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Sugar: Not Just About the Cavities

Posted on 1/17/2017 by Dr. Martha E. Rich
Three lumps of sugar on a white background Sugar and inflammation are tightly linked

Many years ago, when my son was very young, I asked a pediatrician how much juice to feed him. At that time, I was under the impression that young people needed juice for energy and vitamin C. The pediatrician looked at me and asked, "Why would you give your son dessert to drink?"

Of course, because of further research and changes in the way our culture views food, we now know she was exactly right. Juice is really glorified sugar water. And the evidence of negative health effects is mounting against sugar.

The Alarming Effects of Sugar

I have read many articles about sugar consumption from sources like the AMA, the American Heart Association, the NIH, Environmental Nutrition, and the CDC. Although the exact numbers vary, sugar consumption in this country ranges from 100-150 lbs per person per year. I know that our consumption has been going down a bit, but clearly not far enough. Have you ever carried around a 10-lb bag of sugar for very long? 100 pounds is astounding to me.

It is widely accepted that sweets have been linked to tooth decay. But if tooth decay is present in your mouth, some other type of "decay" is happening in your body.

How Sugar and Inflammation Are Linked

Inflammation has become a catchword in conversation. I'd encourage you not to ignore it even though it's thrown around casually in many health discussions. Sugar feeds inflammation. Long-term chronic inflammation is at the root (no dental pun intended) of all our chronic diseases. I will write more on that in future blogs.

For example, an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association in March of 2014 studied a population of more that 31,000 adults. The study concluded that those who consumed 17-21% of calories as added sugar had 38% greater chance of dying from heart disease. The risk nearly triples when it is 25% of calories in the diet.

Other studies connect excessive consumption to cancer and even Alzheimer's disease. In his most recent book, "The Case Against Sugar," American science writer Gary Taubes links the explosion of sugar consumption in the US to our climbing rate of diabetes. Sadly, we may not even know how many other illnesses are caused by excessive levels of this carbohydrate in our modern diets.

One thing is clear: On the whole, we're eating an excessive amount of sweets. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day of added sugars. This is a teeny amount. Generally, women eat 22 teaspoons per day.

Resolve To Cut Sugar Out Of Your Diet

Many of us don't truly know how much of the sweet stuff we are consuming. We may even think we are consuming healthy sweeteners like brown rice syrup (which may also contain arsenic!), but the reality is that the body treats all sweeteners the same. If we want to improve our health, we need to cut way back.

My brother visited a few years ago and we had this discussion. He was happily eating his bran cereal (with sugar), juice, and sometimes toast for breakfast. He was astounded after adding up the sugars in this "healthy" breakfast. And he suffered almost daily headaches. His joints hurt. He took a nap during lunch at work. He also dreamed about eating cake, etc., at night.

Sweeteners are sneaky and addicting. They are in our salad dressings, lunch meat, coffee drinks from Starbucks, breads, and more. Avoiding candy bars alone isn't enough to protect against harmful effects.

It's a new year. As we make resolutions about how to improve our lives, I encourage you to look at sugar. You will improve your own health as well as that of your family if you just don't have it around.

"The Case Against Sugar" by Gary Taubes
AMA. JAMA 2014; 311(12): 1191

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