By now, you’ve probably heard it a million times: that carbohydrates — especially those containing sugar — are very, very bad for you and produce all kinds of negative effects in the body, especially when consumed to excess. All health experts say that consuming too much sugar increases the risk of diabetes and heart attacks, drive up blood pressure and raise your susceptibility to dementia in your later years. As early as 1939, a book written by Dr. Weston Price entitled “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” documented heightened levels of tuberculosis, arthritis, crooked teeth, deformed jaws and dental cavities in civilizations that used white sugar, vegetable oil and white flour in their food.
Now, however, there’s one doctor who’s arguing that sugar can actually have beneficial effects for the body. Dr. Drew Ramsey, a Columbia University physician who grows his own food, recently wrote on the Well + Good health and wellness website, “Sugar is vital for your brain health, which is the biggest guzzler of the sweet stuff in your body.” Ramsey explains that the brain uses up to 400 calories’ worth of glucose each day. But, as Ramsey points out, merely consuming two chocolate bars every day isn’t going to boost your brainpower. In fact, Ramsey believes it’s much more subtle than that; it’s about where the sugar you consume is drawn from.
As you may or may not realize, there are many different forms sugars take. Fructose, which is found in many processed and artificial foods (especially in soft drinks), doesn’t do your body any good. Many nutritionists refer to fructose as “empty sugar,” because it has next to no nutritional value.
By contrast, glucose and more complex carbohydrates are readily found in fruit, maple syrup, honey and other natural foods. Are naturally occurring sugars healthier for you than artificially occurring ones? Ramsey believes they are.
He says that eating a whole piece of fruit is much better for your health than drinking straight juice. Juice can cause a spike of insulin, which signals the body to enter a mode of fat creation and storage, whereas fruits naturally contain fiber, and the totality of their sugars are more complex, meaning that the digestion process is slowed down. They’re also sources of water, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which assist in cellular chemical reactions and protect against oxidation damage and premature aging of tissues such as the brain, heart, liver and muscles.
Of the 400 calories your brain needs daily, only one-fourth of that amount should come from pure sugar intake. That means if you consume more than 30 grams of the sweet stuff — about the same amount that’s in seven sugar cubes — you’re going over the recommended limit. The other 300 calories of energy that your brain needs should come from normal carbohydrates.
Even if you’re consuming fruit, you should try to know how much naturally occurring sugar is in each piece. For instance, a banana contains about 14 grams’ worth of sugar. The “superfood” kale contains sugar, but both kale and bananas are “low glycemic” foods, so they release energy slowly, preventing your insulin from spiking. It’s worth taking a good look at your diet to see which fruits and other foods contain what quantities of sugar and which are “high glycemic” versus “low glycemic” ones (Google can quickly reveal this).
If you don’t consume even small quantities of sugar or carbohydrates every day, your body will convert stored and consumed fat to any energy it needs. In fact, this is the way — the only way — besides the conversion of protein — that the body can lose weight. But this process, which is likely familiar to people on a “ketogenic” or “paleo” diet, only takes place if the body is consuming less than 60 grams of carbohydrates per day. Otherwise, it doesn’t need to convert any fat, and a person’s weight will stay the same or even increase, depending on how many carbohydrates they take in.
By now, it should be clear that your body is very capable of getting the energy it needs when it needs it, whether you consume just a little sugar, a lot of sugar or no sugar whatsoever every day. Of course, for those consuming too much sugar, there are definitely health risks as outlined above. The key, as in many diet-related matters, is to practice moderation when it comes to eating — particularly as regards the intake of sugar and all carbohydrates.
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