The modern food industry has provided us lots of attractive convenience foods and at the same time given us a diet that our bodies were not designed to handle. Our common foods have excesses of sugars, calories, unhealthy fats and unhealthy added chemicals and deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, fibre and botanical factors (herbs). This combination of excesses and deficiencies cause the nutritional imbalances that are at the root of our major health problems.
THE SUGAR PROBLEM
Excess sugar consumption in particular is a really big issue. Jamaican and the world are being ravaged by an epidemic of diabetes and obesity (diabesity), two conditions that are strongly related to the excess of carbohydrates, especially simple sugars in our diet. The experts predict that in not many years, half the population will be overweight and have diabetes.
Sadly, many of our people are now addicted to sweet foods and are suffering the consequences. A powerful fast food industry and its advertising machinery have deliberately created this addiction. As portion sizes of food and beverages get larger and larger with a technique called super sizing, our sugar consumption spirals out of all proportion. In the US the average American consumes 150 pounds of sugar each year and we in Jamaica are not far behind.
In her book Lick The Sugar Habit, Nancy Appleton, PhD, documents 75 ways in which medical researchers have documented that excess sugar can harm us. Here is an abbreviated list of health hazards from sugar:
Dietary sugars can lead to both high and low blood sugar levels. It can elevate total cholesterol, bad cholesterol and triglycerides while decreasing good cholesterol. Sugar can increase your blood pressure and contribute to obesity.
Sugar can suppress your immune system and impair your defenses against infections like the yeast Candida. It promotes other immune system diseases such as: arthritis, allergies, asthma and multiple sclerosis. It even lowers blood levels of antioxidants like vitamins E and C.
Excess sugar upsets the relationships of many minerals in your body. It causes chromium and copper deficiencies, interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium thus facilitating osteoporosis.
Sugar feeds cancer cells and has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, lung, gallbladder and stomach. Sugar can cause many problems with the digestive system including excess acidity, indigestion, malabsorption, increased risk of gallstones, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Sugar can lead to hyperactivity, difficulty in concentrating, anxiety and crankiness in children. It can cause their saliva to become acidic, promoting tooth decay, and gum disease.
After creating the sugar problem the food industry invented artificial sweeteners. The most successful of these is a chemical called Aspartame, marketed under brand names like NutraSweet or Equal. It is the sweetener that is found in many so-called diet drinks and foods. Diabetics and people who are trying to lose weight are particularly attracted to these artificial sweeteners because of their low calorie content. Today there are over 5,000 products that contain Aspartame.
I consider Aspartame a dangerous and poisonous substance as it breaks down in the body to form chemicals like methanol, formaldehyde, and formic acid that are toxic to the nervous system and should not be a part of our diet.
Individuals with symptoms like spasms, shooting pains, numbness, cramps, dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, joint pain, depression, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, blurred vision, convulsions or memory loss, may actually be suffering from the toxic effects of Aspartame in ‘diet’ foods and drinks. It may even cause birth defects.
Aspartame is particularly deadly in diabetic patients, who unfortunately are the greatest users of this poison. It makes the blood sugar harder to control and worsens the damage to the nervous system.
MANAGING THE SWEET TOOTH
People with a craving for sugar often suffer from blood sugar imbalances and are at greater risk of becoming diabetic. For them I suggest a diet made up of predominantly whole foods, full of nutrients, fibre and little refined sugar. Have lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and adequate servings of healthy protein. Restrict your intake of simple carbohydrates – starches and sugars as they all become sugar in your blood.
SUPPLEMENTS: I also recommend a program of supplements called ‘The Cellular Nutrition Program’ designed to correct any nutritional deficiencies in your diet. It provides healthy plant protein plus various vitamins, minerals like chromium, magnesium and vanadium and herbs like cinnamon all of which help control sugar cravings.
For persons on the go, with irregular eating habits, I suggest a meal replacement drink called a shake - one of the good things that the food industry has developed. Keep close at hand healthy snacks like nuts, fresh fruit, raw vegetables and protein bars and drinks.
SAFER SUGAR SUBSTITUTES: For those who want the sweet taste without sugar, a safer alternative is Stevia, a plant that is a member of the Chrysanthemum family and is native to Paraguay where it has been used since ancient times as a sweetener.
As a sugar substitute, it is available as a liquid, a crushed leaf, or a concentrated white powder. The liquid is 70 times sweeter than sugar, the crushed leaf form is about 30 times sweeter and the white powder is 300 times as sweet as sugar. The liquid and leaf forms have the slightly herbal taste of licorice.
Honey is a healthier sweetener than sugar as it contains many vitamins and minerals. But it does have lots of calories and should be used in moderation especially in persons with blood sugar problems.