by Kimberly Allen, RN
In the US, the average adult consumes 150 pounds of sugar every year. Now, if you compare that to the 71/2 pounds a year the average person consumed back in the 1700’s you can see why obesity is a problem. Most of us don’t realize just how much sugar we are consuming, primarily because we don’t realize just how pervasive it is in the foods we eat everyday. When most people think of sugar they think of table sugar or refined sugar. However, there are many different types of sugar besides the white refined sugar. Some are good while others are very bad. Three different types of sugar can be found in almost all of our everyday foods – sucrose also known as table sugar, fructose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and dextrose. At least one of these are processed into many of the foods we eat everyday like bread, various sauces, peanut butter and numerous condiments to name a few. Consuming foods that contain more than one type of sugar can really put our body’s out of sync which then leads to a variety of health issues. The thing that makes these sugars so detrimental to the human body is that they usually have a high glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measurement of how rapidly the blood sugar rises after eating a particular food. So if the food you consume contains one or more sugars with a high glycemic index that means your blood sugar level is going to go up quickly. When your blood sugar goes up the pancreas secretes insulin to lower your blood sugar levels. This fluctuation in blood sugar levels not only puts a significant amount of stress on your body but it can also lead to numerous other health complications like coronary artery disease and diabetes. The fluctuation in blood sugar levels can also hamper the ability of your body to absorb calcium and magnesium.
At least 50% of the sugar we consume is HFCS. What makes HFCS so bad for us is that it can only be metabolized by the liver. This means that approximately 3 times more calories than with glucose which in turn increases production of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) or very bad cholesterol. In addition to VLDL it also increase production of uric acid as well as other chemicals that can lead to numerous health problems. Fructose also alters the way the brain identifies your consumption and not in a positive way. The reason is that your brain resists leptin. Leptin is the protein that is crucial for controlling energy intake and expenditure, in other words it keeps your metabolism functioning efficiently and your appetite under control. If you consume too much fructose like drinking soda, even diet, your brain doesn’t know when to tell you you are full because it doesn’t get the message that you’ve actually consumed anything and continues to believe you are still hungry.
Fructose that occurs naturally in fruit is better for you because it also contains fiber. This means that even though the fructose doesn’t allow your brain to know that you’ve eaten the fiber does and very well.
So why is there so much sugar in the foods we eat? Back in the ’70’s, doctors and scientists started telling us how bad fat was for us so many manufactures started taking the fat out of processed foods. When you take all or most of the fat out the food tastes more like cardboard than something good to eat. So manufacturers started adding various forms of sugar to their products to give it more flavor and as a preservative.
It’s important to read labels when shopping, check the “ingredients” section, if there’s HFCS in the first few ingredients you know you’re getting too much sugar and if there’s more than one type of sugar listed then it’s a good idea to put it back on the shelf and look for something else. We all like sugar and some experts will go so far as to say we were born with a “sweet tooth”. Back in the days before processed foods when people needed something sweet they would eat fruit to satisfy their cravings not a candy bar or soda. Just think how much healthier everyone would be if we went back to fruit being our main source of “sweetness.”
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.