Americans consume roughly 22 teaspoons of refined sugar every day, and as sweet as it tastes, sugar (when consumed in excess) has plenty of negative effects in store for your body, including some of the nation’s top killers: type II diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
In general, sugar is not good for your health. Sugary treats often lead to fluctuations in your blood sugar that can cause mood swings, fatigue, and symptoms of depression. Over time, chronic sugar consumption may deplete B vitamins and increase your risk of diabetes and obesity.
When you eat simple and refined sugars, the pancreas is called upon to produce and release insulin, a hormone that empties the sugar in your blood stream into all the tissues and cells for usage. The result of overindulging in refined sugar, like those found in candies, pastries, and sodas, is higher levels of insulin. When your blood insulin levels are increased above the norm it can lead to depression of the immune system, which in turn weakens your ability to fight disease.
Something else to consider is that most of the excess sugar ends up being stored as fat in your body, which results in weight gain and elevates your risk of heart disease and cancer. One study found that when subjects were given refined sugar, their white blood cell count decreased significantly for several hours afterwards. Another study discovered that rats fed a high-sugar diet had a substantially elevated rate of breast cancer when compared to rats on a more sugar-light diet.
Watch Out for Sugar-Free
If sugar is that bad, you might think the solution is to reach for sugar-free foods. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that guzzling diet soda all day will keep you looking and feeling your best. One recent study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found an association between increased risk of cardiovascular disease and drinking diet beverages. All that soda pop may also increase your risk of diabetes and expand your waistline!
Artificial sweeteners are used to replace regular sugar, but they don't add any nutritional value. In fact, sometimes these sweeteners may be up to 200 times sweeter than regular sugar, which can trick the brain into preparing the body to metabolize a calorie load that doesn’t exist. As a result, the body is left craving more food, while you are left with a sweet tooth! Diet drinks, baked goods, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, some dairy products, and many other foods and beverages may contain artificial sweeteners—so be on the lookout.
In addition to artificial sweeteners, many products contain sugar alcohols in place of sugar. Sugar alcohols are naturally-occurring carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables. Only a few calories less than sugar, these sugar substitutes are also found in scores of processed foods and products such as gum, toothpaste, beverages, candy, and baked goods. While they occur naturally, their main drawback is that they often cause bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Be a savvy shopper about sugar: Read the ingredients on all products and steer clear of the following artificial sugar names: sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and neotame. To avoid sugar alcohols, watch for the following names in the ingredients: erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. Instead, try a natural alternative to sugar that won’t wreak havoc on your waistline or blood sugar, such as Stevia, made from the stevia leaf. As always, moderation is key!
Honey! Honey contains the vitamins and minerals that are lacking in refined table sugar, making it a much healthier sweetener. As a folk remedy, honey has traditionally been taken for heartburn, stomach ulcers, and even colds.
In fact, Western research indicates that honey may halt the growth of H. pylori, the bacteria responsible for most gastric ulcers, and the caffeic acid found in honey may also prevent colon cancer. The only caveat is that honey should never be given to a child under the age of one because raw honey can harbor botulism spores.
The next time you are in the mood for sweets, try reaching for some of these healthier alternatives.
Candy: Instead of candy, chew on some fresh peppermint leaves or cinnamon sticks. Or take from nature's offerings and enjoy apples, cherries, grapes, and other naturally delicious fruits.
Baked Goods: Try using whole fruit juice concentrates, honey, maple or rice syrup, or agave made from cactus.
Beverages: The best drink is, of course, water. But if you are a juice-drinker, try watering down your juice in a one-to-four ratio (one part juice to four parts filtered room temperature water) to cut back on the sugar content.
Also, though it may take some getting used to, try unsweetened herbal tea for your beverage of choice; you can use honey sparingly or add some cinnamon to give your tea a mild sweet taste.
Or you can break the sugar habit by eating food that sustains your energy level, heading off a snack attack caused by a dip in blood sugar. Introduce more protein-rich foods into your diet, including eggs, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds. These foods take a longer time to digest and absorb, slowly releasing sugar and nutrients into the blood stream. You can also receive herbal help by taking High Performance; this formula will help curb your cravings for sweets because exotic seeds and wholesome grains provide a rich source of complex carbohydrates without the use of stimulants or sugars.
May you Live Long, Live Strong, and Live Happy!
—Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He has appeared regularly on Dr. Oz, the Doctors and EXTRA. Dr. Mao practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness over 25 years ago in addition to also founding Yo San University in Marina del Rey. To subscribe to his tip-filled newsletter please visit www.taoofwellness.com. To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310-917-2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at firstname.lastname@example.org.