Evolutionary biology dictates we are the end product of how our ancestors lived and ate. Many Americans are decadents of people from non-tropical locales such as but not limited to northern Europe. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that bananas and other tropical fruit were likely non-existent in most of our great great grandparent’s diets. As far as I can tell, the Middle ages and before had very few airplanes to transport fruit across continents. Humans have highly individualized genetically determined nutritional requirements. This makes it difficult to come up with diet plans for the masses. A diet that promotes health and vitality in one culture might cause serious illness in another. That being said, many Americans have little or no hereditary roots for a diet high in fruit. In fact, most of the fruit available today has a lot more sugar than it’s decedents due to GMO’s and cross breeding. For example, until the 19th century a person would be hard pressed to find a sweet apple. For most of history the apple was a low sugar tart fruit until farmers learned grafting methods and produced the apples we eat today. It is no secret that many of us eat too much sugar and adding more by the way of fructose (fruit sugar) might not be as healthy as it’s cracked up to be.
Granted fruit can provide our cells with vitamins and nutrients that are essential for life. Most fruits have lots of healthy fiber, very little fat if any (except for avocados and coconuts) and none contain cholesterol. However, many types of fruits are chock full of sugar. Whats worse is fruit sugar is mostly made up of the much maligned sugar called fructose. Fruit sugar is like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which is metabolized primarily by the liver, while glucose (mostly table sugar) and starches are processed by every cell in the body. Consuming fructose means more work for the liver. High amounts of it will usually promote fat storage because while your liver is dealing with this sugar it can’t do it’s other job, breakdown fat. Significant fructose intake has been liked to increased belly fat, overall weight gain and increased hunger. Have you ever head someone proclaiming, “I won’t eat bananas because they are so fattening”? They should be saying, “I won’t eat bananas because my ancestors didn’t and they are jam packed with fructose and calories”.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 26 grams of sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men. Two cups worth of grapes or bananas have more than your total daily recommendation. Don’t even get me started on fruit juice…it is chock full of fructose and devoid of the healthy fiber in most fruits. Drinking juice is equivalent to eating vitamin fortified sugar. Fruits can hold three times more calories and sugar per serving when compared to vegetables. Many vegetables offer similar or the same vitamins and minerals you can get from fruit with far less effect on your insulin levels.
Bottom Line: In order to lower your sugar levels and fat storage limit your tropical fruit intake (and rid your fridge of juices) and increase your vegetable consumption. Some low sugar fruit options are tomatoes, berries, avocados, pears, kiwis, apricots and coconuts (actually they are a drupe: part fruit, nut and seed).
Our bodies do not need any added sugars. In a healthy diet you’ll get all the sugar you need from vegetables, fruits and whole grains. To say sugar is unhealthy is like saying the electric chair is risky. Free-sugars are devoid of any protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or fiber. It either displaces other more nutritious foods in our diet or is eaten over and above what we need to sustain our weight, causing weight gain. But that may only be the tip of the iceberg.
Sugar has been strongly linked to these and other health problems:
acne and wrinkles
cancer (particularly breast and colon cancer)
Robert Lustig (a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders and the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, School of Medicine) claims sugar is a chronic toxin and is likely the cause of dietary heart disease, hypertension and diabetes and cancer. He seems very much an absolutist in his theories yet many in his field regard him with reverence. He has a 90 min video (it doesn’t seem so long because he is a good speaker) listed below:
Perhaps the most malignant sugar is fructose. Fructose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is metabolized primarily by the liver, while sucrose (table sugar) and starches are primarily metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming fructose means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch. High amounts of fructose over tax your liver and make you store more fat which in turn induces insulin resistance. But this doesn’t mean it’s cool to eat free–sugar either! Table sugar is sucrose made with part fructose and part glucose. The average American consumes about 45 lbs of table sugar and 4 gallons of fructose yearly. Additionally, new research shows fructose having a negative effect on our brains. According to a current UCLA study “fructose might somehow block insulin’s effect on brain cells, and specifically how it signals neurons to store and release the sugar that is needed for the brain to function efficiently – and for us to think crisply and clearly”. Sources of Fructose:
Agave (some brands are 97% fructose)
Fruits (usually not a bad choice due its fiber and vitamins)
Table Sugar (half fructose and half glucose)
Anything with HFCS
Products with cane sugar
If you’re obese, diabetic or have metabolic syndrome you are more likely to get cancer than if you’re not. All of these health problems have a causal relationship with high sugar intake. Most researchers will agree that there is a link between the western diet/lifestyle and cancer. The president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, states “the cells of many human cancers come to depend on insulin to provide the fuel (blood sugar) and materials they need to grow and multiply. Insulin and insulin-like growth factor (and related growth factors) also provide the signal, in effect, to do it. The more insulin, the better they do.” For the most part your insulin is raised by eating sugar and when your these hormones are high your body is is primed to store fat.
You’ve come a long way baby!
We make many food choices throughout our day, act on what you know about sugar’s devastating health effects and limit your consumption. Are free-sugars so bad? Probably, but the evidence is inconclusive. However, there are too many negative correlationsassociated with high free-sugar intakes for me to ignore. For now I’ll be limiting my overall sugar intake. I know this poses no health risk and perhaps willmake me healthier.
Sources: 1. Taubes, Gary. New York Times. “Is Sugar Toxic?”, April 13, 2011. 2. Gittleman, Ann. Get The Sugar Out, Random House; 1996. 3. Lustig, Robert; Schmidt, Laura; Brindis, Claire; Nature, “Public Health: The Toxic Truth About Sugar”; vol 482 27-29; Feb. 2, 2012.