Conservation Corner

Sugar and your health

Pauline Lee

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, better economic conditions in the Western world have been accompanied by the appearance and proliferation of chronic health problems that require a long incubation period to develop into life-threatening diseases. Typically, health problems begin with periodontal disease (tooth decay). Then for people under the age of 50, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and gout develop, while usually chronic diseases such as cancer, dementia, stroke and heart disease appear after age 50.

Medical scientists have observed that these Western health problems were rare or absent in cultures that lived an active lifestyle with diets that were totally different from our modern Western diet, characterized by processed food and soft drinks. However, when people in these foreign cultures immigrated to the U.S. or people in their native countries adopted more Western diets and lifestyles, they often develop the health problems prevalent in U.S. and Europe, and their health problems eventually become debilitating after a long period.

Finally, in the late 1980s, biochemists discovered why triglycerides in the bloodstream become elevated due to excess sugar consumption and gradually lead to the development of heart disease and diabetes. Both diseases arise from insulin resistance, now known as metabolic syndrome. The Center for Disease Control estimates that some 75 million (two-thirds) of adult Americans have metabolic syndrome; chronic inflammation, high triglycerides, overweight, elevated blood pressure, glucose intolerance and are on the way to becoming diabetic.

Sugar is present in milk, fruit, vegetables and some grains in the form of carbohydrates which have to be broken down for us to use. Sugar, only in the form of glucose, provides our body with energy for maintenance, growth and activities. The blood glucose levels in a healthy person can be regulated by insulin, produced by the pancreas, so that a stable environment is maintained in the body. If a person eats only foods as they occur in nature, his body can safely regulate whatever glucose is produced in the digestion of the food. Sugar (fructose and sucrose) added to processed food and soft drinks, however, can overwhelm the body’s regulatory system. One 12-ounce drink has 10 teaspoons, 40 grams or 200 calories of sugar. The end result of overconsumption of sugar is metabolic syndrome.

Unfortunately, sugar, like opioids, stimulates our brain to give us the feeling of pleasure. Furthermore, food manufacturers understand sugar in their food attracts consumers, so the consumer can easily become addicted to food with added sugar. You can read The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes, to understand the complex history and recent scientific discoveries about our modern chronic diseases. These diseases can be expensive to treat, compromise a person’s lifestyle and lead to death when remedies are ineffective or too late. Wouldn’t it be wiser to nip these diseases in the bud by making sufficient dietary changes to prevent metabolic syndrome from developing?