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Little White Lies

March 14, 2011

You know that you’re guilty of them:  in your coffee, on your cereal, in snacks and confections.  Small, seductive, and sinfully sweet, sugar crystals are the little white lies we live with every day.  We fall for them every time our sweet tooth calls with a craving thinking that they will make us happy and content.  And for a time we do feel better, but it’s short lived.  And the long term consequences of the proverbial “moment on the lips” is much more insidious than we’d like to believe.

Don’t get me wrong, sugar isn’t all bad.  In fact quite the contrary; sugar is vitally important and our body knows it.  When we ingest sugar, or other substances that are easily broken down into glucose (the digestible form of sugar), like white flour and white rice, the body releases insulin which helps glucose to enter the cell.  At the same time, the body also releases IGF (Insulin like Growth Factor), another hormone which helps to stimulate the cell’s growth.  We can see then that sugar not only nourishes tissues but helps them to grow faster as well.  Insulin and IGF are also active in promoting the process of inflammation which, when in kept in check, is important for tissue repair and injury recovery.  This is a great system to have if you’re living the physically demanding lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer and finding sources of calorie dense, sugar rich foods are few and far between.

But it’s not often these days that we don’t have easy access to high calorie, high sugar foods.  And this extra sugar is taking its toll.  In his book Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life Dr. David Servan-Schreiber demonstrates the danger associated with an over-abundance of sugar and its links to cancer.  It used to be (centuries past) that the average person consumed no more than 4 lbs of sugar, mostly in the form of honey, per year.  By the year 1830 that figure had risen to 11 lbs.  Today, the amount of sugar we consume in one year is a staggering 150 lbs! With today’s predominantly sedentary lifestyle and easily accessible food our bodies have no need and no room for all of that sugar.  And this is where cancer starts to rear its head.

Dr. Servan-Schreiber uses the analogy of a garden to describe the relationship between our bodies and cancer:  In every garden there are some weeds.  But with proper tending and care, the weeds are kept at bay and the garden flourishes.  Similarly, each of us has small micro-tumours within our body.  When we live a healthy lifestyle we keep our immune system strong which in turn helps to keep those micro-tumours from growing and spreading.  Although the contributors to and processes of cancer are multifactorial, the over-abundance of sugar in our diet is a major influence.  As stated earlier, in the right amounts, sugar helps maintain healthy growth.  But when there’s too much around, the same effect it has on healthy cells is also occurring in cancer cells and subsequently promoting their growth.  To make things worse, too much sugar also has the effect of depressing our immune system which then has a much harder time keeping micro-tumours under control.  Excess sugar packs a powerful one-two punch making us more susceptible to cancer.

So what can you do to help prevent the side effects of sugar?  First, try to reduce and limit your intake of sugar and other foods composed of white flour (breads, cereals, pastas, pastries) or white rice.  Next, replace the above foods with whole grain versions.  This is often easier said than done (sometimes I think I have more than one sweet tooth vying for attention in my mouth).  And when you find yourself struggling with a sugar craving call on nature’s candy: fruit.  I know, I know – it doesn’t satisfy the same way that some chocolate cake or a doughnut does.  But it will take the edge off of your craving and in the long term your body will thank you for ending the parade of little white lies.

Have you had a tough time with sugar?  Do you have any tips or tricks to help you get past those cravings?  Please share your story with the rest of us and let us know what’s worked well for you.

Photo Credit:  wynk

From → Healthy Eating

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