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 The Scoop on Sugar 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Women's Nutrition Detective by . View all columns in series
What's so bad about something that tastes so good? Is sugar really harmful to your health? If so, does this include all kinds, including fruit sugar (fructose), molasses, honey, raw sugar, maltose, maple syrup, and other sweeteners?

It depends on whom you ask. Most medical doctors will tell you that sugar is fine as long as you don't overdo it. Other health practitioners might say it depends on the type of sugar you eat as well as the amount.

I've taken a long, hard look at sweeteners, and I say, "Keep all sugars down, especially refined sugar." But please don't assume that if sugar is "natural," as in honey or fruit-juice sweetened cookies, it's safe. I know this is what you'd like to believe, but trust me, too much of any sugar can and does affect your health.

It's almost impossible to avoid all sugars, but you can control the amount you eat. All foods eventually turn into glucose, but some take longer than others. Refined sugar, fructose, and honey are absorbed quickly, while a dinner of stir-fried veggies with brown rice and chicken takes longer. After food is turned into glucose, this form of sugar gets into your blood stream and makes its way throughout your body. First, it goes to your brain, which needs glucose to function. Then it fuels your muscles and nervous system. But in order to get into brain, muscle, and nerve cells, you need insulin, the pancreatic hormone that allows glucose to get into cell walls.

Now, here's where it gets tricky. To get glucose into your cells, you need enough insulin and your cells have to be able to respond to the insulin. This is called insulin sensitivity. When your cells don't react to insulin, you have insulin resistance, where you may crave sugars and starches in an effort to get nourishment into muscle, brain, and nerve cells. If you eat a lot of refined sugar, honey, and other sweeteners, you may have created insulin resistance.

The insulin response
Your pancreas secretes insulin to keep too much sugar from flooding into your bloodstream, resulting in high blood sugar, or diabetes. Some people have increased insulin sensitivity and produce this hormone at the slightest provocation. This causes blood sugar problems such as hypoglycemia, diabetes, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and other conditions. Does this sound like you? If so, you need to eat more foods that turn into sugar slowly. These foods are low on the glycemic index, a method that measures how quickly a particular food turns into glucose compared to refined sugar.

How sugar may affect you
You wouldn't know it from a lot of the books and magazine articles on the market, but not everyone reacts to sugars in the same way. It has a lot to do with insulin sensitivity, which varies from person to person.

Still, there are studies to back up the connection between eating too much sugar and many serious health conditions. In some of the following problems, fructose was identified as being as problematic as refined sugar. All sweet foods have the potential to cause health problems.

Cancer: Chronic high consumption of refined sugar is associated with biliary tract cancer (especially if you have gallstones), colon cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and stomach cancer. Complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains) were shown to reduce breast-cancer risk.

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 About The Author
Nan Fuchs, Ph.D. is an authority on nutrition and the editor and writer of Women's Health Letter, the leading health advisory on nutritional healing for......moreNan Fuchs PhD
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