When I was growing up back in the 1960’s (yeah… I’m that old!), my mother used to take me grocery shopping with her. I always remembered her buying the little round tubs of margarine, thinking it was the healthiest choice for the family.
But, today – we know better.
You see, back then, the sugar industry had powerful lobbyists that spewed their hype to the government that fat was bad for you… margarine and other hydrogenated fats were good… and (of course) sugar was great for you.
My, oh my, how times have changed. We now know that these processed fats are linked to diabetes, cancer, obesity and a myriad of other health issues.
The sugar industry in the U.S. thrives at a whopping $ 100 billion in annual revenue. Did you know that the average person with chronic pain eats about 150 pounds of sugar a year? That’s almost half a pound of pure sugar per day! Put another way…the CDC estimates that 16% of our daily calories come from added sugars. That’s 362 calories per day for boys and 282 calories per day for girls up to age 19. Compare that to the CDC’s allowable limit of 10% of total calories – this means almost all of us eat too much sugar.
So… let’s look at what sugar does to you.
SUGAR – IT DOES THE BODY BAD
Ok, I kind of stole a line from the milk commercials that used to run on TV. Remember: “Milk…it does the body good?” Turns out, that’s not true either. Too much milk causes its own problems – but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.
So what does eating too much sugar do?
After you scarf down that piece of chocolate cake, the sugars are spread throughout your blood stream to every cell in the body. Blood glucose levels spike – and your pancreas releases insulin to drive the blood sugar levels back down. This yo-yo effect on blood sugar (spikes and valleys) causes massive amounts of inflammation throughout your body.
Inflammation is a major component of many health issues, including:
- Heart Failure
- Heart Attacks
- Neurodegenerative Diseases (Parkinson’s, ALS)
- Autoimmune disorders
- Pulmonary disorders
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Most cancers
- Chronic joint pain – including chronic neck pain
Not only is inflammation an issue, it is well-known that high sugar intake leads to nutrient deficiencies. Excessive sugar intake has been shown to deplete and reduce the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals needed by the body.
The human body can synthesize a limited amount of vitamin C on its own, but eating too much sugar limits the beneficial effects of the vitamin. Sugar and vitamin C use the same transporters to reach the cell. More sugar in the blood stream means more competition for vitamin C absorption. Increased glucose levels appear to inhibit vitamin C from entering the cells, thereby resulting in limited vitamin absorption. Sugar-induced vitamin C deficiency may result in suppressed tissue regeneration and decreased immune function.
Vitamin D, another very important nutrient, can also fall prey to sugar’s unwanted effects. Sugar promotes the expression of enzymes that degrade vitamin D… while simultaneously decreasing enzymes needed to synthesize the vitamin. This may result in a vitamin D deficiency – which can cause autoimmune issues, cancer, dementia, osteoporosis and widespread chronic pain.
High intake of sugar, which leads to high insulin levels, promotes magnesium excretion by the kidneys – thereby limiting tubular reabsorption of the mineral. This causes the body to use up its magnesium reserves… which about 70% of us are already low on. This can lead to diabetes, muscle cramping and a whole host of health issues.
Chromium is a key mineral that promotes blood sugar control, insulin binding and macronutrient metabolism. Eating too much sugar greatly affects chromium absorption in the body. Similar to magnesium, sugar triggers chromium deficiency by prompting the body to excrete this essential mineral… which can lead to high sugar levels and poor glucose tolerance.
Calcium is vital for skeletal health, blood clotting and electrolyte balance. Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium – but as we have already seen, sugar reduces vitamin D levels. This causes a ripple effect where the kidneys are not able to uptake calcium and leads to low calcium levels.
In addition to inflammation, too much sugar leads to suppressed immune system function and can trigger hyperactivity in children (“the sugar high”). It may lead to kidney damage, increased blood acidity and advanced aging. The aging mechanism is caused when sugar reacts with proteins in the blood to form Advanced Glycation End products (AGE’s)… which causes long-term heart damage.
Tooth decay, arthritis (especially in the neck), asthma, as well as digestive disorders and candida albicans (a fungus that causes yeast infections) are also among the results of excessive sugar intake.
ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS ARE NOT BETTER THAN SUGAR
When you take a sip of your diet soda, you made a commitment to start reducing the sugar consumption in your regular diet plan. The artificial sweetener has no calories… so it seems like a great option to avoid weight gain associated with sugar and still enjoy the great tasting sweet foods you love.
But, are they really that healthy – especially for someone working to manage their blood sugar levels? Let’s take a close look at some of the main artificial sweeteners on the market and what you should know about them…
- Aspartame: the very first sweetener is one that you have likely heard about time and time again. It is often referred to as Nutrasweet. This artificial sweetener has gotten more negative publicity than any other. It was originally discovered in 1966 as an accident while researchers were working on a new ulcer drug. Approval was followed by a retraction over the fact that the substance produced brain tumors in rats.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, there was continued conflict within the FDA concerning the safety of aspartame. Despite all the negative publicity, it was approved by the FDA in 1981… and is regularly used on a wide variety of food products. It is 200 times sweeter than table sugar – so a little goes a long way.
It does not have any impact on blood glucose levels, but from a blood glucose standpoint… problems still exist. That is, your body perceives aspartame as being sweet and releases insulin from your pancreas _ just as it would do with table sugar. However, since aspartame has zero calories, the insulin released drives blood glucose levels down. In extreme cases, the symptoms will be similar to insulin shock.
Some reported side effects include headaches, nausea, dizziness, migraines, stomach pain and bloating… all the way to increased risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s.
2) Sucralose: this is most often known as “Splenda” and has the catchphrase “tastes like sugar… because it’s made from sugar.” Right there, warning bells should go off. This sweetener is rated at 600 times sweeter than sugar and has one gram of carbs per teaspoon (or packet) – so if you consume enough of it, blood glucose levels will be elevated. Some people will use such high amounts of it thinking since it’s “calorie free” that they can use as much as they want – but this is entirely incorrect thinking. Even the calories will add up when used in excess.
3) Saccharin: typically found in “Sweet ‘N Low”. It is 300 – 500 times as sweet as sugar and by itself has no impact on blood sugar levels either. The downside to this sweetener, however, is that it will leave a rather unpleasant metallic-like aftertaste in your mouth… which some people find objectionable enough to avoid it.
It should be noted that in 1977, one study found that it may have caused cancer in rats, which left many questions about its safety.
An FDA attempt to ban the chemical did not succeed so you will find this sweetener in many foods today. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you feel safe putting it into your body.
4) Acesulfame Potassium: this is the fourth sweetener you may come across… often known simply as ACK. It was FDA approved in 1988 for use in certain types of foods and beverage products. Then it went on to become approved as a general sweetener in 2002.
It is rated as 200 times sweeter than table sugar and has the advantage that it may be used in cooking and baking. High heat does not cause it to breakdown. The effect on blood sugar is negligible. ACK is nether digested or absorbed by the body, but rather quickly broken down and excreted after consumption. So far, no negative side effects have been noted but caution is still advised.
5) Neotame: this is actually manufactured by the Nutrasweet Company and was first approved in 2002. It is ranked at an astounding 7,000 – 13,000 times sweeter than regular sugar, so you only need a miniscule amount to reach your desired sweetness level. Because of that, it quickly became popular for many manufacturing companies. It is a widely used sweetener in the marketplace since it may be used in baking without any problems and does not have a metallic aftertaste. Curiously, it is not available for consumers to purchase… so you’ll only find it listed in manufactured foods.
NATURAL SWEETENERS TO CONSIDER…
1) Stevia: this form of a natural sweetener is what many people turn to as it is much lower in calories and more natural than artificial sweeteners. It has no effect on blood sugar levels and zero calories, so it does not promote weight gain. It is available as a dietary supplement (as opposed to a sweetener) and has no vitamins or minerals. It is rated as being 300 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Critics point out that Stevia extract goes through a refining process that involves about 40 steps and uses carcinogenic chemicals – such as acetone, methanol, acetonitrile and isopropanol. The result is a highly processed and possibly cancer-causing sugar substitute that has been linked to liver disease, fertility problems and disruptions in energy metabolism.
It is up to the reader to decide on the safety of Stevia.
2) “Natural” flavors: These are sugar alcohols, including erythritol, maltodextrin, and agave nectar. They are not easily absorbed through the digestive tract and can cause gas, diarrhea, headaches and other ailments. Additionally, agave nectar (even organic) is 90% high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – linked to liver problems such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and fatty liver disease. Always avoid HFCS and agave!
3) Honey: the preferred form is unprocessed, raw organic honey. It is a potent antioxidant, is antibacterial and is a nutritional powerhouse. Honey contains glucose, fructose and numerous minerals including calcium, iron, phosphate, copper, sodium chloride, magnesium, manganese and potassium. It also contains vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, pantothenic acid and many amino acids.
Honey does raise blood glucose levels and contains quite a few calories. It has been linked to dental decay, but no other serious health issues. It is probably the safest sweetener to use.
If this information is useful and you would like more tips and tricks to deal with chronic neck pain, please visit stopneckpain.wpengine.com.
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PPS: Please pass this article to fellow chronic pain sufferers. We all need to help each other out to break through this pain epidemic. Thanks much 🙂