Let’s not sugar-coat it, our lives revolve around sugar.
It’s our sweet savior. Doesn’t taste good? Add a little sugar to it. Want to double a products shelf-life? Add a little sugar to it. Is your fruit juice made from natural fruits not sweet enough? Add a little sugar to it.
A simple solution, really. But does anyone else realize the detrimental effects it has on our health? Most likely not. I’ll keep it short and sweet – sugar has been linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Yes that’s right, CVD! One of the leading causes of deaths in the US that was thought to be attributed to saturated fat intake is actually more likely to be caused by sugar.
So why is sugar in virtually everything we eat? Because it’s cheap. Sugar can be mass produced at a low cost, which means food manufacturers can generate massive amounts of product with an increased shelf-life and irresistible taste.
but what about natural sugar?
Natural sugar is what we think of when we eat fruit, vegetables, or grains. Any type of carbohydrate is either made up of one sugar molecule, or strung together by multiple sugar molecules – all of which will be broken down into glucose. The natural sugar found in fruits is normally fructose, the sweetest sugar. Added sugar is usually comprised of fructose + glucose to make sucrose (table sugar) or a glucose-fructose syrup from corn starch (High Fructose Corn Syrup).
While these may look like your typical disaccharides that will eventually break down to glucose within your body, they are absorbed, digested, and stored very differently from your typical sugar. For example, sucrose is one of the more commonly used added sugars because it is sweet, rapidly absorbed, and has little affect on blood sugar levels. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, because sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose the body can metabolize the glucose portion no problem, but needs to figure out an alternative solution for the fructose. If the liver prioritizes glucose it actually converts fructose into fat through the same process used to metabolize alcohol, which is then stored in the liver.
Since the typical Western Diet is full of added sugar, it forces the body to metabolize and store a constant flux of glucose and fructose, most of which ends up in the liver and contributes to common metabolic diseases.
It’s becoming extremely common to see NAFLD is obese children. Fatty liver disease is typically seen in alcoholic adults and eventually leads to cirrhosis. Because fructose can be metabolized like alcohol, it begins to build up in the liver and cause damage just like alcohol would. Thanks to our lack of education, abundance of processed food, and a bullying food industry, we continue to subject children to such a preventable disease.
is there a solution?
YES – Eat. Real. Food.
Simple in theory, difficult in execution. Depending on where you live, how much you can afford to spend on food and your access to it, real food may not be realistic. Another solution may be to educate yourself on PROCESSED foods (anything that comes in a box). If you buy food out of a box or bag it is more than likely to contain some type of added sugar to preserve the shelf-life or give it a little flavor. And yes that includes organic food that comes in a box.
Check out the ingredients list on some of your favorite foods and I bet you can spot one of the 56 names for added sugars on there. You might even want to take a look at Choose MyPlate added sugars education page along with Dr. Lustig’s Sugar Has 56 Names: A Shopper’s Guide.