& Joannie Dobbs Wednesday,
Sweeten life with sugar in
HALLOWEEN is the start of the holiday season filled with sugar and sweets of all kinds. Until we make the annual New Year's resolutions to lose weight and take better care of our bodies, more sugar will cross our lips than usual.
Carbohydrates, and especially sugar, have taken on the "bad guy" image, being blamed for everything from hyperactivity, rashes and crashes in our immune functioning. But sugar is neither good nor bad when consumed in the right amount and in moderation.
One half of food sugar, such as raw, brown and granulated sugars, and honey, consist of glucose. The other half of these sugars is fructose, which can be converted to glucose in the body. Glucose is essential since it is the primary energy source for the brain and red blood cells. It also serves as an energy source for the body. Consequently, the human body has many types of mechanisms to keep the glucose supply in the blood as constant as possible.
The pancreas is the sugar control center. This small gland functions to ensure that the amount of glucose in our blood stays within certain limits. This is done by producing two hormones to regulate blood glucose -- insulin and glucagon. In fact, glucose is so important that during starvation the body breaks down muscle protein and uses it to form glucose.
WHEN glucose is high in the blood, like after a meal, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin into the blood. Insulin stimulates many cells like those in muscle and fat tissue to take up the glucose and store it for future use. The liver serves as a storage reservoir for glucose, releasing it into the blood as it is needed by other parts of the body. When the blood glucose level drops, the hormone glucagon from the pancreas signals the liver to release glucose into the blood.
A disruption of the level of glucose in the blood can cause very serious health problems. Those with diabetes, the inability to adequately get blood glucose into cells, know that high blood sugar causes damage to both tiny blood vessels and the nervous system. This damage is displayed in permanent eye, kidney and cardiovascular disease. Bacteria also thrive on high blood glucose and may be a reason that it may be difficult for sores to heal in diabetics.
LOW blood sugar is known as hypoglycemia. This condition has many mild to serious negative side effects, including weakness, drowsiness, confusion, headaches, rapid heartbeats, and at the far extreme, coma and death. Although there have been many books about hypoglycemia, it is considered a fairly rare condition except for diabetics where low blood glucose can be a side effect of insulin therapy. For this reason, the measurement of blood glucose (sometimes called blood sugar) is commonly used as a diagnostic tool.
To maintain blood glucose, the average person does not need to consume sugar or processed foods containing sugar. We can get adequate glucose from the digestion of starch in foods like rice, potatoes, bread and pasta. We also get a significant amount of sugar from fruits and fruit juices.
In fact, one of the most significant factors which should affect our choices of sweets during the holidays is that someone who gets too many calories from sugar is likely to have a diet that does not provide enough other nutrients. Eating too many "empty calories" can cause weight gain, and in turn, other health problems.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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