Why Sugar Is Your Children’s Enemy #1
For sure, your children are always begging for a candy, a cake, or an ice-cream. If they ask for it, it should be good for them, shouldn’t it?
But as you certainly already know there’s now strong evidence that overweight and obesity are the main morbidity factor for your children (and for us).
It leads, to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis…
And the culprit for the increase in weight of the populations is …SUGAR
Not all kind of carbohydrates, but those that are easily digestible, with a high glycemic index, precisely those you find in candies, ice-creams and cakes.
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN IN THIS POST:
- A little bit of history, when and how we get bigger because of excessive sugar consumption
- How sugar endanger our children’s future and shorten their life expectancy
- How to recognize bad and good sugar: an introduction to the glycemic index
Why did we get much fatter than our ancestors?
Man is omnivorous. From the beginning of mankind to the modern era men and women had been eating almost exclusively meat and vegetables, that is to say proteins and lipids.
About 10,000 years ago, human beings invented agriculture. New types of food progressively appeared. Cereals and legumes (mostly composed of carbohydrates) as well as cheese, oils or poultry entered in the Homo sapiens diet.
At the same time, Man started transforming foods by cooking them, fermenting milk, or curing meat.
But it didn’t quite change the shape and the average weight of the general population. In fact, men adapted quite easily to a gradual change towards a greater part of low glycemic index type of carbohydrates in their feeding.
The real change took place in the 18th century with the culture of sugar cane in the Americas and later of sugar beet in Europe. These plants are very rich in saccharose (a combination of fructose and glucose that is also called sucrose), a very high glycemic index carbohydrate.
In Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, the wealthiest men were bigger than the rest of the population, from lower social classes. They were proud about that, because it proved they were richer. They didn’t necessarily eat more, but they had a different diet, made of food that was very expensive at that time: refined bread, honey, sugar…
Over the last century, or even half-century, the feeding habits have dramatically changed. The proportion of carbohydrates in typical diets has increased. Moreover they have changed in nature. High glycemic index carbohydrates are now much more affordable.
The situation is now that these refined sugars have replaced raw carbohydrates and are found in large quantities in the cheapest foods:
- Refined flour is the main ingredient for white bread, cakes, pizzas, pastas
- Potatoes that was used as a replacement of wheat in case of starvation in Europe. Potatoes are highly glycemic carbohydrates
- The consumption of refined sugar (i.e. saccharose = fructose + glucose), has dramatically increased in the last 2 centuries. They can be found in many of the food that many people in occidental countries ingest on a regular basis: coffee (with sugar), cake, ice-cream, sodas…
At the same time, many of the affluent and educated people both become aware of this threat and have the financial means to step into new to type of food made of vegetables, low fat meat, and complete carbohydrates.
How sugar makes us fatter and affects our health
To understand the deleterious effect of sugars we have to consider three types of carbohydrates:
Glucose is the only carbohydrate the body cells can use for their energy needs.
Fructose cannot be used directly by the organism. It is transformed in the liver in glyceraldehyde, in lipoproteins or enters the glucose glycogen pathway.
Some so called slow carbohydrates that are in fact very rapidly transformed into glucose once they have been digested. They can be considered right away as glucose.
Most carbohydrates transform into glucose after they have been ingested. Increase in blood glucose concentration triggers the secretion of insulin, which, in turn, triggers the secretion of leptin.
Insulin is produced within the pancreas. It is a very important hormone that brings downs excessive concentration of glucose in the blood. The more glucose in the blood, the more insulin is needed to compensate for it, and the more insulin is secreted, at least in healthy, non-diabetic people.
Leptin is the appetite hormone. It controls the sensation of satiety.
Body cells need insulin to utilize glucose. Insulin induces the storage of lipids in the body fat cells.
As a consequence absorption of glucidic food promotes accumulation of fat in the body cells and increase in body mass.
Fructose takes a different path. Most of it is directly metabolized into lipids in the liver and increase the fat load in the organism. The other part, mainly, is transformed in glucose.
In addition, fructose does not trigger insulin and consequently does not trigger leptin. The organism does not have the satiety feeling and asks for more food.
These 2 mechanisms make fructose even worse than glucose with regard to weight gain.
The combination of weight gain and elevated blood sugar induces, on the long run, many serious diseases that your kid, if he/she becomes overweight or obese may suffer from. Here is a non-comprehensive list:
Type 2 Diabetes
Persistent high concentration of glucose leads to an increased demand for insulin secretion. The body cells, exposed to elevated insulin concentration become resistant to insulin. More insulin is required to achieve the same results. At some point the progression gets out of control and this is the time for over diabetes.
If diabetes symptoms are rather mild, diabetes progressively leads to serious complications: ketoacidosis, ocular disorders, increased infection episodes, skin disorders, cardiovascular disease, renal disease, neuropathy, gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), foot complications…
It is dangerous too for pregnant women (gestational diabetes) and their fetus.
Osteoarthritis is an inflammation of the joints. It often causes intense pain in the hands, knees, elbows, hips.
Osteoarthritis risk factors are genetics, age, injuries. Overweight or obesity causes an extra pressure on the joints and cartilage that aggravates or accelerates the onset of the disease.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a risk factor for many serious of diseases such as stroke (heart stroke, or brain stroke), renal disease and many more…
Obesity is associated with an increased risk of some cancers although the causality issues are not fully understood (see National Cancer Institute fact sheet)?
How to make the difference between good and bad carbohydrates
You are now aware of the importance to limit the consumption of sugar for your children, and to give priority to “good” sugar over “bad” sugar.
The answer is pretty straight forward, if you have carefully read the explanations in the first parts of this posts: try to avoid as much as possible 1) fructose and 2) carbohydrates that elevate rapidly blood glucose.
Fructose is dangerous because it can be transformed in fat or in glucose and does not induce any satiety feeling. On the other hand it does not trigger the secretion of insulin.
It is recommended to eat some fructose but in limited quantities
Glucose and rapid carbohydrates
Rapid carbohydrates are those that elevate postprandial blood glucose quickly. There is a tool that helps differentiate carbohydrates: the glycemic index (or glycemic load).
The glycemic index of a food is “a figure representing the relative ability of a carbohydrate food to increase the level of glucose in the blood”. So it usually is a number between 0 and 100. Close to 100 means that the food is highly glycemic and that it increases glycemia quite a lot.
Interestingly, potatoes have a glycemic index over 100: they increase blood glucose concentration even more than glucose itself !!!
The general recommendation is that you should avoid food with a glycemic index over 70 and favor food with glycemic index below 50. See here the list of glycemic indexes edited by the Harvard Medical School.
As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid white bread, pizzas, corn flakes, white rice, rice cakes, watermelon, all kind of potatoes, pizzas, pretzels, ice creams …
You should now be convinced that the way you feed your children has a decisive impact on their future health condition. It is a difficult route to follow in our modern world where there are so many incitements to eat highly glycemic foods. They fall into our habits, are cheaper and often more attractive, especially to kids.