Sugar and the Human Body

The human body needs sugar. It recognizes sweet tastes and craves them, but modern diets contain too much sugar. Sugar needs to be converted into energy or stored as fat, and consuming too much of it strains your body's resources and can lead to serious health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

By cutting refined sugar out of your diet, you can prevent many diseases or control existing ones. Fruits, which contain some naturally occurring sugars that you will need to take into account, and the sugar substitute Splenda will be used to add sweetness to the recipes in this book.

Sugar and Obesity

Obesity, an excessive buildup of body fat, is caused by poor diet and inactivity. Sugars, starches, proteins, and fats that have not been burned for energy are stored as glycogen and body fat. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report a widespread rise in obesity in the last 20 years, and the media has declared the problem epidemic.

Diet change is a major part of controlling obesity. Health experts recommend a diet that is high in complex carbohydrates and fiber and low in fat and sugar.

Fact

According to the CDC, in all 50 states, less than 20 percent of the population was obese in 1995. In 2005, only four states reported obesity rates less than 20 percent.

Obesity is linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Other painful effects of obesity include stress and damage to the body structure. Carrying excess weight puts stress on the back, hip joints, knees, ankles, and feet. This stress on the joints produces a great deal of pain and leads to arthritis.

Sugar and Diabetes

How can sugar contribute to disease? In the simplest of terms, overconsumption of sugar stresses the pancreas, the organ responsible for making insulin. After years of eating too much sugar, a person's pancreas rebels and stops doing its job. Without as much insulin, which helps the body process sugar, the body is unable to get energy from sugar, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream. The result is type 2 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates 20.8 million Americans — 7 percent of the total population — have diabetes. The ADA contends that up to a third of American diabetics have not been diagnosed. In addition, the ADA classifies 54 million Americans as prediabetics, which means they have elevated blood sugar levels but do not yet have diabetes.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 2 diabetes accounts for up to 95 percent of all diabetes cases.

    It is typically diagnosed in middle-aged patients, but experts have recorded a recent surge in childhood cases. There are many reasons why people become diabetic, and a poor diet is one factor that elevates the risk of type 2 diabetes. There is no cure for type 2 diabetes, but it can be controlled through diet, exercise, and occasionally medication.

  • Type 1 diabetes is classified as an auto-immune condition and occurs in people with a genetic predisposition to the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks insulin-producing cells and impairs the pancreas's ability to produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is not connected with eating too much sugar. Type 1 diabetics need to monitor their blood sugar levels and must be given insulin.

Fact

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), diabetes is the leading cause of adult kidney failure, blindness, and amputations. Diabetes is also linked to heart disease and strokes.

In prediabetes, the body's ability to control sugar levels in the bloodstream is impaired. People with prediabetes are at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes and all of the health issues associated with it. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly are crucial for diabetics and prediabetics alike.

Sugar and Tooth Decay

Sugar reacts with the natural bacteria in your mouth to create acid. Over time, the acid eats away at tooth enamel and results in tooth decay. Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet can help slow this process. Brushing your teeth after meals or chewing sugar-free gum cleanses your mouth and helps remove sugar before it can interact with the bacteria.

Children and Sugar

The same sugar-related problems that affect adults are also affecting record numbers of children. The NIH estimates that as many as one in five children is overweight, and doctors are reporting increased numbers of children with type 2 diabetes. They attribute these health problems to childrens' diet and lack of exercise.

Fact

Sugar does have a deservedly bad reputation, but there is one condition it's incorrectly blamed for: hyperactivity. Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association have shown there is no link between sugar consumption and children's behavior.

Why Cut Back on Sugar?

There are many health reasons for cutting back on the amount of sugar in your diet. You can reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. Reducing your sugar intake can be beneficial to your immediate well-being as well as your long-term health. Many people find they have more energy when they adhere to a sugar-free diet. Eating less sugar can help you lose weight and feel healthier. Cutting back on the empty-calorie sugary foods that fill you up will leave room for more nutritious options.

Essential

Eating too much sugar in the morning can throw off blood sugar levels all day long. Both children and adults should avoid breakfasting on sugary treats. Drinks and beverages that are high in sugar cause a spike in energy, which quickly leads to low sugar levels once the sugar has been digested. People tend to reach for more sugar when this happens, and the cycle continues for the rest of the day.

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