Written by: Kelley Herring, Healing Gourmet
In my last couple articles, I’ve shared how common foods and nutrients can help – or hurt – your brain and long-term memory.
Today, I’m going to share what researchers now believe is the MOST toxic, brain-damaging compound in our food supply…
Why We Can’t Shake Our Sugar Addiction: The Evolutionary Link
If you love sweets, you’re like most people. In fact, we are all genetically programmed to seek out sugar for survival.
Sugar-rich foods are very energy dense. So, it’s no surprise that our ancient ancestors prized seasonal fruits and berries and would go out of their way to steal honey from a hive. However, it’s important to remember that not only did they expend energy in the process of seeking out these sweet foods, but their efforts produced very little in terms of total sugar contribution to the diet. We should also note that many of these foods were only available part of the year.
In our modern world, however, sugar-laden foods are within arm’s reach at nearly all times. They’re dispensed via vending machines, they line the shelves of convenience stores, and tempt us from our own (unhealthy) home pantries. A sweet treat – containing more sugar than our Paleo ancestors ate in a typical month – is easily obtained and consumed in mere moments.
Dr. Robert Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, In his book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, he states:
“Nature made sugar hard to get; man made it easy.”
The result of all of this “easy” sugar is that our diets contain a very different macronutrient ratio than what our ancestors consumed.
In fact, researchers believe our ancestral diet was roughly 75 percent fat and 20 percent protein. Just 5 percent of our diet was carbohydrates or sugar. By comparison, the average American diet today is made up of 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent fat and 20 percent protein.
Our bodies and brains were not designed to handle the amount of sugar in our modern diet. And the result is disease and degeneration.
Your Brain on Sugar: A Sticky Situation
A recent analysis published in the Archives of Neurology found that high blood sugar levels is directly correlated with the risk of cognitive decline.
How does this happen?
As blood sugar levels rise, a process called glycation occurs. This is when a sugar molecule joins with a protein, an amino acid or fat molecule. The result is a tiny, but harmful, compound called an advanced glycation endproducts (or AGE).
AGEs are “sticky” compounds that then glom onto organs and tissues, causing them to stiffen. As you can imagine, this interferes with their function. In the brain, AGEs form plaques, resulting in a loss of clear thinking and memory over time.
What’s more, researchers found that high levels of AGEs result in brain shrinking, or atrophy. In fact, a study published in the journal Neurology found that individuals with the highest levels of glycated compounds had nearly double the brain loss of those with the lowest levels over a six year period.
And the more sugar you eat, the more brain-harming AGEs you create.
Save Your Brain – Dump the Sugar (Even From “Healthy” Sources!)
If you’re concerned about maintaining your memory and preserving your health into your eighth, ninth and even tenth decades, then get serious about cutting sugar out of your diet… from ALL sources.
That means even “healthy” sources like fruit and raw juices.
Many people believe that eating fruit – and “juicing” – is healthy. And while fruit does contain beneficial nutrients, some fresh juices contain as much as 80 grams of sugar per serving. That’s the equivalent of drinking two sodas!
Remember: Sugar, from any source, produces the same effects on your brain and your metabolism.
If you want to make juicing a part of your healthy diet, use non-starchy, green vegetables (organic spinach and kale, organic celery) as the base, with organic citrus fruits (like lemons and limes) for flavor and light sweetness. Apples, beets and carrots should only be sparingly, and then only in their whole-food form (including the fiber).
Blood Sugar: You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure
In addition to following a low-sugar, Paleo diet, it is a wise idea to begin routinely testing yourself for early indicators of insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances that contribute to cognitive decline. (Yes, even if you believe you are “healthy”, “thin” and “fit”)
Here are a few simple, effective, inexpensive tests that will give you a snapshot of where you are today and help you track and modify your health over time. Unfortunately, doctors typically don’t administer these tests unless you are already diabetic or “at risk” for the disease.
Don’t wait – do these now…
Fasting blood glucose: This test is commonly used to test for “pre-diabetes”. It is a good way to see if you have developed insulin resistance. Between 70 and 100 mcg is considered normal. You can test this on your own with a simple blood-sugar monitor available at most drug stores or online at Amazon.
Hemoglobin A1C: This test gives you a snapshot of your blood sugar over a 90-day period, which is a better measure of your blood sugar control over time. The A1C test detects damage already done to brain proteins (glycated hemoglobin). The good news? Reducing carbs and sugars, exercising more and shedding body fat will all reduce A1C levels. The ideal range is between 4.8 to 5.4. You can pick up an A1C test from your local store (The ReliOn A1C should be less than $10 at WalMart).
Fasting insulin: This test is done first thing in the morning – before eating. It gives you a good indication of how your pancreas is working. High fasting insulin levels mean you are consuming too much carbohydrate and are at risk for insulin resistance. Anything over 5 µIU/mL is considered elevated.
Research shows that protecting your brain from degenerative disease is as easy as living the way our ancestors did. Enjoy a low sugar, grain-free diet, rich in healthy fats from grass-fed meats, pastured poultry and eggs, wild fish, nuts and seeds – foods you could hunt or gather. Get sunshine and fresh air and move your body, regularly – with long walks and short sprints – to stay healthy, happy and spry into your golden years!
Read more articles by Kelley Herring here.
Kelley Herring is author of more than a dozen books on nutrition and natural healing. She is also the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, which has just released their newest product – Better Bread – a 100% Paleo bread mix you can whip up in 5 minutes flat. Through Wednesday, February 5th get 10% off your entire order with coupon code “GRASSFED”.
1. Perlmutter, David, MD. Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers. Little Brown 2013.
2. Marios Hadjivassiliou, et al. Gluten Sensitivity as a Neurological Illness. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, no 5. May 2002: 560-63
3. 4. RO Roberts, et al. Association of Duration and Severity of Diabetes Mellitus with Mild Cognitive Impairment. Archives of Neurology 65, no. 8 (Aug 2008): 1066-73
4. Amy Dosker Marcus. Mad Cow Disease May Hold Clues to Other Neurological Disorders. Wall Street Journal. Dec 3, 2012.
5. David, William, MD. Wheat: The Unhealthy Whole Grain. Book Excerpt: Wheat Belly. Life Extension Magazine October 2011.
6. C. Enzinger, et al. Risk Factors for Progression of Brain Atrophy in Aging: Six-year Follow-up of Normal Subjects”, Neurology 64, no. 10 (May 24, 2005):1704-11
7. Lustig, Robert H. (2013). Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (Hardcover ed.). Hudson Street Press. ISBN 978-1594631009.