Understanding the Important Role Sugar Plays in Causing and Pertetuating Chronic Inflammatory Conditions + Day 4 Menu Plan
I love sugar just as much as the next person. In the evenings I crave something sweet after dinner, most nights. I have an addiction to Brownies (when I was pregnant, I ate a batch a week, no lie, and I don't recommend this. It was a nutritional low point, I admit it). There are biological, nutritional, emotional and primitive reasons that we crave and need sugar. The problem with the modern diet and sugar is that we are often consuming our sugars in extremely high amounts and from nutritionally poor sources. We consume much more than we need for it's necessary biological roles in the body, we are not active, and this excess sugar becomes a health problem.
More and more research is linking sugar as the the primary cause of degenerative diseases in the body. It promotes excessive weight gain and inflammation. It hyper stimulates the brain, and is more addictive than many illegal drugs.
It is extremely important to find a balance with the normal needs of sugar for cellular energy. This all starts with choosing clean and natural sugar choices, and limiting the amount we consume based on our realistic energy consumption.
In today's post, we are going to dive deep into sugar, the good the bad and the super ugly. My goal is to help you achieve balance, and understand the how sugar affects our bodies. I want you to leave this post with the knowledge to look at your sugar consumption realistically.
What is Sugar, really?
I am often surprise at how many people do not know basic nutrition...the educational system really needs to fix this. So, this is where we are starting, basic.
Sugars are the simplest forms of Carbohydrates. The term sugar is typically used to refer to table sugar (extracted from either sugar cane or beets), but encompasses two groups of carbohydrates called; mono-saccharides and di-saccharides. These saccharides are naturally found in fruits, vegetables and grains, and especially high in starchy fruits and vegetables (starch is several glucose molecules stuck together, which is why starchy foods are broken down into high amounts of blood sugar).
Monosaccharides are (Mono = one) single molecule sugars. These are simple sugars that are extremely easy to digest and absorb. They include Glucose, Fructose and Galactose.
GLUCOSE: (aka Dextrose) is found in many different plants, and is the building block of other sugars and starches.
FRUCTOSE: (aka Fruit Sugar) is converted to Glucose by the Liver. It is found mostly in fruits, but also some vegetables, as well as honey.
GALACTOSE: is a component of Lactose, and is found in dairy products
Disaccharides are (Di = two) multiple molecule sugars. These are more complex and require digestion to break them down into monosaccharides before absorption. These include Sucrose, Lactose, and Maltose.
SUCROSE: (Glucose + Fructose) is table sugar, and is naturally found in fruits and vegetables.
LACTOSE: (Glucose + Galactose) is milk sugar.
MALTOSE: (Glucose + Glucose) is starch, and is naturally found in grains.
The breakdown of carbohydrates into simple sugars starts in the mouth with enzymes in the saliva. These simple sugars are absorbed into the blood in the Small Intestines with the help of transport molecules called GLUT's. There are multiple types of GLUT transport molecules. Transport molecules are found in the cell membrane of every cell. They are the doors that opens to allow sugar molecules in and out.
Understanding the Natural Role of Glucose
Glucose is the building block of all complex sugars. It is the most commonly talked about because it is the sugar form that is directly measured in the blood, and is associated with Insulin. Glucose raises blood sugar, which to some extent is a good and normal event.
Here is how glucose is used in normal circumstances (small amounts consumed in a healthy individual).
Our brains need glucose to work properly, and our cells need glucose for energy production. In response to rising blood sugar levels our bodies producing insulin (a hormone) in the Pancreas. Insulin attaches to cells, like a key, to signal the GLUT 4 transport molecules to let Glucose into the cells. Some glucose is used as an energy source for the cells of the intestine and for the red blood cells. Any unused glucose is transported into the fat cells, by insulin, for storage as Glycogen. Doesn't sound too bad, right?
Understanding the Natural Role of Fructose
Fructose intake has been overlooked in previous years because it does not directly effect blood sugar levels. Many with diabetes and blood sugar issues have switched to using fructose based sugars as substitutes, because their blood sugar is less likely to spike. This is a very important sugar.
Like Glucose, Fructose is absorbed through the Small Intestines with the aid of transport molecules. Unlike Glucose, it does not need to be bound with a Sodium molecule to pass through the intestines and into the blood, and Fructose does not need a key (insulin) to be let into muscle and fat cells. Most of the Fructose consumed goes straight to the Liver to be processed. Fructose metabolism, is almost identical to Alcohol metabolism in the Liver.
Only a small amount of Fructose is ever free flowing in the blood and taken in by GLUT 5, but this Fructose is the immediate fuel sources (just like Glucose) for those cells of the Brain, Muscles and other Organ cells. The majority is processed in the Liver via GLUT 2 transport. Fructose is broken down in the Liver into Glucose (which is then transported to fat and muscle cells as energy if needed), Glycogen (which is stored for times when there is not enough dietary sugars), and Glycerols (which are the lipid, or fat, storage for longer energy needs).
This is the body's way of regulated times of high sugar content and times of low sugar content. The body's blood sugar levels need to remain within narrow parameters. The body natural does this with the use of all these different mechanisms. It is normal to use energy immediately and store the remainder for later. But in our society, there is really never a later....
Understanding the Effects of Excess Sugar Intake on Inflammation
The foods we eat and the amounts we eat contribute to stresses on the sugar processing cycles. Our body is quite capable of handling the sugars that are found naturally, and in small doses. In fact we need them...but let's all be honest with ourselves, we are consuming too much sugar, and we are consuming it at every meal.
The average american is consuming 82 grams of sugar daily....wow!!! Some studies show even higher amounts of consumption in children, very sad! Most of this coming from sweetened beverages; sodas, sweet teas, Gatorade, vitamin water, etc...
According to Dr. Mercola:
There are a multitude of effects this is having on our bodies:
Shall I continue....the list goes on and on...and each of these is an entirely different conversation. Today we are discussing the role of excess sugar in inflammation.
Normal amounts of sugar, as we discussed are necessary, we need them. We are consuming too much for our energy needs. Refined sugars, or large amounts of food in one sitting, can throw our bodies into a pro inflammatory spin.
We are aware of the connection between High Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes. Over time, as our body is bombarded with large amounts of glucose, our body's natural ability to regulate the amounts through use and fat storage wear out. If the body's natural glucose needs are met, then the cells store the glucose as fat, and eventually the amount of glucose that is utilized is left free floating in the blood. This free floating sugar is just as dangerous as the stored glucose that is making you fatter. This free floating sugar is irritating. It causing blood vessel damage as it's crystal like structure bounces around. Your body then responses to this blood vessel damage with inflammation.
The Effects Obesity on Inflammation:
We talked, already, about the effects that expanding fat cells have on inflammation responses a bit, but lets go over it again. Our fat cells, adipocytes, are not just storage cells, the are also an important part of our endocrine system, meaning they produce and regulate hormones. Normal fat cells sizes are homeostatic, meaning they produce hormones to help promote health and keep the body balanced. As our fat cells grow and expand to unnatural sizes, they create an imbalance in hormones and promote disease. Of the hormones produced by the adipocytes, Adiponectin, and Leptin have been the most studied thus far.
Adiponectin is part of the glucose metabolism cycle, as well as fatty acid breakdown. As our fat cells grow, there is a constant amount of chronic inflammation from the expanding cells. In response to this chronic inflammation, inflammatory compounds are produced signalling the body to help. These pro inflammatory compounds, which are trying to help heal the damage, decrease the cells ability to produce adiponectin, increasing diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Insulin resistance, and arterial fat build up. On the contrary, high levels of Adiponectin are associated with autoimmune based inflammatory conditions, not related to obesity. Why? Adiponectin is an anti-inflammatory in the body. In those with normal fat levels that are not affected by diabetes or insulin resistance. Adiponectin is produced in response to high levels of pro-inflammatory markers in the blood stream.
Leptin is produced by fat cells in response to sugar intake. It is well known for its role in regulating hunger. When the fat cells get enough sugar, they produce Leptin to signal a decrease in hunger. Because sugar is quickly metabolized in the cells, this is short lived and Grehlin in produced to signal an increase in hunger. This is the viscous cycle of high sugar diets and constant hunger. Fat is slower to metabolize in cells, giving long lasting fuel and a slower production of Grehlin (another story, for another day)....back on topic...Leptin also plays a role in immunity, and inflammation. When a meal, or diet is rich in sugars, the fat cells produce high amounts of Leptin.
Refined Sugars and Inflammation:
Several studies have shown a difference in how the body processes refined sugars (sugar extracted from its natural state and concentrated). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that high amounts of refined sugars causes a release of inflammatory cytokines. Anything in excess is dangerous, even water. When we eat sugar to a point of excess, it becomes toxic. The body then begins to treat the excess sugars as just that, a toxin that needs to be dealt with. This causes an increase in detox compounds, and cytokines. These compounds are doing there job, telling the body there is a threat to be dealt with. When we do not react to this signal, and continue to fill our body with toxic levels, our body is thrown into a chronic inflammatory state. For those already suffering from chronic inflammation, this excess sugar increases this inflammatory reaction.
The Link Between Low Fat High Carbohydrate Diets and Pain Perception:
Studies have shown a correlation between high carbohydrate and low fat diets with an increase in pain perception. As well as large portion sizes. Those who ate larger meals (to the point of stomach distention) had a higher pain perception. There is an even greater connection in those with spinal pain and fibromyalgia.
There is still more research being done on the effects of sugar on inflammation, pain, and degenerative diseases. It's clear that we are consuming WAY too much in our modern diets. I am sure there will be even more connections made in the near future.
Breakfast #4: Grass-Fed Plain Yogurt w/Homemade Granola; Blueberries; Hot Water with Lemon
Part of the process of limiting your caffeine intake is to switch out your regular drinks for other, more healthy options. Hot lemon water is a great way to start your morning. Warm lemon water helps to stimulate the Liver to produce enzymes and compounds that remove toxic buildup.
This is my take on Sarah Wilson's CocoNutty Granola Recipe. While she uses Brown Rice syrup (I am not a fan of it, and I'll talk about that tomorrow, I prefer a small amount of Raw, Unfiltered Honey. For this batch I combined:
Preheat oven to 250
In a bowl combine call ingredients, mix until fully coated. On a baking sheet, make a thin layer. Cook until golden, remove and cool. It will harden. I like to store mine in the fridge.
Lunch #4: Leftover Dijon Pistachio Salmon; Wild Rice; Broccoli
1 bunch Kale, blanched 1 minute
1/8 cup Toasted Pine Nuts
1/4 cup Cucumber, diced
1/2 cup Tomato, diced
1/4 cup Olives
1TBSP Red Onion, minced
To blanch Kale, bring a pot of water to a roaring boil. Drop in chopped Kale. Boil for 1 minute, remove promptly, drain, and cool.
Assemble salad and mix all ingredients together
Makes 3-4 servings
1/8 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Lemon, Juiced
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 tsp Garlic, minced
1 tsp Fresh Oregano, minced
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Dijon
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
In a mason jar, add all ingredients. Shake vigorously to combine.
Drizzle enough over salad to coat, but not soak.
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