For years, medicine has pegged obesity as the number one cause of diabetes. However, results of a recent large epidemiological study suggest it’s sugar that plays a pivotal role in diabetes. The study also illustrates that how many calories you eat isn’t as important as what makes up those calories — the study found calories from sugar is more damaging than calories from other foods.
Researchers looked at the correlation between sugar availability and diabetes in 175 countries during the last ten years and controlled for such factors as obesity, calories consumed, diet, economic development, activity level, urbanization, tobacco and alcohol use, and aging.
They found the more sugar a population ate the higher the incidence of diabetes, independent of obesity rates. According to Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, the study’s lead author, “We’re not diminishing the importance of obesity at all, but these data suggest…additional factors contribute to diabetes risk besides obesity and total calorie intake, and that sugar appears to play a prominent role.” The study provides the first large-scale, population-based evidence for the idea that perhaps it’s not just calories, but the type of calories, that matter when looking at diabetes risk.
One thing is clear from the study – although by definition all calories give off the same amount of energy when burned, sugar is uniquely damaging to the body.
The study showed an additional 150 calories from any food source caused a 0.1 percent increase in the population’s diabetes rate whereas an additional 150 calories of sugar caused it to raise a full 1 percent. That’s a ten-fold increase. To put it into perspective, a can of soda contains roughly 150 calories of sugar. Consider the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, or about 350 calories’ worth, and it’s clear why diabetes is the fastest growing disease in history.
The study also showed the longer a population was exposed to excess sugar, the higher the diabetes rates were. The clincher: Diabetes rates dropped when sugar availability dropped, independent of changes in calorie intake, physical activity, or obesity rates.
Does sugar cause diabetes? It’s too early to say definitively, but this study clearly shows a correlation and spotlights the need for more research. Dr. Basu suggested sugar affects the liver and pancreas in ways that need more exploration.
While there are various forms of diabetes, Type II diabetes, which is caused by diet and lifestyle, accounts for 90 percent of all cases of diabetes.
What can you do to minimize your risk for diabetes? Reducing your sugar intake is a great place to start. In functional medicine we understand that every body is unique. We start with a careful evaluation of your health history, lifestyle, heredity, nutritional status, and environmental risk factors. We help you customize a program that includes diet, exercise, stress management, nutritional support, detoxification, gut health support, and dampening of inflammation — all of which can dramatically affect your insulin and blood sugar levels and hence your risk of diabetes. This can reverse the path to diabetes and sometimes even the disease itself.
Ask my office for more information on support with blood sugar imbalances and diabetes.
You may have heard of the importance of an alkaline diet. It can help reduce acidity in the body and prevent bone demineralization, kidney stones, back pain, muscle wasting, hypertension, stroke, cancer, asthma and exercise-induced asthma. The foods you eat profoundly affect how acidic or alkaline you are, and thus your health.
Let’s begin with some chemistry… pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline something is. On a scale of 0 to 14, a pH of 0 is totally acidic, 14 is totally alkaline, and 7 is neutral. Blood is slightly alkaline at between 7.35 and 7.45. The kidneys and respiratory system tightly control blood pH with little room for variation. Your stomach is very acidic at 3.5 or below. This acidity is necessary to break down food and protect you from harmful bacteria and other organisms. Your urine pH changes depending on what you eat.
The nutrients in food have either an acidic or alkaline effect on the blood. Fish, meat, cheese, eggs, legumes and grains are considered acid forming, while fruits, vegetables, and mineral soda waters are considered alkalinizing. All junk foods, sodas, and processed foods are considered acid forming, and should be avoided. Note that just because a food is acidic itself doesn’t mean that it will be acid forming in the body and vice versa with more alkaline foods. For instance, although lemon and raw apple cider vinegar are acidic they are alkalinizing in the body.
When the body’s pH gets out of balance, health issues can arise:
In acidosis, the enzyme systems of the body run on high speed, forcing the adrenal glands into overdrive. Symptoms include:
While acidosis is more talked about, one can become too alkaline. In alkalosis, the enzyme systems of the body run below par, reducing blood pressure and pulse, contributing to:
There is little question that the mainstream western diet imposes a high acidic load on the body. You might think the fix would be to eliminate all acidic foods. Instead, increasing the ratio of alkaline foods to acidic foods is what makes the most sense. It’s all about balance. An added benefit; this reduces the total number of calories consumed.
When you consider that many classically acid forming foods have important vitamins, fats, minerals, and other nutrients, it makes sense to find a reasonable place for them in the diet. Remember, the acidic foods you consume should be nutrient-dense, quality foods, not a binge in the chip aisle! Instead, focus on a plant-based diet that is made up primarily of vegetables, fruits in moderation, and enough protein and healthy fat to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable.
Increased fruits and vegetables in an alkaline diet improve the sodium/potassium ratio, which can benefit bone health, reduce muscle wasting, as well as mitigate other chronic diseases such as hypertension, strokes and cancer. On the other hand, an overly acidic diet (such as too much meat and not enough veggies) can reduce bone density. In fact, in a recent study of 136 trials that examined the effects of dietary calcium (mainly from dairy) on fracture risk in osteoporosis, two-thirds of the trials showed that a high calcium intake does not reduce the number of fractures. Meanwhile, it was found that eating fruits and vegetables improved bone density in an amazing 85 percent of studies that looked at the effects of such foods.
A more alkaline diet can also increase growth hormone, which may improve cardiovascular health and memory and cognition.
Based on the alkaline/acidic nature of foods, scientists have created a way to rate foods called the Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) score. But take note: becoming too concerned with pH and doing constant measuring of urine pH (the most accessible form of testing) will likely cause more stress than good; it’s balancing the big picture that matters!
Food isn’t the only thing that affects pH in the body; stress also plays a big part. Stress causes us to breathe shallowly, creating a buildup of highly acidic carbon dioxide, which is acidifying. Therefore, it’s important to utilize positive stress reduction methods to help manage your body’s acidic load.
Remember, the big picture is what matters; balancing diet, exercise, and lifestyle will provide you with the best tools for maintaining a healthy pH balance in your body.