We Need to Talk About Sugar and Macular Degeneration

I spend a lot of time researching and writing about all the things that are healthy to put into our bodies to aid in optimal eye health. Carotenoids, lutein, legumes, antioxidants, and acidophilus anyone?

Hey, Sugar!

Well, as if that isn’t confusing enough, we should also discuss what NOT to put into our bodies for optimal eye health. Sometimes eliminating things from our diet can feel even harder than adding things to it, but it’s just as important. Like, sure I’ll eat ANOTHER spinach salad for lunch and I’ll sit at the table and force myself to gag down these 11 supplemental pills every morning because I know for sure those things are good for my eyes. But, ummmm, do I really have to cut back on dessert? Can’t I just have one soda?

The vitamins and supplements I take

First, if you’re wondering why I take 11 pills each morning (because yes, that’s a lot) it’s because in order to get the dose of Omega 3 Fatty acids I need, I have to take three. My daily multivitamin is two pills, and so on. I also take a few probiotics, an eye vitamin (purposefully lacking zinc which is important for my eyes’ unique needs), CoQ10 for help with blood circulation, and a few others prescribed to me for things completely unrelated to macular degeneration.

Eliminating sugar

There are so many 'unhealthy' things we could eliminate from our diets in order to optimize eye health, but this series of articles will focus on just one: sugar.

Sugar is complicated

Before we start, we need to understand the basics about sugar. There is so much to know and they're extremely complicated and sneaky, so we will consider this Sugar 101. Sugars have many aliases and that can make things really confusing. They can be referred to as starches, carbohydrates, saccharides, and so on. And once they start to process in our bodies they turn into glucose.

Here are a few other sneaky names for sugar1:

  • Nectar
  • Syrup
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cane Sugar
  • White Sugar
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Malt
  • Lactose
  • Fructose
  • Honey
  • Sucrose
  • Molasses
  • Sorghum
  • Sweetener

Simple versus complex sugars

There are two basic types of sugars: simple sugars (think fruit, veggies, and milk here) and complex sugars (also known as carbohydrates or starches... think white potatoes, pasta, and bread here). Complex sugars are called complex for a reason. They’re a tad more complicated than simple sugars. The main difference between the two is how quickly they are digested and absorbed in the body.

Refined sugars

As if that isn’t confusing enough, there are also refined sugars (think cakes, candies, and bread - again) which are sugars that have been removed from their natural source and added to processed foods for flavor. Refined sugars are the sugars we need to stay away from as much as we can.2

Refined sugars are addicting.

Read that again.

Refined sugar is addicting, both mentally and physically. When we eat sugar, dopamine is released and stimulates the same areas of our brain that addictive drugs, such as cocaine, do.

Now, I’m not saying the effects are the same when discussing sugar and cocaine. I’m just saying the more sugar we eat, the more our bodies trick our minds into thinking we need even more. The addictive nature of sugar can have long-term effects on our bodies, and if you’re reading this article, yes, it can negatively affect the health of our eyes.

Refined sugars are not good for us in any way. The only thing added sugar does to our bodies gives a little bit of temporary energy, but not in a good way. There is absolutely no nutritional need for any refined sugars in our diet. Boy, do we love to eat them though!3

Sugars are hiding everywhere

Added sugars are found in things we would never think they’re in. They like to hide in foods that we believe are healthy... and they’re really good at it. Salad dressing? Sugar. Salsa? Sugar. Whole grain cereals? Lots and lots of sugar. Yogurt? Yep. Spaghetti Sauce? And the noodles? You bet. Dried fruit? Tons.

Check the nutritional labels

My advice is to consider at least checking out the nutritional labels on the foods you’re buying and compare. I’ve found that cheaper foods generally have a higher content of sugar and less actual nutritional value. Have you ever wondered why store-brand foods are cheaper than name brands? Sure, you’re ‘paying for the name,' but you also get what you pay for. A prime example of this is spaghetti sauce. When I compare the two, I notice that each serving of the off-brand sauce contains 14.5 grams of sugar, while the name brand contains only 6 grams. Those extra grams of sugar add up quickly.

You may be thinking, “Wait! I thought I was supposed to eat fruit and vegetables but they have sugar!?!?” This and much more about sugar are coming up soon in Part II of this series!

Making small changes

For now, I urge you to see where you can cut back. Maybe consider drinking a fresh fruit infused water instead of a sweet tea or soft drink at lunch or dinner? Will you start your days off with a healthier breakfast option than cereal, pancakes, or stopping through the donut drive-thru? Can you pencil in a few extra minutes when going to the grocery store this week to check out food labels more closely? I assure you, the small changes you make are worth it in big ways!

More on this soon,

Andrea Junge

Want to read more about sugar and macular degeneration? Continue on in: Sugar and Macular Degeneration: Dos and Don’ts.

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