The Meal Matters Most

What Makes Healthy Food Healthy: From a Stress Perspective

Is it “the sugar, folks” ?

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photo from wikipedia commons

photo from wikipedia commons

 A recent article by Mark Bittman in the NYTimes entitled “It’s the Sugar, Folks” calls sugar a “toxin”.   For all my friends out there getting ready to toss out every scrumptious dessert or honey-glazed chicken delicousness, I’m here to tell you that we must look beyond a simple word (sugar) and at the bigger picture.  A toxin is typically thought of as something inherently bad for you, so by that assumption Mark and others are saying that sugar in any form is bad for you. This is the same fallacious (means faulty or false,  it’s when you follow the logic correctly, but that logic leads you to a false conclusion because it’s the wrong logic for the situation), as the argument used that also got rid of fat.  These are both faulty arguments which happen when we operate in the wrong paradigm.

So something deemed bad can also be good for us under different circumstances.  Like when we eat sugar from natural sources. The combination of buffers make the sugar in natural foods a wonderful form of energy, but that energy comes at a metabolic cost. It takes effort for our bodies to break it down and convert it. Theres only so much room or capacity and there are also byproducts.  These byproducts, capacitites and effort can create stress. In medical terms it’s called oxidative stress. Many combination of both starting points,  such as genetics, or altered starting points, called epigenetics, can create unique susceptibilities, or tipping points to when one experiences metaoblic stress. Once a stress hits a unique system this can create varied outcomes, like a PLINKO board.   Timing is also important to outcomes, being hit early in life will have a different action than being hit later in life.  Whether something is metabolically stressful to the liver, can depend on the cumulative action of other stressors, or foods, present at that time.  So other stressors, even social stresses, can impact whether that sugar is toxic or not to us.  Stress mechanisms have a lot of cross-over and can be very complicated.


 Sugar in isolation is, by that defintion of excessive stress on the liver,  a toxin.  It’s something that impacts the liver, our detoxification organ, in a negative and damaging way depending on the stress (work or overwhelming work) the liver senses.  In nonlinear toxicology the context matters. If you’re liver is not working well or has been altered, which can be a programming issue in which danger is sensed.  And this programming, stress in general, can come from any combination of possible sources of stress.

For example Aluminum exposure creates stress in the liver. Aluminum, like many other toxic metals takes some effort to nullify and can be a drain on the liver. It can then overwelm and reprogram how the liver detoxifies. But lets saying that during this long time exposure you’re eating a healthy diet with natural foods and herbs, like honey and saffron, or quality meats as a good source of zinc and taurine.  Or lots of  antioxidants filled foods from a variety of sources. Your less likely to have the liver overwhelmed or those switches in the liver altered.

Sugar is associated in diabetes causation. Why and how? Of course it’s very complicated but on some level oxidative stress is certainly involved. Liver function can predict insulin issues. In a way you could think of insulin production and alteration as an attempt to adapt to stress.

In stress mechanisms (instead of cause-effect thinking), timing of stress may be important. So for an example it may be that stress Type 1 Diabetes is prenatal (before birth) creating fetal programming of automimmunity and Type 2 Diabetes may be more common with postnatal (created before or after birth) with insulin/glucose activity (or the prenatal programing creates a “step one” susceptibility for later life).

I loved and think it’s right on what Mark Bittman says at the end of the article: 

It’s become clear that obesity itself is not the cause of our dramatic upswing in chronic disease. Rather, it’s metabolic syndrome, which can strike those of “normal” weight as well as those who are obese. Metabolic syndrome is a result of insulin resistance, which appears to be a direct result of consumption of added sugars. … obesity is a marker for metabolic syndrome, not a cause.

So stress can be triggered by foods or combination of foods when we isolate them. Sugar, but remember that the major source of sugar for the general population is HFCS. I hope we start considering the interactions and that sugar is a

English: Cinnamon

English: Cinnamon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

source of energy for the brain (hence why seek it, but like most foods, there is a price to be paid and it creates action in the brain)… foods like this need to be in balance, which is why classic desserts we see, the BEST quality tasting healthy desserts are those paired with polyphenols. What’s a polyphenol? Fruits, spices like vanilla and cinammon, and what these things do to buffer those impacts.

It shows again the importance of whole foods and that “sugar” is not everything nor anything that has sugar in it. Though in some cases it may be an issue in any form as some may respond to sugar poorly in any form. Which is why we must always consider the context. The context of the food combination AND the system it is entering. And again why the meal matters more than just the independent ingredients.


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    • Molasses, the main byproduct of sugar production, is a well-known source of antioxidants. In this study sugar cane molasses (SCM) and sugar beet molasses (SBM) were investigated for their phenolic profile and in vitro antioxidant capacity and for their protective effect in human HepG2 cells submitted to oxidative stress. According to its higher phenolic concentration and antioxidant capacity in vitro, SCM exhibited an effective protection in cells, comparable to or even greater than that of α-tocopherol. Data herein reported emphasize the potential health effects of molasses and the possibility of using byproducts for their antioxidant activity. This is particularly important for consumers in developing countries, as it highlights the importance of consuming a low-price, yet very nutritious, commodity.
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  • Too Much Sugar Turns Off Gene That Controls Effects Of Sex Steroids. Eating too much fructose and glucose can turn off the gene that regulates the le…vels of active testosterone and estrogen in the body, shows a new study in mice and human cell cultures that’s published this month in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. This discovery reinforces public health advice…
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Author: Lori Hogenkamp

Lori's passion is for food, the brain, science and stress shifting perspectives .

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