While a nanny who sings her lessons is a wise woman indeed, in one instance I simply must disagree with Mary Poppins. A spoonful of sugar does not help the medicine go down.
With Halloween approaching and the holidays around the corner now is a good time to talk about sugar. 17 teaspoons of it. 1/3 of a cup. About the size of a spice jar. This is how much added sugar the average American consumes in one day. For perspective, in the 1800s Americans consumed about 8 cups a year. Today we eat 8 cups every 25 days.
Have a sweet tooth? Here’s a bitter truth. Our overconsumption of sugar is contributing to a rise of diabetes among children, and some experts say this generation is going to be the first that does not outlive their parents in numbers of years. Sadly, young people today more likely to die from dietary diseases than smoking, alcohol, and drugs combined.
So what’s the deal with sugar? Here are some not-so-fun facts:
Refined sugar is more than empty calories. It actually robs your cells of vital nutrients in order to metabolize and contributes to mineral depletion. While the whole cane plant is a complex carbohydrate, the refining and bleaching process strips it of any and all nutrients. Because sugar requires nutrients to metabolize and since refined sugar is devoid of any nutritional value it pulls minerals from healthy cells, robbing the body of precious nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, thiamine, chromium, and zinc.
Mineral depletion is rampant in our country, due to poor soil quality, industrial farming practices, genetic modification, and processing, so this is indeed an added insult to the body. Mineral deficiency contributes to osteoporosis, arthritis, leg cramps, PMS, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, asthma, and more. It also leads to premature aging, and adrenal imbalances, an inability to cope with stress, digestive disorders, and sleep disturbances. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of The Gut and Psychology Syndrome, metabolizing one molecule of sugar requires 56 molecules of magnesium, a mineral virtually all Americans are deficient in.
Mineral depletion is just the tip of the sugar cube. Here are some other physiological affects sugar has on the body:
1. A spoonful of sugar suppresses the immune system for 5 hours. (Someone should tell Mary Poppins, don’t you think?) Sugar consumption depletes zinc, which plays a significant role in immunity, and decreases the activity of white blood cells. Glucose competes with vitamin C, one of our main immune-boosting vitamins.
2. Too much sweet stuff leads to high blood sugar (the amount of glucose in the blood), a causal factor for type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
3. Sugar feeds tumor growth. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, tumors consume glucose at a rate 10 to 50 times higher than normal tissues. Several studies point to the strong correlation between high blood sugar levels and cancer mortality.
4. Sugar is inflammatory. Inflammation is an immune response, and if the immune system is busy quelling the inflammation brought on by sugar it is unavailable to protect the body in other ways. Chronic inflammation is linked to autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, autism, depression, and anxiety.
5. Sugar affects brain chemistry by interfering with the production of serotonin, which is responsible for impulse control and staving off depression. With low serotonin levels you may feel anxious or angry, have more carbohydrate cravings, sleep disturbances, and PMS symptoms. Beta endorphins and dopamines are also affected by sugar consumption. Beta endorphins are the body’s pain-killers and affect a person’s response to both physical and emotion pain. Low beta endorphin levels are associated with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, alertness, motivation, is released with sugar much as it is with opiates. Best to find other ways to stimulate the release of dopamine.
6. Sugar is addictive. Sugar addiction is children is an indicator for drug and alcohol addition later in life. We’ve heard about gateway drugs? Well, sugar is not only legal and easily obtainable, but is marketed directly to children without any over-site or consideration of the grave health consequences.
7. Sugar contributes to yeast overgrowth and candida, which then fuels cravings for more sugar.
8. Sugar leads to dental decay.
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to reduce sugar intake and crowd out refined sugar altogether. However, kicking the sugar habit need not be about deprivation. You can enjoy sweet indulgences in a healthier way.
Here are some tips:
1. Satisfy your sweet tooth with unrefined whole food sources and complex carbohydrates, such as fruits. I use apples and dates whenever possible to sweeten my treats. Check out my recipe blog for satisfying stuffed nectarines, no-bake vegan pumpkin cheesecake, or sweet potato pie. You can also attend our Saladmaster Foodture cooking classes for more nutrient-dense dessert ideas. (Join our cooking school newsletter for cooking class invites and recipes right to your inbox.
2. Not all sugars are created equal. Consider replacing refined cane sugar with stevia, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, date sugar, date syrup, molasses, lucuma, or yacon. Molasses, the first press of cane sugar, and is in fact high in iron and calcium. All these less refined sweeteners contain minerals, so nutrients needed for sugar metabolization are not pulled from the body and you are more likely to feel satiated. While you still need to monitor intake, these are generally healthier choices than refined sugar. Definitely steer clear of high-fructose corn syrup (a chemical byproduct), and chemical sweeteners such as aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), and saccharin (Sweet’n Low). While a good replacement for artificially-sweetened chewing gum, alcohol sugars such as xylitol and sorbitol should be used with caution as some don’t digest it well.
3. Enjoy your tasty treat with healthy fats and fiber to avoid a spike in blood sugar. Dinner before dessert. Dinner before wine. Avoid low-fat products which lack the regulating fat content and are typically high in sugar. Be sure to get complex carbohydrates and protein into every meal. Fats and fiber help slow down sugar absorption and reduce spikes in blood sugar. Consider crowding out nutritionally-vacuous donuts and wrapped candies with satisfying and satiating Saladmaster Salad Cake or avocado mousse.
4. Avoid processed foods (those that come in a box, bottle or bag) and read labels carefully. You may be surprised by how much sugar, which goes by many names, is snuck into many products. Be sure to read the list of ingredients, which provides more valuable information than the nutrition facts panel. If you grandmother wouldn’t recognize the ingredient as food, best to put that box back on the shelf.
5. Add mineral-rich foods to your diet, including dark leafy greens, seaweed, nuts and seeds, to counter the mineral-depleting affects of sugar.
6. Switch your cookware to Saladmaster, which is scientifically-designed to retain over 93% of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in cooked food. Get your hands on the Saladmaster food processor to make it easier to get more fiber-rich veggies in your diet. Contact Hannah for more info.
In conclusion, it is possible to enjoy the pleasures of sweet treats in a way that doesn’t cause lasting harm to the body. Quitting cold turkey rarely works anyways. Rather, consider crowding out unhealthy sweets with nutrient-dense choices that will help reduce cravings and provide satiation. Be kind to yourself as you change your habits around sugar. Instead of rewarding yourself with an unhealthy sweet treat, reach for a whole food alternative.
That way you’ll feel SUPERcalafragalisticexpialadoshus!