Before you reach for that cookie, consider this: studies have shown that eating too much sugar or simple carbohydrates can have devastating effects. Not only will the sugar likely lead to weight gain, but an unseen, internal chain of events can be triggered that could result in some of America’s most deadly diseases.
The surprising culprit behind many illnesses, especially heart disease, is inflammation.
It’s surprising because inflammation is a necessary function of our bodies. The immune system uses inflammation to fight pathogens and inflammation can be essential in defending us from disease.
Problems occur when inflammation becomes chronic. And though studies have not been able to conclusively pinpoint an exact cause and effect between chronic inflammation and chronic conditions, there are certain factors that are consistently present when looking at heart disease.
Diet is one of them. Too much sugar in the diet leads to insulin resistance, which in turn causes inflammation. And when the blood vessels leading to the heart are inflamed, heart disease develops.
Dr. Jerry Gore, founder of the Center for Holistic Medicine, says, “Simple sugars get into the bloodstream too fast, create too much insulin, which then creates insulin resistance, which then creates inflammation, which then creates all these diseases. Sugar is really the scourge of our society.”
Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you may be consuming more sugar than you think because many prepared foods contain hidden sugars. It’s been estimated that the average American eats a half pound of sugar a day!
How Sugar Leads to Inflammation
- When blood sugar is high, the body produces more free radicals. Free radicals are especially damaging to the body because they disrupt healthy cells and set off an unnecessary immune response, which causes inflammation.
- Excess sugar consumption leads to an over-production of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). These are formed when protein or fat combine with sugar in the bloodstream. Having too many of them causes inflammation.
- Sugar is thought to contribute to gut permeability. When bacteria and toxins pass between the gut into the bloodstream, inflammation occurs.
- Sugar has long been associated with elevating LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol that’s linked to higher levels of C-reactive protein, another cause of inflammation.
Perhaps one of the best ways to understand the connection between eating sugar and putting your heart at risk is to look at the role diabetes plays in heart disease.
The statistics are truly staggering:
- Evidence shows that patients with diabetes have higher levels of low-grade inflammation in their arterial lining.
- 68 percent of people over 65 with diabetes die from some form of heart disease.
- Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than those without diabetes.
So what can you do to reduce your risk of both diabetes and heart disease? In addition to exercising, quitting smoking and lowering your blood pressure, one of the best things you can do is to cut out sugary snacks, drinks and simple sugars found in white bread and replace them with more complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and raw fruit, which have more fiber.
Katie Bogaard, a naturopathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says you can also reduce your insulin spikes by eating carbs along with extra fiber and proteins, which slows down your sugar absorption and reduces the risk of developing chronic inflammation.
“If you balance a smoothie with proteins, good fats, and extra fiber, that will give you a slower increase in your blood sugar, making you feel not only more balanced but more satiated until your next meal,” she says.