Top 3 Reasons to Avoid Sugar
The holiday season is winding down, and thanks to gifts from loved ones and friends, you might end up with a huge stash of candy, cookies, and other treats. Most often, sugar flows so freely during this time of year that it always seems to be a “white Christmas” – white with sugar crystals!
While it’s OK to cheat on rare occasions, the widespread and continual use of sugar will certainly take a heavy toll on your health. One “heavy” toll from eating too much sugar can be weight gain. But gaining weight from consuming a “food” that is high in calories and devoid of nutrients is not the only way that sugar affects your health.
Every Body System is Affected by Sugar
Refined white sugar damages your health from head to toe, negatively affecting your brain, your digestive, endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune systems, and even your skin as it contributes to eczema. Sugar also causes water retention, kidney stones, and liver disease. And sugar can damage your pancreas, which gets exhausted as it has to put out so much insulin in response to the sweet onslaught. And we haven’t even talked about the role of sugar in tooth decay!
There just doesn’t seem to be a body system that is not affected by sugar.
Given the widespread, negative effects of sugar on your body, it makes sense to avoid it. There are all kinds of reasons for doing so, but most of them can be condensed into three major categories. Today we’re going to look at these top three reasons to avoid sugar.
Reason #1: Sugar Damages Your Immune System
Have you ever wondered why children sometimes come down with an illness after a birthday party where candy, ice cream, and birthday cake are served in abundance? It may not just be all the “togetherness.” Sugar actually suppresses the immune response within hours of ingestion, and also causes long-term damage to the immune system. Sugar accomplishes this in a couple of ways.
Sugar Keeps Immune Cells from Doing Their Job
First, sugar suppresses a fundamental immune function called phagocytosis. Phagocytes are cells that engulf and ingest foreign matter such as bacteria and pathogens, and phagocytosis is the term for this process. Sugar decreases phagocytosis by crippling the phagocytes. This disabling of the phagocytes peaks within 2 hours of sugar ingestion. As far back as 1973, a study published in The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Inc.1 explained this phenomenon.
Think about this in the context of sweet treats during the holidays – which also happen to be smack in the middle of cold and flu season.
Sugar Competes with Vitamin C
The second way that sugar damages your immune system is by competing with vitamin C, one of the Foundation Supplements in the Save Our Bones Program. You see, insulin transports sugar into and out of cells. Insulin acts like a carrier, so to speak. Insulin also carries vitamin C into and out of cells. If it’s too “busy” with the sugar, the vitamin C doesn’t get into the cells where it needs to be – particularly the phagocyte cells mentioned above. Phagocytes need vitamin C to function properly and engage in the process of phagocytosis. This is how sugar does its nefarious work on the immune system.
Reason #2: Sugar Destroys Your Brain
If any reason should shake you up, this is it. Sugar messes with your mind, and I don’t mean the way the leftover holiday cookies are “calling your name.” It’s much worse. Sugar actually contributes to Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most devastating examples of degenerative brain damage in our society today.
Sugar promotes the formation of something called Advanced Glycation End products, or AGEs. AGEs are proteins that have been “glycated,” or bonded to a sugar molecule. So obviously, the presence of sugar means more opportunities for these proteins to bond with a sugar molecule to create an AGE. Combined with the prevalence of protein throughout the body, consuming sugar means that AGEs have the potential to be absolutely everywhere.
AGEs Hurt Your Bones and Your Brain
AGEs actually weaken collagen, a substance that gives your bones a strong foundation. Collagen provides a sort of skeleton for your skeleton; it creates a crisscrossed protein infrastructure that provides flexibility to the mineralized collagen that makes up the majority of your bones’ total substance.
Perhaps the most deleterious effect of AGEs, though, is how these glycated proteins can accumulate and lead to Alzheimer’s disease. The presence of AGEs in the beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles characteristic of Alzheimer’s suggests their role in the formation of these destructive tissues.2 Biopsies done on the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s victims show far more AGEs present than in the brains of those without this disease.
Reason #3: Sugar Robs Your Bones of Minerals
When you think of sugar crystals, imagine them acting like sandpaper on your bones. It’s not too far-fetched an analogy – sugar depletes your bones of key nutrients, specifically calcium, magnesium, and copper. I’ll explain.
This mineral is the “poster child” for bone health. Calcium supplements are often the first thing people think of when they think of managing their osteoporosis with mineral supplementation.
Sugar is so acidifying that it causes your body to take calcium from your bones and excrete it through your urine. This same effect occurs equally in people prone to kidney stones and those who are not prone to this problem. 3
If you’ve been part of the Save Our Bone community for a while, you know how important magnesium is. Sugar raids and ravages your body’s magnesium supplies as well: “Osmotic diuretics such as mannitol and glucose cause a marked increase in magnesium excretion,” says a study published in The Clinical Biochemist Reviews.4 Mannitol and glucose are, of course, sugars.
Do you think of copper when you think of bone health? My regular readers know this, but it if you’re new to Save Our Bones, make sure you consider this important mineral in your osteoporosis management.
Copper does double-duty as a bone-building mineral (it works with an enzyme that develops bone) and an antioxidant (copper joins with superoxide dismutase to prevent cellular free radical damage).
Sugar prevents this vital mineral from being absorbed, especially in conjunction with high fat intake5 (and so many sugary treats have unhealthy fats in them!).
Taking Practical Steps to Avoid Sugar
So now that I’ve presented the three main reasons for avoiding sugar, it should be easy to avoid it, right? Actually, sugar has an addictive quality that makes it tough to avoid even if you are well aware of the reasons (however motivational those reasons may be!). Rather than “white-knuckling it” over sugar avoidance, try coming up with a plan.
Get Your Sweet “Fix” Elsewhere
Bone-healthy sugar substitutes such as stevia and raw honey are highly effective ways to “wean” yourself off of sugar. Or when you crave a sweet treat, grab an alkalizing fruit instead.
Don’t Have it Around the House
Eating sugary foods is easy when they are in your refrigerator, freezer, pantry…Instead, stock up on healthful foods so when the sweet tooth strikes, only healthy options are available.
Renew Your Taste Buds
Try avoiding or sharply decreasing your sugar intake for about 10 days. This gives your taste buds time to renew themselves, and your new taste buds will be more sensitive to sweetness, helping you to crave less of the sweet white stuff.
Think About Your Food Choices
Being mindful of what you eat is also important. Popping a piece of candy in your mouth may be almost reflexive if you have it around the house (see above!). Instead, think through your food choices and make healthy ones. Plan your meals and your snacks. This is made easy if you have the Save Our Bones Program, where I present helpful food charts and dietary information so you can make an informed choice about what you eat every day.
Support from Save Our Bones
And last (but perhaps most important), as a member of the Save Our Bones community, you have access to supportive community members and Save Our Bones staff. You also have access to key information to help you on your journey. Sometimes, just being able to have others come alongside you is the key to winning the battle over sugar.
1Sanchez, Albert J.L., et al. “Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis.” The American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 1973 Nov; 26(11):1180-4. Web. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180.abstract%29
2Nobuyuki, Sasaki, et al. “Advanced Glycation End Products in Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases.” The American Journal of Pathology. 1998 October; 153(4): 1149–1155. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1853056/
3Lawoyin, S., et al. “Bone mineral content in patients with calcium urolithiasis.” Metabolism 28:1250-1254.1979.
4Swaminathan, R. “Magnesium Metabolism and its Disorders.” The Clinical Biochemist Reviews. 2003 May; 24(2): 47-66. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1855626/
5Wapnir, RA and Devas, G. “Copper deficiency: interaction with high-fructose and high-fat diets in rats.” The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Inc. January 1995. Vol. 61 no. 1; 105-110. Web. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/61/1/105.abstract