“Hey doc. How bad are sugars?” It’s a question I get asked very often. Let me tell you in part two how I think about it.
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“Hey doc. How bad are sugars?” It’s a question I get asked very often.
In this part 2 we will dig deeper into the world of carbohydrates. How does sugar affect your teeth quality and what is the relation between carbs and type 2 diabetes? You can read it right away!
Too much of a small thing
The problem with the combination of small sugars and processed foods - which we eat so much of nowadays - is that you can easily consume too much of them. Especially when it concerns something like soft drinks, for instance. The sugars in these drinks easily pass through your stomach into the small intestine where they will be rapidly absorbed. Imagine drinking a glass of Coke. At first, it may give you some sensation of fullness, but it doesn’t really fill you up, and by the time you’ve emptied your second glass, the amount of sugars from the first glass has already passed through the gut barrier into your bloodstream. A fuel that is pumped into your body at such speed quickly forms a surplus: so at that moment, you are taking in more energy than the body actually needs. The sedentary lifestyle that we collectively live nowadays does not help either. The result: everything that is superfluous and can’t be used at that time will be stored. First as glycogen (stored sugars in your body, especially in your liver and muscles), but because that storage capacity is very limited, the excess sugars are quickly converted into an energy source which has a more or less unlimited storage capacity: fat. Too many sugars will certainly make you too fat!
Refraining from processed foods with a lot of sugars is the best you could do!
Sugar and diabetes
Prolonged exposure to a lot of sugars, therefore, poses a serious threat to your energy metabolism (including your insulin regulation) and could lead to type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is therefore directly related to difficulties in regulating blood sugar. Note that too much blood sugar is toxic for your organs and could even lead to death, but too little sugar is not desirable either, as it can put you into a comatose condition (hypoglycemia). Therefore, diabetics always carry rapidly absorbable sugars (grape sugar) with them, so that if their blood sugar threatens to reach the critical lower limit, they can artificially increase it.
Fortunately, under normal circumstances, a healthy body possesses a highly sophisticated and well-regulated blood sugar control mechanism that will protect you from severe highs and lows. So if your blood sugar level drops, for example when you have been fasting, your body releases some of the body’s own (endogenous) stored sugars (glycogen) into the bloodstream. And even if you are low in glycogen (glycogen-depleted; for instance, when on a keto-diet or when fasting) your body can convert certain parts of fat and protein molecules into (blood) sugar to guarantee that minimum amount of blood sugar.
Other benefits of less: sugars & dental health
One of the best things you could actually do is to refrain from any processed foods that contain so many of these simple sugars. Not only does eating less sugar have metabolic benefits, but it also significantly reduces tooth decay. In Nigeria, for example, where way fewer small sugars are eaten, only 2% of the population shows signs of dental deterioration. And note that that is the average across all age groups! For comparison: in the Netherlands, in 2014 only 20-31% of 20-year-olds had unaffected teeth; meaning that at least 70% suffer from dental decay! Such dental spoilage is mainly caused by the fact that oral bacteria love small sugars and once they make contact with them, they start fermenting them. This increases the acidity in your mouth, which affects the tooth enamel. Sweet foods that stick easily to your teeth are particularly bad. These include not only sweets, but also cookies, crackers, and chips. It’s also important to note that it’s not only a matter of avoiding such products: reducing the number of attacks on the teeth (i.e. fewer “eating moments”, for example by means of intermittent fasting) can also help.
Cultural storyteller Pie Aerts, who is a good friend of mine, captures the stories of indigenous peoples from all over the world, in a particularly vibrant way. He told me about hunter-gatherer people in Papua New Guinea who lived in an environment that offered a very little variation in terms of available foods. They were vital people, which you could tell from the way they were built and how they moved: elegantly and efficiently. They were relatively living a simple life, but are very happy at the same time; you saw that especially when they laughed. Or as Aerts put it: “The average natural set of teeth in that community was no worse than the best-made teeth you could find in Hollywood.”
How did that happen? Their main food source was the Rhynchophorus ferrugineus larvae, also known as the red palm weevil. A greasy, white-yellow, maggot-like larva that has a coating mouthfeel and tastes just as fat and creamy as it looks. No sweet snacks to satisfy hunger, no tooth decay either.
The average natural set of teeth in that community was no worse than the best-made teeth you could find in Hollywood.
The choice is huge
In recent years I have come to see more and more that sugars might be the big evil. It’s better started in black and white, especially since we just find it too difficult to resist sugars. Of course, there are also good forms of sugar, especially in fruit and vegetables. And yes, joy and deliciousness are also part of life, even when health is one of your main goals. Consciously choosing the good-tasting evil stuff is really okay in time. But our collective taste for small, processed sugars has reached uncontrollable levels and leads to their excessive consumption, on a scale at which damage is guaranteed. Yes, too much sugar is the cause of many, many health problems.
For now, go get another piece of fruit and enjoy health,