By Ann M Childers, MD
What do sugar cravings, depression, brain fog, poor memory formation, ravenous hunger, over-eating, learning disabilities, daytime sleepiness/fatigue, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, Altzheimer’s (also known as Type 3 Diabetes) and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease share in common?
According to a 2008 US Department of Agriculture report, in 2005 Americans ate on average 150 lbs of sugar every year, with the average American consuming 30 teaspoons of added sugar per day. The report recommends Americans cut down to an average of 8 teaspoons per day.
Where does all this sugar come from? Soft drinks are a major source. For example, just one 12 oz can of Coca Cola shoots about 10 teaspoons of rapidly absorbed sugar into the bloodstream and brain. Disguised by salt, added sugars are hidden in processed foods. Read the carbohydrate counts on nutritional panels and you may be surprised at how much sugar processed foods contain.
Another important sugar (glucose) source, one that few people know about, is grain products. Grains tend to be highly processed, and even unsweetened grains rapidly turn to sugar when digested. Boxed and cooked cereals, even when unsweetened, represent bowls of sugar to our bodies and brains. Adding refined sugar compounds these effects.
A significant traditional source of grain in the American diet is bread. We are told that whole wheat bread is good for health, and USDA dietary guidelines urge us to eat 6 ounces of grain every day (the equivalent of 6 slices of bread), and make half our grains whole grain. School lunch programs require grain servings with every child’s lunch, scheduled to become whole grain rich by school year 2014-2015 http://bit.ly/ZAd5kI
But when scientists at University of Guelph tested the theory of “healthy whole wheat bread” the results were surprising http://bit.ly/13MTFIS Whole wheat bread delivered more sugar to the bloodstream than white bread, and much more than white sourdough bread. Other sources report two slices of unsweetened whole wheat bread quickly deliver more sugar to the blood stream than white sugar, and many candy bars.
What do high dietary sugar and carbohydrate loads do to the brain? For one thing they stunt production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is essential to the formation of memories and robust brain function. Without it we are lost. Another problem: Glycation. Sugar makes a great preservative and stiffener. Fruits with added sugars become fruit leathers. Sugaring (glycation) makes your arteries stiff, too. http://bit.ly/13PPCvf Stiff (as opposed to flexible) arteries are fragile and more easily damaged. Artery damage increases the chance of strokes and heart attacks.
Our brains were never meant to endure the high sugar loads of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Excess blood sugar from the sugars and starches in a typical American diet (55-65% carbohydrates) leaves us dull, sleepy and fatigued during the day. It saps us of the ability to concentrate, and contributes to poor sleep at night. Sugars and starches feed our cravings to eat more sugar and starch. Over time, sugaring our systems can make the brain less sensitive to insulin, leading to Type 3 Diabetes, also known as Altzheimer’s dementia. This subtle process spans decades in adults. Sugar and grains, especially whole grains, rob us of nutrients such as magnesium, which protects the brain and is involved in more than 1000 enzymatic processes in the body. About 70% of Americans are magnesium deficient. Constipation, “brain fog”, jaw clenching overnight, headaches (especially migraines and caffeine withdrawal headaches), depression, tremors and muscle cramps are some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency. As if this isn’t enough, empty calories from sugars and grains replace the nutrient dense foods we need, leaving us malnourished and sick.
Children are sensitive to high sugar loads. The child who eats a cereal of refined starches and sugars in the morning is likely to crash at school before lunchtime when his or her blood sugars drop. Blood sugar drops (hypoglycemia) are common in children and adults on high carbohydrate diets. These episodes promote attention deficit symptoms, anxiety and irritability.
So it seems we become fat and mentally ill via stealthy foods common to the Standard American Diet. Hidden sugars in foods we think are good for us are making us sick. Grains, modern wheat in particular, were never meant to be consumed in great quantities, and certainly not daily, by human beings, or our companion animals. Just check out the ingredients in foods eaten by obese, sluggish and sick cats and dogs suffering from diabetes, arthritis, dental plaque and gum disease.
Dental plaque, tooth decay, tartar and gum disease are the first signs of a diet gone wrong. Fermentable carbohydrates, including but not limited to sticky, sugary foods, dried fruits, fruit juices, potato chips, and grain products, contribute to these conditions. Prevention is key. A good rule of thumb is: if it decays teeth and causes gum disease, don’t eat it. If you don’t know which foods to avoid, ask your dentist.
An interesting, albeit sad, video on how diabetes and tooth decay travel together to a population that did not experience them before: http://bit.ly/10W8gFf
Here’s to your health!