By Dr. Halit Yerebakan
After a month of fasting, now it is time for a feast for all Muslims around the world. Yes, it is scientifically proven that people who consume less carbohydrates or basically less “sugar,” either natural or refined, are more prone to depression.
This literally explains why we have a temper during Ramadan. The major problems we have during Ramadan is due to the fact that we do not fast smart. Now, it is time to define the smart way on how to feast. Sugar, especially refined sugar, is the main ingredient in desserts served during eid. Let’s take this chance and define what sugar really is and what it does to your body. Recently, refined sugar, especially “high-fructose corn syrup,” has received much publicity due to corn refiners’ petition to the FDA. They were asking to change the name of this syrup to corn sugar. It has been debated, and the debate continues without a conclusion. We mentioned before that “high-fructose corn syrup” is the devil of the century, but we do have to be more precise about the aftermath of its consumption.
All sugars, regardless of whether they are refined or not, raise your blood sugar rapidly, forming a spike on your levels which is followed by a rapid drop. This effect is also seen in part with processed carbohydrates as well, i.e. white flour. This effect is called the roller coaster or yo-yo effect and it happens in regards to your satisfaction of sugar consumption.
That being said, lets say you eat a handful of candy or a piece of Turkish baklava, that in turn will cost you 500 calories and a ride on your blood sugar levels. You can also eat a healthier dish containing same amount of energy but not a ride on your blood sugar levels. The healthier dish?
Yes, it includes carbohydrates but the complex one instead of refined simple ones, including 100-percent whole-wheat. The unprocessed carbohydrates are much healthier options because they will keep you fuller for longer as their digestion takes a much longer time. On the other hand, the ups and downs from refined sugars in your dessert serving will cause a crash when the yo-yo gets back and you will be looking for more food. Think of eating dessert during a feast; have you ever felt satisfied or fuller after eating two pieces of baklava?
Technically, it is not possible. On the other hand, have you felt fuller after you eat a sandwich that was made using whole-wheat bread? This is basically what we mean by sending your blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride. The calories you get from sugars are called the “junk” or “empty calories,” and there is no reason to go for it. So basically it really doesn’t matter what they call it, sugar is always sugar and it will have the same effect on your body.
There is no way to sugarcoat the facts and make them sound sweeter. Excess sugar will put your body in danger and thus may cause a lot of potentially fatal diseases in the long run. Think of people who have diabetes, and how they get heart and vascular diseases as its outcome. All the conditions caused by sugar are cross-linked, so simply excluding sugar from your diet will be beneficial to not only diabetes but a wide scale of other potentially fatal conditions.
The main reasons to keep sugar out of your diet are:
High Blood Pressure: Sugar will cause high blood pressure by altering the levels of nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide is synthesized in your body and its levels try to keep your vessels open and healthy. But, when there is too much sugar circulation in your blood stream due to your diet selection, it in turn decreases your nitric oxide levels and this decrement causes blood vessels to become narrower. When the arteries narrow due to an underlying reason, it will cause hypertension and increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
High Cholesterol: Cholesterol is synthesized in your liver and their levels alter with your diet. Sugar is also responsible when we are talking about cholesterol! If your sugar consumption increases, your blood lipid profile will change badly to a position that may also cause heart diseases. If you were to consume a lot of sugar (now is the time!) it will be more likely that your bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglyceride levels will be higher, your good cholesterol (HDL) level will more likely be lower. This is the 180 degree effect of what we want when treating a problematic blood lipid profile. Do I have to say that this lipid profile might clod up your vessels and may lead to cardiac diseases? I bet no. You all should have memorized this by now, take this as a reminder only.
Liver Disease: People do not realize before its too late that they might have a liver issue. The silent killer here is the fatty liver.
And guess what causes or contributes to it? A diet high in sugar is believed to aggravate fatty liver disease. The fat that we struggle the most with when trying to lose weight! İnsulin spikes caused by excessive sugar consumption will transport fat into liver cells, causing inflammation. Chronic inflammation of liver will eventually cause the liver to be cirrhotic. Have you ever seen a patient having cirrhosis? If you have and now you know one major contributing factor, and I believe you wont be even buying it anymore! Don’t forget to win the battle at grocery stores.
Insulin Resistance: This resistance may not be the devil of your body when there are a lot of other stuff that we can talk about. But no. Sugar is sugar, and when you consume sugar, insulin will open the door to allow sugar into the cells. However, when the consumption of sugar continues and literally becomes chronic – this happens when you ring a bunch of door bells during the feast – there will be continuous spikes in you blood sugar levels where the insulin will become a less effective tool in coordination of the body’s sugar process. Chronic or excessive sugar will lock your body, creating a toxic effect that may potentially lead to obesity and of course diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends “no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day.” This is about equal to 100 calories worth of sugar. Yes, we eat more. This is far more than even the total amount of sugar in a soda can. But do not forget that this guideline doesn’t include the natural sugar sources including fruits, some vegetables, and whole grains. The average daily sugar consumption of an American is about at least four times greater that this value.
The solution is to stop buying and consuming processed foods that contain sugar. Go for healthier alternatives, those that do not have added sugars, including wholewheat, whole-foods, and healthier foods. If you don’t think that you will win this battle especially during eid, at least try to control it by adding up to one teaspoon of sugar to what ever you want.
Eat smart, live well! Eid Mubarak