“It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar,” Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado-Denver, told National Geographic last year. Yet despite sugar’s known role in so many illnesses, the average American consumes 3 pounds of it each week, according to National Geographic, and 3,550 pounds in a lifetime. That’s enough to fill an industrial-sized dumpster! Because of these alarming rates of sugar consumption, nutrition expert Sally Fallon Morrell cautioned against refined sugar in her fourth point to practical nutrition during her seminar at Herbert W. Armstrong College last April.
Disguised on Aisle Five
You might not think you consume much sugar, since you haven’t eaten a box of Oreos this week or drank a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. But you might be surprised to learn that the sweet stuff lies hidden in nearly all packaged and premade foods.
For instance, one six-ounce container of Yoplait yogurt has 26 grams of sugar—more than the amount in two frosted doughnuts! You might reach for iced tea instead of Pepsi at a restaurant, but even that 16-ounce bottle of Snapple has more added sugar than the same-sized bottle of Sprite.
Food manufacturers add sugar to nearly everything you find in a grocery store: granola bars, dried fruit, pasta sauce, bacon, sandwich bread, canned vegetables, salad dressing and hundreds of other items you wouldn’t expect. You don’t have to go looking for sugar; it will find you!
One way to prevent picking up these sugar-laden foods is to shop around the perimeter of the store. That’s where natural, whole foods that usually require refrigeration are located. Fill your cart with fresh fruits and vegetables, organic dairy products and meats to keep these hidden sugars out of your home. And when you do pick up packaged foods, read labels. Look for words that end in “-ose.” (Here’s a trick: the suffix rhymes with gross!)
Disguises sugar hides behind:
The Effects of Refined Sugar
Why go through all this trouble? What makes refined sweeteners so dangerous?
Consider how white, refined sugar is produced: Sugar cane is planted and treated with weed sprays and synthetic fertilizer. Next, the sugar is farmed and sent to a sugar mill. There, the sugar is separated from the plant before it is transferred to a refinery. At the refinery, the sugar is turned into syrup. The molasses is removed by spinning the syrup in a huge centrifuge. This removes most of the color, but it also eliminates the vitamins and minerals. What is left forms a clear syrupy liquid. Next, filters remove any remaining color. The syrup is then concentrated and dried into crystals. By the end of the process, the enzymes, vitamins, minerals and fiber have all been removed.
When this refined sugar is consumed, it depletes the body of nutrients that sugar could be supplying. Processed sugar robs the body of B vitamins, disrupts calcium absorption, and negatively affects the nervous system, among other things. This nutrient depletion leads to cravings, causing you to crave even more sugar.
Sugar you buy in the grocery store (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup are both about half fructose. This is the sugar naturally found in fruit, but it can be harmful when isolated from its natural state. After being refined, it can only be metabolized by your liver. This produces a much higher level of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and causes your body to produce excess uric acid, which can lead to high blood pressure or hypertension. Because of this unbalanced cholesterol, the brain can no longer regulate appetite or metabolism the way it should, so you may continue eating without feeling full. All of this contributes, of course, to fat production.
Eating refined sugars also spikes blood-sugar levels, which leads to another series of reactions in the body. When you eat simple carbohydrates—like foods with refined sugars—the level of sugar in your blood rises. Your pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that helps move sugar from the bloodstream into your organs to be used for energy.
By repeatedly eating refined sugars, you become less sensitive to insulin, and your body is forced to release increased amounts of it to keep your blood sugar stable. When you become resistant to insulin, your body has a harder time digesting carbohydrates and absorbing nutrients. You begin to gain weight. If this continues over longer periods of time, your pancreas gets worn out and can no longer release insulin properly. This can cause you to develop diabetes, thyroid problems and possibly even some types of cancer.
Kick the Can
Can you imagine gulping down a third of a cup of sugar in one sitting? You probably have! In fact, one 20-ounce bottle of soda has even more sugar than that. And the average American guzzles more than a gallon a week of soft drinks!
Even the president of Coca-Cola has admitted that soda drinkers “don’t realize” how much sugar is in their Cokes. Here is what drinking all that soda can do—some good reasons to avoid these bubbly beverages:
Here are some other effects caused by over-consumption of sweets:
Is Sugar Addictive?
Breaking the sugar habit may be harder than you expect. According to a study done by endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, brain scans have shown that sugar may be just as addictive as cocaine because it may trigger the same responses inside the brain. The good news: You can overcome these cravings by eating a natural, balanced diet and including unrefined sugars in moderation.
The Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners
Many people use sugar substitutes to avoid consuming refined sugar—as a “healthier” choice. These artificial sweeteners do not cause cavities or spike blood-sugar levels, they have a lower calorie count, and they have a higher concentration of sweetness, so you use less. But artificial sweeteners are artificial. Most are made from harmful chemicals and are toxic. “Sugar-free” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. Read labels. Here are some of the most popular—and most harmful—sugar substitutes that it would be wise to avoid:
- Aspartame (brand names: NutraSweet, Equal, NatraSweet, Canderel, Spoonfuls, DiabetiSweet)
Side effects: headaches, change in vision, seizures, sleep problems, memory loss, hallucinations, even brain tumors
- Acesulfame Potassium (brand names: Sunett, Sweet One, Sweet & Safe)
Side effects: nausea, mood problems, hypoglycemia, impairment of the liver and kidneys, problems with eyesight, possibly cancer
- Saccharin (brand name: Sweet ‘N’ Low)
Side effects: allergic reactions for those with sulfa allergies, nausea, diarrhea, skin problems, other allergy-related symptoms
- Sucralose (brand name: Splenda)
Side effects: enlarged liver and kidney, shrunken thymus glands, skin rashes, panic attacks, bladder issues, stomach pain
Choosing Healthier Sweeteners
Does all this talk about sugar mean that fruit, or small amounts of natural, unprocessed sweeteners are bad for you? Sugar doesn’t appear in nature as shiny white crystals, it comes in the form of tall, tough stalks of sugar cane, or golden honey from a beehive. But when sugar is processed, it loses the beneficial vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fiber it once contained.
The most important thing to remember when choosing a healthier sweetener is to learn how it is processed. Agave syrup has been falsely advertised as “natural,” but is almost always highly refined and usually 85 percent fructose! The end product is nothing like the original agave plant.
There are some alternative sweeteners that are far wiser choices than products with refined sugar or corn syrup, but their advantages do depend on the quality of product you buy. Remember: Generally, the less processed, heated and treated, the better.
Make It at Home
By making homemade desserts, you can monitor what types of sweeteners you and your family are consuming and satisfy your appetite for the occasional treat. This also allows you to enrich your desserts with eggs and good fats! Eating good fats with sugar also regulates your blood sugar level. Occasionally making homemade sweets can help prevent craving for other refined sweets. If children receive sweets from their parents, they will be less likely to be tempted by refined sugar and store bought desserts.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
- Two cups heavy cream
- One cup raw milk
- ½-¾ cup honey or maple syrup (or a combination of the two)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine milk and sweetener and stir until the sweetener is dissolved. Add vanilla and cream; stir well! Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and churn for about 20 minutes.
You can make desserts like this and many more at home with all natural, alternative sweeteners. For more information on these healthier alternative sweeteners, please read the article Sweetly Complete.