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10 Tips for Wise Sugar Use

© Elson M. Haas MD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Staying Healthy Tips by Elson M. Haas MD. View all columns in series
  1. Sugar is found in so many foods that are now available in the modern grocery stores and even natural food stores. It goes into food primarily as refined cane sugar (including brown sugars) and high-fructose corn syrup (the new leader of sugar consumption). More natural sugars include honey, maple syrup, malt sugar, date sugar, molasses, and others. Foods that are high in sugars should be used only as occasional 'treats' in the diet, not as a main component of our food consumption. The best natural sugar may be the herb, stevia, also called sweetleaf. Some natural desserts include almonds, apples, and dates.

  2. Traditional Chinese Medicine views the desire for sugar, or the sweet flavor, as a craving for the mother (yin) energy, a craving that represents a need for comfort or security. In Western cultures, we have turned sugar into a reward system (a tangible symbol of material nurturing) to the degree that many of us have been conditioned to need some sweet treat to feel complete or satisfied. We continue the pattern with our children, unconsciously showing our affection for them by giving them sugary foods. We do not want to unconsciously reinforce the 'treat' pattern.

  3. For most of us, sugar is a symbol of love and nurturance. As infants, our first food is lactose, or milk sugar. Over-consumption and daily use of sugar is the first compulsive habit for most everyone with addictions later in life. Simple sugar, or glucose, is what our body, our cells and brain, use for fuel for energy. Some glucose is stored in our liver and muscle tissues as glycogen for future use; excess sugar is stored as fat for use during periods of low-calorie intake or starvation. If we don't exercise or take periods of low calorie intake, the fat never disappears.

  4. Our problem with sweets comes from the frequency with which we eat them, and the quantity of sugar we consume. The type of sugar we eat is also a contributing factor. Refined sugar or sucrose (a disaccharide made up of two sugars -- glucose and fructose) is usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, initially whole foods. However, most all of the nutrients are removed and retained only in the discarded extract called molasses. When the manufacturing process is complete, the result is pure sugar, a refined crystal that contains four calories per gram and essentially no nutrients.

  5. Many nutritional authorities feel that the high use of sugar in our diet is a significant underlying cause of disease. Too much sweetener in any form can have a negative effect on our health; this includes not only refined sugar, but also corn syrup, honey and fruit juices, and treats such as sodas, cakes, and candies. Because sugary foods satisfy our hunger, they often replace more nutritious foods and weaken our tissue's health and disease resistance via stressing our immune system.

  6. The use of sugar in our culture sometimes resembles a drug, and can be treated as such. If you are 'hooked,' make a clear plan for withdrawal, while working emotionally to eliminate the habit. Our responses to certain flavors, and the feelings we get from them are usually conditioned. Self-reflection can be valuable when trying to understand these compulsions. To stop bad habits and see things clearly, we may need to talk these feelings through, transitioning from compulsion to a safe and balanced lifestyle. Talk to your hands and guide them to reach for healthier foods and snacks.
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About The Author
Elson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
 
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lyadi wrote
12/4/2011 6:55:00 AM
Good article, thanks.

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Cornrefiner wrote
12/1/2009 2:14:00 PM
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show that per capita consumption of sugar has always exceeded the per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup. In fact, consumption of this corn sweetener has declined since its peak in 1999. According to USDA estimates, annual per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup for 2008 was 37.8 pounds. The 2008 sugar consumption estimate was over 9 pounds greater at 47.2 pounds per person. High fructose corn syrup is made from corn, a natural grain product. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.” As many dietitians agree, all sugars should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced lifestyle. Consumers can see the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup - Audrae Erickson President Corn Refiners Association

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