yesterday we explored sugar and its effects. should you indulge this holiday season? i would say yes, if you are doing it to God's glory.
how do we eat sugar to the glory of God?
i am writing to christians here, because for me the heart of this topic is purely spiritual. one time, i heard john piper speak about how to eat pizza to the glory of God. he suggested that one way to do this is by not finishing all of your last piece of pizza, just to show that eating pizza is not ultimately satisfying, but that God is (you would have to hear him say it... he put it much better than i can).
i think we should think about sugar the same way. the best question a christian should ask is how can i eat sugar to the glory of God?
the heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly. -proverbs 15:14
understanding what sugar is and what it does to your body is a great first step. we know of lots of diseases (as i mentioned previously) that are caused by or contributed to by sugar. but knowing the physiological effects of sugar helps us to see the underlying mechanisms that lead to the disease (as the disease is merely a manifestation of other things going wrong in the body). the effects of sugar are pervasive, meaning that it effects many systems in the body, which is part of the reason its effects on the body are so damaging. two of the many systems that are effected are gut bacteria and the liver.
sugar and gut bacteria health
sugar contributes to gut disbiosis, a fancy way of describing abnormally high bad bacteria (and conversely abnormally low good bacteria) in the digestive system. every adult has about five pounds of bacteria in their body, most of which is healthy and helpful (even necessary) to our bodily functions. however, sugar feeds the bad bacteria, causing it to overpopulate the body (crowding out the good guys).
the understanding of bacteria in our body is an emerging field, but scientists are starting to see that gut disbiosis interferes with hunger and satiety cues (leading to obesity), immunity (high good bacteria is the first line of defense against outside invaders), digestive health (heartburn and ulcerative colitis are implicated in gut disbiosis), food allergies (low good bacteria leads to a "leaky gut" that leaks the allergens out to the body) and auto-immune diseases. in "gut and psychology syndrome" dr. natasha campbell-mcbride theorizes that gut disbiosis is also a major contributor to mental illnesses such as ADD/ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, diabetes and fibromyalgia.
fructose and the liver
as i mentioned yesterday, the fructose component of sugar is actually toxic to the body, and the by-products of its digestion lead to various health issues. this is a recent discovery by a doctor at UC-San Francisco names Robert Lustig. the science behind it is pretty heady, but i will try to break it down in an understandable way (if you want to see the biochemistry of it worked out for yourself, here is a link. its 90 minutes long. yes, i watched the whole thing).
sugar is made up of two molecules: glucose and fructose (high fructose corn syrup has a similar chemical make-up, about half of it is fructose). fructose cannot be digested in the stomach/intestines like most food is, so all of the fructose we ingest goes to the liver. now, if you have ever take a physiology class, you know that this is pretty much the definition of a toxin (something that the liver has to break down for the body). the breakdown of fructose in the liver has several bi-products, including VLDL ("bad" cholesterol that leads to heart problems), uric acid (which contributes to gout and high blood pressure), free fatty acids (which increases insulin resistance and fat storage) and it disturbs leptin production (the chemical that signals satiety to the brain, telling you to stop eating). these chemicals are the reason that fructose consumption has been shown to lead to hypertenstion, heart diseases, obesity, insulin resistance (leading to type 2 diabetes), fatty liver and increased hunger.
whew! did i lose you there? and that was even the simplified version... long story short, fructose is recognized by the body as a toxin and digested in the liver, which leads to the production of a lot of bad chemicals in your body that lead to various diseases.
"but, wait!" you might say. "isn't fructose the type of sugar naturally found in fruit? doesn't that make it healthy?" yes, fruit contains some fructose. small amounts of fructose aren't bad. before world war I, americans ate about 15 grams per day (mostly from fruit). now we are eating about 75 grams per day (mostly NOT from fruit), and our health has never been worse.
prayer and self-control
it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. -hebrews 13:9
knowledge is a good first step towards glorifying God as we eat sugar. you probably already knew that sugar isn't great for your health, but i hope that i have shown you that sugar is actually pretty much horrible for your health. some of you may now be thinking that the best way to glorify God with your body is to reduce the amount of sugar you eat. but you may be discouraged by how hard that will be (especially since, as i mentioned sugar is addictive).
but be encouraged: for the Christian, God has already given us all we need for life and godliness. yes, it will take self-control to avoid sugar, but his Spirit gives christians self control when he lives in us (galatians 5:22-23).
i encourage you to pray. not only seek God for wisdom in this area, but ask him for the self-control to limit your sugar. it will likely be a battle, and it will take God's power to help you turn away from it when your body is craving and needing it. God has made it clear in the bible that He is the one who makes our character more like Himself, and we can ask him to do it.
be thankful, and use sugar well (don't let it use you)
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be enslaved by anything. -1 corinthians 6:12
every december for the past 8 years (except for last year) i have had a christmas cookie making party (four times in columbus, one time in germany, and this year will be the second time in california! yay for traditions!). should i stop this tradition?
no way! i have so many great memories of these parties, and they have always been so fun to invite good friends to, and a great opportunity to spend more time with people that i am reaching out to. this is one example of a way to use sugar, without being used by it. there are many other ways: sharing a dessert with friends, celebrating a birthday with a cake, going out on a date and getting ice cream (or if you are like alex and i, make it at home!).
the key is to not be enslaved by sugar (or any kind of food... or anything!). if you find that you are mastered by sugar or that it is not helpful, you may choose to completely give up your right to eat it. another key is to be thankful for it, recognizing it as a gift (and limiting your sugar intake helps you to be especially grateful when you do have it).
there are many beautiful and good ways to enjoy this gift from God. i hope that you are able to eat it to the glory of God this year!