Category: Nutrition

Sweet Stuff

There has been a lot of interest in the media about the ill effects of sugar consumption.  Intuitively, most of us know that eating a diet high in sugar can contribute to ill heath effects. According to the USDA, over the last 30 years Americans have increased their sugar consumption by 20 pounds per year per person to 100 pounds. In the same amount of time, there has been a significant increase in chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. We are eating too much. More specifically, we are eating too much sugar. The ‘low fat’ movement prompted food products once filled with fat to be manipulated and then re-filled with sugar. Packaged food products have some amount of added sugar; it is everywhere we turn, making it difficult to avoid and keeps us in the sugar addiction loop.

Sugar is a generalized term for the class of sweet carbohydrates. There are monosaccharides anddisaccharides all considered simple carbohydrates or simple sugars. Simple sugars are broken down very quickly and used in the body as a source of fuel or if in excess, can be stored as fat. It should be noted that sugars are different than sweeteners although many use these terms interchangeably. Below are some examples:

Glucose: a simple sugar that fuels every cell in our body. Extra glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

Fructose: a simple sugar that is found in fruits and vegetables. it is not inherently a problem, but becomes one when there is long term over consumption.

Sucrose or table sugar. It is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

High fructose corn syrup: It is a 55:45 mix of glucose and fructose. It is highly processed and contains a bond that our body can’t break down. It is is sweeter than sucrose and highly subsidized.

There are sugar alcohols which are increasing popular and are neither sugar no alcohols: xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, and erythritol. They are not completely absorbed in your small intestines, have fewer calories but for some may cause digestive distress (bloating, diarrhea, flatulence).

Sucralose (Splenda) is NOT a sugar, It is a chlorinated artificial sweetener along the same lines as aspartame and saccharin, with similar detrimental health effects.

Agave syrup: Touted as a healthy sugar having a low glycemic index (doesn’t spike blood sugar), it is typically HIGHLY processed and is up to 80 percent fructose. The end product is very different than the original agave plant.

Maple syrup: when minimally processed, primarily contains sucrose and water. It has several nutrients in it not found in table sugar. This is not that same as ‘maple syrup flavored syrups, which should be avoided.

Honey: is about 53% fructose. It is completely natural in its raw form and has many health benefits when used in moderation.

Stevia: is a sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, which is completely safe (in its natural form). It has next to no calories, doesn’t spike blood sugar nor have detrimental  health effects. It comes in green powder, white powder and liquid. The green powder is the most natural, as it is just the stevia leaf ground up.

While sucrose, or table sugar, used to be what was used to a large extent to sweeten products, there has been a trend towards fructose. Many feel that it is the fructose in excess that is to be blamed for the growing number of metabolic problems that people suffer from. Most are aware of the perils of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) a cheap, manipulated sugar that taxes our body and has a higher content of fructose than sucrose. It is used as a sweetener in many many foods, which we suspect may be promoting more consumption and leading to more fat production. You may be thinking, ‘fructose is naturally found in fruit, fruit is healthy’ -this is correct. Keep in mind that the packaging is important. The effects of eating an apple is really different than drinking a glass of apple juice. A piece of fruit contains vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients and fiber that tempers the effects of the fructose. Juice (sweetened with HFCS or not) can have a negative effect due to its larger fructose content. While one can argue that juice has nutrients in it that say, a can of soda doesn’t, when it comes to fructose content they can be virtually the same.

cup filled with sugarAccording to Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, fructose can be blamed for several health problems:

It is mostly metabolized in the liver, which, in excess gets stored as fat. In part, this can contribute to (non alcoholic) fatty liver, increases in abdominal fat, elevation in triglycerides, elevation in uric acid, promoting high blood pressure, contributes to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.

It interferes with hormone signaling (insulin, leptin and ghrelin) making it difficult to know when you are full, actually tricking you into thinking that you are still hungry. This leads to more calorie consumption.

Currently, food labels do not separate out natural sugar in food from added sugars. Here are other names to watch out for:

  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Sugar molecules ending in “ose”
  • (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Beet sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugar syrup
  • Rice bran syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Palm sugar

Most people need to reduce the overall consumption of sugars, regardless of the source. It is doesn’t matter if it is organic sugar bought from the Natural Food Store.  It is all about what happens when the sugar hits your blood stream. The answer, as we know, to return to a more natural diet, meaning a diet of whole organic foods, cooked from scratch, without added sugars and other chemicals.

Here are some rules of thumb:

To figure out  how many teaspoons of sugar are in something, divide the sugar content by 4. For example if the label says it has 24 grams of sugar, that’s 6 teaspoons, or about 96 calories from sugar.

Avoid sugared beverages. This is huge source of excess sugars. Sports drinks, soda, energy drinks, fruit juice. If you do drink juice, limit it to 4-6 oz at a time. For those of you who like to juice at home, I was recommend juicers that use the whole fruit separating the pulp (fiber) out. 

Rely on whole foods to satisfy your sweet tooth: example: Sweeten your muffins with dates or bananas.

Consider natural raw honey, stevia, xylitol, (real) maple syrup, as sweeteners in small amounts.

For those of you interested, there are some great documentaries out there speaking to the over consumption of sugar (amongst other things) and the motivations behind it.

Weight of the Nation

King Corn


NY times:Is Sugar Toxic? Gary Taubes

 Nina Paroo, ND

What’s in Your Toilet?

We are going to discuss poop.  Many don’t really pay attention to what is coming out the other end. Shocking, I know. What your stool looks like is an important indicator to what is going on in your digestive system, as well as your overall health. bathroom toilet

So what does a healthy stool look like? Typically, a healthy stool is medium brown. This is in large part because of bile.  Bile is formed in the liver and secreted by the gallbladder, is incorporated into the food that you have eaten to aid in digestion. Bile is actually dark green in color, but as it travels through the intestines its color changes, most often resulting in the characteristic brown stool. A healthy stool should have the form of a sausage or a snake, and have a smooth texture.

Lets focus on bowel movements that are deviations from normal.  Keep in mind that medication and some foods can change the color of your stool and must be considered before thinking that there is something wrong! There is a range of ‘normal’ when we are talking about what your stool should like and most often, an isolated incident of deviation from normal is not cause for alarm. Generally speaking, If it happens multiple times, or there is a significant change in bowel habits it should be investigated.   This color guide  can help bring some clarity to what deviations from normal can mean.

Tarry/ black: This could indicate a bleed coming from the upper part of the digestive system, namely the esophagus, stomach or the upper part of the small intestine. This is because The blood is reacting to the digestive enzymes in the small intestines.

There are other reasons for very dark brown/black stool that you should be aware of. Iron supplements, supplements/medications containing bismuth (Pepto-bismol), activated charcoal can all turn your stool very dark, which is not an indication of a problem. Discontinuing the culprit should return your stool to a lighter shade of brown.

Red/maroon: If you stools are red or maroon it could indicate bleeding in the lower part of your intestines.  There are several conditions that can lead to a red appearance to your stool: Diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, colon polyps, colon cancer, internal or external hemorrhoids (very common), anal fissures (tear) can all lead to various amounts of blood in your stool. But wait! Very often food can influence this to. The most common is beets. Other red vegetables and red food dye can turn your stool a red/maroon color as well.

Green: Green stools are generally the result of bile in your stool that is moving through your intestines too quickly and isn’t able to go through chemical changes to darken your stool. Some may experience this if they have diarrhea. You can also have greener stool if you eating a lot of green vegetables.

Yellow: Infection with giardia lamblia (a parasite) produces a characteristic yellow diarrhea. Gallbladder dysfunction leading the the improper handling of bile can also cause yellow stool.  Pancreatic disease which can result in too much undigested fat in your stool, may cause your stool to have a yellow appearance. Often it will also have ‘greasy’ appearance and can be quite malodorous.

Clay/Grey: This can happen if there is little or no bile in the stool, or the flow of bile is blocked. Liver disease, gallstones/gallbladder disease, and a pancreatic tumor blockage are all reasons stool could have this appearance. The change of stool color to gray or clay typically occurs gradually as these medical conditions progress relatively slowly and stool becomes pale over time.

Now that we have discussed color, lets move onto the shape and consistency of your stool. A helpful chart is the Bristol Stool Chart. This depicts the continuum of consistency, from hard stool to loose stool:

Hard Bowel Movements If your stool is difficult to pass, infrequent, and you have straining, or discomfort, your stool is too hard. Often times stool will be smaller in pieces, dry and/or have cracking. This can be a sign of dehydration, not enough fiber, lack of exercise, food sensitivities, stress, structural misalignment, influence from medication, and changes in daily routine are some common reasons for harder stool.

Loose Bowel Movements  If your stool doesn’t hold its shape or is watery (diarrhea) this is considered to be loose. A variety of things can result is loose stool: infection, food poisoning, food sensitivities, stress, drinking too much alcohol, and hormonal fluctuations can all result in stool that is loose.

There are a varying opinions of how often someone should have a bowel movement. Most sources say that moving your bowels daily to 3 times a week is normal. I tend to disagree with this. Generally speaking, I think that a healthy digestive system is reflected in having 1-3 bowel movements a day. If you are eating then you should expel waste by products often.  If there is a straining, rabbit pellets, thinly shaped stool or it doesn’t feel like a full evacuation, I consider this a sign of constipation. Also, having undigested food in your stool is an indication that perhaps you aren’t chewing your food well enough, and/or your body isn’t breaking down your food properly. Having a small amount of mucous in your stool is ok, but a lot of  mucous in your stool can be an indication of inflammation in your digestive system.

I have been asked many times what the ideal stool looks like, and here is my answer:

It should have a gentle S shape (following the shape of the lower colon), evacuated easily without a lot of straining. It should gently sink to the bottom of the toilet bowel. It is medium brown in color. And finally, it is a ‘one wipe wonder’


Nina Paroo, ND