With colder weather starting to roll in and the holidays around the corner, many of us may already be struggling with conflicts about eating carbohydrate-rich comfort foods and sugary holiday treats. The war against refined sugar and its sneaky siblings — simple carbohydrates (such as bread and pasta) — is certainly justified. Of course, we need some carbohydrates for energy, brain function and other processes, but these can be obtained from eating fruits, many vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
So while sweet tastes and complex sugars are part of our evolutionary palate, refined sugars and overprocessed simple carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, are not. In fact, these substances act more like pharmaceutical drugs, triggering a cascade of detrimental reactions on the cellular level and leading to a number of degenerative illnesses. Luckily, there are ways to minimize the damage caused by refined sugar, along with some great alternative sweeteners that allow you to enjoy guilt-free treats without sacrificing the urge for sweetness
Sugar And Brain Function
A recent study from Mayo Clinic reported that people over the age of 70 who eat a lot of sugars and carbohydrates quadruple their risk of cognitive impairment. The study also demonstrated that people who ate a diet higher in protein and fat relative to carbohydrates and sugars reduced their chances of cognitive difficulties. These results highlight the links between inflammation and brain function while demonstrating the importance of a nutrient-dense, balanced diet.
Refined sugar is bad for you in so many ways. Because it creates a significant spike in blood glucose levels, it gets absorbed very quickly. When blood glucose levels spike, insulin, the hormone needed to transport the blood glucose into cells for energy, also spikes.
When you spike insulin, you start a whole cascade of problems:
- Lipogenesis (fat formation).
- Excess cortisol.
- Increased epinephrine.
- Rise in glucagon.
When the hormones cortisol, glucagon and epinephrine increase, the immune system suffers, the cardiovascular system is altered and chronic inflammation throughout the body begins to rise. Chronic insulin spikes also increase IGF (Insulin Growth Factor) levels, which can contribute to cancer and other diseases.
Excess glucose and insulin leads cells and tissues to become “insulin resistant.” That also is the reason why people who eat too many sweets start to lose their sensitivity to taste. Resistance to insulin is really the root of metabolic syndrome (prediabetes), a condition that is a serious epidemic in this country right now. Insulin resistance is the main mechanism for weight gain, especially around the waist. It also leads to hypertension, which we are now seeing in children and teenagers — a problem unheard of in the past. The large amount of refined sugars in today’s diet is leading to these health difficulties.
Sugar feeds bacteria, microbes and even tumors. Refined sugars damage the teeth and feed abnormal bacteria in the gut, leading to chronic gastrointestinal problems. Sugar also feeds fungus and yeast. So if you eat a lot of sugar or simple carbohydrates, you can end up with stubborn fungal and yeast infections in the body that may not manifest direct symptoms but can nonetheless cause a lot of long-term problems.
How To Minimize The Damage
If you do eat refined sugars, mix them with protein and fiber to slow down their absorption, thus preventing or minimizing glucose/insulin spikes. In particular, high levels of fibers, especially pectins and alginates, can slow the absorption of sugars. If you take a good mineral supplement and eat sugar together with protein, you can create a balance between nourishment that gets absorbed slowly and nourishment that is absorbed quickly. A combination of minerals, protein and sugars can help even out glucose metabolism.
You can also minimize glucose spikes by consuming probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and fermented foods like sauerkraut that contain these helpful microbes. Probiotics help the body process sugars in a healthy way and can even help to ferment them for better nutritional value.
Essentially, fermented foods and probiotics help pre-digest sugar into more beneficial nutrients. The probiotics use the sugar and consume it for their own energy, so the sugar becomes a food for the healthy bacteria that populate the gut. If you eat too much sugar, probiotics, sauerkraut and other fermented foods can help counteract the effects, according to the tenets of Chinese medicine; sour taste controls sweet cravings.
Herbs And Supplements
There are a number of natural ingredients that can help balance blood glucose, decrease insulin resistance, aid the absorption of sugars and help curb cravings. Chromium, alpha lipoic acid, L-Taurine and the herbs cinnamon, holy basil, gymnema, fenugreek and astragalus can help the body metabolize sugars and carbohydrates to address weight gain and metabolic issues.
Refined, processed sugars are all harmful. Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are especially dangerous and are really much worse than refined sugar. Corn syrup is so toxic that you are better off eating plain sugar.
On the other hand, unrefined cane sugar and other natural forms of sugar contain fiber, nutrients and minerals that help slow down glucose/insulin spikes. There are also a lot of interesting benefits to honey. While honey is a strong sweetener, it contains an abundance of beneficial enzymes and nutrients. Honey is a natural antiseptic that helps moisturize chronic dryness, fights infection and provides beneficial nutrients.
An excellent sugar substitute is coconut sugar, derived from coconut palm flowers. This form of natural sugar is very low on the glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t cause glucose spikes and is safe for diabetics. It is also high in nutrients and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and iron.
This fall and winter, there are many steps you can take to protect your health, stay energized and avoid colds and flus. By limiting refined sugars and taking the right steps to protect your metabolic health, you are giving yourself the advantage, which can make your holiday indulgences truly guilt-free.
For more health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.