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Why do so many people get sick during or after the holidays? Why is winter called “cold and flu season”? Many blame it on the germs and microbes flying around, but don’t stop to consider that it has more to do with the terrain the germs come into contact with–your body. How well can your body fight off those microbes? Not nearly as well if you’re eating a lot of sugar.

We’re in a Sugar Pandemic

It’s hard to walk very far in today’s world without finding something full of sugar. The USDA1 says:

We consume large amounts of sugar. The average American eats (or drinks) 34 teaspoons of sugars a day, which is equal to 500+ calories. This averages more than 100 pounds of sugars per person each year. Sugar intake has drastically increased over the last century. In 1822, the average American ate in 5 days the amount of sugar found in one of today’s 12-ounce sodas. Now, we eat that much every 7 hours!

We may not be eating handfuls of sugar cubes at a time, but there are several foods we likely don’t even think about containing sugar that we consume on a daily basis.

WebMD2 quotes things like pasta salads, yogurt, and ketchup as containing hidden sources of sugar. Cereals and canned fruits, too, have hidden sugar in them. Sports drinks, teas, and other sweet beverages are also a favorite hiding place of hidden sugars. Harvard Health3 says:

Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute about half of the total added sugar in the U.S. food supply.

In another place, Harvard Health4 points out:

In the American diet, the top sources are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup.

CNET5 links to an Oxford study6 that shows it only takes about 75 grams of sugar to weaken the immune system. What does that say for Americans who, as mentioned above, normally take in 34 teaspoons a day?

What Started it?

The link between high sugar diets and health issues was uncovered in the fifties. In the sixties, the Sugar Research Foundation paid $48,000 to three Harvard students to do a study that showed high fat and cholesterol cause heart disease–not sugar. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.

Ever since then, low-fat diets have been encouraged and touted as the healthy choice, backed up by the food pyramid, which also came from the study mentioned above. Because low-fat diets don’t taste good, sugar is added to make the “healthy” foods more appetizing. This has the effect of causing fat deficiencies in people’s diets. That’s part of the challenge with the food pyramid; it is actually upside-down in some ways. You need to take in a lot of fat to help your body build and maintain its organs and systems. This also drastically increases people’s sugar intake, which causes multiple problems in the body. One of the big things sugar impacts is the immune system.

Infections and Sugar

Doctor Schierling7 explains the link between infections and sugar this way:

Sugar is actually the food of choice for all types of infections. When I researched making my own agar (the gelatin-like bacterial “food” that goes in the bottom of a Petri dish), the University of Missouri St Louis’ website listed sugar as a chief ingredient (this was essentially the same recipe I found on every site I looked at). On top of that, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that people with HYPERGLYCEMIA (High Blood Sugar) are at serious risk for a wide array of infections.

If you have a gut infection and you eat a lot of sugar, the sugar will feed the infection. When you have an infection anywhere in the body, it demands attention from the immune response, limiting the attention viruses and other harmful bacteria can receive.

WebMD8 explains sugar’s impact on the immune system this way:

Eating or drinking too much sugar curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect lasts for at least a few hours after downing a couple of sugary drinks.

Sugar and Inflammation

Inflammation is part of the immune response. It happens when an outsider–a toxin, allergen, or something else that isn’t supposed to be in your body–gets inside. It is embedded in body tissue, which gets red, swollen, warm, and tender with inflammation in order to call the immune system to come destroy the invader. Inflammation, then, isn’t a bad thing. It’s a needed part of the immune response. The problem comes when it’s chronic. All bodily illness and disease come from inflammation.

Sugar feeds inflammation, making it last longer. As Healthline9 puts it:

Human studies confirm the link between added sugar and higher inflammatory markers.

The NIH shows, in a study10 of healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 60, that increased sugars led to an increase in inflammatory markers (CRP), as well as insulin resistance.

It has also been shown that sugar will keep these levels high for a considerable amount of time11.

Sugar and the Immune Response

Taking in large amounts of sugar not only feeds into infections, but also inflammation. With as much sugar as people are taking in, these days, and sugar helping both of these fronts, the immune response has to work harder to do what it needs to. This will fatigue the immune response, leading to it not being able to fight invading viruses, bacteria, or other toxins as well.

Why is it Hard to Stop?

We all know that it’s hard to stop sugar. The very thought can feel laughable. There’s a very good reason for that. The NIH has studies that show sugar can be addictive12, saying in this article13:

The biological robustness in the neural substrates of sugar and sweet reward may be sufficient to explain why many people can have difficultly to control the consumption of foods high in sugar when continuously exposed to them.

It can be hard to break a habit years in the making. It can be made easier by transitioning to healthier alternatives. For more help, check out this article on how to reduce the sugar cravings.

Avoid These Sugars and Sweeteners

Harvard Recommends Avoiding Sugar

Harvard Health14 suggests cutting the following:

  • brown sugar
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • invert sugar
  • malt sugar
  • molasses
  • syrup sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).

This is a good list to start with, but it’s not a full, exhaustive list.

The Wellness Way Recommends Cutting These, Too 

Keep an eye out for the following sugars to cut, as well:

  • Cane sugar, cane juice, evaporated cane sugar, or cane juice crystals
  • Beet sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar or icing sugar)
  • Demerara sugar
  • Dextrin
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Golden sugar
  • Maltodextrin
  • Turbinado sugar (or raw sugar)
  • Sucanat
  • Carob syrup
  • Fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate
  • Malt syrup
  • Golden syrup
  • Caramel
  • Barley malt
  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Acesulfame K
  • Stevia with chemical fillers (pure stevia extract with no fillers is okay)

Healthier Alternatives to Sugar

Instead, try replacing the above with some of these:

  • Xylitol
  • Stevia
  • Raw Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Yacon Syrup
  • Coconut Palm Sugar
  • Dates

For practical ways to use these sugar alternatives, check out our dessert recipes, tips for Halloween, holiday celebrations, and stockings, and Valentine’s Day.

Sugar can be hard to cut, but the value it gives to your immune system and gut is huge. To get your immune system tested and take a stool test to check for infections, contact the Wellness Way to get your personal wellness plan, today!

Resources:

  1. The Question of Sugar: USDA
  2. Surprising Sources of Hidden Sugar: Nourish by WebMD
  3. Added Sugar: Where is it Hiding?: Harvard Medical School
  4. The Sweet Danger of Sugar: Harvard Medical School
  5. Doctors Warn that Sugar can Temporarily Weaken Your Immune System:CNET
  6. Role of Sugar in Neutrophilic Phagocytosis: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  7. Sugar Feeds Infection: Doctor Schierling
  8. 6 Immune System Busters & Boosters: WebMD
  9. Does Sugar Cause Inflammation in the Body?: Healthline
  10. Acute effects of feeding fructose, glucose and sucrose on blood lipid levels and systemic inflammation: NIH
  11. Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial: NIH
  12. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake: National Library of Medicine
  13. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit: National Library of Medicine
  14. The Sweet Danger of Sugar: Harvard Medical School
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