If you’ve ever bitten into a ripe, juicy mango or crisp apple and closed your eyes and enjoyed the succulent sweetness that they provide, you must know that the Creator God intended for us to enjoy things that are sweet. Scripture repeatedly references things that are sweet:
Sweet Waters Exodus 15:25
Sweet Incense Exodus 25:6
Sweet Spices Exodus 30:34
Sweet Counsel Psalm 55:14
Sweet Meditation Psalm 104:34
Sweet as Honey Revelation 10:10
Sweet is a gift from God that is also found in our foods and when those foods are digested they provide glucose. Glucose is the primary source of energy for the body and the only source of energy for the brain. Yes, sweet is a very good thing, until too much of it is eaten in the form of refined sugar and then sweet becomes a problem.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms that the average American eats between 150-170 pounds of refined sugar every year. 150-170 pounds! Every Year! That is the equivalent of a whole person! And, that’s in addition to all of the other foods we eat that are often high in fat and other harmful ingredients. It is no wonder obesity is such a problem, with over 78 million adults and 13 million children dealing with the effects of obesity every day. (American Heart Association).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people with obesity carry a greater risk for hypertension, diabetes, CHD, stroke, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, clinical depression, anxiety, and some cancers including endometrial, breast, colon, kidney and gallbladder.
Easy To Love
How in the world do Americans consume so much sugar? It is easy to do. It would be much harder if all that sugar came directly from the sugar cane. Our consumption would drop dramatically because to get just one teaspoon of sugar, it takes four to six feet of sugar cane! Since the processing of sugar is already done however, it is much easier to consume.
Of course, we find sugar primarily in our favorite sweet goodies, but secondarily from processed foods that we consume that have sugar in all its various names (Figure 1) included as a primary ingredient. While ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, sugar is often not listed as “sugar” but divided up by sugar’s other names. When they are added up, they equal a lot of sugar. Be sure to read the label. (Figure 2)
In addition, over the course of the day, consumption of added sugar can be steep. Many Americans start their day with a cup of their favorite java, eat a variety of sugar-laden foods throughout the day and end it with a sweet bedtime treat. Take a look at some of the daily dietary choices Americans make (Figure 3) to see how much sugar they contribute to their daily intake of sugar. If these choices are made in one day, a total of 78 teaspoons of sugar would be consumed. That’s 1,170 calories that provide absolutely nothing but a sweet taste. These calories provide no nutrients at all. None. (See Figure 4 for AHA recommendations on sugar consumption)
Those empty calories translate to extra pounds that lead to obesity and other chronic health conditions.
Body Systems Down
So, how does sugar hurt the body and its systems? In a recent article for the online Huffington Post UK, Dr. Aseem Malhotra refers to sugar as the “new tobacco” and says it should “have no place as part of a healthy balanced diet.” Here’s what some other researchers have to say:
Sugar had been shown to promote inflammation which is directly involved in all stages of atherosclerosis, setting the stage for heart attacks, most strokes, peripheral artery disease and even vascular dementia. (Harvard University)
Because it activates the brain’s reward pathways, it generates pleasure. However, because it is an empty calorie source, it hijacks the brain’s pathways. It suppresses brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a growth hormone that keeps brain neurons healthy and helps with memory. It has also been implicated in depression and schizophrenia. (British Journal of Psychology)
>>> Immune System
A Loma Linda University study confirmed that sugar weakens or reduces the body’s defensive system, and the white blood cells, in particular. Their ability to destroy bacteria decreases as sugar consumption increases.
Researchers found that with consumption of no sugar, each white blood cell could destroy 14 bacteria. As more sugar was added, the white blood cells could not keep up. They killed less of the bacteria. So, when 24 teaspoons of sugar were added (what is found in a banana split or a popular morning Java) white blood cells could only kill one bacteria. This sheds light on the reason why so many people may be so sick during the wintertime. Sugar consumption increases starting Halloween and continues until Valentine’s Day.
Sugar also increases the risk of cancer (colon, rectal, breast, ovarian, uterine, prostate, kidney and the nervous system). It increases the rates of recurrence and decreases survival rates after therapy.
A molecule in sugar changes the pumping mechanism in your heart and could increase the risk for heart failure (Journal of American Heart Association). Sugar raises triglyceride levels (fats), increases risk for heart disease and acute symptoms, and promotes hardening of the arteries.
Because sugar is in a simple form, it is digested rapidly causing the pancreas to release insulin as part of the digestive process. When the body is already compromised by the effects of a high-fat diet, this process contributes to the process of “insulin resistance” and can aid in the progression of being in a pre-diabetic state to full-blown diabetes.
So, why do we eat it so much sugar when we know it’s not good for us? In a recent session with one of my clients who is recovering from breast cancer and is also diabetic, we discussed her sugar consumption. She clearly knew that it was doing nothing to improve her health. When describing why she ate it, she said she enjoyed it, and did not want to feel left out, nor did she want to waste the money she had spent on it.
I assured her I understood, being a recovering chocoholic myself. I admitted that I turned to chocolate to make me feel better when stressed or nervous. And, until I decided to face the real effects of sugar on my health and look at what really drove me to eat it, I could not stop either. I recommended that she do the same, and immediately I saw the anguish in her eyes about something. Because she is a Christian woman, I offered to pray with her for a week and asked her to talk out her emotions with someone she trusted, and journal her journey. A week later, she reported how relieved and empowered she felt. She described the changes she was willing to make on her journey to better health. She said that she believed her faith contributed tremendously to her decision.
How can you win the battle with sugar? Here are some things to get you started making different choices on your way to better health.
Look at your favorite foods in your cupboard and read their labels for sugar content.
- Keep a diary or journal of foods you eat and discover how much sugar they have.
- Decide to go on a “sugar” fast.
- Choose whole foods over processed ones.
- Make your own smoothie instead of buying that commercial one that is high in sugar.
- Experiment with “other sweeteners” See our Optimal Health column this month for ideas.
- Take a serious look at what drives you to sweets. Consider how you can address those issues, looking at alternative behaviors when you get the “craving.”
- Remember, this battle is real. “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do!” (Romans 7:19).
- Pray! Seriously! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. And that includes being victorious over sugar consumption.
Donna Green-Goodman, M.P.H. writes from Huntsville, Alabama where she and her husband operate Lifestyle Therapeutix, A Lifestyle For Better Health Center..