Fitness First: The Sour Truth About Sugar

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell June 15, 2014 08:00

Krista Howell

For the past 30 years, nutritionists have advocated a low-fat diet as the best way to reduce heart disease. Now the focus has shifted to cutting sugar consumption, as more becomes known about its dangers.

Americans on average eat about a pound and half of sugar each week, 77 pounds a year. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 35 percent of the average American diet is comprised of “hidden sugar” – sugar not naturally occurring but added to foods in various forms. The World Health Organization says this number should be five percent, meaning daily sugar intake should be just five percent of total calories.

A diet high in added sugars causes inflammation to the arteries and insulin resistance. Many studies now show that arterial inflammation leads to heart disease. When arteries become inflamed, the body sends cholesterol to the site to repair injured arterial linings, thus putting heart health at risk.

Sugar was introduced to the human diet more than 8,000 years ago, but only in the past 30 years has American consumption skyrocketed. One culprit is high-fructose corn syrup, invented by a Japanese scientist in 1957. It was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1970s due to high tariffs imposed on imported sugar. As the government began subsidizing corn farmers, corn syrup became a cheap, attractive substitute.

All sugars are carbohydrates, but not the beneficial kind. Our diet should be 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates, which provide essential energy and fiber. Healthful sources include vegetables, fiber-rich fruits, whole grains and milk.

The carbs to stay away from are “simple” or “added,” which are in most processed foods. They may go by different names – dextrose, fructose, honey, agave, corn sweetener, maltose, raw sugar or sucrose, to name a few – but don’t be fooled into thinking some are healthful. All increase blood-sugar levels at similar rates.

Understanding food labels is difficult because sugar is measured in grams. Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. A 20-ounce soda, for example, has 65 grams of sugar which equals 16 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons (100 calories) a day of sugar for women, and a daily maximum of nine teaspoons (150 calories) for men.

Sodas carry huge amounts of added sugars, but many other bottled drinks are also high in sugar. These simple carbohydrates are addictive. They increase our blood-sugar levels, which releases quick energy to our cells and brain. But an hour later our blood sugar drops and so does our energy, triggering the desire for more sugar. Spiking blood sugar can inflame the arteries, which I refer to as “wear and tear” on artery linings. The remedy? Eat less sugar and exercise more.

Exercise helps stabilize blood sugar. During moderate exercise, glucose (blood sugar) uses insulin (a hormone released by the pancreas) to travel through the bloodstream to the muscles. This process becomes more efficient during exercise and can help blood sugar remain stable longer.

I define moderate exercise as something you can do for 15 to 45 minutes and be able to talk without getting out of breath. I agree with Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who offered this sound advice more than a century ago: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness.”

Krista Howell of Sonora works with cardiac patients and teaches senior fitness.

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell June 15, 2014 08:00
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