When it comes to what is considered good or bad for us to eat there are often differing opinions. That being said, if there is one “universal truth” in nutrition, it is that we need to cut back on the amount of sugar that we consume and that too much sugar consumption is at the core of the chronic diseases that plague us today. Quite simply – the human body was not designed to process the amount of sugar that we are now putting into it.

In the early 1900’s rates of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease were much lower than today. Obesity was rare. At that time the average American consumed about five pounds of sugar per year. Today, these are major diseases, impacting millions and millions of Americans and driving up our health care costs. Approximately 25% of the adult population is considered obese; another 50% are classified as overweight. The sugar consumption of the average American is approximately 160 pounds per year (and that comes from a source that is now six years old).

If sugar is so bad for us, why do we like it so much? One reason why the sweet taste appeals to us is based in our biology. Humans can not manufacture their own vitamin C; we must consume it. Since the availability of manufactured vitamin C pills is a more current phenomenon, traditionally we had to get it from nature. In nature vitamin C is found in many sweet fruits. Our body has many of these inherent abilities. Poisons taste bad, because they are not good for us. Sweet fruits taste good because we need the vitamin C.

Since we discovered that we like the sweet taste, we then created more foods to deliver that taste. Here is another biological aspect to sugar. Eating sugar causes a biochemical chain reaction that leads to a temporary increase in the hormone serotonin. Serotonin is our “feel good” hormone. It helps us feel more relaxed, less anxious, less stressed, and improves our mood. This is the well known “sugar high”. The key word here is temporary. Once the high is gone, the body desires to return to it. Thus, sugar can become an addiction; and it is a very difficult one to break.

Most of the sugar we consume is refined and has no nutritional value – it is empty calories. In addition, sugar causes spikes in our blood sugar levels. The body desires constant blood sugar levels. Therefore, it must move sugar out of the blood. Insulin does this by either moving the sugar into the cells for energy, or by converting and storing it as fat. Here’s a little secret for you – we do not get fat by eating too much fat, we get fat by eating too much sugar.

Because there is limited nutritional value in the sugary food our hunger is not satisfied for the long term. Hunger is a sign from our body that it needs energy to function. Soon we will be hungry and eat again. Unfortunately this often means eating more sugar, which keeps this pattern going. Eventually our cells become insulin resistant, our pancreas begins to revolt and can not keep up with insulin production. We become pre-diabetic, and ultimately diabetic. On top of that, the constant spikes in our blood sugar are causing inflammation and irritation to our arteries which ultimately leads to heart disease.

But there is more to the story. As our body digests the sugar, it is also depleting nutrients from our body so we can adequately process it. So, not only are there no nutrients in the sugary food, it is taking nutrients out of our body in its processing!

Sugar is also the “food” for the bad bacteria and yeast (Candida) in our body. As we feed them, they take over our digestive system, leading to bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, yeast infections, hormonal imbalances, and a variety of other problems. Often the sugar cravings we experience are these critters sending us the “feed me” signal.

I can not emphasize enough the importance of reducing sugar in your diet. It is one of the key factors behind disease. Reducing your sugar intake is an important aspect of living a healthier lifestyle and at the core of the individualized wellness programs developed for my clients.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. His office is in Thiensville, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call (262) 389-9907, e-mail bernie@brwellness.com or go to www.brwellness.com.