Are you trying to eat less sugar to reverse diabetes?
Eating less sugar today is much more complicated with all the different foods and products available. If you are trying to make better food choices, you might find it much more confusing than you thought. This article will hopefully help answer some of your questions.
The connection between sugar, diabetes, and other health problems
We know that too much sugar is connected to many health problems including weight gain, diabetes, fatty liver, heart disease, possibly cancer, and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Extra sugar intake may also increase the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, depression, and anxiety.
Just to clarify – Eating sugar does not cause diabetes. Eating too much sugar along with other unhealthy eating and activity habits is a big part of developing diabetes.
The toxic effect of sugar: There is a chemical thing in our body called advanced glycation end-products or AGEs for short. These chemicals are formed when sugars react with lipids or proteins, and they are toxic to our body. If you cook onions or other foods until they turn brown and caramelize into a sweet taste, that’s the same type of reaction. These toxic AGEs also are formed in the body when we eat too much sugar on a regular basis. They can build up to a level in the body and brain that creates inflammation.
Fatty liver and sugar: Did you know that 40-50% of all adults have fatty liver? What does that mean? Well, most people have no symptoms and don’t know they have a fatty liver. The problem is that it can progress to liver cirrhosis and then to liver cancer. This topic is somewhat near to my heart since my mother died of liver cancer. She did not know she had a liver problem until they found liver cancer 2 days before she died. Just in the last few years doctors are really starting to screen patients for fatty liver disease. And not surprisingly, type 2 diabetes happens to be a big risk factor for developing fatty liver.
Sugar and the immune system: Sugar has negative effects on our immune system also by changing the health of our intestinal tract, where 60-70% of our immune strength lives. Eating too much sugar can damage the intestinal cells and lead to a “leaky gut”, which basically means toxins can get across the intestinal barrier that normally protects our body.
Are there certain kinds of sugar that are better or worse?
Best choice for sweets: Fruit has natural sugar and does not have the same harmful effect that processed sugar does. Fresh fruit has fiber, which limits the sugar absorption in the liver. Most fresh fruits also are a good source of water and always a great source of disease fighting nutrients. Choose fresh fruit and avoid juice most of the time. Dried fruit is okay in small portions, such as a tablespoon added to salad greens for flavor.
Unhealthy choice for sweets: Sugar in PROCESSED foods is our biggest health problem. Many of these sugars are hidden sugars, meaning we don’t even realize they are in our food.
Hidden sugars could be keeping us addicted to sugar. Start looking at the ingredients in your packaged foods and you will likely be amazed at how many actually contain some form of sugar.
Different kinds of sugar
- Glucose is what our body uses for energy and is not the harmful form of sugar.
- Fructose is very sweet and not required by our body, but it does make our reward center of our brain happy, which makes it addictive.
- Fructose in liver is turned to fat, which is why if you eat or drink fructose on a regular basis you have a higher chance of fatty liver. The problem is you don’t realize that your foods and drinks have fructose until you start looking at the ingredients listing. This does not include the natural sugar in whole fruit due to the fiber, as mentioned above.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup is made from corn because it is cheaper for food companies to use this. And corn is often genetically modified (GMO) to withstand large doses of herbicides.
- Alcohol beverages with high fructose corn syrup include some of the hard lemonade, hard ciders, rum, some tonic waters, mixers made with fruit juice, soda. In the US, the FDA to my knowledge does not require an ingredient listing on alcohol beverages so you may have to search online for the ingredients.
- Artificial sweeteners: These include aspartame, neotame, saccharin, stevia products, sucralose, acesulfame K, sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or maltitol.
In my experience and reading of studies that come across my email: some get headaches or body aches from aspartame. There has been research, of sucralose interfering with the healthy balance of bacteria in our gut, which remember, is our immune strength center. There has also been research claiming artificial sweeteners can increase cravings for food or sweets. Saccharin has been shown to cause cancer in rats. Sugar alcohols are often added to sugar free chocolates or candy and can cause stomach upset and diarrhea if you eat too much at once.
Healthier, more natural sweeteners:
Xylitol: made from xylose, a more natural sugar found in birch tree bark. It has been found to help prevent bacteria growth that causes infections.
Stevia: Stevia is actually a plant you can grow in your garden. If you can find a plant or seeds at garden centers, give it a try. The leaves are sweet and can be used to sweeten up your favorite beverage! If you can’t grow your own there are many products now made from Stevia that should be safe to use.
Raw honey: Honey has equal carbohydrate as table sugar, but raw honey is a natural source of many disease fighting nutrients, and often probiotic bacteria strains. Look for local honey if you have it available.
Molasses: this is the thick, dark brown syrup that results from boiling cane sugar in producing table sugar. Molasses is a good source of iron, as well as magnesium, potassium, manganese, and B vitamins.
Sugar Cravings: Is it possible to be addicted to sugar?
You might feel you are addicted to sugar or carbohydrates. I do not think there is a black and white line here to know for sure if we are truly addicted to sugar. I do think sugars and processed foods make us want to eat more once we start. I know that certain foods are very difficult for me to portion control. Is that genetic or the ingredients in the food or something else?
We do know that humans prefer sweets right from the start at birth. There are theories from research about sugar addiction, such as possible genetic differences that make some people get addicted to sugar when others have no problem with it. This is similar to alcohol, in that some can enjoy an occasional drink, some have problem once they start drinking and can’t stop, and some people are truly addicted to alcohol.
Are we more likely to love sugar when we grow up eating more sweets? I did grow up around plenty of sweets but also had a lot of healthy foods along with it. I do think that the more I avoid sweets the less I crave them.
Our body has receptors for sweet taste in our gut and brain, as well as in the mouth. Sugar and fat are known to cause our brain to release happy chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin as well as others.
If you are struggling with sweets craving, don’t beat yourself up because you think you are a failure. Your cravings are not because you are weak or have no willpower. There are chemical reactions going on in the body making you crave sugar. You are fighting against processed foods everywhere, marketing of those foods, and all kinds of other triggers.
Learn about your cravings and strategies to deal with them. Work with a health professional that can help you personalize a plan that works specifically for you to reach your health goals.