For the Love of Sugar! 113-Year-Old Man Says He Has a Major Sweet ToothNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
It’s human nature to look for ways to justify or rationalize behavior that, deep down inside, we know is not good for us.
This is why you may hear people who smoke and drink too much talk about the person who smoked two packs and drank a fifth of bourbon a day and lived to a ripe, old age. Or why those who never exercise talk about the fanatical exercise and diet aficionado who ended up having a massive heart attack at the age of 35 while teaching an aerobics class.
And, no, I’m not making these up. They are true, and I am pretty sure we all have heard versions of these and repeat telling them when we’re caught downing a couple bags of potato chips.
The latest story for the “See, it’s really not bad for you” club will put a smile on the face of those with a sweet tooth. They most likely will use the recent news reports about Masazo Nonaka. He was recently confirmed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest man at 113-years-old.
Why will they do this?
For the simple reason that Mr. Nonaka’s favorite food in the world is candy! While his family attributes his longevity to leading a relatively stress-free life, sugar fans will probably mention that when presented with his birthday cake, his reaction was, “Yum.”
But before you throw away your kale and run to the market for a container of double-chocolate chip fudge ice cream and whipped cream, there are some more things about Mr. Nonaka you need to know. These include:
- Mr. Nonaka is part of a long line of Japanese men and women who have world records for longevity. So, his reaching this milestone may have more to do with genetics and lifestyle than it does with his candy habit. Japan also has the second highest life expectancy in the world. The life expectancy in the United States, by comparison, is ranked 42nd.
- On average, the Japanese consume about half the sugar on a per capita basis than those of us residing in the United States do. To give you some perspective, the World Health Organization recommends around 50 grams of sugar a day for an average person. In Japan, the average intake is about 57 grams. In the United States, it is a whopping 126 grams of sugar per day.
- The Japanese diet also tends to include more foods that are known to promote health, such as fish and vegetables, rather than those, such as overly processed foods with added sugars, that have been linked with promoting life-shortening diseases.
As a result, Japan has one of the lowest obesity rates among leading economies. This compares to the United States, which is the second fattest country in the world with at least 28 percent of the population considered obese. And obesity, of course, has been linked to a variety of diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer, all of which can greatly shorten your lifespan.
Exactly How Bad is Sugar for You?
Aside from removing years from your life, going beyond the recommended amount of how much sugar should be in a healthy diet can wreak havoc on your body. For example, excess sugar has been linked to:
- Reduced memory performance
- Pancreatic cancer, gout, diabetes, kidney disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure, strokes and heart disease
- Weight gain with the resulting obesity having its own set of health risks
- Metabolic fatty liver disease
- Tooth decay
- Depression and other mood disorders (ever feel grumpy without your sugar fix?)
- Metabolic syndrome
A recent study in the journal Cell Reports suggests that a history of eating a high-sugar diet has the potential for negatively impacting your life span, even if you later improve your diet. The theory is that the unhealthy diet of high sugar can reprogram the genes responsible for longevity.
In this particular study done with flies, those having a high-sugar diet had, on average, a 7 percent shorter lifespan. Researchers mentioned the fact that even temporary higher-sugar diets could accelerate aging in the species studied, and that this is a warning on how careful we humans need to be with excess sugar in our diets.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that excess sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, which causes your pancreas to create increasingly higher levels of insulin to help your cells metabolize the sugar you eat. In addition to this role, insulin has been shown to be a major accelerator of the aging process as well as other bodily processes that could impact your longevity. So more insulin in your body could translate to faster aging.
Last, but certainly not least, is that having too much sugar in your diet can make your cells age faster on a genetic and molecular level than they otherwise would. As you probably remember from high school biology, every cell in our body has chromosomes – which contain our DNA – that are required for our cells to replicate and to function correctly. At the end of every chromosome is something called a telomere – think of it as a cap like you would find at the end of a shoelace – that helps hold the chromosome together. Excess sugar makes the telomeres shorter and this, in turn, ages your cells.
One study estimates that each daily 20-ounce serving of a sugar-sweetened soda equals 4.6 additional years of cell aging. Still want to reach for that big gulp?
How to Cut Back on Sugar
So, it’s clear that too much sugar is not good for you and it won’t help you to live as long as Mr. Nonaka. Not much argument there. But before you throw your arms up in defeat, it’s important to know that not all sugars are created equal.
- There are those that occur naturally in foods, like fruits and vegetables. These are healthy foods that contain water, fiber, minerals and vitamins. These sugars are generally fine (although in moderation).
- Then there is added sugar, which can be found – and often in very unhealthy quantities – in processed foods and candies. These are the sugars – most commonly sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup – that can do the most damage to your health and that should be avoided or limited to special occasions.
Your best bet is to try to eliminate processed foods and those foods with added sugars from your diet as much as possible. If you just can’t do without adding sweetener to your food, avoid artificial sweeteners and opt instead for natural sweeteners, like honey. Just be careful with these since too much can cause weight gain.
pH Labs has a variety of blogs that give you information for managing how much sugar you have in your diets. Check them out here. And if you fear you just can’t fight your sweet tooth, know that the less sugar you eat the more healthy you will be.
Enjoy your healthy life!