Introduction to Sugar and Aging
In this article, you will learn how sugar and aging are related, how sugar and aging prematurely can reduce your quality of life, and ways in which to improve your health as related to sugar and aging. Common table sugar represents about 20 to 25 percent of the daily caloric intake of the average American. This translates into the equivalent of half a pound a day and over 5 tons in a lifetime. In the early 1800’s, the average sugar consumption was 12 pounds per person annually. This increased to 124 pounds in 1980 and to 152 pounds in 1997. It is estimated that 75 percent of all sugar we consume comes from processed food. Studies have linked a high sugar intake with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Researchers have found strong links between sugar and aging prematurely as well. Is this pure coincidence, or is the association real? Keep reading to learn more about sugar and aging.
Sugar in the Body and Diet
So how do sugar and aging prematurely interact? Sugar is a generic term used to identify simple forms of carbohydrates, which includes fructose, glucose, galactose, maltose and sucrose (white table sugar). The type of sugar and its rate of breakdown can affect the body greatly. For example, table sugar is considered nutritive as it contains calories, although it does not contain vitamins, minerals or fiber. Another sugar type known as glucose has the ability to break down quickly in the stomach and later be pumped across the intestinal wall directly into the bloodstream. This process rapidly raises blood-glucose levels, which causes the blood sugar level to spike. On the other hand, fructose, which is sugar derived from fruits, gets into the body and is slowly absorbed by the gut. It is then converted to glucose in the liver. This makes fructose a “time-release food” as it delivers calories at a gradual rate. So what does all of this have to do with sugar and aging? Well, a complete understanding of sugars and how they affect our body is critical to the study of sugar and aging processes and disorders.
Sugar vs. Carbohydrates
Carbs and sugars and aging come together in many ways. Carbohydrates are merely different forms of sugars linked together in polymers. Most people will consider sweets and pasta as carbohydrates. Most are not aware that fruits and vegetables are also considered carbohydrates as well. In reality, sugar, sweets, pasta, vegetables, and fruits are all carbohydrates. But, it is not all bad sugar and aging prematurely isn’t necessarily caused by fruits and vegetables.
This confusion is compounded when one considers that a carbohydrate diet consisting mainly of green leafy vegetables is good for anti-aging. On the other hand, a carbohydrate diet consisting primarily of white rice, potato, pasta, cakes, ice cream, and bread is a negative fountain of youth.
While both “good and bad” carbohydrates are classified in the same general group, the effects on the body are totally different. To put matters into proper perspective, any discussion on carbohydrates must clearly address the specific kinds of carbohydrates in question.
Starch vs. Carbohydrate
Starches and sugar and aging are associated with one another because starches are the most basic form of carbohydrates. It is found in all fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Starch is broken down in our digestive tract into small molecules of glucose, which are then absorbed and transported into cells for energy production.
Many fruits and some vegetables contain significant amounts of glucose and fructose, as well as a disaccharide called sucrose (ordinary sugar), which contains both glucose and fructose.
Our bodies have been accustomed to metabolizing about 300 grams of glucose (mostly from starchy foods) every day for thousands of years.
We have always consumed some fructose, often in the form of fruits and honey. Until about 200 years ago, the average daily intake of fructose was only eight grams a day. As ordinary sugar (sucrose) from sugar beets and sugar cane began to be readily available, the daily intake of fructose raised 10 fold to 75 grams a day. The problem is further compounded since the 1970s when high fructose corn syrup was introduced as a substitute sweetener. About 9% of the average dietary calorie intake now comes from fructose.
When sucrose is ingested, it reacts with water to generate glucose and fructose in equal amounts. Every 100 grams of sucrose produces 53 grams of glucose and 53 grams of fructose. Sucrose is called a disaccharide for this reason. The ingestion of 100 pounds of sugar (sucrose) per year translates into 125 grams per day and 66 grams of fructose. With about 8 grams added on from fruits and honey, the total average intake per day now becomes 74 grams. Our body is used to metabolizing only eight grams of fructose a day. The nearly 10-fold overload has caused many health problems, which we will discuss below. Keep reading to discover more about how sugar and aging are related.
Carbohydrate Breakdown and Storage
Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is the primary fuel the body needs to keep it operationally functional. Certain organs require more fuel than others to run. The brain utilizes almost two-thirds of the circulating carbohydrates in the bloodstream to keep it functioning.
Any excess carbohydrates not needed are stored as glycogen (a storage form of glucose). Glycogen is stored in the liver and the muscles. When the brain needs fuel, the glycogen in the liver is broken down and transported to the brain for energy.
How much carbohydrate can you store? The total storage capacity of the body for carbohydrates is limited. An average person stores about 300 to 400 grams of carbohydrates in the muscles, which cannot be utilized by the brain for energy. Only 60 to 90 grams are stored in the liver for glucose conversion, equivalent to about two cups of cooked pasta or three typical candy bars. This is all the body has in reserve to keep the brain working properly adrenal fatigue treatment.
Once the glycogen levels are filled in both the liver and the muscles, excess carbohydrates are converted into fat and stored in the adipose tissue. Hence, excess carbohydrates become fat. In modern day society, it is sugar that makes a person fat much more than the amount of fat a person consumes. Continue to read to learn more about what your body needs to counteract sugar and aging prematurely.
How Much Carbohydrate and Food Energy Is Needed?
The key function of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body. Julius Robert Mayer, a German physician, initially discovered the concept of food energy in 1842. The energy values of a food can be determined by burning a set amount of food and measuring the amount of heat produced. The common energy value is expressed in kilocalorie and is based on the burning of 100 grams (or 3.5 ounces) of the food. It is determined that approximately 900 kcal is generated per 100 gram of fat and 400 kcal per 100 gram of carbohydrate and protein intake.
There are only four macronutrients we consume on a daily basis – water, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Out of these, only carbohydrates are nonessential to the human diet. One can survive for long periods of time without carbohydrates provided that protein and fat needs are met, for these two are ultimately broken down to form building blocks of carbohydrates as food energy for the body.
An intake of 300 grams of carbohydrates yielding 1,200 kcal would provide 50 percent of an average daily requirement of energy in an average American diet. A 2,500-calorie diet with 20 percent of energy provided by protein (about four ounces or 120 grams) will generate about 500 calories of energy. The amount of protein needed to sustain normal bodily function can be readily supplied in four ounces of meat. The average American consumes more protein than is needed.
Classification of Carbohydrates
There are three common ways to classify carbohydrates:
- Simple versus Complex Carbohydrates
- Paleo carbs versus Neocarbs
- High versus Low Glycemic Carbohydrates
A. Simple versus Complex Carbohydrates
All carbohydrates are broken down into sugar inside the body. It is the rate and the amount of this dissolution that determines the level of sugar in the blood. Complex carbohydrates such as green leafy vegetables, brown rice, potato, whole grain products, legumes, and fruits break down slowly, thus causing a gradual rise and fall in blood sugar. Generally speaking, most complex carbohydrates are considered good for health.
On the other hand, simple carbohydrates such as cakes, white rice, and ice cream break down quickly once inside the body. This causes rapid spikes in blood sugar levels and subsequent valleys when the sugar is absorbed. Most simple carbohydrates are detrimental to our health. These are related to sugar and aging prematurely.
This simple and easily comprehensive classification of carbohydrates is however incomplete. While most simple carbohydrates are harmful, some complex carbohydrates, such as potato starch, is also not good for health because of their relatively fast rate of breakdown.
B. Paleo carbs vs. Neocarbs
Another way of looking at carbohydrates is to return to the principles of the “evolutionary diet.” The author and champion of the “Paleolithic diet”, Robert Crayhon, M.S., divided carbohydrates into two basic groups, paleo carbs and neo cabs.
Paleo carbs are carbohydrates that have existed since the beginning of time. They include fruits, seeds, and vegetables that primarily grow above the ground. Generally speaking, these are “good” carbohydrates as they provide the body with needed antioxidants, fiber, nutrients, and calories in a slow-release fashion.
Neo cabs are carbohydrates introduced within the last 10,000 years when modern agriculture first started. These include grains, legumes, and flour products. Some neo carbs like legumes are grown above the ground and are nutritious. Others are grown under the ground. These include potato, yam, and carrots, which are high in sugar and therefore not optimum for health.
Other neocarbs, like rice and flour, while grown above the ground, are refined and converted into sugar quickly once inside our body. Neo cabs are generally considered negative foraging.
As early humans were hunters, it is estimated that as much
as 65 percent of calories from the diet were derived from animal products such as lean meat and fat. Agriculture was only started about 8,000 to10, 000 years ago. The modern day diet, which consists of a constant supply of highly refined simple carbohydrates (neo carbs), has resulted in postprandial hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, and subsequent diseases including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
A sensible diet should include lean meats, fish, seafood and complex paleo carbs such as green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. This is commonly termed as the evolutionary diet. Such a diet is consistent with the Mediterranean diet, which contains 60 percent carbohydrates, out of which paleo carbs should be the majority.
C. High vs. Low Glycemic Index Foods
Another way to classify carbohydrates, and understand more about the relationship between sugar and aging, is the use of the glycemic index. This index is a measure of how a given food affects the blood-glucose levels. Each food is assigned a numbered rating. The index measures the entry rate of a carbohydrate into the bloodstream. The lower the rating, the slower the digestion and absorption process and the better it is for the body. This means a healthier and more gradual release of sugars into the bloodstream. Conversely, a high rating implies that blood-glucose levels are increased quickly, which stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin to normalize blood sugar levels. This rapid fluctuation of blood-sugar levels is unhealthy because of the amount of stress placed on the body.
The glycemic index of an individual carbohydrate serves only as a general guide. Nevertheless, this classification gives us a general understanding of which types of food breaks down faster and is, therefore, harmful to health. Similarly, the index also provides an indication of which kinds of foods break down slowly and are thus essential for anti-aging.
By using the glycemic index alone, one could misinterpret that a cup of low-fat ice cream is healthier than a baked potato. This is because the glycemic index of low-fat ice cream (glycemic index of 50) is actually lower than that of a baked potato (glycemic index of 85). This is obviously an incorrect conclusion. Close scrutiny of the index is needed because the glycemic index rating of a sugary food is lower than that of a starchy food. The primary factors that determine the glycemic index are the structure of simple sugars in the food, soluble fiber content, fat content and the level of food processing.
Generally speaking, however, selecting carbohydrates with a low to moderate glycemic index is an important part of an anti-aging program. The lower the index, the slower the rate of absorption. Read More