[COLUMN] Sugar: Warning!

SUGAR is sweet and “addicting”, and anything prepared with sugar becomes delectable, like many of our desserts: smooth fine velvety ice cream with various tropical flavors (halo-halo, macapuno, buko-pandan, ube-langka), suman sa lihiya, kalamay of various kinds, bibingka, kutsinta, and, of course, ginataan, sweetened calamansi juice, and sago-gulaman drinks, to name a few. Soft drinks and fruit juices are loaded with sugar!

While sugar is essential to life, we can’t survive without carbohydrates, the sugar in the food we eat. But in excess, it could be dangerous to those with T2 diabetes mellitus, and even to those who are not diabetics or overweight.

Hyperglycemia (sugar toxicity, too high glucose level in the blood), as seen among diabetics, could damage the nerves to the eyes (causing blindness), to the foot, (causing gangrene, leading to amputation), to the brain, liver, kidneys (requiring dialysis, kidney transplant) and other complications to different parts of our body.

In acute cases of hyperglycemia, the individual could go into coma. In hypoglycemia, the opposite, where the blood sugar among diabetics goes down too low, they become dizzy, very confused, unaware of their surroundings, wandering aimlessly, or even pass out.

Our body needs just the right level of blood sugar to remain healthy. A person with a healthy lifestyle, non-smoker, non- or mild drinker, who has a diet of fish 3-4 times a week, eats a lot of vegetables of various colors, eats some fruits and nuts, and who exercises at least 5 times a week, usually tolerates eating more sweets. Their metabolism seems more efficient compared to those with unhealthy diet, habits and behavior.

But the trick for anyone is to get our sugar from the carbohydrates in the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seafoods, and not from desserts or from table sugar. Our body’s need for sugar is satisfied by those food items in our main course, without added sweets. But a modest bite of dessert is fine for non-diabetics who are not overweight. For diabetics, a sugar-free dessert or a tiny bite of sweet desserts, if tolerated, is acceptable. And part of a healthy strategy is to stay away from red meat (pork, beef, etc.) or limit it to once a week, concentrating on vegetables, chicken, and seafoods.

Coffee or tea are health drinks, unlike soft drinks which are poison to our body, especially to children. Regular or diet, cola or un-cola, they all increase our risk for Metabolic Syndrome. For children, we used to think fruit juices are good. We now know that these are load with sugar, albeit fructose, and cause tooth decay and reduce their appetite for milk and foods, and expose them to pre-diabetes in the long term. Nothing beats filtered water and milk. But coffee or tea are healthy only if we do not “contaminate” them with additives, like sugar, cream, honey, caramel, etc. The only healthy additives to coffee or tea are cinnamon and collagen protein powder or liquid.

Talking about beverages, gulping down a tablespoonful of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) every day is healthy in warding off dental carries, reducing the risk for heart disease, stroke, arthritis, T2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. This is a popular drink in Europe (especially in Italy and Spain) and gaining favor in the United States, as clinical studies reveal the magic wonder of olive oil for health.

With man’s experience with consuming sugar for centuries and as independent clinical studies around the world on this carbohydrate show, sugar has a split “personality,” like a double sword. While it tastes sweet, it could also “bitter” for people of all ages, diabetics or not. Sugar is an inflammatory substance that damages our body cells and organs, like the joints (hip, knees), liver, kidneys, brain, etc. And chronic inflammation induces diseases, cardiovascular (heart attack, stroke, arterial blockages, etc.), and metabolic illnesses. Most, if not all, diseases start with inflammation, like arthritis, gastritis, entero-colitis, etc.

Some of the food items that are inflammatory are the so-called Nightshade veggies: tomato, potato, eggplant, paprika, pepper, etc., all pain triggers for those with arthritis, like sugars and sweets.

From Interesting Facts: Sugar used to be prescribed as medicine revealed by the following historical data:

  • Sugar was used to treat sickness and injury as far back as the first century, when Middle Eastern practitioners prescribed it for dehydration, kidney issues, failing eyesight, and more. During the 11th century, English monks noted sugar’s ability to soothe upset stomachs and digestive issues, and by the Middle Ages, doctors tried treating bubonic plague with concoctions of hemp, sugar, and more unpleasant ingredients. As recently as the 1700s, pharmacists recommended a glass of lemon juice and sugar water for asthma attacks.
  • Part of sugar’s allure — and perhaps perceived medicinal benefits — may have been connected to its former rarity. Some historians believe sugarcane originated in Southeast Asia, where farmers may have grown it as early as 8000 BCE, but refining began around 2,500 years ago in India — a process that made sugar shelf-stable and allowed it to spread to other regions. With far to travel, the sweetener was expensive by the time it reached medieval Europe, and for centuries was mostly reserved for the wealthy.

A sweet historical background, indeed. But the bottom line is, evidence-based clinical studies around the globe have proven repeatedly that sugar is not totally sweet for our well-being. It is prudent for all of us in general to reduce our sugar (carbohydrate: bread, rice, French fries, biscuits, chips, cakes, ice cream, and desserts) intake as much as we could tolerate.

Reducing rice and bread from our staple and calorie-counting will do wonders for our blood sugar levels and for our overall health. By avoiding these carbohydrates and losing weight, countless diabetics are able to control their blood sugar without medications. It is apparent that diabetes can be cured by diet, exercise, and weight management. Be sure to consult with your physician before stopping any medications or changing your treatment strategy.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. He was a recipient of the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash Award in 1995, presented by then Indiana Governor, US senator, and later a presidential candidate, Evan Bayh. Other Sagamore past awardees include President Harry Truman, President George HW Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Astronaut Gus Grissom (Wikipedia). Websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].


Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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