Sugar and Disease
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Memorial Day weekend is almost here, which means we are kicking off the summer parties.  To some, that means picnics and barbecues with family and friends to celebrate the lives of those that served this country.  Most likely, there will be delicious dishes that may not exactly fit your lifestyle and packed with processed food items and sugary desserts and drinks.  Chef Caleb has just talked about some tips on navigating this season but I’m going to tell you exactly what eating that excess sugar can do to your body.

If you took a poll and asked what happens to the body when we eat too much sugar, most will be able to tell you that it can lead to obesity and diabetes.  While this is true, it can also lead to many more health issues, too.   Did you know that it leads to heart disease?  Yes!  Sugar can be a major contributor to unhealthy cholesterol levels, which puts the entire cardiovascular system at risk for problems.  Excess sugar molecules in the blood, not only damage the walls of blood vessels because of their size, but also increase triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels.  This, then, puts the heart at risk for disease and makes it work much harder.

Another fascinating bit of information on sugar is its connection to cancer.  Not only does sugar create a chronic inflammatory situation in the body, which sets the stage for cancer but cancer cells also feed off of sugar.  When there is extra blood sugar, the pancreas releases insulin to balance out the blood sugar levels.  Over time, this creates insulin-resistance.  This basically means that the body cannot recognize the insulin and the blood sugar levels stay high, increasing risk of diabetes.  But what you might not know is that constantly elevated insulin levels are also contributing to cancer.

But not all sugars are created equal.  Sucrose, which is your table sugar, is made of glucose and fructose.  The body uses and needs glucose to sustain life and function but must be consumed in a balanced way.  Fructose must be metabolized in the liver, which causes stress on the liver, as well as increases risk for fatty liver disease.  This stress on the liver causes a rise in uric acid in the blood that increases inflammation to the blood vessels, increases blood pressure and eventually puts stress on the kidneys.  So as you can see, having too much sugar in your blood has a domino effect with your health.  Once it affects one thing, it spills over into another problem and so on and so forth.

Fructose is the sugar found in fruit.  Although too much fructose in the body leads to inflammation and disease, it is pretty difficult to get the elevated fructose levels from simply eating too much fruit.  One would have to eat a diet mainly of fruit in order to reach those levels.  Fruit also has fiber, vitamins, minerals and enzymes in them, which are so beneficial to our health.  The fiber in the fruit slows down the metabolism of its sugars, so as not to spike the levels in the blood and liver.  The version of fructose that is more concerning is high fructose corn syrup(HFCS).  This is found in just about every processed food and drink out there.  It is very cheap to make and that is why it is the main sugar in our standard American diet.  HFCS is being consumed in huge amounts because it is in so many processed food items.  So, while limiting fruit intake might be a good way to go, I would also add that completely removing HFCS from the diet is a necessity.  Because of the chemical make-up of HFCS, it does not need to be broken down in the body and goes straight to the liver, causing toxic overload and stress.

So what about other non-processed and natural sugars like honey, coconut sugar and agave?  Well, what I have to say about those is two-fold.  They are not processed in the same way that HFCS or white sugar are and therefore, are metabolized differently.  They are also packed with many antibacterial, antiviral nutrients, vitamins and minerals that the body needs.  HFCS and white sugar do not have any nutritional value like these natural sugars.  But if you are at risk to disease or currently suffer from illness, these natural sugars should be used sparingly.  At the end of the day, they will increase your blood sugar and if that is the problem you are avoiding, I would hold off on the natural sugar intake.

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