Dr T K Munshi
Cutting the amount of added sugar in your diet is one of the best first steps you can take. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons (88 gm) of added sugar per day – a staggering amount. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their intake to 6 tsp (24 gm) per day and men to 9 tsp (36 gm) . By becoming aware of how sugar works in the body, knowing where hidden sugar lurks, you can increase your energy and lower your disease risk.
How sugar affects the body and brain : Experts believe that high sugar intake can lead to obesity, a risk factor for many health conditions and disease risk. When blood sugar rises rapidly, it creates inflammation over time. If the inflammation becomes chronic, it can trigger a cascade of changes in the body, viz, narrowing of arteries and insulin resistance that may eventually lead to chronic disease.
Naturally occurring sugars : those found in small amounts in fruits, vegetables and milk are not the culprits in this process. These foods contain important nutrients and are often high in fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Research suggests that added sugar added to food is a major contributor to the development of conditions that were long blamed on other dietary factors. A BMJ Open Heart study revealed that added sugar may increase the risk of hypertension even more than sodium does. Later research suggested that sugar plays a greater role in heart disease than saturated fat does. A JAMA Internal Medicine study revealed that the more added sugar people ate, the greater their risk of dying of heart disease – regardless of their physical activity level and weight.
Scientists are also learning that sugary, highly highly processed foods may have a profound effect on the brain. There is a compelling argument being made that Alzheimer’s disease is actually ‘ type 3 diabetes or insulin resistance of the brain’; says David Katz, Director of the Yale Griffin Prevention Center. Experts have known for years that people who have diabetes are at greater risk of brain shrinkage and dementia. An Australian study showed that people with blood sugar levels at the high end of the surreal range were more likely to have a loss of brain volume in the hippocampus and amygdale — areas involved in memory and cognition – than were people who had lower sugar levels.
Quit Sugar : People don’t realize just how much sugar is hidden in the food they eat, even salad dressing and tomato sauce. Cutting back on sweet foods can actually make resisting sugar easier. The first thing people notice when they limit added sugar is that their cravings are reduced. The least processed sugar product like honey has micro-nutrients, but using it as a substitute won’t lower cravings for sweet foods.
Why we crave sugary foods ? Studies have shown that sugary foods activate a region of the brain called ‘melens accumbens’ – the center for reward, craving, and addiction. Cutting back on sweet foods can actually make resisting sugar easier. It has been observed that when people limit added sugar, their cravings are reduced. You might miss added sugar for the first few days, but as your energy and mood improve , you’ll be glad you made a change. Eating ample amounts of fruits will make you less likely to experience headaches and crankiness that often come with extreme sugar deletion.
The Sugar Cycle : Excess sugar drives the pancreas to produce extra insulin, a hormone involved in blood sugar regulation. The insulin signals fat cells to store excessive amounts of glucose, fatty acids and other substances rich in calories. When too few calories remain in the bloodstream, the brain which has very high energy needs , believes it’s now low on fuel. As a result your hunger level rises quickly. Sugar is alluring when you are hungry , because it provides quick energy.
Dr T K Munshi