Can you imagine your life without him? Among us there are a few indifferent to the sweet taste of this … according to the general conviction of a “harmful” product. Why are we so attached to him?
We reward ourselves with sweet things – whether we are struggling with stress, trying to cheer ourselves up, cheer up or celebrate an event. Sugar – in the form of sweet crystals or in intricate desserts – literally sweetens our senses. However, the strong reputation of “harmful product” inevitably burdens us with anxiety due to weight and guilt. Where did he get this almost demonic, seductively destructive character? To understand the reason for the human addiction to sugar, we had to turn to other, less well-known facts – about the effect of sugar on the brain and immunity, about its connection with stress, mood swings and lifestyle.
What it is
Sugar – a class of crystalline substances, simple carbohydrates, these include sucrose, lactose, glucose. They are found in large quantities in sugarcane, in sugar beets, fruits, honey, maple syrup … Sugars are also present in some cereals, but in much smaller quantities. “Sweet foods are excellent energy providers,” explains Gerard Apfeldorfer, a psychotherapist and specialist in eating disorders. “This is our body’s favorite fuel.” * There are many types of sugars, consisting of molecules of more or less large size.
The so-called simple carbohydrates do not require long digestion, but are transported directly into the blood. As a result, blood sugar levels rise sharply. Speaking in scientific terms, sweet foods and, of course, sugar itself are foods with a high glycemic index. The glycemic index shows how fast the body processes a particular product to produce energy. Foods with a low glycemic index (complex carbohydrates) – whole grains, starchy vegetables and fruits – are digested longer, which ensures the gradual penetration of sugar into the blood. That is, simply put, the body receives the energy it needs slowly and gradually.
Sugarcane comes from the islands of New Guinea. Gradually, it began to be cultivated in Asia, India and Polynesia – sweet crystals were obtained by evaporation of cane juice. Sugar became known to Europeans only in the Middle Ages: the crusaders brought a “new spice” from the East. Then sugar was available only to the elite and remained a real luxury for several centuries. To produce “white gold,” as the British colonists called sugar, millions of slaves were transported from Africa to both Americas at the beginning of the 16th century. Revenues from sugarcane plantations could be compared with today’s revenues from oil production. By the middle of the 18th century, the situation had changed: sugar was extracted not only from cane, but also from sugar beets, which grow in temperate climates. This significantly reduced the cost of sugar. At the end of the XIX century, this product became available to all sectors of society.
The most common accusation of sugar is that it has nothing but pure calories: no vitamins, no trace elements, no ballast substances. Sugar gives us “fast” energy and its sweet taste. It entered the history of mankind relatively recently, several centuries ago – with the spread of sugarcane culture, after which it turned from a delicacy into a daily product. The average Russian consumes more than 38 kg of sugar per year **. It is with such a high sugar intake that scientists associate modern metabolic diseases – obesity and acquired diabetes.
Brain and immunity
“Sugar suppresses the immune system,” says nutritionist Nancy Appleton, “and provokes most allergic reactions to food, which in turn leads to chronic diseases.” She has no doubt that by eliminating sugar from our diet, in 90% of cases we could have prevented migraines, osteoporosis, cataracts, depression and some serious diseases associated with DNA disorders. Back in 1973, scientists at Loma Linda University (USA) discovered that sugar abuse affects the work of phagocytes – blood cells that protect the body from pathogens. It turned out that after the consumption of sugar the number of phagocytes decreases significantly, moreover, the higher the blood sugar level, the less active the phagocytes ***. To some extent, sugar also affects the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Some scientists even speak of it as type 3 diabetes. Biologists at the University of Alabama (USA) **** tested the effect of sugar on rat learning ability. Two groups of animals were fed equally, but one was also given sweetened water. Animals of this group began to show increased nervousness, their learning ability sharply decreased, and appeared. first signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
In difficult moments, experiencing stress or depression, we often feel the desire for sweets – consciously or not, we try to “sweeten” our lives. In fact, the habit of “seizing trouble” not only does not help relieve stress, but exacerbates the situation. “Increasing blood sugar is a natural reaction of our body to stress,” explains Valery Sergeyev, PhD, senior researcher at the Russian Health and Medical Center, Roszdrav. – This is a kind of signal to mobilize forces. With a sedentary lifestyle and high sugar consumption, its level in our blood is constantly increased. Our body seems to be in constant stress. ” This forms a vicious circle.
In addition, it can be said that sugar is addictive, and refusing it is often associated with discomfort: it causes nervousness, irritability, sometimes sweating or headache.
“By the nature of the effect on the body, sugar can be compared with a drug,” says nutritionist Alexei Kovalkov. “He gives us a sharp surge of energy, followed by a sharp decline – until we take the next dose.” The effect of sugar on the brain is akin to an opiate, says narcologist Yakov Marshak: “Sweets cause a feeling of sweet bliss, happiness for a short time, after which a sharp decline in mood lasts several hours. In our clinic, in order to cure a person of drug addiction, we need to rid him of mood swings. We have to exclude sugar from the diet and develop a new habit: to receive from food is not a feeling of sweet bliss, but a surge of energy. ”
Nutritionists consider ten teaspoons of sugar per day to be an acceptable quantity. But this also includes the so-called hidden sugar – the one that we eat with cookies, chocolate, desserts, as well as the one that is contained in a wide variety of products – from convenience foods to ketchup. Hidden sugar in our diet, according to Nancy Appleton, can be 50, or even 80 teaspoons a day – because only a standard bottle of cola contains up to 16 tablespoons. In addition to artificial sweeteners, whose health benefits are in doubt, there are natural sweeteners: stevia, agave juice, natural honey. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar, but does not change the level of glucose in the blood. The same thing with agave juice – however, Dr. Appleton believes that frequent consumption of agave overloads the liver. And honey is at the same time the cause of some cases of allergies … and nutritional discussions. “This is a unique product that nature itself has given us,” Valery Sergeev believes. – Yes, it is a simple carbohydrate that goes directly into the bloodstream and raises sugar levels. But it is incredibly rich in all kinds of trace elements and vitamins that are really healthy. ”
The sweetness of freedom
All these facts are convincing enough to say: “Yes, perhaps it would be nice to eat less sugar.” Does this mean that our life will become savory? No, rather it will be about bringing her true sweetness back, freeing her from habit, attachment, and dependence. Gradually change your relationship with sweet. To discover the lost (or missing) taste of communication with friends or family, in your work or hobby, in reading a book or in the activity of your own body. Once again, find the key to the pleasure of other, most varied taste sensations. Start living as if sugar has become a delicacy again.
Carbohydrates for Health
The war on sweets makes no sense, Dr. Gerard Apfeldorfer insists. To stay in good health, it is worth making sure that the glycemic index of our meals as a whole remains low.
- Foods with a low glycemic index: lentils, white beans, milk, yogurts, apples, pears, cherries, grapes, grapefruits.
- Foods with an average glycemic index – if used separately: regular sugar, oatmeal, potatoes, bananas, rice, green peas, pasta, oranges.
- Foods with a high glycemic index – if used separately: carrots, honey, cereal for breakfast, bread, dried bread.
We lower the general glycemic index of the menu:
- reducing the time of heat treatment of products;
- preferring cooked whole foods to shredded;
- consuming fiber or fat along with carbohydrates;
- avoiding the separate consumption of “fast” sugars. Example: bread and potatoes – but only as part of a full meal. Or: a piece of bread for an afternoon snack – but with a piece of cheese; candy – but as a dessert, and not a separate “dish”.