On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Debunking Sugar, Dairy Myths

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have celiac disease, so I’m well aware that food can harm you, but I get a lot of unsolicited advice. I hear that sugar feeds inflammation and that dairy products make our bodies produce excess mucus. Neither of these makes sense to me.

Please give me your two cents. That way, I can either say, “I know!” -- or tell people that they don’t. -- J.S.W., via email

DEAR J.S.W.: Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy or non-tropical sprue, is a genetic disorder that makes the digestive system unable to tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat. For those with celiac disease, gluten is a dangerous contaminant -- and given the widespread presence of wheat in our food supply, they must become master detectives, checking for gluten’s potential presence before they eat or drink. (Read more on celiac disease at b.link/rnfmqf.)

Misinformation can be another “contaminant.” Let’s go through the issues you raise.

Does sugar feed inflammation? Sugar, or more precisely the glucose it becomes, is a fuel for the body, providing energy to our cells and organs. It powers most processes, including the good, the bad and the ugly ones. Consuming sugar at healthful levels does not “cause” inflammation. Consider this rain analogy: Conventional drainage systems can handle average rainfall amounts, but are overwhelmed by excessive downpours. The risk is even greater if those drainage systems have not been properly maintained. Likewise, most individuals can handle the metered entry of glucose into our bloodstreams from the foods we eat, but our systems suffer when there is an excess.

Naturally occurring complex carbohydrates that are part of a balanced diet are not the issue so much as added sugars, particularly when added to a poor diet. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar for women, and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of sugar for men. You may be shocked to learn that one 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda contains around 10 teaspoons (40 grams) of sugar. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that having one can of soda a day, with a meal, for three weeks, led to an increase in inflammatory biomarkers in otherwise-healthy individuals.

This means that excess simple sugar can cause inflammation -- but the key word is “excess.” A healthful diet and active lifestyle, analogous to having that well-maintained drainage system, is also critical as it conditions your body to better handle and use its energy.

Next: Do dairy products cause the production of mucus? The basis for this long-held belief would seem to rest with the regular interaction between our saliva and milk’s characteristics. This mix produces a thickened-fluid sensation in the throat, which can be mistaken for mucus.

Our lungs normally have a thin mucus lining, plus hairlike cells to trap unwanted debris and help pass it out of the lungs. When there is an infection, such as bronchitis, the mucus layer can become inflamed, increasing mucus production. This excess mucus can collect, and the body works to clear it out by coughing.

Assuming, of course, that there is no milk allergy present, what gets produced in our throats after consuming dairy is not the same as increased mucus production in the lungs.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.