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SUGAR:

"Sugar" in the following information refers to refined or processed sugar (including white sugar, brown sugar and molasses) and other high glycemic index sweeteners, not naturally occurring sugars found in fruit for example.

How the science linking sugar to disease was silenced:

Studies in the 1960's started to reveal the severe negative impact sugar can have on our health.  At that time, the sugar industry was understandably concerned about the impact this information could have on their bottom line, and they managed to pay researchers to publish papers that falsely implicated fat as the culprit, to divert attention from sugar.  Then they paid governments and regulatory agencies to rely on the "research" that they had come up with, rather than the scientific evidence that pointed to the negative impacts of sugar.  For over 50 years, the sugar industry convinced the general public that what they really needed to do to be healthier was to avoid fat.  In the meantime, rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have skyrocketed.  Only recently have the documents from that era come to light, confirming that the sugar industry deliberately manipulated the science to maintain their profits, at the expense of public health.  Just as tobacco companies convinced people for years that smoking was actually healthy, the sugar industry convinced people that sugar was not the cause of health problems, in spite of the scientific evidence to the contrary.  Here is a really interesting article that goes into a lot more detail if you are interested.

Sugar consumption promotes inflammation and affects hormonal balance.  It is associated with increased risk of cancer (pancreatic in particular), cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, infertility (female and male) and reduced fetal health. Sugar consumption likely has many other serious health consequences that have not yet been discovered (see above for how the sugar industry effectively suppressed research into the health risks of sugar).

Consequences associated with sugar consumption:

Given the severe health consequences of sugar consumption, and the lack of benefits, it would seem obvious that added and refined sugar should be avoided entirely. Unfortunately it's not that easy.  Sugar's addictiveness can make it impossible to resist, and even if we choose to avoid it entirely, it can seem like an overwhelming challenge. Sugar is added into all sorts of processed foods, often where it is least expected. A study here in Canada showed that two-thirds of packaged foods (and HALF of all baby formula and baby food) available here in Canada contained added sugar (http://cmajopen.ca/content/5/1/E1.full), which can make it very difficult to avoid. With the right resources and dedication however, the task of avoiding sugar is manageable, and it does get easier, especially once you realize how much better it makes you feel.

Sugar Myths

Two commonly held ideas make it almost impossible for people to control their sugar intake appropriately:

Belief #1: "sugar is sugar"

Calorically-speaking, sure, but in terms of physiologic effect all sugars are NOT equal. Glycemic index does matter - fruit and low glycemic index sweeteners do not affect the body in the same way that refined sugar does. When we eat an apple we don't take the last bite thinking "... I think I'll have just one more little piece" and it doesn't take days to recover afterwards.  When we eat refined sugar it tricks our brains into "needing" more and we spend the next three days in withdrawal, wandering back and forth between the fridge and the cupboard trying to figure out what we're craving.  And we convince ourselves that cravings are the body's way of telling us what we NEED and are convinced that if we could figure out what we're craving we'd FINALLY be full.

 

Refined sugar interrupts normal hunger and fullness signals so we think we're "hungry" constantly, without ever actually feeling hungry or full. Cravings are sugar's way of telling us we need more. Without the influence of refined sugar, we eat when we're hungry and feel full after appropriate portions of healthy food.

Belief #2: "sugar is part of a healthy diet, in moderation"

Refined sugar has no health benefits.  It's not even just empty calories - it is detrimental to our health even in low amounts. And what exactly is moderation when it comes to refined sugar? After having any "moderate" amount of sugar we would still want "just one more bite."  Studies have suggested that sugar is as addictive as crack.  Trying to limit yourself to a "moderate" amount of sugar is like trying to reduce your crack intake to a "moderate" amount. The only healthy "moderate" amount of refined sugar is none at all.

Admittedly going "cold turkey" on refined sugar is a challenge, especially for the first few days.  Then it gets easier until you suddenly realize it's been 6 months, then 2 years, then 10 years.  Eating sugar in moderation never gets easy. 

Quitting Sugar

It's best to quit sugar in one of two ways.  Either avoid all forms of added sugar until the cravings subside (at least 3 days) then add in small amounts of low glycemic index alternatives if you'd like (see below) OR replace refined sugar in your diet with low GI alternatives to satisfy your cravings until you overcome the physical addiction to sugar.  If you try to gradually decrease your intake of added sugar, the cravings will get worse and self-control will be almost impossible. Once you overcome the initial withdrawal, you won't miss it. And if you do have to make an exception and eat something with refined sugar, the headaches/anxiety/stomach aches/insatiable cravings will remind you just how little you missed it.

Zero-Calorie Sweeteners:

At this point you might be thinking: what about zero-calorie sweeteners? Our bodies are designed to respond best to good quality carbohydrates, fats and proteins in whole foods.  We are not designed to eat artificial sweeteners.  Historically, every time we've tried to trick our bodies into thinking they're getting sugar when they're not, it's back-fired - many artificial sweeteners have been linked to obesity, cancer, infertility and other serious health consequences.  

Alternatives to High Glycemic Index Sugars

If you don't want to give up sweets entirely for the rest of your life, there are fortunately some awesome lower glycemic index alternatives to refined sugar which will satisfy your desire for sweetness without the sugar hangover.  Many recipes can easily be adapted to use use fruit, coconut sugar, honey or agave nectar instead of high glycemic index sugars. 

Coconut sugar is an especially great substitute in recipes that call for white or brown sugar.  Not only is it minimally processed and low glycemic index, but it is also delicious, works in almost any recipe in place of white or brown sugar, and caramelizes well.   Not to mention that it has way more nutrients and minerals than other sugars.  Oh, and it's sustainable.  It does take a little longer to dissolve than refined sugar and it will impart a brown colour to recipes, but it also adds a delicious rich caramel flavor.

It's amazing how much more enjoyable sweet things are when we don't have to focus all our will-power on not taking "just one more bite".

Hidden Sugar:

 

Refined sugar can be hidden under many names - here are some of the most common ones:

- ingredients ending in "-ose": glucose, glucose-fructose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, galactose

- corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids

- cane sugar, sugar cane juice, evaporated cane juice, dehydrated cane juice, cane juice solids, cane juice crystals

- dextrin, maltodextrin, dextran

- raw sugar, invert sugar, demerara sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, sugar syrup

- malt syrup, barley malt

- golden syrup

- beet sugar

- caramel

Hidden Sugar
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