Recently, I have been bombarded by countless articles, tv/radio interviews, and books shouting the dangers of sugar. There is so much information floating around, one can get a bit overwhelmed. We understand the basic rule that sugar in excess is bad, but why? Today, I want to do a quick lesson on sugar and the health risks associated with this addictive substance.
Let me start with a couple of statistics from Dr. Mercola. His website is packed with information about any and every health and nutrition issue you can imagine. Check it out!
- In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year.
- In 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year
- In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consume one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a whopping 180 pounds of sugar per year!
- 32 percent of Americans are obese and an additional one-third are overweight.
- Sugar is loaded into your soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, and hidden in almost all processed foods—from bologna to pretzels to Worcestershire sauce to cheese spread.
Sugar is everywhere! We have to be diligent consumers to avoid it. The worse part is the sugar found in many processed foods is just that, processed. It is not in its natural form so we are ingesting “frankensugar.”
Types of Sugars and Alternative Sweeteners
- Dextrose, fructose and glucose are all monosaccharides, known as simple sugars. The primary difference between them is how your body metabolizes them. Glucose and dextrose are essentially the same sugar. However, food manufacturers usually use the term “dextrose” in their ingredient list.
- The simple sugars can combine to form more complex sugars, like the disaccharide sucrose (table sugar), which is half glucose and half fructose.
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
- Ethanol (drinking alcohol) is not a sugar, although beer and wine contain residual sugars and starches, in addition to alcohol.
- Sugar alcohols like xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, and erythritol are neither sugars nor alcohols but are becoming increasingly popular as sweeteners. They are incompletely absorbed from your small intestine, for the most part, so they provide fewer calories than sugar but often cause problems with bloating, diarrhea and flatulence.
- Sucralose (Splenda) is NOT a sugar, despite its sugar-like name and deceptive marketing slogan, “made from sugar.” It’s a chlorinated artificial sweetener in line with aspartame and saccharin, with detrimental health effects to match.
- Agave syrup, falsely advertised as “natural,” is typically HIGHLY processed and is usually 80 percent fructose. The end product does not even remotely resemble the original agave plant.
- Honey is about 53 percent fructose, but is completely natural in its raw form and has many health benefits when used in moderation, including as many antioxidants as spinach.
- Stevia is a highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, which is completely safe (in its natural form). Lo han (or luohanguo) is another natural sweetener, but derived from a fruit.
In 1996, Nancy Appleton, Ph.D. wrote a book called “Lick the Sugar Habit.” In the book she goes in to detail about the dangers of consuming large quantities of sugar. Here are a few health risks:
- sugar can suppress the immune system
- sugar causes food allergies
- sugar can cause asthma
- sugar can increase the risk of several types of cancer
- sugar is addictive
So what now?
It is all fine and good to point out the dangers of something, but what do we do with the information? You can start by educating yourself and reading labels. YOU are the first line of defense concerning your health and the health of your family. You cannot always control what your family is eating outside the home, but you can control what is available to them at home.
Beware of impostors! Sugar substitutes are often worse than sugar. Aspartame has been linked to multiple health issues including seizures, depression and memory loss. It is best to avoid substitutes all together. Once the sugar addition/habit is kicked, you will be surprised how little you want it.
Challenge yourself to 14 days without sugar or sugar substitutes. Try keeping a journal during the two weeks to track weight loss or health improvements. You can feed your sweet tooth with fresh fruit! Try to avoid high sugar fruits like watermelon, grapes and cherries during this time. Also stay away from pre-packaged or canned fruits, they are often packaged in corn syrup. Make sure you check your labels for hidden sweeteners. Good Luck!