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SUGAR—WHAT IT IS, WHY YOU CRAVE IT, AND HOW IT'S KILLING YOU
Our ancestors were primarily hunter-gatherers. They did not farm; they simply ate the pure, natural foods that they could find in their environment such as meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. And they had the lowest body fat to total body weight ratio of any people in the history of the world.
Your ancient ancestors had excellent muscle tone and physical fitness. If they survived the hazards of infectious disease, trauma, and childbirth, they had a life span comparable to what we have today. When we examine their remains, we see little evidence that they suffered from our contemporary chronic degenerative diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, tooth decay, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Our modern mythology portrays life in that era as a never-ending, physically punishing struggle to survive. But in fact, anthropological studies show that hunter-gatherers did not burn many more calories in a day than they would have playing a leisurely round of golf. At the same time, they ate far more food than the typical American living today. So they ate more, exercised less, and were healthier and more physically fit. What was going on?
There are still a few hunter-gatherer cultures that exist to the present day. Dr. Weston Price, a prominent researcher, studied these societies of the early twentieth century, and spent a lifetime documenting his findings in his landmark book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, initially published in 1939 and now in its seventeenth edition. He found a nearly complete absence of chronic degenerative disease among the hunter-gatherers. He also observed that as these cultures switched from their hunter-gatherer diet to a more industrialized diet of processed foods, they fell prey to the same high rates of degenerative diseases as the industrialized cultures.
It seems they, like the rest of the modern world, had become addicted to sugar.
A Cure Worse than the Disease
Modern man consumes sugar in vast quantities. We crave the taste, while at the same time we are at least somewhat aware that our dietary habits are killing us. If nothing else, we have at least heard the well-publicized risks associated with high sugar consumption and obesity. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Artificial sweeteners—products like saccharin, aspartame (NutraSweet), and sucralose (Splenda)—may seem at first glance to be an ideal solution to the problem. Their sweet taste satisfies our desire for sugar, while their lack of calories makes them sound like healthier alternatives. It seems like a winwin situation, but it isn't.
In fact artificial sweeteners could be more dangerous than sugar itself. Instead of being a cure for our addiction, they are simply another drug— an even worse one.
To fully understand artificial sweeteners, we need to start by looking at sugar itself. Without your desire for sugar, after all, there would be no need for anything to replace it. And an examination of the health risks of sugar will amply demonstrate why we are so desperate for something less dangerous to replace it—something that does not exist, although businesses are happy to claim it does, and sell us the dangerous chemicals discussed throughout this book.
The Origins of Sweeteners
The only concentrated sugar that early man would have had access to was honey. But observational research of modern-day hunter-gatherers shows that the average honey consumption was minor—maybe four pounds, or 3 percent of total calories, over the course of an entire year. It was not until 500 A.D. that the Indians introduced mass sugar extraction by pressing out the juice out of sugarcane and boiling it into crystals. For many centuries, sugar production was labor intensive, and therefore expensive to produce. This effectively restricted the use of sugar to all but the very wealthy.
But the sugar industry experienced a revolutionary shift after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. When Columbus sailed to the Caribbean islands in 1492, he planted sugarcane, which thrived in the favorable climate. In modern America, we tend to think of cotton plantations as the driving economic force behind slavery. But in fact, historical documents make it quite clear that without sugar, the slave trade would have been relatively minor. African slavery was the main factor that radically changed the economics of the sugar industry and was able to reduce the cost of sugar from the $100 per kilo 1319 price to the equivalent of $6 per kilo by 1500. Finally, sugar was inexpensive enough for the average person to use. Between 1663 and 1775, English use of sugar increased twentyfold, and nearly all of it was produced in the Americas.
In the years that followed, the costs of sugar production continued to plummet, causing consumption to dramatically increase. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the English would up their sugar consumption once again, this time fivefold.
A more complete history of sugar is available in appendix E.
The Advent of High-Fructose Modified Corn Syrup
In 1968, there was a revolutionary breakthrough in the sweetener industry when new technology made it economically feasible to manufacture mass quantities of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the similar hydrolyzed high-fructose inulin syrup. Being a liquid, HFCS is easier to dissolve in other liquids, and it is twenty times sweeter than cane sugar, meaning smaller (and therefore cheaper) amounts can be used.
HFCS is now nearly the exclusive caloric sweetener used in the soft-drink industry, and it is also used in juice, condiments, jams, and wine, but is not available for home use. Presently, HFCS dominates the sweetener industry, accounting for 55 percent of the market and $4.5 billion in annual sales. In 2003, Americans consumed sixty-one pounds of HFCS per person.
So, What Is Sugar?
To understand what sugar is, we have to cover a few nutritional basics. All food can be classified into three basic types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Each nutrient type provides an important function for your body:
Functions of Macronutrients
Carbohydrates Proteins Fats
Energy source Energy source Energy source Build tissue and bone Protect organs Transport molecules Transport nutrients Blood pressure Body temperature pH balance Hormone synthesis
As you can see from this table, the only function of carbohydrates is to provide your body with energy. But since protein and fat can also provide energy, carbohydrates are not essential for your survival. (Sugar is a form of carbohydrates.) On the other hand, if your body does not receive enough protein or fat, you will perish.
Carbohydrates are classified into two types: simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates consist of polysaccharides (long chains of mono- or disaccharides), which include starch, cellulose, and/or fiber. Sugars are simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides and disaccharides by themselves). With the exception of honey, the carbohydrate foods found in nature are complex carbohydrates, or a combination of complex and simple carbohydrates. But when natural foods are processed, the complex carbs are frequently removed. For example, an apple ordinarily contains both, but when it is juiced and its fiber is removed, the juice contains only simple carbohydrates.
Because simple carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream, they cause large spikes in blood sugar that can contribute to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
A monosaccharide is the simplest form of sugar, from which all complex carbohydrates are formed. The three monosaccharides of nutritional importance are glucose (dextrose), galactose, and fructose.
Glucose—This monosaccharide provides energy to all the tissues of your body. It is also known as "blood sugar."
Galactose—This monosaccharide is found in lactose or milk sugar and is important in the production of healthy intestinal flora in your gut.
Fructose—This monosaccharide is also called "fruit sugar" because it is found in fruit (as well as in honey). It is the sweetest of the natural sugars.
Disaccharides are doubled monosaccharides. They require enzymes to be broken down into monosaccharides for digestion.
Sucrose (table sugar) is composed of fructose and glucose.
Maltose is composed of two glucose molecules.
Lactose is composed of glucose and galactose.
(You'll notice that all three natural disaccharides contain glucose. This will become important when we get to our discussion of Splenda in chapter 4.)
Why You Love Sugar
With 115 million tons of sugar currently being produced each year, it seems safe to say that nearly the entire world has an insatiable appetite for it. Dr. Daniel Kirschenbaum, a weight loss expert, offers two reasons why we are born with such a powerful sweet tooth:
When you are hungry, sugar provides the quickest antidote ... When people or other animals are starving, they consistently show heightened preferences for very sweet foods. This, again, shows your body's orientation to satisfy extreme hunger and food deprivation quickly and effectively with sugar.
Sweet foods are safe foods. Can you think of any examples of wild fruits or berries or vegetables that are sweet and also dangerous to eat? Probably not. If you find something hanging from a tree and it tastes sweet, it is almost certainly safe to eat. On the other hand, sour or bitter fruits or vegetables are much more likely to be poisonous.
Your body is programmed to eat large amounts of sugar or sweet foods whenever they are available. This made sense for our hunter-gatherer ancestors; if they found something that tasted sweet, their bodies wanted to encourage them to eat large quantities of it.
The innate desire for sweets has been observed in primitive societies like the Aborigines of Australia and the Bushmen of South Africa, who undergo great efforts to seek raw honey and consume high amounts whenever they can find it. However "high amounts" for them means about 4 pounds per person per year—unlike the typical American who at the turn of this last century was eating an estimated 158 pounds of sugar per year.
The addiction is very real. Research studies indicate that sugar may be similar to morphine and heroin in its ability to increase opioids in your brain that produce pleasure. This increase in opioids is a major part of the physiology that fuels your addiction and the craving for sugar, which is why the sugar consumption rates are climbing each year.
But your natural craving for sugar is not the only factor in this. Another cause is the marketing and advertising that goes into promoting sugar-laden foods. TV commercials promoting junk food loaded with sugar seem to permeate children's programming. Both Pepsi(tm) and Coca-Cola(tm) make large donations to public schools in order to establish exclusive marketing rights. Soft-drink manufacturers license their logos to baby bottles because the research shows that parents are much more likely to feed their infant with their brand of soda if the bottle has their logo on it.
Feeding newborns soda pop helps contribute to a very strong sugar dependency. These newborns typically mature into children who constantly plead with their parents for more sugar and soft drinks to satisfy their insatiable cravings. Since the late seventies, one-fifth of toddlers have been given eight ounces of soda every day, and almost half of all children between the ages of six and eleven have drunk an average of fifteen ounces per day. However, the heavyweight soda pop drinkers are teenagers, who gulp between twenty-three and thirty ounces per day.
In the 1950s, the standard serving of Coca-Cola was a 6.5-ounce bottle and was used as an occasional treat. Soft drinks have now progressed to being the number one source of sugar in the American diet. In 2004, 15.3 billion gallons of soft drinks were sold in the United States—the equivalent of about one and a half 12-ounce cans of soda pop per day for every American citizen. And over time, the size of the bottle has increased from 6.5 ounces to 12, then 20, and now 64-ounce Big Gulps(r) (with eight hundred calories and fifty-three teaspoons of sugar).
The fact that there is so much hidden sugar in the food supply further contributes to our ever-increasing sugar intake. You probably are not aware that most processed food products contain sugar; even products you would not suspect to contain sugar are loaded with it. This includes items like meat, hamburgers, canned salmon, bouillon cubes, luncheon meats, nuts, alcohol, cereals, peanut butter, soups, sauces, dressings, medications, baked goods, frozen dinners ... the list goes on and on. The food manufacturers use sugar as a cheap bulking agent and flavor enhancer.
Our unlimited access to sugar, combined with our inherent desire for sweet foods (and the constant barrage from the food industry to convince us to satisfy our cravings), has led many of us to consume as much sugar in one week as our ancestors did in an entire year. We eat sugar at every meal. We celebrate with sugar. We reward our kids with sugar. We sell sugar-laden foods to our kids in the school cafeterias. We begin our workday with sugary pastries in the staff lounges. We serve dessert after dinner. Unfortunately, there are serious consequences for this type of abuse.
Western nations are in the midst of the worst obesity epidemic to ever hit the planet. There are record numbers of cancers, heart attacks, strokes, and Alzheimer's disease. One of the primary culprits is our craving for sugar, combined with the convenience and affordability of many processed foods that contain it.
The Many Problems with Sugar
Using the search terms sugar and harm on Google gives more than six million links about the harmful effects of sugar. So you probably realize that sugar is bad for you—but you might be unable to list all the specific reasons why.
Sugar Increases Insulin and Contributes to Obesity and Diabetes
One of the most important points to understand about sugar is the effect it has on your physiology. If you were to take all of the sugar that is in the one gallon of blood circulating in your body, there would be only about one teaspoon's worth. So let's say, for example, you drink a glass of orange juice, which contains eight teaspoons of sugar and water. The sugar in the juice travels into your stomach, and then into your intestine, where it is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream because there is no fiber to inhibit its absorption process. But if the eight teaspoons of sugar from the juice were absorbed into your bloodstream unmetabolized, you would rapidly go into a hyperglycemic coma and die.
However, your pancreas saves the day and quickly secretes large amounts of insulin to process the onslaught of sugar. While this prevents you from dying in the short run, if this process is repeated in a frequency that is consistent with the diet of most Americans, your insulin levels will be regularly elevated. This will kill you in the long run with the development of a chronic disease such as weight gain, heart disease, or cancer.
Insulin is a hormone that binds to receptors on your cells in order to activate glucose transporters that grab the sugar molecules and bring them inside your cells. Your cells have a limited capacity for sugar to enter, and any excess will be stored as fat. Not only is insulin a fat-building hormone, but when secreted in excess (as in the case of eating a high amount of carbohydrates) it also increases your cholesterol, increases blood pressure, and causes thickening of the lining of your arteries. This contributes to heart disease—in fact, the primary predictor of heart disease is high insulin levels. Without a doubt the best way to prevent aging and degenerative disease is to keep your insulin levels in a low but healthy range. Every year, billions of dollars are spent in the antiaging industry when the most effective (and inexpensive) thing you can do to slow the aging process is keep your insulin levels normal by restricting your intake of grains and sugars and engaging in sufficient cardiovascular exercise.
Excerpted from SWEET DECEPTION by JOSEPH MERCOLA KENDRA DEGEN PEARSALL Copyright © 2006 by Dr. Joseph Mercola. Excerpted by permission of Nelson Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 29, 2007
Just when you thought it was safe to eat a new artificial sweetener, the deeper truth was reveiled. These toxins have no place in a healthy lifestyle no matter what the marketers push into our lives. Good job Dr. Mercola exposing these dangers.
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