Cut Down Your Sugar Intake for Optimal Health

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Filed Under: General Health, Diet
Last Reviewed 03/26/2014

Cut Down Your Sugar Intake for Optimal Health

There are two primary types of sugar: sucrose and fructose.

For years, conventional wisdom believed that sucrose (or white sugar) was to blame for virtually all of the health problems associated with excess sugar intake. Meanwhile, fructose (sometimes called fruit sugar since it occurs naturally in fruit) got off scot-free.

This partly explains why high fructose corn syrup has overtaken sucrose as the sweetener of choice in drinks and processed foods. But the latest research suggests that fructose is equally—if not mostly—responsible for the harmful effects of sugar intake.

The Problems With Fructose

Fructose is readily taken up by your liver, where it is converted into fat. Some of this fat is released into the bloodstream (that’s why fructose drives up triglycerides), and some is stored in fat cells.

Extra calories from any source will make you put on the pounds. But fructose has a special talent for packing them on in the abdominal area—the fat distribution that is linked with metabolic syndromediabetes and heart disease. Research suggests that fructose sugar intake also interferes with satiety-signaling hormones, which may contribute to overeating and greater weight gain.

Why No Sugar Is Healthiest

Fructose certainly deserves its bad rap, but so do other sugars. Sucrose is broken down in your body into 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. High fructose corn syrup, despite its name, is actually a blend of fructose and glucose (in ratios of 55/45 in sodas and 42/58 in foods).

From a health perspective, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose and most other sugars are more similar than different. They all drive up blood sugar and insulin. None of these sugars provide significant nutritional value, other than calories. And each delivers a wallop of fructose.

Furthermore, research shows that excess sugar intake weakens immunity, robs your body of minerals and B vitamins and promotes free radical damage. Excess sugar intake also cross-links with proteins to form advanced glycation endproducts (or AGEs). When AGEs build up in tissues, they impair cellular function and accelerate aging.

This is why I believe that limiting your sugar intake, or better yet, cutting it out altogether, is one of the most beneficial dietary changes you can make for optimal health.

How to Clean Up Your Sugar Intake

For most people, excess sugar intake comes from beverages (especially sodas) and processed foods.

So start by eliminating these foods from your diet. Check labels for sugar in all its guises, especially high fructose corn syrup, but also cane or beet sugar, corn syrup, lactose, dextrose, maltodextrin, honey, molasses and fruit juice concentrates. You should also avoid sucrose (table sugar).

I don’t recommend giving up fruit, which contains fructose as part of a whole package of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. But you should limit fruit to one or two servings a day, especially if you are concerned about diabetes.

Forget About Artificial Sugar Alternatives

If you think artificial sweeteners are a healthy sugar alternative, think again.

There is a wealth of research documenting the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners. For example, more than 75 percent of all nondrug complaints to the FDA are about aspartame. These complaints include headaches, dizziness, mood changes, numbness, vomiting or nausea, muscle cramps and spasms, and abdominal pain and cramps.

Try These Natural Sugar Alternatives

I recommend using natural sugar alternatives instead. My two favorites are stevia and xylitol. Stevia is an herbal sweetener that is extracted from a plant native to South America, while xylitol comes from birch trees and corn cobs. Both of these natural sugar alternatives are available in health-food stores or via online retailers. (See the chart below for a detailed, side-by-side comparison of the two.)

 

Stevia

Xylitol

Available Preparations

Powder and liquid extracts

Crystals; also available in products such as chewing gum and mints

Uses

Great for cooking and baking, and as a general sweetener ( i.e., for coffee or tea)

Ideal for baking, but it can also be used in other recipes, and as a general sweetener (i.e., for coffee or tea)

Benefits

Calorie-free; doesn’t affect blood sugar levels

Looks and tastes like sugar; reduces cavity and plaque formation (a dental claim approved by the FDA); metabolized much more slowly than sugar; extremely low glycemic value

Side Effects

None, although some people don’t like the aftertaste

Gastrointestinal distress when large amounts are ingested

Replacement Ratio

Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, and there isn’t an exact replacement ratio available. The best advice is to start out with a small amount and add until desired sweetness is obtained

1:1, for example, you can replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of xylitol

More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Diet and Optimal Health

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