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Brenda Watson’s acclaimed Heart of Perfect Health PBS health exposé is airing throughout March on PBS stations nationwide and in it she talks sugar. Most of us don’t link heart and cardiovascular disease risk to our sugar intake, but it turns out that blood sugar levels affect far more than just your risk of diabetes.

High blood sugar is a major sign of the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other conditions. This risk factor is silent, causes no pain, and most people have no idea if it’s happening to them or not. It’s called silent inflammation and it starts in the gut.

The two types of inflammation:

  • Acute inflammation happens when you smash your finger and blood flow rushes to the site, healing the injury.
  • Silent inflammation happens internally and often originates in the gut as a result of a leaky gut, or intestines that have become too permeable due to a poor diet, lack of gut-healing nutrients, stress, and other factors. Silent inflammation does not heal itself. You can’t feel silent inflammation or see it.

The signs of silent inflammation include high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. High blood sugar makes blood vessels stiff and weak, increases blood pressure and harmful cholesterol, weakens immunity and digestion, and causes weight gain. Most importantly high blood sugar is a major preventable risk factor for heart disease, yet very few of us are checking our fasting blood sugar levels regularly.

How Much Sugar Should I Eat?

The best way to begin lowering your fasting blood sugar/glucose levels is to monitor your daily sugar intake. Your fasting blood sugar should be no higher than 85 and you should be consuming no more than 10 teaspoon of sugar each day. That’s total sugars, including the pastas and breads you eat that are converted to sugar. You may be surprised to learn that many of us are consuming over 37 teaspoons of sugar daily!

Packaged foods are labeled according to grams of sugar and carbohydrates, not teaspoons. Use this quick sugar conversion formula to find out exactly how much true sugar is in your food:

Total grams of carbs – Total grams of fiber
------------------------------------------------  =  Total teaspoons of sugar
                     5

That’s the total grams of carbs minus the total grams of fiber listed in the nutrition facts, all divided by 5. This will give you the total teaspoons of sugar in a serving of that food. It’s important to take the total grams of carbs, not total grams of sugar when you are doing your conversion. That way, you are taking into account the sugars that break down from carbohydrates in addition to sugars themselves.

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It is no secret that sugar is unhealthy. From high blood sugar to diabetes and heart disease, a diet high in sugar has far-reaching effects. But did you know that sugar is also bad for your brain? A recent study published in the Journal of Physiology found an interesting connection between a diet low in omega-3s and high in the sugar fructose, and poor memory and brain function. The researchers stated, “Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”

In the animal study, one group was fed a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids, and another group was fed a diet high in omega-3s from flaxseed and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The omega-3 deficient animals were found to have poor memory function when compared to those fed a diet rich in omega-3s. The negative effects of a low omega-3 diet were exacerbated when high amounts of fructose were added to the diet. In the group receiving sufficient omega-3s, however, a high fructose diet did not have the same negative effects on memory and neuron function, suggesting that omega-3s have a protective effect against the brain dysfunction caused by a high fructose diet.

It is well known that a high sugar diet increases blood sugar and insulin resistance in the bloodstream. This is the hallmark of the metabolic syndrome, an increasingly common condition that precedes type 2 diabetes. This study suggests that not only can a high sugar diet have effects in the bloodstream, but that it can also have similar effects in the brain. The study found disrupted insulin receptor signaling in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory function. Insulin and fructose are both known to cross the blood-brain barrier, where they can interrupt neuron function.

The findings of this study are not surprising. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is also known as type 3 diabetes. The fact is, the amount of sugar—and even carbohydrates, for that matter—in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is alarmingly high. ReNew Life founder Brenda Watson will be debuting a new PBS show in the fall on this very topic. The show, called The Heart of Perfect Health will air nationwide in November. Stay tuned to our blog for more information on show times.

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