Sweet Poison: Why Sugar is Bad
The next important principle in how to eat clean is that you must eliminate sugar from your diet.
There’s a very bitter truth to something so sweet:
Sugar is a toxin.
Cancer feeds on sugar.
Sugar also causes obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases. There is no question that sugar is toxic to the body.
Here’s what an article in Scientific American has said about sugar:
“Considering that our cells depend on sugar for energy, it makes sense that we evolved an innate love for sweetness. How much sugar we consume, however—as well as how it enters the body and where we get it from in the first place—has changed dramatically over time. Before agriculture, our ancestors presumably did not have much control over the sugars in their diet, which must have come from whatever plants and animals were available in a given place and season.
Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the New World in 1493 and in the 16th and 17th centuries European powers established sugarcane plantations in the West Indies and South America. Sugar consumption in England increased by 1,500 percent between the 18th and 19th centuries. By the mid 19th century, Europeans and Americans had come to regard refined sugar as a necessity. Today, we add sugar in one form or another to the majority of processed foods we eat—everything from bread, cereals, crunchy snacks and desserts to soft drinks, juices, salad dressings and sauces—and we are not too stingy about using it to sweeten many raw and whole foods as well.
By consuming so much sugar we are not just demonstrating weak willpower and indulging our sweet tooth—we are in fact poisoning ourselves according to a group of doctors, nutritionists and biologists, one of the most prominent members of which is Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, famous for his viral YouTube video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” A few journalists, such as Gary Taubes and Mark Bittman, have reached similar conclusions. Sugar, they argue, poses far greater dangers than cavities and love handles; it is a toxin that harms our organs and disrupts the body’s usual hormonal cycles. Excessive consumption of sugar, they say, is one of the primary causes of the obesity epidemic and metabolic disorders like diabetes, as well as a culprit of cardiovascular disease.
The fact is that many of our favorite desserts, snacks, cereals and especially our beloved sweet beverages inundate the body with far more sugar than it can efficiently metabolize. Milkshakes, smoothies, sodas, energy drinks and even unsweetened fruit juices all contain large amounts of free-floating sugars instantly which are absorbed by our digestive system.
Sugary, energy-dense foods with little nutritional value are one of the main ways we consume more calories than we need, leading to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
But worse than that, excess amounts of sugar in the body taxes the liver, causing it to spend so much energy turning fructose into other molecules that it may not have much energy left for all its other important functions. A consequence of this energy depletion is production of uric acid, which research has linked to gout, kidney stones and high blood pressure. Too much sugar in the body has also been linked to fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and diabetes. Sugar is of the top causes of weight gain—especially around the midsection. Plus it suppresses your immune system.
But wait, there’s more:
According to research by Harvard Medical School, a sugary diet may raise your risk of dying of heart disease, even if you aren’t overweight.
Over the 15-year study on added sugar and heart disease, participants who took in 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar. Overall, the odds of dying from heart disease rose with the percentage of sugar in the diet—and that was the case regardless of a person’s age, gender, physical activity level, and body-mass index (a measure of weight).
Sugary beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average person’s diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume in North America. Other troublesome sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, and similar goodies; ice cream and candy; as well as foods we often think of as healthy such as fruit juices and fruit drinks, frozen yogurt and cereals.
Nutritionists frown on added sugar for two reasons. One is its well-known links to weight gain and cavities. The other is that sugar delivers “empty calories” — meaning calories not accompanied by fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
In the study, researchers measured participants’ Healthy Eating Index. This shows how well their diets match up to federal dietary guidelines. The conclusion according to Dr. Teresa Fung, adjunct professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, was that “Regardless of their Healthy Eating Index scores, people who ate more sugar still had higher cardiovascular mortality”. So, even if you otherwise eat healthy, consuming sugar puts you at a higher risk of dying from heart disease.
Harvard Medical School explains that exactly how excess sugar might harm the heart isn’t clear. Earlier research has shown that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can raise blood pressure. A high-sugar diet may also stimulate the liver to dump more harmful fats into the bloodstream. Both factors are known to boost heart disease risk.
Federal guidelines offer specific limits for the amount of salt and fat we eat. But there’s no similar upper limit for added sugar. The Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugars make up less than 25% of total calories. But that advice dates back to 2002, before the data about sugar’s potentially dangerous health effects were available, says Dr. Fung. She supports the American Heart Association’s recommendation that women consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons) and men consume less than 150 per day (about 9 teaspoons).
To put that in perspective, a 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, so drinking even one a day would put all women and most men over the daily limit.
Dr Fung suggest that if you’re craving dessert or something sweet, have some fruit – with no added sugar! That way, at least you’re getting something nutritious out of it.
If you’re trying to curb a soda habit, drink sparkling or carbonated mineral water for a fizzy fix, and for flavor add a squeeze of lemon juice, or if you really must, just a little bit of fruit juice for flavor.
And then there is the fact that cancer feeds on sugar.
This fact has been widely reported and written about at length, and there have been numerous research studies on the role sugar plays in cancer. If that doesn’t scare you off of sugar, you aren’t thinking right.
NBC News reported on a study published in the medical journal Cancer Research in which researchers identified how sugar might fuel the growth of cancer.
They say it boils down to one type of sugar in particular: fructose. The study demonstrated that fructose helps cancer cells metastasize, or spread.
“The majority of cancer patients don’t die of their primary tumor. They die of metastatic disease,” Lorenzo Cohen one of the researchers for the study told NBC News.
These findings help explain what other researchers have seen looking at cancer patients in general: Those who eat more sugary foods are more likely to have advanced cancer.
In the study reported on by NBC News, mice were fed sugar at doses very similar to what Americans eat every day. They used mice that are genetically predisposed to breast cancer in much the same way that many people are. They fed mice four different diets that were either heavy in starch or heavy in different types of sugar. When the mice were six months old, 30 percent of those fed a starch-dominant diet had breast cancer. But half the mice that had been fed extra sucrose had breast tumors. And the more sugar they were fed, the bigger the tumors grew.
Sucrose or table sugar is actually composed of two sugars: glucose and fructose. The research team wanted to see if one or the other made a difference, because the body processes them differently. Fructose is processed more by the liver, glucose by the pancreas and other organs.
They studied where the sugar went in the bodies of the mice. When the mice got more fructose, they grew larger tumors and faster. This supports other findings that have shown pancreatic tumors also thrive on fructose.
“It seems that fructose is driving this inflammatory process more than glucose,” Cohen said. “It seems from these series of experiments that it really fructose that within the sucrose that is the driver of the tumorigenic process.”
Any sugar contributed to faster tumor growth, but fructose did it significantly more.
The implications are clear. The lead researcher from the study pointed out that fructose consumption in the U.S. rose from about half a pound a person a year in 1970 to more than 62 pounds a year in 1997. That’s mainly due to the increased broad use of high fructose corn syrup.
Several trade groups representing the food and beverage industry argue that fructose and sugar in general are safe ingredients and say there’s really no evidence that fructose is any worse than any other sugars. They point out that fructose is found in natural fruit, for example.
The lead researcher for the study commented on that by saying that like oxygen, a little is vital for life but too much is toxic.
“We need glucose. We need sugar. It is an energy source and we need it to live,” Cohen said. But he said that we as a nation consume refined sugar in “extremely high quantities.”
Fruit does provide fructose, but it’s mixed with fiber and other nutrients. Whereas sugary soft drinks — the largest single source of sugar in the western diet — provide only sugar and no other nutrients.
This study didn’t look at whether fruit juice affects the growth of tumors, but other experts have suggested that at the fiber in fruit juice at least helps to off set the negative impact of the sugar.
Consumption of fruit juice is still recommended to be kept to a minimum until more can be understood about its potential ill health effects due to its sugar content. And certainly, if you want to lose weight or even maintain it, fruit juice is not a good choice for a beverage because of the high sugar content.
“USDA, much to the anger of the sugar industry, said the maximum amount of sugar one should consumer in one’s diet is 10 percent of calories from sugar,” Cohen said. That’s around 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men.”
That was the lowest dose of sugar that Cohen’s team fed their mice – and even that amount fed tumor growth, he said.
An average 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar.
There are other reasons to minimize sugar. Other studies show sugar-heavy diets can fuel heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. But cutting sugar can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels after only a few days.
A study published in June estimated that eating too much sugar killed 184,000 people a year.
Many Americans eat too much added sugar on a daily basis. From baked goods to tomato soup, you never know where added sugars may be hiding. The American Heart Association recommends that women and men have no more than 6 or 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day, respectively,” says Miller. “As you aim to eat clean, focus on eating less added sugars by limiting the amount of sweets and sweetened beverages you have. In addition, pay attention to the ingredient list on packaged foods. Added sugars are often lurking in unexpected places, including tomato-based products (soups, sauces, etc.), yogurts, granola bars, cereal, and peanut butter. Look for foods that do not have any type of sugar listed on the ingredient list or make sure the source of sugar is listed towards the end since that means less of it is used.”
go-to guideline for added sugar consumption (naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruits and veggies, are fine!): “Anything that I eat with a label, must be 10 grams of sugar or less. This may sound generous, but once you start looking at labels, you will see this is actually difficult to find. Take Snapple Half and Half. It has 50 grams of added sugar! When you see anything more than 25 grams of sugar in its label, run.”