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Dr. Magryta: The blessing and the curse of sugar

Sugar — what a blessing and a curse. What is the history of this favorite food?

I remember a lecture by Dr. Weil back in 2007, where he stated that the sweet taste of certain plants like fruit was a protective evolutionary signal for humans in that sweet foods are all safe to eat. Bitter, sour and others can be poisonous.

When I did mission work in the jungles of Ecuador and on the streets in Belize, I would often see children chewing on sugar cane with rotted teeth. I found this to be disturbing and fascinating at the same time. The sweetness is so enticing that we will let it destroy our teeth, make us fat and promote disease.

Who developed table sugar as we know it today?

History says that sugar cane was domesticated on the Island of New Guinea and spread from there to Asia where it was first believed to be processed into powder in 500 BC. It was further refined into a syrup in India and then hardened into crystals called Khanda. This is the derivation of the word candy.

It was used in ceremonies and as a medicine in many cultures at this time. From there it flourished within the Arab culture. They had learned how to produce refined sugar in increasing volumes making it more common in the culture.

The west gained access to sugar during the crusader wars of the Holy Land. The English and French returned with the sweet powder to the delight of the European elite. One problem! Sugar cane only grows in warm and wet climates. Certainly not England or France. Trade was the only way to obtain it until the great period of imperial European expansion to the New World.

Mass production begins on the islands of Jamaica and Cuba as well as Brazil. African slaves become a big part of the mass production theme. The price of sugar now is dropping rapidly. The beautiful sweetness is no longer the sole benefit of privilege. The middle class is now at the sugar trough!

According to historical documents in the 1700s the average Englishmen consumed 4 pounds of sugar a year. Today that number is closer to 77 pounds for the average American. The main culprit is the US governmental subsidies provided to farmers to produce the sugar that we gorge on today.

Now we begin the nightmare. Excess sugar consumption leads to disease prevalence.

Glucose is the main sugar needed for cellular metabolism. Its use is regulated by hormones like insulin, leptin and glucagon. Table sugar is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized solely by the liver where it is turned into fat. Therefore, when you eat sugar, half of it goes to fat while the other half goes to the cells for use. This is all good when the volume consumed is in balance with your needs.

What happens when demand is exceeded by the supply? Good ole human economics. The supply builds up and our good friend insulin says that it is time to go to the storage center, FAT.

Why would our bodies behave this way? It sounds self defeating. Well, if you are a human living in times of food scarcity (we used to always live this way in the recent past) then having sugar and fruit turn into fat 50% of the time is life saving. Fruit falls off of the tree and you gorge on it before it spoils. You get fat like a walrus and survive to procreate again in the spring. Evolutionary genius.

Fast forward to the era of high fructose corn syrup and cheap sugar. We have a problem Houston! HFCS is made up of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Now we have an extra 5% fat deposition going on per mg eaten. Multiply this by some large percentage of the 77 pounds and it is not a leap to see how we have gone off the deep end with sugar.

(Let us also note that the FDA and the FTC allow these companies to incessantly target your children with advertisements during cartoons and on processed food labels.)

This sugar-to-fat evolution has changed the entire dynamic of our metabolic effect, micro biome, hormonal function and ultimately our health depravity.

Sugar is now a poison. How sad. I have a hard time blaming the average person for loving sugar. It is euphoric to eat something sweet. It is addictive and lovely.

So what is the solution? I like the idea of moderation in all things with an understanding that refined sugar/HFCS is the main issue. Enjoy fruit as part of your 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day. Avoid most, if not all HFCS, sugar-enhanced beverages and processed foods. Teach your kids the 90/10 rule. If 90% of the food they ingest is wholesome and non-processed then, depending on their metabolism, 5-10% of their diet can have some “kid” food in it.

Remember that a 12 oz. can of cola has 44 grams of sugar — which is equivalent to 11 sugar packets, like the kind on the table at a restaurant.

Just for the fun of it. How much sugar is in:

• (KKD = Krispy Kreme Doughnut) = 1 glazed original has 21 grams of carbohydrate and 10 grams of sugar.

• Starbucks Frappuccino (16oz) = 69 grams of sugar or 7 KKDs

• Yoplait original yogurt = 18 grams or 1.8 KKDs

• V8 Fusion Vegetable Juice (8oz) = 28 grams or 2.8 KKDs

• Motts Apple Juice (8oz) = 28 grams or 2.8 KKDs

• Vitamin WATER (20oz) = 33 grams or 3.3 KKDs

• Odawalla Super Food Smoothie (12oz) = 50 grams or 5 KKDs

• Nesquick fat free chocolate milk (16oz) = 54 grams or 5.4 KKDs

These are all purported to be HEALTHY! Not so much.

Current recommendations for refined or added sugar intake are: 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. 1 packet of sugar = 4 grams or 1 teaspoon. Therefore, 1 frappuccino is 17 packets of sugar and way more than anyone should consume in a day, let alone in one drink.

Avoid these foods and save your liver, heart and pancreas from the torture of dealing with these foods.

Look at labels. Avoid added sugar. Live long and healthy,

Dr. M

References:

http://www.sugarnutrition.org.uk/sugar-information/history-of-sugar/

http://www.sugarhistory.net/who-made-sugar/sugar-timeline/

http://www.sugarscience.org

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?_r=0

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