*There’s no doubt that Americans are addicted to sugar. We consume an average of 150 lbs. per person per year. For many of us, that means we eat our own weight in sugar every year! So it might be helpful to find out what that means – what sugar really is, what food value it has, and what problems it causes.
The sugar industry is big: $100 billion per year. As with any other billion-dollar business, there’s bound to be a ton of information that will support such an empire anywhere you look – the media, bookstores, advertising, etc.
Boats like this don’t like to be rocked.
On the other side is a group claiming that white sugar is poison, a harmful drug, barely differing from cocaine, etc. Some claims are true; others are unreferenced opinion, often bordering on hysteria. For our purposes, we’ll focus on what we really can verify about sugar, and hopefully avoid the errors of disinformation on both sides of the fence.
The first question to be asked is, “What is sugar?”
That’s easy – it’s that white stuff in the sugar bowl. Refined white cane sugar is only one type, however. There’s also brown sugar, raw sugar, fruit sugar, corn sugar, milk sugar, beet sugar, alcohol, monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. All these are also sugar.
Start with white sugar. It is made by refining sugar cane, a process involving many chemicals. Or from beets, whose refinement also involves synthetic chemicals, and charcoal. The big problem is that the finished product contains none of the nutrients, vitamins, or minerals of the original plant. White sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which means a fractionated, artificial, devitalized by-product of the original plant. The original plant was a complex carbohydrate, which means it contained all the properties of a whole food: vitamins, minerals, enzymes.
Refined sugar from beets and cane is sucrose. Up to the mid 1970s, sucrose was the primary sugar consumed by Americans. That changed when manufacturers discovered a cheaper source of refined sugar: corn. A process was evolved that could change the natural fructose in corn to glucose, and then by adding synthetic chemicals, change the glucose back into an artificial, synthetic type of fructose called high fructose.
High fructose became big real fast. In 1984, Coke and Pepsi changed from cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). U.S. consumption of high fructose corn syrup went up 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990, researchers reported in 2004 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Today high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the preferred sweetener in most soft drinks and processed foods. Don’t believe it? Read the labels.
“High-fructose corn syrup” is highly valued by food manufacturers. It’s easy to transport in tanker trucks. It isn’t susceptible to freezer burn, as is sugar. It has a long shelf life and keeps foods from becoming dry. It gives bread and baked products a wonderful color. It’s also cheaper than white sugar, partly because of generous federal subsidies and trade policies that encourage farmers to grow more corn. Fast food chains add it to their products because it is cheaper. It’s in the sauces, in the condiments, in the breadings, in the buns and in the drinks. It is the commercially preferred artificial sweetener.
What’s worse than sugar? Now you know.
Remember, natural fructose is contained in most raw fruits and vegetables. It is a natural food. Moderate amounts of natural fructose can be easily digested by the body with no stress or depleting of mineral stores. Natural fructose does not cause rollercoaster blood sugar, unless the person overdoes it. Natural fructose is not addicting.
High fructose corn syrup, by contrast, cannot be well digested, actually inhibits digestion, is addicting, and causes a great number of biochemical errors. HFCS is artificial; a non-food.
In addition to these by-products, simple carbohydrates do increase blood glucose. And this is the real problem with refined sugar: the quantity of pure glucose suddenly taken in
But our modern needs are something created by business, by advertising, and by politics. How many people do you know who drink at least one 12 oz soft drink per day? If the sugar from each bottle could be crystallized out, it would amount to 10 teaspoons. Put 10 teaspoons of sugar in the bottom of an empty coke bottle and look at it. Is that a lot? In a normal bloodstream, which is about 5 liters, approximately 2 teaspoons of glucose should be circulating at any one time. That means that one coke raises the blood sugar to 5 times its normal level, for at least four hours.
Now stop here a minute. This is one soft drink. Do you know anyone who drinks more than one soft drink per day? Do the math.
To that, add the sugar in desserts, ice cream, jams, jello, artificial fruit drinks, and candy. This is not even mentioning hidden sugar found in ketchup, processed meats, baby food, condiments, cereals, and most other processed foods whose label you may chance to read.
And by the way, did you know that alcohol is a sugar? So add wine, beer, liquor. And even tobacco! Getting the picture here? Think you know anyone with only 2 teaspoons of glucose in the blood? Got Diabetes?
The most important point is that sugar itself is not bad. However, too much sugar, without enough protein, fat, and fiber to balance it out, can cause our bodies to make too much insulin. It is not the sugar, but rather the insulin that may be a problem for spurring cancer cell growth. To prevent this, you should limit the simple sugar in your diet. There is no need to follow a stringent diet and swear off every single dessert. The key is moderation. Use the following tips to help yourself find a healthy balance with your food choices:
*Stick with naturally occurring sugar, such as the sugar that is found in fruit. This is a much healthier option than processed sugar that is found in candy, cake, desserts, pie, and baked goods.
*Avoid concentrated sources of sugar, such as soda and fruit drinks. It is OK to have 100 percent fruit juice in moderation. Stick to a 6-ounce serving. But avoid fruit drinks that don’t contain any real fruit juice.
*Limit your “treats,” such as dessert, to just a couple of times each week. Have a modest serving size. Focus on whole, healthy, unprocessed food, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), nuts, and seeds.
There are three other things in the diet that can help reduce the amount of insulin produced by the body when you eat sugar and carbohydrates. These are protein, fat, and fiber. When eaten along with even the simplest sugars, these three items help the body to make less insulin in response to simple sugar.
If you eat sugar with some protein, some fat, or some fiber, your body won’t produce as much insulin. Eating this other food helps your body process sugar more slowly, and this means that your body does not overproduce insulin. In short, protein, fat, and fiber help your body process sugar in a more healthful way.
When you understand the science behind the headlines, you can relax and focus on eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that you can enjoy and that will put you on the road to wellness.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.
His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, is due out in Fall, 2011.
For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.