A typical western diet consumes approximately a kg of sugar per week. An excess of white sugar consumption has been linked with type 2 diabetes, dental decay, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and hyperactive behavior.
From bottled sauces and soft drinks to baked goods and cereals, white sugar is in a numerous of commonly eaten food products and is one of the great health killers of our time.
The problem does not lie in eating foods that are naturally sweetened. The real health concern lies with eating too many processed sugary products.
Types of sugar
This is the simplest form of sugar, glucose is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. The body will break down all forms of carbohydrates into glucose for its primary source of fuel.
A scale that is used to measure the speed of entry of glucose into the bloodstream is called the glycemic index (GI). Foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains tend to have a lower GI rating and therefore do not cause weight gain or blood sugar and energy fluctuations.
Foods that are rated high on the glycemic index include soft drinks, candy, biscuits, cakes, sweetened cereals, and white processed goods. Glucose is often referred to as dextrose.
The primary sugar found in fruits and vegetables, fructose is absorbed more slowly in the bloodstream than glucose and is a healthier sweetener.
This is also known as table sugar, or white sugar, sucrose comprises one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule. Sucrose is typically made by refining sugar beets or sugar cane.
The primary sugar found in milk, lactose comprises one glucose molecule and one galactose molecule. In order to be properly broken down, lactose requires the enzyme lactase. People who are lactose intolerant do not produce enough lactase in their intestine.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
This very popular sweetener is derived from corn and is used in many beverages and processed foods. Although this sweetener helps to extend the shelf life of certain products, research has linked the consumption of HFCS with the surge of type 2 diabetes and obesity in North America.
Sugar and your health
A high GI rating means that blood-glucose levels are increased quickly, which stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin to drop blood-sugar levels. These rapid fluctuations of blood-sugar levels place a great deal of stress on the body. As sugar raises the insulin level, it inhibits the release of growth hormones, which in turn depresses the immune system. Therefore it would be much more difficult to avoid disease. Insulin also promotes the storage of fat, so that when you eat foods high in sugar, you’re making way for rapid weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels, both of which have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Complex carbohydrates (low GI) tend to be absorbed more slowly, lessening the impact on blood-sugar levels.
Sugar weakens the immune system
We have known this for decades. In the 1970’s, researchers found out that vitamin C was needed by white blood cells so that they could phagocytize (engulf) viruses and bacteria. White blood cells require a 50 times higher concentration inside the cell as outside so they have to accumulate vitamin C. There is something called a “phagocytic index” which tells you how fast a particular macrophage or lymphocyte can gobble up a virus, bacteria, or even cancer cell. It was in the 1970’s that Linus Pauling realized that white blood cells need a high dose of vitamin C and that is when he came up with his theory that you need high doses of vitamin C to combat the common cold. Glucose and vitamin C have similar chemical structures, consequently, they compete for one another upon entering the cells. Therefore, what mediates the entry of glucose into the cells is the same thing that mediates the entry of vitamin C into the cells. If there is more glucose around, there is going to be less vitamin C allowed into the cell. It doesn’t take much: a blood sugar value of 120 reduces the phagocytic index by 75%. So when you eat sugar, think of your immune system slowing down to a crawl.
Sugar and cancer
There are millions of cancer patients being treated in developed countries today. Almost none are offered any scientifically guided nutrition therapy other than being told to “just eat good foods.” Many cancer patients would have a major improvement in their conditions if they controlled the supply of cancer’s preferred fuel: GLUCOSE. By slowing the cancer’s growth, patients make it possible for their immune systems to catch up to the disease. Controlling one’s blood-glucose levels through diet, exercise, supplements, meditation and prescription drugs, when guided can be one of the most crucial components to a cancer treatment program. The saying “Sugar feeds cancer” is simple. The explanation is a little more involved.
German Otto Warburg, Ph.D., the 1931 Nobel laureate in medicine, first discovered that cancer cells have a fundamentally different energy metabolism compared to healthy cells. Malignant tumors frequently exhibit an increase in “anaerobic glycolysis” – a process whereby glucose is used by cancer cells as a fuel with lactic acid as an anaerobic by-product, compared to normal tissues. The large amount of lactic acid produced by this fermentation of glucose from the cancer cells is then transported to the liver. This conversion of glucose to lactate creates a lower, more acidic PH in cancerous tissues as well as overall physical fatigue from lactic acid build-up. Therefore, larger tumors tend to exhibit a more acidic PH. Read related article for acidosis
Hence, cancer therapies should attempt to regulate blood-glucose levels through diet, supplements, exercise, medication when guided properly, gradual weight loss, stress reduction and meditation. Since cancer cells derive most of their energy from anaerobic glycolysis, the goal is not to eliminate sugars or carbohydrates entirely from the diet but rather to control blood-glucose within a narrow range to help starve the cancer cells and boost immune function.
Easy tips to cut your sugar intake
- Don’t be fooled by the words brown sugar. Often brown sugar is simply white sugar with a small amount of blackstrap molasses added.
- Eat the fruit, drink the water. In order to avoid added white sugar, avoid fruit juices and stick to high-fibre fruits such as apples, oranges, and grapefruits. Drink water instead of fruit juice.
- Become a wise label reader. Sugar likes to hide in many grocery store products by using other names in the ingredient list such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, and corn syrup(HFCS). If any of these ingredients are listed in the first three to four words of the list, you can count on a high sugar content.
- Break sugar cravings. Use natural spices or teas such as cinnamon or vanilla.
- When baking, use natural sweeteners. You can also use fruits such as mashed bananas, plums, raisins, applesauce, pears, peaches, apricots, or cranberries for a natural burst of sweetness.
(1) Warburg O. On the origin of cancer cells. Science 1956 Feb;123:309-14.
(2) Volk T, et al. pH in human tumor xenografts: effect of intravenous administration of glucose. Br J Cancer 1993 Sep;68(3):492-500.