Sugar Our Friend or Foe?

Sugar has not always been the villainous character in this play called life. The actual sugar cane itself has plenty of nutritive qualities; it is full of polyphenols, essential and basic amino acids, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and iron. Beets are another wonderful source of nutrition as they are full of folate, manganese, potassium, fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, tryptophan, iron, copper, phosphorus, and beta-carotene. Sugar beets, however, do not have the same nutritional value; they are white and devoid of nutrients, specifically grown for the process of making refined sugar. Did you know that most of the table sugar around the world today comes from sugar beets? Our beloved nutrient dense sweet foods become villainous in the refinement process; according to many of my resources sugar is even more addictive than cocaine.

Now my personal relationship with sugar is cautious and mindful. I learned over the years, mostly through trial and error, that the delicious, sweet stuff is not always my friend. Through my many years of alcoholism I never fully connected that alcohol is pure sugar! Then to add fuel to my raging fire when I was not drinking alcohol I was queen of the Dews, Mountain Dew that is; I was on a sugar high all day long! No wonder I had outbursts of anger at little things that did not go my way or get overanxious about nothing. It took me several years to figure out that over consumption of refined sugar was the culprit to my mood swings, joint stiffness, chronic yeast infections, and unexplained pain. Now I’m able to recognize when I get irritable or my previously fractured wrists are in pain that I’ve had too much sugar. I can also recount what food it was and how much was too much. Since I removed most of the sugar from my diet, I am much more sensitive to the way it affects my body.

Sugar, in its many shapes and forms, is extremely addictive; sleek and sneaky intruding in areas where it should not be such as in bread, peanut butter and even a can of green beans. This is why it is so difficult to remove from our daily diets. Additionally, sugar is in many OTC medications making them more palatable for children as well as adults. It disguises itself with many names including maltodextrin, brown rice syrup, corn solids or syrup, dextrose, cane sugar, fructose, lactose (milk sugar), sucrose, and many more. Then there are the sugar alcohols such as, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and xylitol. We are inundated with sugar everywhere we turn! The refined sweet stuff is difficult to avoid. On average, Americans consume over ~200lbs of sugar a year; in stark contrast, the average American consumes ~8lbs. of broccoli in the same time period.

Most people believe that artificial sweeteners are a good replacement for refined sugar. Please do not think artificial sweeteners are our saviors; some of them have been proven carcinogenic. Years ago, a friend of mine had a coworker who had a brain tumor removed and she was curious to the makeup of the tumor, so she had it dissected and analyzed. Much to her amazement, the makeup of the tumor was mostly artificial sweeteners. My personal belief is that our bodies do not recognize these foreign materials so they just store them in a convenient spot until our cells can come back to work on them later, but later never comes and these chemicals continue to accumulate until we have a growth. The good news is natural sweeteners such as monk fruit, dates, stevia, honey, and maple syrup, just to name a few, are well recognized and utilized by our bodies; they are a safe and yummy alternative to satisfy our sugar cravings.

Refined, processed sugar is an antinutrient that requires minerals and nutrients from our bodies to break it down in order to be utilized in the body. It wreaks havoc on our microbiome and disrupts the natural micro flora. In other words, our gut bugs get out of wack which allows yeast to proliferate and dominate our internal environment. When that happens, several different symptoms can arise such as, fatigue, anxiety, UTI’s, joint pain, persistent headaches, chronic sinus problems, leaky gut, fungal infections, and unexplained rashes to name a few. My latest hurdle with sugar intake involved resolving some yeast overgrowth; I had an unexplained rash appear on my back that did not itch or bother me in any other way. Originally it was only visual pink and pale discolorations, so I did not worry about it. Eventually, the rash spread to my chest and abdomen and became more reddish and slightly raised if I were to get overheated working outside. So, I finally decided to get it checked out; I knew it was coming from inside my body, so I went to my functional medicine doctor. When the results from my microbiome test returned it confirmed yeast overgrowth, just as my doctor suspected. One thing I discovered through our time together was I needed to consistently limit my sugar intake to less than 12 grams a day. This was quite challenging indeed since one serving of most things has greater than 12 grams of sugar. I was already an avid ingredient label reader, but I had to become more attentive to the sugar aspect of the nutrition panel and look up the content in the fruits I consumed. It took a little over a year for my rash to go away. Throughout that time, I learned a lot about the amount of sugar in foods. I discovered I could have two dates without an issue but if I had three dates, I would have pain in one or both of my wrists the next day. Another issue that commonly arose when I had sugar was my ears would itch deep inside. It is quite interesting how our diverse bio individualities display different symptoms.

Suffice to say, my many years of excessive sugar intake has made it a foe in my life; I have learned to respect sugar and not overindulge. I still enjoy many sweet foods though; since I eliminated the highly processed sweet stuff from my diet, I enjoy the natural sweetness of an apple, red beets, sweet potatoes, and kiwis. I am able to appreciate the simpler unrefined foods much more now…they have become better friends than refined sugar ever could be. Give it a try, you may find you will love it as much as I do, and it is better for your health.

 

Cheers to new friends and a healthy life!

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