Episode 54: Sugar Shakedown
This week on Supplementing Health, Saul Katz, CEO of SoLo Nutrition joins us to discuss the effects of sugar on our body, immune system and health overall.
The content of this podcast has not been evaluated by Health Canada or the FDA. It is educational in nature and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult a qualified medical professional to see if a diet, lifestyle change, or supplement is right for you. Any supplements mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please note that the opinions of the guests or hosts are their own and may not reflect those of Advanced Orthomolecular Research, Inc.
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Welcome to Supplementing Health, a podcast presented by Advanced Orthomolecular Research. We are all about applying evidence based and effective dietary lifestyle and natural health product strategies for your optimal health. In each episode, we will feature very engaging clinicians and experts from the world of functional and naturopathic medicine to help achieve our mission to empower people to lead their best lives naturally.
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[01:07] Cassy Price: Good day and welcome back to Supplementing Health. If you are anything like me, you appreciate a sweet treat from time to time, however the estimated average of daily sugar consumption in North America is around 42 and a half teaspoons where the recommended daily amount is between six to nine teaspoons a day according to the American Heart Association. We regularly hear about the detrimental effects of too much sugar so today I am thrilled to introduce Saul Katz, CEO of SoLo Nutrition to explore how sugar negatively affects our health along with the ways that we can tailor our diets to reduce these risks. Welcome Saul.
[01:38] Saul Katz: Hi, nice to be here.
[01:40] Cassy Price: Okay, so before we dive in, I would love to know how you got started on your journey and became passionate about health and wellness.
[01:47] Saul Katz: I started a company with the University of Alberta Hospital to develop foods to promote health, prevent disease, and enhance performance. Then I started SoLo GI Nutrition which is based on the Glycaemic Index and working with Dr. Jenkins over at the University of Toronto to help to be disruptive and help get society back on track and to regress obesity and diabetes. So, that is how I got into this.
[02:21] Cassy Price: That’s awesome. Diabetes is one of those health conditions that comes to mind when we start talking about excess sugar intake. There is often a link between diabetes and obesity which has led to the term diabesity, coined in 1970 to describe the interrelatedness of these two conditions. Knowing this, can you share why there is an interest in diabesity and speak to its connection to increased sugar intake?
[02:45] Saul Katz: Obesity and diabetes are related to sugar, particularly blood sugar. It is this interrelationship between the two that is really driving this new link up with dynamics of obesity and diabetes. In North America it so bad that 70% of the population are either overweight or obese and nine out of ten people who are obese are also diabetic so that reenforces that relationship. It is getting worse because one in the three people are living with diabetes, around 10% of the population, and the rest are prediabetic and 90% of those don’t even know it. 95% of the people diagnosed with diabetes are type 2. They are not born with it. It has to do with our lifestyle and our diet which are driving these epidemics so I it is really important to understand why this trend is continuing to grow and what we can do to reverse it.
[03:49] Cassy Price: Okay, so carbs are often villainised in diet culture due to the fact that our bodies convert carbohydrates into sugars however they do play an important role in fuelling our brain, kidneys, heart muscles and central nervous system. So, from your perspective, does this view of carbs need to shift and if yes, how so?
[04:06] Saul Katz: So, there is a lot of confusion about sugar and carbs. So, sugar is a carb as are fibres. All carbs whether sugar or starch or fibre are primarily a source of fuel to the body. So, the source of the problem is not sugar or carbs rather the rate at which glucose enters the blood stream. Refined sugars and highly processed foods and carbs are digested and converted into glucose quickly spiking blood sugar levels. So, what happens is that provokes the pancreas to release a flood of insulin to store the extra blood sugar and fat. If our blood sugar falls too fast that is the crash. Our hunting hormones kick in and release adrenaline, testosterone, cortisol to get our blood sugars back up again. That is the crave. We are in this vicious spike, crashing, crave cycle that is significantly contributing to the interlinked epidemics of obesity, diabetes as the body has more and more insulin to store more and more glucose into fat. That can lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome where the cells in the pancreas become exhausted and they can’t produce anymore insulin. That leads to type 2 diabetes.
[05:32] Cassy Price: So, if sugar and carbs are not the source of the problem, what is driving diabesity?
[05:38] Saul Katz: Firstly, we need to take a long view and consider that our body and digestive system is the result of about two and half million years of evolution. 90% of that is human history. Really it is just in the last five hundred thousand years or so that our genetics evolved in the hunter gatherer environment. In that situation there was feast and famine, so the spike, crash and craves really evolved as a metabolic survival mechanism using inulin as a master fat storage hormone to help our ancestors store energy, in what we call fat, to help them get through the lean times. So, we have basically inherited that survival mechanism and that is because a feast and famine environment when our ancestors came across something sweet as a source of fast and easy energy, so they really habituated to consume as much of that sweet food as possible to conserve as much of that energy because fruits were basically seasonal.
[06:53] Now ironically that same survival mechanism is now compromising itself and driving the interlinked epidemics of obesity and diabetes. The foods and the carbs in particular that we are eating today are a lot different than our ancestors ate. The source of their carbs were bark and roots and unrippened fruits and vegetables which take about 22 feet of the intestine to digest and absorb and assimilate those carbs into glucose which is blood sugar. Their carbs were released slowly into the system. The refined sugars and highly processed carbs that we eat today are really easily digested by the body, so they get assimilated into our blood sugar that entered into the small intestine instead of the 22 feet, spiking our blood sugar and starting that vicious cycle of spike, crash and crave. So, now we are using more and more insulin to store more and more calories as fat for starvation periods that don’t come. In the process of continually taxing the pancreas for more and more insulin, the beta cells get exhausted and can’t produce anymore. That is type 2 diabetes.
[08:14] Cassy Price: So, according to this theory what type of foods should we be avoiding?
[08:20] Saul Katz: Well, our genes haven’t changed our environment has so the foods that we eat today are very different from the stone age and they are available year-round. Our ancestors didn’t hunt in stores, they pursued their food, and they didn’t eat refined carbs. Another disconnect is that our digestive tract is designed for the stone age. So, our intestines evolved to be really powerful extractors of glucose from the roots and the barks and that results in a super rapid absorption of refined carbs and a mismatch between our intestines ability to absorb the glucose and body’s ability to handle it. Also, over the past 40 diabesity has accelerated at a tremendous pace as the big food companies are competing to develop on the go foods so what they do is they take the whole grains and mill them into fine powders and syrups to sweeten and glue these processed foods together and in the process driving that vicious spike, crash and crave with caloric density. So, the types of foods that we need to be eating are foods that are more whole and more natural, and our carbs are derived from them so there are natural sugars in milk, fruit and grains that are in the right quantity but are also backed up with fibre and fat and protein, so it takes longer for our bodies to digest them and they are not super concentrated sugars.
[10:04] Cassy Price: The Paleo Diet has been built around the idea that our digestive system is developed for the way our ancestors ate which you have previously mentioned in this conversation. In that diet, grains, refined sugars and legumes aren’t really permitted as they are seen as not something that our ancestors would eat. In your opinion can we include carbohydrates in our diets that won’t spike our blood sugar?
[10:31] Saul Katz: So, as I mentioned, eating carbs is not really the issue. What we have to think about when we select a food or beverage is not only the quantity of the sugar being consumed, and less is better, but also how fast will the carbs get converted to blood sugar, and slower is better. Slow-release carbs or sugars are found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and milk. The problem really stems from the consumption of free unbalanced sugars added by manufacturers to our food supply and those tantalise our taste buds and contribute to excess calories. It is estimated that around 75% of the foods on the grocery shelves have these free added sugars. They are under different alias foods on the label. The biggest problem is that all of the unhealthy effects of processed and sugar enriched foods are amplified in sugar sweetened beverages. Not only that but sugary drinks don’t satisfy hunger, so they significantly inflate our daily caloric intake. The sugars that they contain have almost no digestive resistance before inundating the blood and the liver. So, what we need to avoid are beverages and soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, even coffee and tea if they have too much sugar in them, which have over 47% of all of the added sugar. Then snacks and sweets are the next biggest contributor which add up to about 31% of the sugars in our diet.
[12:18] Cassy Price: Okay, now researchers have found that more than 82% of the population exceeds the recommended 10% of calories from sugars. Science has shown that eating sugar released opioids and dopamine in our bodies which is an important chemical messenger in our brain involved in the reward and pleasure centres among other things. Some of the studies have even suggested that sugar can be as addictive as cocaine. Can you explain these addictive qualities that sugar has?
[12:44] Saul Katz: So, what is really important is to not eliminate carbs but to eat low glycaemic carbs that are released slowly in the blood stream. Also, more physical activity helps to burn up the carbs and store more sugar or glucose as glycogen and that is really the key to managing our weight, sustaining our energy and preventing disease. People know a little about carbs, a little about insulin and blood sugar but when we understand the evolutionary story of the spike, crash and crave we can see that eating foods that the body converts into blood sugar slowly, like fuel injection, helps to sustain our energy, prevent the physiological spike, crash, and crave and helps us to manage our weight.
[13:40] Cassy Price: What are the signs of symptoms of eating too much sugar?
[13:44] Saul Katz: In the hunter gatherer environment our body and brain was programmed to binge and gorge on these sweet foods, but times have changed. There is a big disconnect in relation to the types of food that we have. Sweet foods are now cheap and abundant and the sugar in them is often heavily concentrated and high glycaemic. So, it enters our blood stream really quickly. Unfortunately, the brains evolution hasn’t kept up the pace so the onslaught of sugar in the blood stream is really overwhelming our metabolism and our digestive system. It isn’t adapted to today’s environment. So, the sugar and food today are unlike anything our physiology has experienced before. Combinations of carbohydrates in pizza, in ice cream, in fries and in sodas, they all lack fibre which you would never find in a natural food environment. Not only that but the taste receptors in the tongue are specialised to detect sweet and they send signals to our lower brain, our primordial brain, and also signals to our gut to be excited about tasting these sweets which triggers dopamine in our brain to adapt our behaviour to seek out sugars and consume them.
[15:22] Also, the vagus nerve is triggered in the body when we eat something sweet and that was associated with fight or flight and rest and relaxation which is why we feel good after we eat sugar and why some people eat to cope with anxiety or to deal with a bad day at work. It is no wonder that sugary foods trigger a sense of not just pleasure but also of safety and security. It is no wonder they are so addictive. So, as I mentioned, our brain circuitry is still programmed to eat more in times of food abundance in preparation of periods of starvation so in other words the human brain still regards sugar as a preciously scarce source of energy and a nutrient that is best consumed copiously. So, in addition to driving that spike, crash and crave and gaining more weight and taxing the pancreas for more insulin, decades of research has linked diets high in refined sugars and processed carbs to inflammation, metabolic disease, heart problems and forms of cancer. In particular sugar promotes glycation.
[16:40] Glycated molecules produce toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products, AGEs. That essentially throws the aging process into fast forward. Much of the damage that is done by AGE’s is irreversible. As I mentioned sugar raises insulin levels so the constant amount of insulin in the system, causes our cells to become numb to insulins effect and that causes insulin resistance which required the pancreas to use and sent our more and more insulin to do its job which leads to type 2 diabetes. Along the way too much insulin in the system exposes our cells and our organs to chronically high levels of inulin which accelerates the aging process. Sugar also reduces our sleep quality. Studies have shown that consuming more sugar is related to more restlessness and disruptive sleep and we can’t get into that relaxed immune state. Sugar also promotes carb cravings.
[17:58] So, if you find yourself craving a sweet crave or a sugary snack on a daily basis, chances are you have become addicted to sugar. Consumption to too much sugar can weaken your immune system and make your body’s natural ability to fight off cold, flus and virus and even chronic disease, weaker than if you had avoided eating those sugars. Just as eating a lot of sugar can make your body physically crash it can also drain you emotionally so it could increase the feelings of anxiety and depression. Sugar has inflammatory effects on the body when it is eaten so it is does contribute to skin problems like acne, eczema or just excessive oiliness or dryness. High amounts of sugar implemented in high blood pressure and of course teeth issues, sugar like to work its way into the nooks and crannies in your teeth where it can rot away at the tooth enamel and sugar has been implicated with heart disease. The inflammation caused by sugar has been linked to cardiovascular disease because it is not just cholesterol blocking the arteries, it is the artery walls becoming inflamed and narrowing the passage of blood and nutrients.
[19:16] Cassy Price: So, knowing all of the effects sugar has on the body and that it is our bodies ideal form of fuel, how do we know when we are getting too much of a good thing?
[19:24] Saul Katz: On average Canadians eat 110 grams of sugar per day. That is 26 teaspoons or about 20% of our total energy intake. That is based on the 2,000 calorie a day diet. Over the course of the year, the average American child between the age of four and eight consumed a staggering 50pounds of sugar and in some cases that is equivalent to their body weight which is crazy. Because of that it is projected that one in two children will develop diabetes during their lifetime if we stay on this track. Now, Diabetes Canada and the American Diabetes Association support the World Health Organization recommendation to reduce the consumption of free sugars for adults and children to less than 10% of the total daily calorie intake. That is approximately 50 grams or 12 teaspoons of free sugar. Ordinary amounts of a one 20ounce bottle of soda based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you are overweight or have a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes it might also be wise to keep it below 5%. So, we are talking about the reduction of free sugars. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consume the sugar found in fruit and milk and yoghurts and grains because those are in a natural balance in whole foods that nature intended. It is the free sugar that adds caloric density, contributes to our weight and is driving diabesity.
[21:12] Cassy Price: If you are experiencing symptoms to eating sugar, does that mean that you are prediabetic?
[21:18] Saul Katz: So, many people are prediabetic and don’t even realise it. If you find yourself constantly thirsty or hungry in spite of eating or drinking regularly and feel flush after a sugar binge or extremely weak or off when you skip a meal, you might want to talk to your doctor about the diabetes risk. Another thing to be on the lookout for are the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome which may precede type 2 diabetes and that is a cluster of factors including high blood sugar, high cholesterol and triglycerides and a high waist circumference. Type 2, when it begins to set in, starts to silently damage blood vessels and nerves. People with diabetes who don’t get diagnosed early have a much higher risk of complications including eye problems, kidney disease, neurological damage and even amputation. So, make sure you have a recent lipid panel and glucose test and your numbers fall within the normal range. Don’t forget that type 2 diabetes can be reversed, especially if diagnosed early which the right diet and moderate exercise.
[22:32] Cassy Price: How does sugar impact our immune system?
[22:37] Saul Katz: Well sugar supresses the immune system. Research has shown that consuming 75 to 100 grams of sugar can hinder the body’s immune function. So, a 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola which contains 39 grams or a Grande Chai Latte from Starbucks containing forty-two grams can get you more than halfway to lowering your immunity. When you consume a big dose of sugar like a bottle of Coke or candy bar you temporarily dampen your immune system’s ability to respond to challenges. It related particularly to your white blood cells that are known as your killer cells. They are highly affected by the consumption of too much sugar. It is believed that white blood cells are not able to do their job and destroy the viruses when someone eats too much sugar. We also talked about how sugar promotes inflammation. Inflammation is part of our immune system which isn’t always a bad thing but eating sugary foods can promote low grade product inflammation which can contribute to disease states like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
[23:46] Cassy Price: How long do the effects of sugar on the immune system last?
[23:49] Saul Katz: So, the effects last for several hours so if you eat sweets several times a day your immune system might perpetually be operating at a disadvantage. So, your immune system can be suppressed as soon as 30 minutes after consuming sugar, and it could last up to five hours. If you are eating snacks and sweets several times a day you could be reducing your immune system on an ongoing basis which is a real disadvantage.
[24:23] Cassy Price: We know sugar can feed certain bacteria. How does adjusting sugar intake effect the microbiome?
[24:30] Saul Katz: Well, your gut also plays a really important role in your immune health. Research suggests that consuming sugar can disrupt the gut microbiome and may lead to inflammatory bowl disease, IBD and Crohn’s Disease. The coding on our intestinal walls plays a huge part in our immune system which protects us from a lot so bad things in the food that we eat from penetrating. Too much sugar in the system allows the bacteria or viruses to propagate much more because our own system doesn’t work as well. That is why people which diabetes, for example, have more infections. This might also explain why inflammatory bowel disease is really prevalent in western countries and increasingly being found in younger people.
[25:20] Cassy Price: With sugars being used more frequently in food manufacturing there can be sneaky sources of free sugars in our diets. Do you have any tips for listeners on ways they can identify these?
[25:30] Saul Katz: Yes. Manufacturers have really done a god job at hiding sugars in our food under different names. At the last count there was about 56 names but soon regulations which require food manufacturers to list the amount of added sugar on the nutritional facts label on products. Listing the total amount of added sugar means that consumers will no longer have to search through many different aliases for added sugars to try to determine how much added sugar a food or dink contains.
[26:01] Cassy Price: Many people have replaced classic sugars with artificial sweeteners. Does this actually have a positive impact on the body?
[26:07] Saul Katz: Sugar substitutes seem like a good idea for weight loss, but they can actually backfire on you. As I mentioned your brain is wired to associate sweet foods with carbohydrate energy. So, in anticipation or while consuming a sweet food or beverage your body responds with the flood of insulin from the pancreas. Even though you are not getting energy with these artificial sweeteners your body thinks you are so it sends out this flood of insulin to take sugar out of the blood so it may actually drop your blood sugar levels and cause a craving for more food. Also, artificial sweeteners such as sugar alcohols, are carbohydrates that have been chemically altered not to be recognised or digestible by the body so manufacturers use them in low carb food products because they don’t show up as sugar on the label but because they have been chemically altered and can’t be digested they often cause stomach upset and gas as it comes through the body. So, check the ingredient list. Food labelled no sugar added or sugar free almost always contain artificial sweeteners. Low carb products often do as well. The most commonly used sweeteners are sucralose which is the generic name for Splenda, aspartame which is also sold as Equal and NutraSweet.
[27:44] Cassy Price: Throughout our conversation you have mentioned eating low GI. What exactly is the Glycaemic Index or the GI of eating low GI?
[27:54] Saul Katz: The glycaemic index is really a great new scientific tool that measures how long it takes the body to convert a carbohydrate into glucose which is blood sugar. So, it determines how fast and how high blood sugar raises after consuming a carb containing product. That helps consumers understand how a particular food could impact their blood sugar. It also helps manufacturers to develop products that allow for a slower conversion of carbs into blood sugars. So, it is a great solution to get us back on track by eating foods as nature intended that are to have the carbohydrates converted to sugars slowly instead of causing that vicious spike, crash and crave. Another great Canadian invention, just like insulin was developed at the university of Toronto by Best and Banting, Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Wolever Developed the Glycaemic Index at the University of Toronto to help people manage their diabetes through food as opposed to medication. How Dr. Jenkins discovered this, he saw that a mashed potato raises blood sugar faster than table sugar, whereas table sugar used to be considered as a simple sugar and the mashed potato complex, by heating the potato and mashing it, it makes it a lot easier for the body convert the carbs in the potato into blood sugar.
[29:39] So, he invented the glycaemic index in order for us to be able to rank which foods are better than the others. In the world largest diet study conducted in Europe called Diogenes they wanted to see if there was genetic predisposition to obesity and diabetes, that’s why it is called Diogenes. They found that the only diet that prevents gaining weight after you lose it is a diet based on the glycaemic index, so a low glycaemic diet with a little more protein. That is because if the blood sugar is kept level, our primordial brain believes that food is in abundance and is consistent year round so there is no need to take more reserves of other natures to put more fat on our body for starvation times that never come. A low Glycaemic diet allows for that slow release of sugar into the blood stream. As a result of that we can get sustained energy for your body and your brain. That is why a lot of athletes like that sustained energy. It is great for solving problems and mental acuity because your brain uses different hormones to either put sugar in the blood or to take sugar of the blood and associated with those hormones you get different emotions.
[31:05] So, when your blood sugar crashes you either release hunting hormones and I believe that emotionally predisposes you to kill the bunny for survival, that is when you get hangry. While that helped our ancestors, it doesn’t behove us in our modern state in our office or home, if you get angry with the people around us. That low glycaemic release also prevents that physiological spike and crash and crave so it is not a question of willpower. It is a physiological drive that causes you to crash and crave more food so that helps to prevent that. Your energy also follows your blood sugar so as I mentioned you have nice steady energy. Also, because of the nature of low glycaemic foods they are typically bound up with protein and fat and fibre, so they are more nutritionally balanced promoting satiety and hunger satisfaction. That means you can manage your weight without having to limit the amount of food that you eat because they naturally promote satiety.
[32:14] Cassy Price: Most often we hear about eating a low GI diet in context of diabetes or prediabetes, but others can actually benefit from adopting this diet as well. Isn’t that correct?
[32:24] Saul Katz: Everyone should eat like the diabetic because it is healthier, it could improve your physical and mental performance and maintain your health and prevent that aging process. Low glycaemic foods are good for managing your weight, so it is great for dieters, it is shown to help pregnant women prevent gestational diabetes and to prevent the infant that is born from having a predisposition to having obesity and diabetes. It is also good for athletes, weekend warriors and students at school. Everyone should be considering low glycaemic foods. We have to get that on track with eating foods as nature designed them and intended our bodies to consume them.
[33:15] Cassy Price: Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today. I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. It has been a very enlightening conversation learning about the ins and outs of how sugar affects us. I also want to thank our listeners who tuned into today. I look forward to having you join me next week to find out more ways that you can supplement your health.
[33:33] Saul Katz: Thank you.
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