Sugar shock

How sugar is devastating our mental and
physical health

Sugar is addictive, it may even be referred to as a toxin, and the amount of added sugar in the Western diet is driving the obesity epidemic in Canada. It is also responsible for increasing your risk of developing a wide range of serious health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular and liver disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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The average Canadian adult consumes an alarming 110 grams of sugar each day. That’s over four times the 25 gram per day limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

Source: Statistics Canada

If that is not frightening enough, the average nine year old boy in Canada eats over 150 grams of sugar each day. Male teens ingests an eye-popping 172 grams of sugar every day.

Even for those who don’t eat candy bars and ice cream, sugar is almost impossible to avoid. Two thirds of the packaged foods and beverages in our grocery stores contain some form of sugar.

Just one packet of ketchup has 3 grams of sugar. A single can of soda contains up to 40 grams. Your favorite “healthy” smoothie can have more than 60 grams of sugar!

The good news is that knowledge can empower change.

Our bodies are mainly interested in two types of sugar: glucose and fructose.

Nearly every cell in our body can convert glucose into energy, and this sugar travels through the bloodstream to ensure that every cell has enough energy.

Small excesses of glucose are stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen, your body’s favorite energy storage. When energy is needed, your body simply converts the glycogen back to glucose.

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When you have a constant supply of glucose it becomes problematic – sugar is converted to fat and the fat builds up.

Unlike glucose, fructose can only be converted to energy in the liver which means that when you take in a lot of fructose it can’t be used by other cells. What happens in the liver cells is somewhat complicated but the two main end products it produces from fructose are glucose and lactate. The glucose formed here is released into the bloodstream to be used as energy by the rest of the body.

But when you eat a meal high in fructose, it gets converted into fat called a triglycerides. Some of these triglycerides are distributed in body fat, others build up in your liver and lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Others can end up circulating in the bloodstream as so-called “bad cholesterols”, which can clog arteries and cause cardiovascular disease.

Our liver works very hard to regulate the amount of sugar in our blood.

When glucose enters the bloodstream it tells the pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin is an important hormone that helps cells convert glucose to energy - think of insulin as the key to unlocking the doorway of the cells in the body allowing them to make energy.

Too much glucose, however, causes a dangerous spike in insulin. This stops the body from burning fat and using stored glucose (glycogen) for energy. The glucose that was just eaten is not used ends up as fat (stored energy).

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Insulin production doesn’t immediately stop after all the glucose is used up or converted to fat, instead there is a delay. This leads to lower glucose levels in your blood and an increase in appetite, promoting overeating. In other words, the more sugar you eat, the more you crave it!

Adding another wrinkle to this story, fructose does not trigger insulin production. As a result, the breakdown of fructose is even more likely to produce a buildup of triglycerides. This can also lead to insulin resistance, which greatly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Sugar Addiction

Cutting down your sugar consumption might not be easy.

When sugar hits your bloodstream, it stimulates the brain to release dopamine and endorphins. These “happy” chemicals trigger a reward center in the brain and then you ‘want’ to eat more sugar to produce more of this chemicals.

As your body builds up a tolerance, more chemicals are needed to reach the same level of happiness.

Researchers from Princeton University have found that sugar can act on the brain in ways similar to cocaine, morphine, nicotine, and alcohol. Sugar acts like a drug.

Withdrawal symptoms have been documented with sugar, including low energy, mood swings, headaches and the relapse desires.

Even scarier, research as shown that cocaine addicted rats to will choose sugar over cocaine!

We eat two types of sugars. Those that are natural and those that are added. Natural sugars are in whole fruit, vegetables, dairy, and grains.

Natural sugars do not stand alone but come as part of a whole food complete with fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and proteins. These foods and their sugars give more than they take from the body.

Added sugars do not occur naturally in foods. They have been removed from their original sources and added to provide sweetness. This also means that the amount of sugar in these foods in not controlled and is present in concentrations way higher than natural sugars found in whole foods (e.g. fruit).

Foods with added sugars often have no nutritional benefit. These do not contain any fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, or proteins. Added sugars are often called “empty calories” because they add to your overall caloric intake, likely leading to fat production, but offer little in return.

Very commonly, sucrose is found as an added sugar as is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a highly processed sugar derived from corn popular with soft drink manufacturers.

What about natural sweeteners?

Of course, some sweeteners – honey, maple syrup, and agave – are more “natural” than others. However, these “natural sweeteners” still have all the same qualities as added sugar. Using honey to sweeten your cookies or tea is still adding unnecessary sugar.

A “natural” sugar can also be processed to make an added sugar. Fruit, for instance, can be turned into fruit juice concentrate, which removes lots of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and proteins that these foods once contained.

“Natural” sweeteners can be a better choice than table sugar, but they are still added sugars and should be used sparingly.

Are artificial sweeteners better?

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. They can be found in everything from diet soft drinks to low-calorie baked goods and yogurt. Some of the most common artificial sweeteners are aspartame (Equal® and NutraSweet®), sucralose (Splenda®), saccharin (Sweet’N Low®), stevia, and sugar alcohols (sorbitol and erythritol).

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For many, artificial sweeteners are attractive alternatives to sugar because they are low in calories and have only a small effect on blood glucose levels.

Health Canada has approved many artificial sweeteners as safe but some studies have linked artificial sweeteners to diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and preterm birth.

There is also evidence that artificial sweeteners can actually promote weight gain and are so sweet (often much sweeter than sugar) that they can lead to a distaste for less sweet, more nutritious natural foods.

Those that use artificial sweeteners, particularly pregnant women, should be cautious.

Sixty-six percent of packaged foods and beverages in Canadian grocery stores contain some form of added sugar or artificial sweetener.

Reading food and drink labels is a great way to cut added sugars from your diet. But labels can be misleading. Sugar hides under many names, from caramel and molasses to maltose and sucrose to anhydrous dextrose and ethyl maltol.

Understanding how many calories come from added sugar is also impossible.

Although “sugars” are listed on Canadian nutrition labels, added sugars are only mentioned in the list of ingredients – and ordered from most to least. Knowing this, food manufacturers will often use several different types of added sugars to move them further down the ingredient list.

Healthy buzzwords, like “no added sugar” or “made with real fruit”, can further confuse us. Products marked with these phrases can be crammed with natural sugars, with none of the nutritional benefits.

New changes to food labels fall short

The Canadian Food and Drug Regulations will be introducing changes to food labels to help clarify some of these issues.

Canadians will see all the different types of sugars grouped together. This mean you might see sugar jump to the front of the ingredient list for many products.

New %DVs (percent daily values) will also be added, and show whether the %DV is considered low or high.

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New changes to food labels fall short

Noticeably missing from these new Canadian food labels is a line listing the amounts of “added sugar”. This would have allowed Canadians to differentiate natural from added sugars.

Making matters worse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also introducing changes to their food labels and added sugars will be clearly separated from natural sugars.

Although the Canadian government has not yet established daily limits for sugar consumption, a number of health authorities have offered their opinions.

The World Health Organization suggests that added sugars should make up no more than 5% of our total energy intake per day.

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For a healthy 2000 calorie-a-day diet, 5% of our total energy is 100 calories, equivalent to 25 grams of sugar each day.

Source: World Health Organization

Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation as well as the Canadian Diabetes Association support these recommendations.

At Pure North, our interest is your health.

We understand that sugar can be harmful and difficult to avoid, but your health is worth the effort.

We want to help you avoid chronic disease. We want you to feel better and live a long healthy life.

Pure North health professionals work with each participant to individualize their health program.

We measure your blood levels, including things like glucose, so that we can figure out where you need help. You work with your doctor to develop a health plan that meets your goals and lifestyle. We also support your nutritional needs with supplements to improve your health.

Did you know, for instance, that low levels of vitamin D increase your risk of being diagnosed with diabetes? Having optimal vitamin D levels can even help prevent and reduce insulin resistance.

To learn more about Pure North please drop by, call or make an appointment online. Our knowledgeable staff are here to answer your questions.

Research and References

Langlois K, Garriguet. 2011. Sugar consumption among Canadians of all ages. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 82-003-XPE. Health Reports, 22: 23-27.

Acton RB, Vanderlee L, Hobin EP, Hammond D. 2017. Added sugar in the packaged foods and beverages at a major Canadian retailer in 2015: a descriptive analysis. CMAJ Open, 5: E1-E6.

Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. 2008. Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32: 20-39.

Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH. 2007. Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PLoS One, 8: e698.

Truong-Minh P, Ekwaru JP, Loehr SA, Veugelers, PJ. 2015. The Relationship of Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Insulin Resistance among Nondiabetic Canadians: A Longitudinal Analysis of Participants of a Preventive Health Program. PLoS One, 10: e0141081.

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