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Poison? That’s right poison. Don’t you think you are being a little over dramatic Laura? No, I’m not. But, people have been eating sugar or some version of it since life has been on earth. Sugar, in the form of glucose is necessary for life for goodness sake!

For the record, sugar is the public enemy #1 in my opinion. More specifically the mis-use and abuse of sugar to be precise. It is by far the leading cause of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hyper tension and many other metabolic diseases. For the record, saturated fat has mistakenly been made the scapegoat. I say this with an enormous amount of frustration. I believed for years that fat was something I should avoid because I naively believed the publicly available “wisdom” put forth by the USDA, the FDA, the AHA, the ADA and the rest of the medical alphabet soup. Fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar does. Fat doesn’t make you sick, sugar does. How does sugar make you fat and sick?  Let’s find out.

First let’s start with, what is a sugar? There are several types of sugars. Sugars are carbohydrates and are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are different types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most commonly used  is sucrose, a disaccharide. Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. (milk sugar) Ok, now that we have that covered. What’s the so what?

It is not that sugar just by its very nature is evil. It’s how sugar is used and consumed in this modern world we live in that is the problem. The use of sugar has been completely perverted.  To begin, here is a brief history lesson.

The genesis of this debacle started the year I was born, 1971, when Richard Nixon appointed Earl Butz, an agricultural expert, to help find away to bring the cost of food down. Nixon was up for re-election after all and the ongoing war in Vietnam was not doing him any favors. Something needed to be done if he was going to be re-elected. I will spare you the gory details but a deal was brokered and industrialized production of crops, corn in particular, was born. By the mid 70’s there was a surplus of corn that apparently needed a purpose.  There was a new advancement happening in Japan that could turn this surplus corn into this substance called High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) or glucose-fructose syrup in mass-produced quantities.   It’s REALLY cheap, there’s lots of it and it was pumped into seemly everything from condiments to baked goods to frozen foods to beverages. At this time, obesity was still very rare, but heart disease was on the rise.

To make matters worse Dr Ancel Keys, an American nutritionist placed the blame for heart disease squarely on the shoulders of saturated fat. At around the same time a British researcher, Dr Yudkin was blaming sugar. Dr Robert Lustig, one of the world’s leading endocrinologist today has a theory as to why Dr Keys theory won out. Lustig believes Mr Yudkin was essentially thrown under the bus. There was a tremendous financial windfall to be made by declaring fat, not sugar, to be the base cause of heart disease for food manufacturers. When you remove the fat from a food you also remove the taste. However, if you replace that fat with cheap, shelf stable sugar you get a product that not only lasts on the shelf for much longer since fat tends to go rancid rather quickly, but sugar makes it palatable. More than palatable, to the human brain and our evolutionary biological tendency to store energy (as fat) for periods when food may be scare, it is a very addictive substance.  Thus the whole low-fat food craze is born and Americans were (and still are) fattening themselves up on the stuff.

There seems to be this misconception that Americans are getting fatter because we are lazy. We don’t exercise and we aren’t following the USDA recommended dietary guidelines. Au contraire! Take at look at this chart from Dr. Lustig’s famous YouTube video about sugar as a toxin. (It is about an hour and a half long but I highly encourage you to watch it)

  

We did exactly what we were told. We reduced fat intake, yet obesity rose, sharply. Fat doesn’t make you FAT!!!!! Below is another chart showing the uncanny simultaneous rise in obesity with sugar consumption.

Sugar makes you fat! And with an expanding waist line comes a higher and higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, blah, blah, blah!

Ok, Laura I get it, but not all sugar is bad right? Natural sugar is ok, right? Let’s talk a bit about the nature of sugars.  Refined white sugar (that is, sucrose) is made up of a molecule of the carbohydrate glucose, bonded to a molecule of the carbohydrate fructose — a 50-50 mixture of the two. Fructose is almost twice as sweet as glucose and is what differentiates sugar from other carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, potatoes and pasta  that break down into glucose once it is digested. The more fructose there is in a food, the sweeter it will be. High-fructose corn syrup, as it is most commonly consumed, is 55 percent fructose, and the remaining 45 percent is nearly all glucose. Both of these sugars end up as glucose and fructose in our guts, our bodies react the same way to both, and the physiological effects are identical as well. Refined sugar and HFCS don’t come with any protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or fiber, and so they either take the place of other more nutritious foods in our diet or are eaten in quantities way above what we need to maintain our weight, and this is part of why we get fatter. The conventional argument is that sugar in moderation is ok, we just eat too much of it. This is partially correct. We definitely too much of it, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly. I for one was blown away when I found out the bottled salad dressing and hamburger buns I bought for a picnic both had sugar it.  However, it is not JUST that we eat too much of it. Sugar, particularly fructose, has unique metabolic characteristics that may make it singularly harmful, at least if consumed in sufficient quantities. Here’s why.

The fructose part of sugar and HFCS is metabolized predominantly in the liver, while in contrast the glucose part of sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body and can be used for energy now IF YOU ARE ACTIVE ENOUGH AND NEED IT otherwise that excess glucose will be stored as fat as well. When the liver has to metabolize these sugars in a refined state like in sodas, drinks and highly processed forms like HFCS it comes at the liver very quickly, it needs to be metabolized very quickly and often gets stored as fat very quickly. If this process is a daily part of your metabolism (which it is for many), it will often lead to insulin resistance. ( See my post on insulin resistance for reference) Insulin resistance is a leading contributor to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

So yeah, sugar, refined sugar in particular is poison.

What about unrefined sugars? Look, sugar is sugar however, unprocessed, raw forms of sugar at least come with their nutritional components intact. For example:

Honey: Honey is about a 1:1 ratio of glucose to fructose. The vitamins found in honey may include (depending on floral variety) niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid; minerals present include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Just as the color and flavor of honey varies by floral source, so does the vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and amino acid content. Raw honey will maintain the most nutritional benefit. Stick to raw honey.

Agave Nectar: Agave Nectar has been hailed as the natural lower-glycemic sweetener option.  Yes, it is natural  but it is almost all fructose. Agave is loaded with inulin, a complex sub-variant of fructose, which is broken down by friendly bacteria to make fatty acids that may fight colon cancer. Additionally, agave may have some anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. But, these effects are hotly debated. It’s vitamin and mineral profile is similar to honey, but it is about 25% sweeter. So you may need less of it. Be wary though,  many commercially available nectars are highly processed and contain HFCS. So, be careful. Most Paleo folks stay away from agave nectar because of the processing involved. Honey and maple syrup are much less refined.

Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is mostly sucrose. It is high in manganese and zinc and the most notable vitamins include niacin, B5, B2, folic acid, B6, biotin and vitamin A. The key is sticking with PURE maple syrup. The crap you find on shelves that do not say pure maple syrup are just bottles of colored HFCS. I actually like the grade B syrup better than grade A, it has a more intense flavor for the same calorie and sugar content.

Coconut Crystals: Coconut sugar has a high mineral content, being a rich source of potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. In addition to this it contains Vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6. When compared to brown sugar, coconut sugar has 36 times the iron, four times the magnesium, and over 10 times the amount of zinc. Coconut sap, from which coconut sugar is derived, contains 16 amino acids. The amino acid which has the highest content in coconut sap is Glutamine.

Other sugars: like raw cane sugar, beet sugar, date sugar, brown sugar are all natural choices but in my opinion not a Paleo option due to the amount and of processing involved. Remember, we are advocating foods as close to their natural state as possible.

Stevia: The stevia rebaudiana plant is a herb indigenous to Paraguay and has been used for centuries. Reb-A (Stevia Extract) does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels. Studies have shown that high purity stevia extracts are safe for diabetics. Unlike other no-calorie sweeteners it is natural and it is the only no calorie sweetener I will use. So far I have noticed no negative side effects. It helps curb my sweet tooth a bit as long I don’t use it too often.

Sugar Alcohols: sugar alcohols available that are not artificial like aspartame or saccharine or nutrasweet. They are molecules that are part sugar and part alcohol. Thus,their name. Some common sugar alcohols are Xylitol, Erythritol, Sorbitol, Isomalt and many others but again, they are relatively highly processed and some of them like maltitol come with some pretty nasty gastrointestinal issues. So, just be careful.  

All of the above options should be used SPARINGLY! Sugar is Sugar, even though honey comes with some nutritional benefit, it will still make you fat and sick if eaten the high quantities and/or with little activity. Sugar is still POISON. The alternatives that have no calories and do not spike blood sugar like stevia and sugar alcohols can be ok in small amounts too but I fear many use too much of them as well. As a nation we need to reduce our dependence on sweets regardless of the type of sweeteners used. We need to re-train our taste buds to appreciate the natural sweetness in organic fruits and vegetables Yes, fruit has fructose but it also has fiber that reduces the metabolic impact of the fructose and lower sugar fruits like berries are always best. Fruits also come with nutritional micronutrient benefits. As long as you keep your fruit consumption limited ( 1 serving a day, 2 if you are active) and stick to lower glycemic fruits, I believe fruit can be beneficial, especially if you re active,

Back away from the donuts, sodas, cookies, etc. Poison even in moderation is still poison. It is a free country; it is your right to eat poison if you want to. Just be aware of the internal turmoil and toxic effects as you eat it. I know…..it takes all the fun out of eating the cupcake. So go find some other fun! When food becomes our primary source of entertainment, we are really in a lot of trouble!

 Until Next Time,

 ~ Laura, MGP

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One Response to “Sugar….you sweet, sweet poison.”

  1. […] Is refined sugar free and low in most problematic dietary sugars. This reduces the excess sugars that bounce around in our blood stream causing huge hormonal imbalances that cause inflammation. For more info see this post. […]

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