In football jargon, the area within twenty yards of the goal line is called the Red Zone. There is nothing more disheartening to a football fan (and team) than when their team makes it inside the 20 yard line but fumbles the ball away to the other side. Both fans and coaches will go ballistic if their team loses possession from a fumble or an interception inside the 20 – turnovers are never good in football, but when they occur inside the Red Zone, at best it’s a momentum shift; at worst, it can be a game changer.
For our health, the ‘Red Zone’ is the holiday season – the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. As it is, the seasonal change from Fall to Winter is hard on our immune system, and it’s the beginning of cold and flu season. Without a doubt, this time of year is made worse by the abundance of unhealthy food choices that overwhelm us during the holidays. From people bringing baked goods and candies into offices to the numerous parties and family celebrations that seem to be anchored around Christmas cookies, pies, and cakes, temptations are all around.
The double … no, triple … no, quadruple whammy This is not an idle threat – not only is sugar bad for our health, but pies, cakes, cookies, and crackers are made with refined flour, which acts just like sugar when digested, and flour comes with inflammation-promoting gluten. So pies and other holiday “treats” create a triple whammy of sugar and refined flour, both of which cause rapid increases in blood glucose levels, resulting in decreased immune function, and finally, some disease-promoting inflammation. And finally, as a quadruple whammy, eating nutrient-poor sweets causes us to not eat (or displaces) the nutrient-dense foods we should be eating for our health in general and the immune system in particular.
Sugar Decreases Immune Function It’s long been known that sugar intake causes decreased immune system function. Studies have shown that the immune system is weakened substantially within minutes of eating refined sugar; the more you eat, the more your body’s insulin response system is compromised. The body’s cell-mediated immunity uses specialized white blood cells called neutrophils to attack tumors, viruses, and bacteria, and is decreased when there is elevated blood glucose, which is caused by eating refined carbohydrate foods such as sugar and white flour. [Sanchez A, et al. Roles of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Amer J Clin Nutr 1973; 26:1180-1184. (view article)]. What’s more, not only are we more susceptible to getting colds and flu, even our body’s ability to fight cancer is compromised when we eat sugar. [Ely JTA, Krone CA Controlling Hyperglycemia as an Adjunct to Cancer Therapy. Integrative Cancer Therapies 2005; 4(1): 25-31. (view article)]
Don’t Fumble – Hold Onto the Ball So, how does one avoid the temptation of all those seemingly “yummy” foods that we’ve grown up with? First, we must own up to the fact that “a little won’t hurt” is a lie – sugary foods will hurt your body, and the more you indulge, the more it hurts your body – yes, it’s cumulative (in case you were wondering, that’s how people end up overweight, with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer). Second, if the temptation is at the office where holiday cookies, cakes, candy canes, etc. are everywhere, pack nutritious snacks and lunches to take to work – if you have strong fall back foods, you’ll be less likely to indulge. Third, if you’re headed to an office Christmas party or some other holiday celebration where you know there are going to be ample opportunities to indulge in an array of ‘disease foods,’ here are some good strategies: (a) eat healthy foods before you leave for the party; (b) bring some healthy munchies yourself – look at it as an opportunity to share how great a Paleo diet style can be; (c) when eating at a party, focus on eating the veggies and other healthy, nutrient-dense foods first; that way, your appetite will be satiated before hitting the desserts or other non-food health ‘derailleurs’.
It Tastes Sweet, But It Will Kill You: Sugar – The Ultimate Disease Food
It’s contained in many, many foods; it wreaks havoc with many of the body’s physiologic systems and plays a central role in the current heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity epidemics. The culprit: plain old sugar, and its thinly disguised evil cousin, high fructose corn syrup. Yes, they will kill you. Maybe not overnight, but over time, sugar and corn syrup-derived sweeteners will erode your health, leading to many fatal diseases.
Sugar is a super-concentrated, unnatural food – the fact that it comes from something natural doesn’t make it natural to the body (gasoline comes from something very natural – oil – and is therefore essentially a natural product, but you wouldn’t want to eat it).
In the past 75 years, our modern industrial culture has seen a unique convergence of many negative lifestyle factors that have lead to a dramatic increase in ‘lifestyle behavior diseases’ which include heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, senile dementia, and cancer (yes, cancer is a lifestyle disease, not a genetic one as is commonly believed). This “Perfect Storm” of disease-producing lifestyle behavior choices includes the following:
A decrease in the intake of micro-nutrients and trace elements within our food supply due to commercial farming practices utilizing year-round growth cycles and nitrogen-based petrochemical fertilizers, creating epidemic nutritional deficiencies or malnutrition within modern industrial nations, as well as food processing methods that strip nearly all nutrients from our food.
An increase in toxicity of our food supply due to the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides in combination with modern food processing techniques utilizing chemical additives, and preservatives.
An increase in consumption of food that has been processed to the point where there is little to no nutritive value.
A pronounced decrease in physical activity levels unprecedented in the history of mankind.
Added to this…after the Jesuits’ introduction of sugar in 1751, sugar became less expensive to produce (thanks in large part to slavery), and sugar/sweetener consumption has risen steadily (per person/per year):
1821: 10 lbs.
1880: 38 lbs.
1970: 119 lbs.
1990: 132 lbs.
2007: 158 lbs.
When found in nature as fruit (think strawberries, bananas, etc.), sugar is in the form of a complex carbohydrate bound to fiber, which functions to slow down or inhibit the breakdown and absorption of the sugars into the blood stream, creating a gradual flow of sugar (glucose) into the blood stream. Refined sugars (simple carbohydrates), such as sugar (versus sugar cane) or apple juice (versus an apple), have been stripped of their natural fibers, allowing for rapid digestion into the blood stream, which causes blood glucose levels to spike. This results in over-secretion of insulin, the carrier hormone that transports glucose from the blood to the cells and tissues. Normally, insulin secretion is gradual, corresponding to the gradual absorption of sugars found in complex carbohydrates. When eating refined sugar or corn syrup, the sudden demand for insulin becomes acute and insulin is ‘dumped’ into the bloodstream. This acute demand for insulin production and secretion overwhelms the pancreas, the organ that produces and secretes insulin. It gets worse: over time, sustained levels of insulin (from continuing to eat refined carbohydrates such as sugar, corn syrup, and white flour – the diet of Americans) results in insulin resistance, a chronic but deadly condition where the body’s cells don’t respond to insulin in a normal or healthy manner, causing even more insulin to be secreted (think of the pancreas as ‘shouting’), thus aggravating insulin resistance syndrome even further, creating a self-perpetuating cycle which ultimately leads to many disease processes including atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), cancer, diabetes, weight gain/obesity, high blood lipids (abnormal LDL:HDL cholesterol levels), and mineral depletion.
Now with an unlimited supply and unlimited access to foods containing sugar or corn syrup, as a society, we’re totally hooked – sugar is without a doubt, addictive. To verify this for yourself, try going 2, 3, or 7 days without any refined sugar; one, it’s hard to even find foods that have none; two, if you’re like most people, your body is habituated/addicted to the sweet poison.
Sugar Destroys Your Health
Causes Obesity and Diabetes
Causes Mineral Loss
Disrupts Hormone Function
Depresses the Immune System
Causes Chronic Disease
Increases Cancer Risk
Sugar Decreases Immune Function It’s long been known that sugar intake causes decreased immune system function. Studies have shown that the immune system is weakened substantially within minutes of eating refined sugar; the more you eat, the more your body’s insulin response system is compromised. The body’s cell-mediated immunity, which uses specialized white blood cells called neutrophils to attack tumors, viruses and bacteria, is decreased when there is elevated blood glucose, which is caused by eating refined carbohydrate foods such as sugar and white flour. [Sanchez A, et al. Roles of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis.Amer J Clin Nutr 1973; 26:1180-1184. (view article)]
What’s more, not only are we more susceptible to getting colds and flu, even our body’s ability to fight cancer is compromised when we eat sugar. [Ely JTA, Krone CA Controlling Hyperglycemia as an Adjunct to Cancer Therapy. Integrative Cancer Therapies 2005; 4(1): 25-31. (view article)]
As an illustration, let’s look at one of the worst sugar foods out there: soda pop.
SODA POP – THE ULTIMATE SUGAR DELIVERY SYSTEM As has been mentioned, there are many huge problems affecting our health today:
We no longer eat fresh, natural, whole, organic, nutrient-dense foods; instead our diets are now dominated by processed foods devoid of nutrients and filled with toxic chemicals, synthetic fats, and artificial sweeteners.
Neglecting the critical nutrient of movement or exercise in our lives, which – like fresh foods – is genetically essential for health, the vast majority of people now live sedentary lives, which further hastens the onset of virtually all diseases.
As a result, the current statistics are staggering: 1 out of every 2 people will die of heart disease; 1 out of every 3 people will die from cancer; 1 out of every 4 people will develop diabetes; 60% of adults and 35% of children are obese (by the way, obesity is the defining risk factor for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes).
The most startling aspect of those statistics is that all of those diseases were nonexistent, or very rare occurrences, in earlier times amongst the hunter-gatherer cultures that determined the genetic code that our bodies live by today. In other words, the diseases so common today are best described as lifestyle diseases, or behavior diseases.
One of the central players in this cultural health maelstrom (def: a situation marked by confusion, turbulence, strong feelings, violence, or destruction) is our nation’s habit of consuming sweetened beverages that destroy our health – in particular, Americans love soda pop. Soft drink manufacturers make enough soda pop for every person to drink 54 gallons per year. That works out to be 576 12 oz. cans per year, or 1.6 cans per day. It also works out to be over 15 teaspoons of sugar (150 calories) per day. Making matters worse is that soda pop is most often sweetened using high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, both of which have even greater health risks than sucrose (table sugar). By the way, eating 50 extra calories per day for five years will cause you to gain 50 pounds. Hopefully you are starting to understand the connection between the consequences of our lifestyle choices and their effect on our health (i.e. the ever-increasing diabetes and obesity epidemics).
SODA POP DESTROYS YOUR HEALTH IN THE FOLLOWING WAYS:
Soda pop causes calcium and bone loss:
When carbonated liquids go into the stomach (stomach cells are not genetically equipped to handle carbonation), the stomach responds by ‘pulling’ calcium from the blood, creating an antacid to neutralize the carbonic acid; the body, with its incredible innate intelligence, knows that maintaining calcium levels in the blood is critical to many things, including brain and muscle function, and replenishes blood calcium levels by drawing calcium from bones.
The phosphoric acid in the soda pop also causes an imbalance in the delicate ratio of calcium-magnesium-phosphorus, causing the body again to draw calcium from the blood and bones to maintain this critical mineral balance.
Soda pop causes diabetes and insulin resistance:
Twelve ounces of soda pop contains almost ten teaspoons of sugar; now we have super-sized servings in thirty-two or even sixty-four ounce Big Gulps®, which contain twenty-nine and fifty-three teaspoons of sugar respectively. This incredible dose of refined sugar is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc with the body’s ability to manage insulin production and blood glucose levels, leading to diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.
Soda pop causes cancer:
Refined sugar intake is associated with increased cancer risk.
Because carbonated beverages contribute to acid reflux, drinking soda pop is associated with increased risk of esophageal cancer.
Soda pop disrupts the critical pH of the body:
Soda is 100,000 times more acidic than water. The body’s pH (the balance between alkalinity and acidity) must stay within a very narrow range; when the pH shifts, the body will do virtually anything to correct it to avoid catastrophic breakdown in physiological function. The body neutralizes acidity by pulling minerals such as calcium out of the blood or wherever possible, including bone. This is yet another contributing cause of osteoporosis (another cause of osteoporosis is milk consumption – yikes, more on that later).
Soda pop causes weight gain, contributing to the obesity epidemic, in three ways:
#1: Extra calories always cause weight gain, no matter how you look at it. The body stores excess carbohydrates as fat. As mentioned above, as little as 50 extra calories per day over a five year period will result in a fifty pound weight gain.
#2: When processed by the liver, fructose is preferentially converted to fat.
#3: Fructose doesn’t cause the body’s satiety mechanism (feeling satisfied) to be activated, as does glucose, so you will keep eating.
Soda pop causes atherosclerosis (clogging/hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure, and heart disease:
Because of how fructose is converted into fat by the liver, soda pop consumption increases LDL lipids (“bad cholesterol”) and decreases HDL (“good cholesterol”), leading to a build-up of plaque within arteries, which narrows the blood vessels, leading directly to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
Some people reading this will be thinking ‘Isn’t that a bit extreme? After all, what’s more American than having a soft drink at a picnic or my son’s baseball game?’ (not to mention that soda is usually served with a hot dog or chips that have been deep fried, and a sandwich made with processed flour, and cured meats – boy, we’ve got this disease-food thing down to a science don’t we; unfortunately, an evil science).Or my favorite, ‘I just have one once in a while – if it’s in moderation, it can’t be that bad, can it?’ There are two types of toxicity or poisoning: 1) Acute: resulting in vomiting, fainting, convulsions, death, etc.; 2) Slow or chronic accumulation of toxins, which ultimately break down the body’s physiological function. Soda pop falls into the second category (diet soda is even more toxic than the regular sugar-poison variety). My cynical response to the “everything in moderation” paradigm is to ask ‘Is it okay to do crystal meth or cheat on your spouse, in moderation?’
Should you have any further doubts about the dangers of soda pop, high fructose corn syrup, and their direct correlation to the obesity and diabetes epidemics that are CRUSHING Americans of all ages, I encourage you to watch thisvideo:
Wondering what your FIRST worst enemy is? Don’t make the mistake thinking that diet sodas containing artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda®) or aspartame (Nutrasweet®, Equal®) are safe – they are far from it; and they cause weight gain (if you think about it, who’s always drinking diet soda? Yep, overweight people). Furthermore, scientific research links artificial sweeteners with leukemia, brain cancer, migraines, depression, and blindness – more on that topic here.
Below is the trailer for the award-winning documentary Sweet Misery:
To watch the fantastic, full-length documentary film Sweet Misery about the TERRIBLE DANGERS of eating or drinking any food containing aspartame, click here.
The take-away: make water your predominant beverage – it’s what you are genetically designed to drink. You can do it!