A low-sugar diet improves well-being
As we become more aware of the contribution of sugar to our large waistlines, we are faced with hundreds of complicated food choices every day. We are also bombarded with messages from other people telling us that all calories are equal and it doesn’t matter what type of sugar you get your calories from. If you eat too much sugar, an easy thing to do on this day of processed foods with corn derivatives added to everything from “artificial” sweeteners to beef jerky, there is some truth to this statement. Too much sugar of any kind will cause you to gain weight, fuel inflammation, damage cells through oxidation, and lead to diabetes, heart disease, and more. The reasons for focusing on sugar intake are compelling.
The two main forms of sugar in the diet are fructose and glucose. Fructose comes from fruit and is often added to foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Glucose comes naturally from a variety of vegetables and fruits and is also added to processed foods. The body and brain treat these two sugar variants very differently. Glucose is metabolized by insulin, which is excreted by the pancreas. Too much sugar raises insulin levels, and the body stores excess insulin as fat. Over time, elevated insulin levels lead to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, often resulting in diabetes.
The liver metabolizes fructose directly, and any excess fructose increases triglyceride levels, which are also stored in the body as fat. Glucose serves as an energy source for cells and we need a small supply present in our bloodstream to keep cells working properly. Fructose serves no other purpose in our body, so excess levels are essentially fat stores and are recognized by our bodies as toxins that must be eliminated. The first place damaged by these toxins is the liver itself, where fructose has the same effect as alcohol.
Elevated glucose and fructose levels stimulate the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which is the result of oxidative stress in cells. It can result in accelerated aging, inflammation, and other diseases. Fructose accelerates this process at a rate seven times faster than glucose. Fructose also increases uric acid production, the high levels of which are indicated for gout, kidney stones, and hypertension.
Excess sugar and fructose, in particular, feed pathogenic bacteria in the gut, which can lead to digestive disorders and inflammation. Sustained high fructose diets can result in resistance to leptin, which is a hormone that helps regulate our metabolism and appetite. This fuels rapid weight gain. Fructose actually stimulates hunger cravings in the brain, while glucose does not. The more fructose you eat, the more resistant you will become and the more you want to eat.
The answer is to avoid packaged foods that are high in sugars and have refined sugar and starches as the main ingredients. In addition to high fructose corn syrup, products with names like malt syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, and molasses are likely to have high levels of fructose. Keep your fruit intake under control, but you don’t need to cut it out completely, as fruits provide many essential vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Use nutrient-dense vegetables as a good source of complex carbohydrates that provide our bodies with the glucose energy source we need without increasing insulin levels. The most important thing to recognize is that too much sugar from either variety does not help your diet or your health.