(But Don’t Let Its Taste Wreck Your Health)
More than 16 centuries ago, Indians were the first to learn how to crystallize sugar. The Sanskrit word for sugar is sharkara, small brown clumps looking like gravel or sand. Traveling Buddhist monks then transported sugar to China. By the 18th century, Britain was manufacturing it, and today it is a mainstay in most diets. Unfortunately, refined sugar wrecks havoc on our health without mitigation in sight.
I personally wish that every one of us would think of sugar as “gravel” when we reach for a sweet treat or soda.
Unfortunately, sugar is so ubiquitous in our culture today (just look at shelves of drinks in grocery stores or the canned varieties in vending machines around every corner) that it is little wonder that juvenile diabetes rates, more than 208,000 thousand in people under age 20, are soaring. In fact, sugar is so disruptive of our health (diabetes, cancer, obesity, cardio-vascular disease, metabolic syndrome, etc.) that I discuss its role in our health in great detail in my latest book, The Gene Therapy Plan. The rates for overweight and obese Americans are staggering: Today, more than 2 of every 3 adults and one third of all young people from ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese!
How Sugar Works In The Body
The Gene Therapy Plan reviews the essential functions of sugar in the body, including its ultimate form as glucose in the blood and the fact that it is necessary for life. I explain fundamental sugar metabolism, emphasizing, especially, the crucial role of the pancreas in releasing the powerful hormone insulin, which, among other functions, shuttles sugar from the blood into the cells.
When sugar is being processed properly, it is stored in the fat and muscle cells to be used as a primary energy source. But this processing mechanism can break down for a number of reasons. The main mode of such disorder is insulin resistance or insensitivity. Insulin insensitivity occurs when changing cells of the body no longer respond to insulin’s signal to keep blood glucose levels in balance – fat and muscle cells by absorbing it and liver cells by ceasing to release it.
The body, in effect, becomes de-sensitized to excessive sugar levels; the state of damagingly high sugar levels becomes a bad habit, and it requires more and more insulin to do the necessary shuttling work.
Watch Carbohydrate Intake
Sugar plays an important role in a few important nutritional and health settings: the sugar-heavy Western diet, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. In each of these sites, dysfunctional sugar metabolism (insulin-insensitivity) is a main driver of serious illness. And because disordered sugar metabolism is, in turn, typically caused by excessive intake of too-easily digested carbohydrates, one of my core messages is to limit carbohydrate-driven sugar intake, especially in its hidden forms.
How To Keep Sugar In Check
Avoid HFCS-Containing Beverages And Foods
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one such insidious additive; avoiding it and its substitutes is always a good idea. But HFCS is just one member of an enormous and expanding category of foods with similar characteristics. This is the great range of simple carbohydrates that dominate western-style eating—the snack-foods, prepared meals, sugary drinks, and sweet breads that line the center aisles of the grocery store.
These easily digestible, highly processed, find-them-everywhere foods break down into glucose in the body. It is their preponderance in many people’s diets that leads to consistently elevated blood glucose levels, and thus, in no small part, to the whole downward spiral of insulin-resistance, excess insulin production, insulin-signaled fat accumulation, diabetes and obesity, obesity-induced inflammation, cancer- promotion, and inflammation-inspired cancer proliferation, etcetera.
Keep Carb Intake Balanced and Healthy
Avoiding excessive carb intake is, therefore, a front-line defense against a range of health problems. But there are also many active steps we can take to strengthen or repair or otherwise affect our bodies’ metabolism of sugar. The Genechanger Diet includes a number of ecogenetically useful foods and dietary supplements.
Add These Healthy Foods And Supplements
Include magnesium, alpha-lipoic acid, and carnitine
These have all been shown to promote the uptake of sugars into cells.
Eat organic cinnamon
Cinnamon extracts can decrease fasting blood glucose, body fat, and blood pressure as well as improve lean muscle mass among people with metabolic syndrome.
Gymnema is a key
In India, a plant extract called Gymnema sylvestre has been shown to help regularize insulin sensitivity.
Black tea strongly inhibits an enzyme (alpha-glucosidase) that is responsible for the absorption of sugar from the gut. This is the same pathway exploited by many new diabetes drugs; here is a case where the nutritional and the pharmacological sides of ecogenetics are converging on the same target.
Radishes contain nutrients called triterpinoids that work on genes, which improve insulin and leptin sensitivity and ghrelin (a hunger hormone explained in detail in The Gene Therapy Plan).