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Sugar and Spice and Everything Not-So-Nice

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

I'm just going to start by stating the obvious: sugar is terrible for our bodies and a habit that's hard to kick. Yeah, yeah, so what? I will be the first to say that I definitely have a sweet tooth; sweet over savory any day. I do pretty well at abstaining from sugar for the most part, until I have a taste, and then it's back to square one. I will think about sugar after every meal. I will think about getting my hands on something sweet every day. I've been known to break into some cookie dough in the parking lot of the grocery store. For me, the only cure for this is to stop eating it entirely and hang on until the craving mellows. It's not easy. Clearly, I'm not the only one that's affected by sugar temptation. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, consumption of sugary drinks has increased by 500% over the past 50 years! Another easy target is high fructose corn syrup, a.k.a. sugar, which is a widely used ingredient in processed foods in the West. With sugar lurking in many corners of our food in the U.S., could it really be that bad? What does the research say?

Effects of Sugar Intake. From Resource #2

Sugar is another fuel for the systemic inflammation fire. Think, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (1), chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and irritable bowel disease (2). Sugar intake impairs our immune system and reduces the diversity of the microbiome in our gut (2). Remember, the more diverse our microbiome, the better our health. The beauty of this news is that in mouse studies, many of these autoimmune conditions were alleviated once sugar consumption was discontinued. That is amazing! What we choose to put into our bodies is so impactful!

Researchers have studied the correlation of sugar and cancer. Sugar intake has been linked to the development of colon cancer, liver cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (5), and increased tumor growth. Increased sugary drink consumption has been associated with increased risk of breast cancer specific mortality amongst breast cancer survivors (3). Since this is well known in the medical community, why do places like Massey allow sugar within their walls?! I don't get it. Did you know that even after being diagnosed with cancer, Steve Jobs continued his "fruitarian" diet? Apparently, the man ate A LOT of fruit throughout his life, i.e. fructose, a type of sugar. I've always been puzzled by this. Did anyone try to tell him?

Allow me to take this opportunity to throw some shade on The Sugar Association; this story is juicy. In the 1950's, the U.S. saw an increase in coronary heart disease and so scientists began looking at dietary factors. There was speculation that sugar intake was a major culprit. So what did The Sugar Association do? They created the Sugar Research Foundation and used major cash to fund a research program in the '60's and 70's that doubted sugar's involvement with this disease and pointed fingers to fat and cholesterol intake instead (4). The source of funding was not disclosed in their research publications. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death on a global scale so whether or not sugar intake has an impact on it is a major concern. Sadly, this isn't the first narrative where food industry-funded research has results that support that industry yet defy other parties' results (ahem, dairy and meat). Note to self, look to see who funds the research you're reading.

What is the recommendation for the amount of sugar we could consume before we might regret it? In a 2023 meta-analysis, researchers suggest to east less than 6 teaspoons a day (<25 g if you are reading food labels) and less than 1 sugary drink (200-355 mL) per week to keep the adverse effects of sugar in check. (6)

Sugar intake goes beyond weight gain. We now understand that with regular consumption, we are creating a chronically inflamed environment in our bodies. Wouldn't it make sense that this would contribute to chronic pain as well? With any physical symptom, taking a look at what we are putting in our bodies should be the first line of defense. Now that the holidays are through, let's refocus and have the intention to make wise choices for our well-being.


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