Sugar="public enemy number 1"

"I know sugar can lead to weight gain, but is it really all that bad for me?"

Yes, it really is, sugar can be considered "public enemy number 1." Sugar is a simple carbohydrate found naturally in many foods, including fruits and grains. I know some might be thinking, "but I thought natural sugars were good," and they are. But the average American diet is full of refined, nutrient-depleted foods and contains an average of 20 teaspoons of added, refined sugar every day, yes that is tsp, not grams. That's twice the amount recommended by the USDA, and in an alternative world it is 3-4 times what we "should" be consuming.

So what's wrong with refined sugar? Many things. First, sugar compromises immune function. Two cans of soda (which contain 24 teaspoons of sugar, count them out into a glass some day to see what it really looks like) reduce the efficiency of white blood cells by 92 percent-an effect that lasts up to five hours, according to Kenneth Bock, M.D., an expert in nutritional and environmental health. Since white blood cells are an integral part of your immune system, if you happen to meet a nasty virus or bacteria within five hours of drinking a few colas, your immune system may be unable to fight off the invader.

Refined sugar also overworks the pancreas and adrenal glands as they struggle to keep the blood sugar levels in balance. The pancreas reacts first to reduce the sugar effect, and then the adrenal gland kicks in to help regulate the system. A constantly high intake of simple dietary sugar keeps the roller coaster going and eventually overworks or "burns out" normal pancreas and adrenal function leading to early menopause, adult-onset diabetes, hypoglycemia, and chronic fatigue.

The purpose of eating is to provide your body with nutrients. But since sugar is devoid of nutrients, the body must actually draw from its nutrient reserves to process it. When these storehouses are depleted, the body becomes unable to properly metabolize fatty acids and cholesterol, leading to higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Drawing on the body's nutrient reserves can also lead to chronic mineral deficits, especially in magnesium (a mineral required for more than 300 different enzyme activities) and chromium (a trace element that regulates hormones such as insulin), putting you at risk for dozens of diseases, from depression to attention deficit disorder to asthma.

A recent study, for example, found that kids who eat significant amounts of junk food are much more likely to develop asthma than kids who don't eat junk food. And that study was just in the "short-term" effects of sugar intake, think about their disposition to diseases over the span of their life. In fact, children are the biggest consumers of nutritionally void junk food at a time when their brains and bodies are growing rapidly and in need of a nutrient-dense diet for proper development, both physically and mentally.

To find out how much sugar you're actually taking in, try keeping a food diary for one week. Check the labels of the foods you eat and make note of their sugar content. The reality of the numbers may not hit home because most of us don't think in grams-4.2 g of sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar. At the end of the week, take the total number of sugar grams and divide it by 4.2 to get your weekly sugar intake in teaspoons. Then divide that number by 7 to get your daily sugar consumption. This might be a great activity to do with kids...math lesson anyone?? :)

Unfortunately, the way the FDA's labeling rules are set up, manufacturers don't have to separate added sugars from naturally occurring ones on labels. But your total sugar intake will give you a very good idea of how much added sugar you're eating. Naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, don't really contain that much sugar. A cup of strawberries, for example, contains 1/6th the sugar of a can of cola.

So to help you all out a little, and I know this post is long, I am going to give you a list of all the ways food manufacturers can "hide" sugar in your food, if you are buying processed stuff. Here are the names sugar hides under. Some of these are "natural whole foods" (I will talk about that in another post), but most aren't.
* Amasake
* Apple sugar
* Barbados sugar
* Bark sugar
* Barley malt
* Barley malt syrup
* Beet sugar
* Brown rice syrup
* Brown sugar
* Cane juice
* Cane sugar
* Caramelized foods
* Carbitol
* Carmel coloring
* Carmel sugars
* Concentrated fruit juice
* Corn sweetener
* Corn syrup
* Date sugar
* Dextrin
* Dextrose
* Diglycerides
* Disaccharides
* D-tagalose
* Evaporated cane juice
* Florida crystals
* Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
* Fructose
* Fruit juice concentrate
* Galactose
* Glucitol
* Glucoamine
* Gluconolactone
* Glucose
* Glucose polymers
* Glucose syrup
* Glycerides
* Glycerine
* Glycerol
* Glycol
* Hexitol
* High-fructose corn syrup
* Honey
* Inversol
* Invert sugar
* Isomalt
* Karo syrups
* Lactose
* Levulose
* "Light" sugar
* "Lite" sugar
* Malitol
* Malt dextrin
* Malted barley
* Maltodextrins
* Maltodextrose
* Maltose
* Malts
* Mannitol
* Mannose
* Maple syrup
* Microcrystalline cellulose
* Molasses
* Monoglycerides
* Monosaccarides
* Nectars
* Pentose
* Polydextrose
* Polyglycerides
* Powdered sugar
* Raisin juice
* Raisin syrup
* Raw sugar
* Ribose rice syrup
* Rice malt
* Rice sugar
* Rice sweeteners
* Rice syrup solids
* Saccharides
* Sorbitol
* Sorghum
* Sucanat
* Sucanet
* Sucrose
* Sugar cane
* Trisaccharides
* Turbinado sugar
* Unrefined sugar
* White sugar
* Xylitol
* Zylose

Now that I have properly fried everyone's brains, I think I will stop here, and don't worry, fried brains don't contain any sugar! There is so much more that needs to be said...but it will have to wait until next time. For those of you who simply can't wait, check out
"Sugar Blues" by Willaim Duffy for more information.

sources: Carolyn Dean, MD, ND