Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Last month, we looked at the relationship between carbohydrates and glucose. In this article, I will further define sugar, discuss how it came to permeate American culture, and make the case for changing the way we look at food.
Do you experience afternoon crashes or interrupted sleep? Feel dizzy when you stand up quickly? Do your eyes have trouble adjusting to light and dark? Do you have cravings for sweets daily? These are signs for caution.
Sugar is everywhere and most of us don’t know where to look for it. Most of the time, what we call “sugar” is some man-made concoction. Simple sugars like dextrose, fructose, and glucose are the ones to watch out for. Most processed, baked goods in the United States contain far too much simple sugar. Read labels and keep these sugars to a minimum.
Simple sugar raises glucose, causes abnormal insulin surges, makes us hungry and fat, removes vitamins and minerals from the body, and contributes to inflammation. How did we come to eat so much of it?
90,000-12,000 years ago: The earliest humans ate whatever they could find. Their primary diet consisted of mostly proteins and saturated fats. We evolved to be fat burners, meaning eating and storing fats for our energy source, not sugar. Natural sugar from seeds, fruits, and vegetables were consumed in small amounts.
Pre agriculture 9,000 BC-1600 AD: Around 10,000 years ago things began to change in the world of nutrition. Humans formed communities and began harvesting seeds and grains. In the early times, there were important preparation practices done to insure full assimilation and nutrient value from these. Soaking and sprouting was common. These ancient practices removed acids from the seeds and added nutrient value, even before people knew what nutrients were.
1400-1890: As the years continued, humans found ways to modify grains. When wheat, barley, and millet could be ground and mixed with water and yeasts, bread came to be. As this continued, humans moved away from hunting and almost entirely on creating large areas of agriculture. Communities grew larger and more people needed to be fed. Ancient grain preparations went out the window and heavy carbohydrates and sugars replaced fat and protein.
Industrial revolution, 1890-1940: Before refrigerators, food needed to be preserved. Refined and processed sugars and grain did that.
WW2: Now shelf stable, modified and processed foods were everywhere and the U.S. government jumped on board with deregulation. Chemicals used to make war explosives were sprayed on crops to keep bugs away.
1950-1980: “Sugar giant” companies head to court to make the case that fats are the cause of health problems, and sugar is not so bad. They won, but not without huge repercussions. Dental cavities are found in 92% of adults. Half the U.S. population will be obese by 2030. Heart disease has made a 22% rise since 1990.
In short, we did not evolve to eat granulated, refined, concentrated sugars and artificial sweeteners. When we do eat them, we get sicker. Period.
Sugar is highly addictive despite the arguments paid for by big sugar companies. Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote:
“The brain’s pleasure center, called the nucleus accumbens, is essential for our survival. When you consume any substance of abuse, including sugar, the nucleus accumbens receives a dopamine signal from which you experience pleasure. And so you consume more. The problem is that with prolonged exposure, the signal attenuates, gets weaker. So you have to consume more to get the same effect.”
You may have heard of the famous lab rat experiments in which 94% of rats tested preferred sugar to cocaine. Sugar may be addictive but the good news is, you can break the addiction.
Avoid high fructose corn syrup and use only Stevia and raw honey for sweeteners. Feed the cells by eating more healthy fats such as coconut, avocado, and fish oil. Balance and maintain healthy stress. Finally, find a way to curb the emotions that usually trigger sugar eating by meditating, exercising or attending social gatherings.
Remember, whatever nutritional lifestyle you choose to adopt, sugar can sneak its way into your life when you least expect it. Think, nutrient dense, whole foods found in nature, and start loving healthy fats. Your body and brain will thank you.
Benjamin Pitts, NTP
Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner