Keep Calm & Indulge Occasionally: Why Sugar is NOT your Main Health Foe

The online world can be so full of misunderstandings and misinformation that it makes it hard sometimes to differentiate between someone’s opinion, a random thought and fact. But here’s one (a fact that is, not an opinion); Ingesting sugar does not “cause” diabetes.

This is not to say that eating lots of sugar is good. Of course it isn’t. If we want optimum long-term health, most of us know that eating more natural and plant-based foods will contribute to this. When we hear about the causes of Diabetes type 2 being related to lifestyle factors, it is usually because there are higher correlating risks for those people/families who tend to consume lots of sugary drinks, junk and fast food as part of their “normal” diet. This kind of food plan and a more sedentary lifestyle also tend to go hand in hand.

Although most of us are familiar with the terms “high (or low) blood sugar”, what is actually being referred to is glucose levels in the blood. Without glucose though, we would die. Our brain would cease to function and our muscles would wither. In a normal, healthy person, the pancreas releases enough insulin to regulate glucose levels. Problems relating to “blood sugar” levels can occur when, for example, the pancreas stops producing enough insulin to metabolise the amount of glucose in the body. This is often referred to as insulin resistance or “pre-diabetic”. Diabetes Type 1 is an auto immune disease that occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin altogether.

So, in a nutshell, diabetes is what happens when the body is no longer able to produce any or the appropriate amount of insulin to regulate glucose levels.

Why Stress & Tension NOT Sugar is enemy #1

Yes, diet is important (see below), but stress and tension lead to just as many, if not more, physiological problems in the body. It does not matter whether the stress is due to a real or perceived threat, a highly charged situation such as birth or surgery, or an overly intense physical exercise challenge. Anything like this is likely to prime the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and we enter “fight or flight” mode. During fight or flight, many of the body’s systems shut down. This includes the reproductive system, the digestive system and the immune system. All non-essential functions must be put on hold so that the threat can be dealt with and we can run. In the short term this is all fine and normal responses resume immediately the danger is over. But the problem is, many of us are living our lives more or less in this state. It’s become the new normal. We are so used to over-thinking and feeling like this, that we may have no real memory of what  it means to be relaxed and calm. All this chronic tension means that generally, lots more glucose than we can actually process is continually being dumped into the blood because our physiological body perceives that we need energy to get away.

Why Over-breathing is (quite possibly) enemy #2

Over-breathing can be caused by lifestyle factors. It is a stress response (see above), but may also relate to posture, mouth or nose problems, poor health, lack of fitness or simply lack of awareness. The healthiest, fittest people breathe less, not more and, imperceptibly (as in silently!). If you amble slowly past someone on the street who is huffing and puffing and can barely speak, you don’t think of them as being healthy or calm. It’s the deep sea diver or Olympic swimmer who doesn’t need to breathe much but can still exercise at a peak level who is truly fit. Physiologically, over-breathing is also relevant to how glucose is metabolised. As most of us know, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. The more quickly and deeply we inhale, the more oxygen we take in and the less carbon dioxide builds up.  So, too much breathing/oxygen usually makes us feel dizzy, faint, fuzzy, hungry and emotionally fragile (hyper-ventilation is what happens during a panic attack and it leads to a very alkaline state). If we want the oxygen to actually end up in our blood cells, we need to build up levels of CO2 so that a proper exchange can take place. This happens when we retain or suspend the breath for periods of time, either purposefully or not (this is the art of pranyama). It also happens unwittingly when we are relaxed and calm. It may happen during a yoga practise or during meditation if we are not thinking too much about it. Breathing expert, Roger Price, (“Breathing Well”), tells us that an oxygenated blood cell will burn “sugar” (glucose) at around 20 times the rate of an un-oxygenated cell and that cancer can also not survive in the presence of oxygen.

Diet, Lifestyle – enemy #3

If you saw the SBS documentary ” Fat v Sugar”, you will know that two identical twin brothers, both doctors, in their 30s, undertook an experiment to see what extreme was worse; a diet that cut out sugar (including carbs), or a diet that cut out fat. Mr Sugar-Excluder was not allowed any carbs so his diet was mainly fat and protein-based. Mr Fat-Excluder ate a diet rich in fruit and veg whilst also enjoying as much other non-fat sweet stuff as he could manage.

It wasn’t long before Carb-Excluder could barely keep up while riding his bike due to fatigue and tired muscles. Upon observation he was told by the monitoring doctor to get off the diet immediately or face long-term health consequences because his bloods were already changing. Mr Fat Excluder (read: carb/sugar-ingester) didn’t get off entirely scott free but was fairing much better no doubt due to the lack of animal products plus fruit and veg allowed in his diet. Despite the sugar and carbs, he had fared better.

So…What?

The conclusion was that, although there was no definitive answer, arguably eliminating entire food groups is not some amazing panacea that promises to cure all ills. However, one thing was crystal: It is unlikely many of us could eat a whole bowl of plain sugar, just as it is unlikely that many of us could consume a whole carton of cream without feeling sick. But when you mix them together, you have a bowl of absolute deliciousness that is hard to resist. This combo does not exist in the natural environment. It’s an important and relevant clue about dietary choices, cravings and processed food addiction. It also knocks some of the conclusions drawn in “That Sugar Film” on their head. Damon was a nice bloke and the movie was quite funny and watchable even if it was all pretty obvious to most of us. However, if you watched it, you might remember that most of the food Damon was scoffing as part of his experiment was exactly what the good doctors saw as the problem. Mixtures of fat and sugar; Smoothies, lots of them, as well as commercial yogurt, ice-cream etc etc etc. No wonder he put on weight and felt like crap.

Stress is Where it’s Not..

In the end, there are many elements to consider when it comes to being healthy and feeling good on a maximum level. Diet and regular exercise are just two parts of the whole puzzle because, a truly healthy person should be able to consume most normal foods without it being a problem. This is why some medical tests for blood glucose levels involve swallowing a sickly sweet drink first – it’s to see how efficiently your body is able to metabolise all that sugar.  How you feel about your life and yourself generally; how you cope with everyday stressors – these are the things that play a far larger part when it comes to the physiological health of your body on a deep and cellular level. It should be your main consideration if you do everything else right, but still don’t feel good.

 

 

 

 

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