Sugar and Your Body
How the body processes and utilizes sugar can be a confusing subject. Too much dietary sugar is bad, but low blood sugar isn’t good either. The word ‘sugar’ is used to refer to so many different types of dietary energy sources that it can be hard to sort out what our bodies actually need.
The truth is that your body gets everything it needs to maintain healthy blood sugar levels from a low-sugar diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean proteins, and healthy fats. You don’t need granulated sugar to create blood sugar. In fact, medical research is demonstrating more and more that the elevated blood sugar levels associated with a diet high in added sugar and refined carbohydrates significantly increase the risk factors for multiple chronic, systemic, and terminal diseases.
Below you will find an overview of how sugar can affect the body along with references to some of the latest research being done on dietary sugar, blood sugar, and multiple forms of systemic disease.
A discussion of sugar and the body would be incomplete without mentioning the effects an excess of highly-refined simple carbohydrates can have on the mouth.
All throughout the body, pathogenic bacteria thrive on sugar, and the mouth is no exception. But while protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates require several steps of digestion before these bacteria can feed upon them, simple carbohydrates like those found in candy, cookies, sodas, juice, and white bread or pasta can be accessed in the mouth almost immediately. Once fed, these bacteria quickly multiply into organized colonies that spread across your teeth. As they continue to feed and reproduce, these bacteria release acid. This acid is what deteriorates tooth enamel and allows decay to begin.
Starving oral bacteria by denying them their food source of sugary, acidic treats is a major step in controlling tooth decay.
Type 2 Diabetes
It wasn’t that long ago that type 2 diabetes was considered to be an adult-onset disease. Unfortunately, the rise of childhood obesity in the last two decades has allowed type 2 diabetes to now affect anyone of any age. Most people assume that excess dietary sugar causes type 2 diabetes, and while there is increasing evidence that a high dietary intake of sugar and other simple carbohydrates likely contributes to insulin-resistance (pre-diabetes), a definitive study of the cause-effect relationship has yet to be released.
However, several recent studies now demonstrate a direct relationship between the consumption of sugary beverages and type 2 diabetes. Whether the excess blood sugar is exhausting the endocrine system and causing insulin resistance in and of itself, or the resultant weight gain due to the ingestion of so many extra calories is the ultimate cause is still uncertain. What we do know is that for adults and children alike, the risk factors for type 2 diabetes increase significantly under these all-too-common circumstances that often coincide with a diet high in excess sugar and refined carbohydrates:
- Being overweight.
Excess fatty tissue seems to increase insulin resistance.
- Excess abdominal fat.
Individuals who carry excess fat through the abdominal area are at a much higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who tend to carry excess fat around the hips and thighs.
Regular exercise is essential to all aspects of your health, including a healthy insulin response.
Certainly, other factors such as family history and other forms of chronic disease can also contribute to increasing your risks of developing type 2 diabetes. However, regardless of the cause, the dietary solution to type 2 diabetes continues to remain the same. A low-sugar diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean proteins, and healthy fats combined with regular exercise consistently prove to significantly reduce hypoglycemic episodes for adults and children with type 2 diabetes. In many cases, these dietary and lifestyle changes can actually reverse the condition altogether.
A Note About the Mediterranean Diet
Many people with type 2 diabetes do very well on a Mediterranean-style diet, but there is often confusion about what this diet actually includes. It’s a common misconception that pasta and bread are a significant part of the Mediterranean diet, but they are not.
Pasta and bread – even those made from whole grains – can digest into simple sugars too quickly in the body. If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, always be extremely careful with refined grain products no matter what diet you follow.
There is a growing base of evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s disease may very well be a form of diabetes. In fact, several researchers on the subject now refer to Alzheimer’s as type 3 diabetes. What is particularly startling about some of the most recent studies being conducted is their focus on cognitively healthy non-diabetics.
Researchers from Australia followed 266 healthy individuals, aged 60-64, over a four year period. They observed that brain atrophy in the areas most connected to memory and emotion were significantly associated with elevated blood sugar levels. These elevated levels were not in the diabetic or even the pre-diabetic range, but simply at the high end of what we now consider normal. If replicated, this groundbreaking research could not only offer insight into protecting our cerebral heath, but could also redefine our definition of normal blood glucose levels and diabetes.
Dietary fat has long been considered the bad guy when it comes to cardiovascular disease, but several studies are now confirming that especially for women, sugar may actually be the issue. Recent studies from Australia, Holland, and Italy have all demonstrated an increased risk of cardiovascular disease for women whose diets rate high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index refers to how quickly carbohydrates convert to glucose in the body. Diets high on the glycemic index create an increased glycemic load on the blood stream – meaning that blood sugar is increased and the body has to work harder to process it.
It is important to distinguish that no association has been made between cardiovascular disease and low-GI carbohydrates. Low-carb diets are popular, but don’t assume that means all carbohydrates are bad. Vegetables are a wonderful source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are essential to a healthy diet. Do not eliminate vegetables from your diet in a misguided attempt to lower your carbohydrate intake for the day. There is absolutely no demonstrated correlation between a diet high in vegetable consumption and heart disease. Sweets, most pastas, white bread, and many cereals are the culprit here. Eliminate those and keep the vegetables.
Several studies from around the world are now demonstrating that elevated blood sugar is a significant risk factor for colorectal cancer. It is not exactly clear how blood sugar is related, but some theories speculate that certain strains of gut flora (the bacteria that live in the intestine) may feed on the excess glucose and contribute to the development of cancer.
Elevated blood sugar levels are not only associated with the risk of developing colorectal cancer, they also appear to play a part in speeding up the progression of the disease. A recent study featured in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute demonstrates compelling evidence that stage III colon cancer patients on a high GI (glycemic index) diet have a statistically significant increased risk of recurrence and mortality than stage III patients on a low GI diet. More research is needed, but if these results continue to be replicated, a low-sugar diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean proteins, and healthy fats may prove to be an effective dietary approach to slowing the progress of certain forms of cancer.
There’s never been more evidence in the history of medicine to suggest that the elimination of sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet may be the single best thing you can do to improve your overall health. We hope that you will use this resource as a stepping stone to the information you need to feed yourself and your family the most nourishing – and healing – diet that you can.
Type 2 Diabetes:
US National Library of Medicine: Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes
US National Library of Medicine: Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
Alzheimer’s and Brain Function:
Neurology: Higher normal fasting plasma glucose is associated with hippocampal atrophy
Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology: Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes – Evidence Reviewed
The New York Times: Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?
US National Library of Medicine: The glycemic index and cardiovascular disease risk
Journal of the American Medical Association: Dietary Glycemic Load and Index and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in a Large Italian Cohort
Journal of the American College of Cardiology: High dietary glycemic load and glycemic index increase risk of cardiovascular disease among middle-aged women
British Journal of Cancer: A longitudinal study of serum insulin and glucose levels in relation to colorectal cancer risk among postmenopausal women
Journal of the National Cancer Institute: Dietary Glycemic Load and Cancer Recurrence and Survival in Patients with Stage III Colon Cancer
Journal of the American Medical Association: Fasting Serum Glucose Level and Cancer Risk in Korean Men and Women
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