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Time to Say Sayonara to Your Sweet Tooth? Doctors and Health Experts Make Their Case

Published: Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012 17:05

Suneil Jain

Ryan A. Ruiz

Dr. Suneil Jain practices naturopathic medicine at Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics in Scottsdale and believes processed sugar is to blame for a number of health problems because it acts as “a toxin which causes inflamation, contributes to obesity, and puts a lot of stress on the body.”

Sugar may be comforting to your taste buds, but the bitter truth behind the dietary villain may alarm you.

It’s generally accepted that the over-consumption of sugar can lead to weight gain, but suggesting it’s the culprit for chronic health problems may be harder news for some to swallow.

Eating too much added sugar — the sweeteners and syrups added during food processing or preparation — can cause cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other diet-related conditions, according to health expert Dr. Suneil Jain, who is a naturopathic physician and owner of Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics in Scottsdale.

Added sugar can make it harder for the body to stay healthy by putting stress on the immune system and causing prolonged inflammation, which Dr. Jain says are the two main reasons for chronic disease.

“Once in a while, having pure cane sugar is not a big deal but the average American is consuming a lot of sugar on a regular basis and that’s what we have to fix,” said Jain who has helped athletes like Steve Nash give up refined sugars.

The recommended daily amount of sugar, excluding naturally occurring sugar, is six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men, according the American Heart Association. When a 12-ounce soft drink has eight teaspoons of sugar and an eight-ounce serving of fruit-flavored yogurt has six teaspoons, it’s not a hard limit to surpass.

Aside from cutting obvious foods like soda, candy and baked goods, there is a plethora of other items packed with added sugars. Foods to be wary of are salad dressings, sauces, condiments, juices, peanut butter, crackers, bread and flavored yogurts.

“You don’t realize all the different ways that added is sugar coming into your system,” Jain said. 

What may seem like a healthy start to your day, like a cold glass of orange juice and a bowl of cereal, may in fact be doing more harm for your body. Jain suggests swapping out those traditional breakfast items with foods like oatmeal, quinoa or protein smoothies.

For students looking to cut back on their sugar dosage, Jain suggests preparing as much food as possible and planning ahead with nuts, seeds and healthy bars to hold you over between classes. When grabbing food on the go, he suggests choosing items that are the least processed and have the least amount of refined sugars. He also suggesting checking food labels for sugar, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, molasses or evaporated cane juice.

If your sweet tooth is getting the best of you, raw green juices can help curb the uncontrollable cravings, said Jain.

“You are going to feel better,” he said. “You are going to have more energy and you will see the improvement all around.”

ArizonaState Universitygraduate Ana Michunovich is a testament to the benefits of cutting added sugars.

“I have a reputation for being the freaky health person”, said Michunovich, who is currently studying medicine at Touro College in New York and avoids added sugars, meat and alcohol in her diet.

Michunovich adopted healthier eating habits as a teenager when she gave up soda.

Aside from the lowered risk of serious illnesses down the road, she immediately noticed clearer skin, increased energy, better focus at school and quicker recoveries from her track and yoga workouts.

As a first-year medical student, Michunovich knows what it’s like to be strapped for time. To make sure she sticks to her healthy lifestyle, she sets aside time on the weekends to stock up on groceries at the local farmer’s market, prepares a batch of food for dinners and cuts up fresh fruits and veggies and tosses them in Ziploc bags she grabs on her way to class on tired mornings.

“I am strict in a sense, but it’s not that I crave that stuff and don’t allow myself to have it,” she said. “Ever since I began eating healthy I just feel so much better so I don’t miss that other stuff. I’d rather have fresh fruit than a piece of cake.”

Those who aren’t convinced that a cup of fruit is just as satisfying as gooey chocolate cake, Michunovich said kicking the habit is easier than it seems.

“When you’re used to having a lot of added sugars in your diet you become desensitized to how sweet things are, and when you take them out of your diet for awhile your taste buds regenerate themselves,” she said.

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