditability to the popularly held belief that sugar “feeds” cancer cell growth.
And yet, with all of this available information, North Americans remain the largest consumers of sugar. In fact, we positively love sugar. The average adult over- consumes it at about 400% the maximum daily allotment. A normal healthy diet should include no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar daily. On average, we consume twenty- two teaspoons (or 110 grams) per day. That equates to 88.5lbs of sugar (or 18 x 5lb bags) per year! And that is added sugar. It doesn’t include all those starchy carbohy- drates like potatoes or breads, or the naturally occurring sugars in fruit. And before you think to yourself “yes, but I use agave”, know this: sugar is sugar is sugar. It has the same metabolic effect no matter its form. But labels rarely confess to a food’s true sugar content, so look for words like sucrose (table sugar), cane sugar or syrup, fruit-juice concentrates, nectars, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweeteners, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, corn sweetener or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) anhydrous dextrose, or other words ending in “-ose,” the chemical su x for sugars. Packaged foods, condiments, salad dressings, processed meats, soda pop, dairy products all contain one or multiple forms of these aforementioned sweeteners.
Now that I have rmly established myself as The Grinch of 2017, not all is lost. Six teaspoons of sugar is actually quite a lot. And when you include a healthy dose of fats and proteins along with those carbohydrates (aka sugar), the insulin response can actually be modulated somewhat. Known as macro food balancing, there are several opinions on what the right measure of the three macro nutrients should be. Ranges can vary wildly from 45% to 65% carbs and 10% to 35% proteins and fats respectively. And if you are purposefully selecting carbohydrates with a lower glycemic load, you are also helping to tame the insulin response. I invite you to seek the assistance of a quali ed holistic nutritionist or regis- tered dietitian to determine exactly where your macro food balance should be and to help you kick the sugar habit—or at least to help you navigate your way through this holiday season.
I have included one of my favourite, low sugar recipes to help you enjoy the season.