Loving Sweets – The Hidden (Not-So-Hidden) Dangers of Sugar
Even knowing the well-researched and reported dangers of sugar, many of us still can’t seem to help ourselves when it comes to sweets.
They’re delicious, a little bit wicked, and absolutely everywhere.
Despite your efforts to eat healthy, control your weight, or manage specific conditions like diabetes, the temptation of sugary treats is hard to deny. Particularly if you have a sweet tooth.
Self-denial isn’t any fun!
While “hard core” diet gurus consider sweets to be the root of all evil, they’re talking about calorie content, not the sugar the foods are made with. It’s the dangers of sugar – not the dangers of sweets in general – that should concern everyone most.
Human beings can distinguish between five food perceptions and most of what we crave caters to experiencing them.
The sensation of “sweetness” is a big one. There are many naturally sweet foods that truly will help calm a sweet tooth. Here are a few examples:
- Dried fruit (particular prunes) with no added sugar
- Flavored herbal teas without sugar
- Fruit-infused water
- Ripe fresh fruit such as berries, peaches, grapes, and watermelon
- Sweet vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice
- Homemade shakes and smoothies
Mixing fruits such as apples, bananas, and pineapples (for instance) with peanut butter, honey, and natural chocolates can really kick up your “cheat” treat.
Loving Sweets – The Hidden (Not-So-Hidden) Dangers of Sugar
- The first thing to remember is that most foods sweetened with refined sugars are nowhere close to natural – not in any way. Sometimes, they give sugars fancy names (granulated, brown, invert) but they’re all refined. Maltose, dextrose, or lactose are also bad for you. All of them throw off your body’s proper pH balance.
High fructose corn syrup is another processed sugar that can harm your health. It has been linked with diabetes, high blood pressure, and can contain the toxic metal mercury.
- Sugar consumption stimulates a chemical process called glycation. You’ve seen it happen yourself. Sugar and a protein molecule combine when heated and things turn different brown. Caramelization is a good example.
In your body, glycation produces advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. The long-term health consequences of this can be disastrous. When proteins in blood vessels undergo glycation, they get stiffer and less flexible. This can mean higher blood pressure, plaque formation, and heart disease.
- Sugar has another effect that’s equally bad. In one of the earlier of the modern studies done on refined sugar, it was revealed that eating only three ounces of sugar during a meal or snack almost stops white blood cells from being able to destroy bacteria and viruses.2
That’s ALL sugars – fructose, glucose, or sucrose. This immunosuppression starts about 30 minutes after you eat the sugar and can last for up to five hours. Refined sugar is also linked to cataracts, reduced bone strength, and nutrient depletion.
- It can also affect brain cognition. In a study from the University of California, a research team assisted a group of rats with navigating a maze. They put up little landmarks to help them learn the way.
The rats learned...they figured out quickly how to get through the maze. Then, the researchers began feeding the rats high fructose corn syrup. Six weeks later, the rats fed the sugary goo that’s in almost every processed food you can buy had gotten dumber. Their brains were slower and had declined.3
The study author, Professor Gomez-Pinilla told London’s Daily Mail newspaper, “Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier.” To put it bluntly, eating sugar over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information.
It goes without saying that you should absolutely avoid all artificial sweeteners! An excellent article by Dr. Josh Axe on the dangers of artificial sweeteners can be found here.
Again, sweets in general are not your enemy. The dangers of sugar – specifically refined (highly processed) sugars – are your enemy.
You don’t have to be mean to yourself to cut refined sugars out of your eating plan. You can do some replacements that really do help. Kick out the bleached, DNA disrupting table sugar and make better choices for what sweetens your food.
Here are three little-known (and delicious) sweeteners that also offer health benefits.
- Lucuma sugar is the dried ground pulp from the fruit that grows in the high valleys along the coast of Peru. The fruit does not have to be heated so it keeps all its nutrients and antioxidants. It has a maple-like flavor and an extremely low sugar content. Lucuma has lots of protein, calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and fiber.4
- Maqui powder is made from the purple Chilean maqui berry is also antioxidant-rich and considered an ancient superfood. It has vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium, anti-aging anthocyanins and polyphenols, and anti-inflammatory compounds. The powder is fruity and sweet, and a healthy stand-in for refined cane or beet sugar.5
- Momordica (Luo Han Guo in China or bitter melon) is a low-glycemic sugar substitute that’s from a fruit that grows in tropical climates. It’s been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years. The sugar made from the fruit is 300 times sweeter than refined sugar and loaded with vitamin C. Diabetics use it because it doesn’t increase blood sugar, it has insulin-like molecules, and even helps to remove glucose from the bloodstream. It has a mild similarity to caramel in flavor.6
Also, remember that rapadura, panela, sucanat, muscavado, turbinado, jaggery, palm sugar, and “organic raw” sugar are a bit less refined, but still have the same effect in your body as the processed white stuff.
If in doubt, go with a small amount of raw honey from your local farmer’s market. You’ll get some beneficial immune boosters from flora in your area and it tastes amazing. Still, it must be used in moderation.
The dangers of sugar don’t have to deprive you of all sweets – just the ones sweetened with the junk your body doesn’t want and can’t use. Choose wisely!
1 Live Science: Tip of the Tongue: Humans May Taste at Least 6 Flavors
2 Ringsdorf, W., Cheraskin, E. and Ramsay R. Sucrose, Neutrophilic Phagocytosis and Resistance to Disease. Dental Survey. 1976;52(12):46_48.
3 Agrawal R, Gomez-Pinilla F. Metabolic syndrome' in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signaling and cognition. J Physiol. 2012 May 1;590(Pt 10):2485-99.
4 Superfood Evolution: Lucuma Fruit Powder, Benefits As An Alternative Sweetener
5 Very Well: The Benefits of Maqui Berry
6 Wikipedia: Momordica