Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sugar, What Is It Good For?

First off, what is sugar anyways? Sugars are carbohydrates no matter if you are speaking of a jelly bean or a bagel. The difference in terminology is because sugar is considered to be either one or two sugar molecules. Single sugar molecules are glucose, i.e. blood sugar, and fructose, which is commonly found in fruits. Sugars that have two sugar molecules are called disaccharides, an example of which is table sugar (1 molecule of glucose paired with 1 molecule of fructose). Trisaccharides and polysaccharides are three or more simple sugar molecules that have linked together. These are what we call carbohydrates or starches, you can take your pick, and are found in grains, legumes, and potatoes.

Trisaccharides and polysaccharides are indigestible, so the body breaks those links between the simple sugar molecules, liberating the glucose and fructose so that the body can actually do something with them. So, regardless of what you call them, carbs or starches, the body sees them as only one simple thing: Sugar. Holding off from eating candy to indulge in bread, pasta, bbq baked beans, or french fries actually doesn't seem so smart now, does it?

In recent years, the Glycemic Index has tried to instill the concept that carbs are actually sugars into the population and list out the amount of sugar that individual foods contain. It failed. Partly because it is rare to meet a person who consumes a single, individual of food and then does not consume any more for at least 2 hours. Partly due to the simple fact that the amount of sugar in an item of food is not always the same. A ripe banana can contain double the amount of sugar than a banana that is not as ripe. Mashing your boiled and cubed potato will net you a 25% higher Glycemic index value than just eating the boiled and cubed potato by itself. Raw foods will have a lower number than their slightly cooked counterparts, the values raise higher the longer a food is cooked. Same goes for processing: The less a food is processed, i.e. cubed vs mashed, the lower the Glycemic value. And the last part of why the Glycemic Index is a failure is because of how the body treats fructose. Fructose does not need insulin to find its way into the cells, meaning that insulin does not rise. This gives foods high in fructose a lower Glycemic index. Now, once the fructose is in the body, it moves quickly to the liver to be turned into mainly glycerol, which then becomes part of the triglyceride molecule. Triglycerides are the transport-and-storage form of fat in the body. The marblings of a good steak are triglycerides and while it is wanted in the steak, it is not wanted in your body. Couple this with the amount of fructose that manufacturers are putting into foods to keep insulin levels down and to make those who are following the Glycemic Index feel healthy, we have a very big problem.

Now, for those of us who want a sweet treat, but without the health problems, what are we to do? There are a number of artificial sweeteners out there so let’s look at those and see how the body reacts with them.

This sweetener was thought to cause cancer, but when it was realized that to achieve the cancerous results from the tests, a person would have to drink over 800 diet drinks every day. So, though it would be rather rare to get cancer from this sweetener, it has been found to increase insulin levels by stimulating the pancreas. Therefore, small doses only kids.

Acesulfame K
This one also stimulates the pancreas and causes insulin levels to rise. Again, small doses.

Well, this one is banned in the US for fears of bladder and other cancers, though it is used in the UK and Canada. Since studies have revolved around its role in cancer and not insulin response, I cannot say how to use this artificial sweetener except to again, watch your intake and consume in small doses.

This sweetener is truly the evil that it has been made out to be. Aspartame consists of two amino acids, or a dipeptide, making it just a protein fragment. Because of this, it enters the bloodstream intact and is able to make its way to the brain, and tricks the only way to the brain to allow it to pass on by. Once inside of the brain, it causes the brain to become stimulated, an effect called excitotoxicity. Its structure allows it to fit into receptors in the brain, NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate), stimulating the nerve cells to the point that they die. Now, it is said that we humans only use a small part of our brain, but if you actually desire to kill off parts of your brain just to make the sweet areas on your tongue happy, then you and aspartame deserve each other. Why is it still used? Your guess is as good as mine as to why the FDA still allows it.

This is what makes up Splenda and is where I put my money on an artificial sweetener to use. Why? Well, sucralose is manufactured in a way that sucrose (common table sugar) loses two of its components to chlorine molecules. Because of this, the body cannot absorb sucralose and unlike tri and polysaccharides, the body can not break down sucralose. This means that the amount of sucralose that you consume, that same amount will be exiting your body, which can cause undesirable side effects especially if you consumed the sucralose with liquids. However, if you do not mind the occasional bathroom emergency, this is the best sweetener on the market.

While it is herbal, and thought to be natural and therefore healthy, it also stimulates the pancreases into releasing insulin, which is NOT what we want to do. Small doses only.

Sugar Alcohols
These are such products, such as xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol, are similar to sucralose in that they are indigestible and are unable to be broken down. Again, the word of caution here is that consuming large doses will bring on emergency bathroom use just like sucralose.

I know that some might be wondering about different forms of what is considered to be sugar like honey, cane sugar, and beet sugar. Hate to disappoint, but they all cause a rise in insulin levels, which will lead to fatty deposits if the body is resistant to insulin. In other words, stay away from these just the same as you would table sugar, grains, potatoes, and legumes.

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