Does Being Healthy Mean You Have To Be Miserable?

Yes. But like anything else that’s good for you, you’ll get over it. Then, you won’t be miserable any more. And you’ll be healthy and live long enough to pay your grandkids’ college bills. But do you really have to avoid the cookie tray and get a yearly physical?  This is an important question. However, a mere “yes” or “no” does not suffice an answer.

This is the time of year for the most decadent foods, especially the sweets. We can’t convey the difficulty with which we write about avoiding the cookie tray. If ever we deemed a gift to come directly from heaven, the cookie tray is it. Black, white, green or red; sparkles, sprinkles, powdered or granulated, we love ‘em all. Artificial this and imitation that belong in the gar-bazh'. Butter is preferred and real sugar is divine, the former actually a health food and the latter not so much. Maybe by some stroke of divine intervention the two can cancel each other out and render a neutral in the gustatory debauchery to which we incline ourselves.

Being a sugar addict is a pursuit without benefits…except for the haberdasher who sells you a bigger pants size. (Now, there’s an interesting word with a scanty etymology.)  If the burgeoning waist becomes a progressive reality, it’s time to take control of things. First of all, anything labeled “fat free” or “low fat” is likely to be loaded with a sweetener to make up for the lost mouthfeel, which is the culmination of a food’s chemical and physical interaction inside the mouth. Mouthfeel has quite a few characteristics, including density, dryness, velvety texture, uniformity, chew and more. Without fat, frankly, you just don’t have mouth. Sooo… the sugar causes you to eat more to make up for the lost pleasure. A fake sweetener will only tell your body to make insulin to carry the “sugar” into a cell to be used for energy. The problem arises when the body realizes it’s been faked out, and makes you hungry so you’ll get enough carbohydrates to make enough glucose so that the insulin has something to do. Got it? Eat enough sugar long enough, become addicted, and initiate a cycle of runaway proportions (Colantuoni, 2002) (Avena, 2012).

One way to reduce sugar cravings is to cut back on caffeine. This you hear from an inveterate coffeeist. Researchers from the University of Guelph, in Canada, found that caffeine impairs insulin sensitivity in a dose-dependent manner in both sexes (Beaudoin, 2013). How sad! This was learned from healthy people. How about those with type 2 diabetes? We checked. Impaired glucose management in men with type 2 diabetes is noticeable and remarkable in the presence of caffeine (Robinson, 2004). Drat!  Nothing was mentioned about women. These scientists showed that caffeine can increase blood glucose by 24%, so when blood sugar dips back down after the caffeine wears off, you crave sweetness.

To get a hold of the sweet tooth, natural sweeteners with little or no effect on blood glucose are out there. Among the more popular is stevia, a member of the sunflower family that’s purported to lack the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. But, like anything else, sweet perception—and aftertaste— is in the lingual papillae of the beholder.  Sugar alcohols are available as well, such as xylitol, sorbitol or erythritol. Mostly, they’re incompletely absorbed into the blood stream from the small intestine, so they have a lesser effect on glucose levels. Erythritol, however, is absorbed, but excreted unchanged in the urine. Compared to real sugar, sucrose, the alcohols have about half or less the calories with a considerable fraction of the sweetness. Of course, you could cast discretion to the wind and make up for it later…maybe.

The other part of the question mentions the annual physical checkup. It might be a source of reassurance for some of us, and a pain in the sitting place for others because of the time it steals from the, ahem, golf course and gym. The idea behind the yearly exam was to identify problems and to fix them before they got out of hand. Most of the time, no problems were found. Gradually, we have come to realize that the routine physical did nothing to improve health outcomes, which would then make it a waste of time and money. Today we concentrate on those little things that can be altered to improve outcomes. Hey, there are pieces in the popular press telling us that the most august medical groups find routine exams to be a bore. You won’t find much information about this in scientific papers, such as those at Pub Med, but you will find articles by physicians at legitimate sites that include “Science-Based Medicine,” here , and here, In Canada, the province of Ontario lowered the fee it pays doctors for annual checkups and told doctors to perform fewer. Canadian physicians agree that eating healthy, getting some exercise and quitting tobacco can do more to benefit one’s health. From MSN News in Canada:

Getting back to the sweet tooth for a minute, we need to tell you that sugar pushes magnesium out of the body through the urine (Fuchs, 2002) (Djurhuus, 2000) (Milne, 2000)  This mineral, the second most plentiful cation in the intracellular fluid, is essential to human nutrition, but most Americans are low. Magnesium is used in more than three hundred cellular reactions besides being important to bone. Nerve and muscle electrical potential depend on it. We realize that chocolate-covered spinach or halibut is not a palate pleaser, but these foods, sans the coating, contain enough magnesium—about a third of a day’s need—to help overcome the negatives of sweet overconsumption. On the other hand, pumpkin seeds and almonds might render that neutral condition mentioned in the second paragraph. Choose wisely.

Antonenko D, Flöel A. Healthy Aging by Staying Selectively Connected: A Mini-Review. Gerontology. 2013 Sep 28.

Avena NM, Bocarsly ME, Hoebel BG. Animal models of sugar and fat bingeing: relationship to food addiction and increased body weight. Methods Mol Biol. 2012;829:351-65.

Beaudoin MS, Allen B, Mazzetti G, Sullivan PJ, Graham TE. Caffeine ingestion impairs insulin sensitivity in a dose-dependent manner in both men and women. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2013 Feb;38(2):140-7.

Butt AL, Anderson HA, Gates DJ. Parental influence and effects of pro-smoking media messages on adolescents in Oklahoma. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2009 May;102(5):147-51.

Chang JC, Wu MC, Liu IM, Cheng JT. Increase of insulin sensitivity by stevioside in fructose-rich chow-fed rats. Horm Metab Res. 2005 Oct;37(10):610-6.

Colantuoni C, Rada P, McCarthy J, Patten C, Avena NM, Chadeayne A, Hoebel BG. Evidence that intermittent, excessive sugar intake causes endogenous opioid dependence. Obes Res. 2002 Jun;10(6):478-88.

S. Djurhuus Hyperglycaemia enhances renal magnesium excretion in Type 1 diabetic patients Scan Jou of Clin & Laboratory Investigation. 2000, Vol. 60, No. 5, Pp 403-410

Nan Kathryn Fuchs, Ph.D. Magnesium: A Key to Calcium Absorption November 22, 2002

A. Hodgkinson and F.W. Heaton The effect of food ingestion on the urinary excretion of calcium and magnesium Clinica Chimica Acta. Volume 11, Issue 4, April 1965, Pages 354-362

Kaya CA, Unalan PC. Factors associated with adolescents' smoking experience and staying tobacco free. Ment Health Fam Med. 2010 Sep;7(3):145-53.

David B. Milne, PhD and Forrest H. Nielsen, PhD The Interaction Between Dietary Fructose and Magnesium Adversely Affects Macromineral Homeostasis in Men J Am Coll Nutr February 2000 vol. 19 no. 1 31-37

Robinson LE, Savani S, Battram DS, McLaren DH, Sathasivam P, Graham TE. Caffeine ingestion before an oral glucose tolerance test impairs blood glucose management in men with type 2 diabetes. J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10):2528-33.

Shivanna N, Naika M, Khanum F, Kaul VK. Antioxidant, anti-diabetic and renal protective properties of Stevia rebaudiana. J Diabetes Complications. 2013 Mar-Apr;27(2):103-13.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.