To Your Health
February, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 02)
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Whether a sugar is simple or complex makes a difference not only in terms of its level of refinement or nutritional value, but also in terms of its journey through the body. By now, we know it requires less work for the body to break down simple sugars than complex sugars, but that fact merits even closer scrutiny.

One very important characteristic of sugar is how quickly it enters the bloodstream and triggers the insulin response after digestion. Those highly refined, simple sugars in icings, candy and fudge are quickly broken down and enter the bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to rise almost instantaneously. This, in turn, prompts the pancreas to release insulin - the hormone needed to carry these sugars to the cells of the body. High amounts of insulin help the sugar to be used rapidly, but then blood sugar levels take a dive and the body hits what is known as a sugar low, or hypoglycemia. Just as the hormone insulin was released when the blood sugar level was quickly raised, other stress hormones are summoned as the blood sugar plummets.

These stress hormones attempt to restore blood sugar levels to normal, taxing the liver for stored sugar. This rollercoaster process can be taxing on anyone's body, but is most demanding on individuals with sugar-sensitivity, often causing mood swings and drastic behavioral changes.

Studies indicate that these spikes in blood sugar and subsequent stress on the pancreas to produce insulin eventually can cause the pancreas to, in essence, wear out. A resulting inability to produce enough insulin results in diabetes. Reckless sugar consumption may account, at least in part, for the estimated 1.5 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in U.S. adults in 2005.

Complex sugars, which, again, are far less refined than simple sugars, make the body work a little bit to disassemble these molecules and convert them into blood sugar. The effect is like that of a time-released capsule: The slowly converted glucose enters the bloodstream at an even pace, providing constant energy without any rollercoaster rides or mood swings.

Excess Sugar = Excess Calories

Aside from tempting diabetes, an excess of simple sugars in the diet adds countless extra calories accompanied by little or no nutrition. For a person trying to lose weight, avoiding additional caloric intake is one thing, but a lack of daily nutrition welcomes a slew of other health problems for anyone. For instance, a non-diet soda may contain 150 calories, which doesn't seem like much;  but a person who is trying to limit their daily calorie intake to 2,000 calories per day has already consumed nearly 10 percent of their daily allotment of calories by drinking this soda.Those calories are accompanied by absolutely zero nutrition - in essence, they are empty calories.