There is no question that Americans are addicted to sugar. We consume an average of 150 lbs. per person per year. (Appleton, p.10) 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 multi-billion dollar business, there is likely a ton of information that will back up that empire anywhere you look at it: the media, the bookstores, the advertising, etc. Ships like this don't like to be shaken.
On the other hand, there is a group that claims that white sugar is a poison, a harmful drug, hardly different from cocaine, etc. Some claims are true; others are opinions without reference, often bordering on hysteria. For our purposes, we'll focus on what we can actually verify about sugar, and hopefully avoid misinformation errors on both sides of the fence.
WHAT IS SUGAR?
That's easy, it's that white thing in the sugar bowl. Refined white cane sugar is only one type, however. There are also brown sugar, unrefined sugar, fruit sugar, corn sugar, milk sugar, beet sugar, alcohol, monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. All of these are also sugar.
Start with white sugar. It is made by refining sugar cane, a process that involves many chemicals. Or beets, the refinement of which also involves synthetic chemicals and charcoal. The big problem is that the final product does not contain any of the nutrients, vitamins or minerals of the original plant. White sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which means a fractionated, artificial, and devitalized by-product of the original plant. The original plant was a complex carbohydrate, which means that it contained all the properties of a complete food: vitamins, minerals, enzymes.
The refined sugar from beets and cane is sucrose. Until the mid-1970s, sucrose was the main sugar consumed by Americans. That changed when manufacturers discovered a cheaper source of refined sugar: corn. A process was developed that could change the natural fructose in corn to glucose, and then by adding synthetic chemicals, glucose can be converted back to an artificial synthetic type of fructose called high fructose. (Freeston)
High fructose got big really fast. In 1984, Coke and Pepsi switched from cane sugar to HFCS. True connoisseurs might tell the difference, but there weren't many of us.
Today, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the sweetener of choice in most soft drinks and processed foods. Read the labels. As of 1997, world production of HFCS exceeded 8 billion kilograms. (Freeston)
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 without stress or depleting mineral reserves. Natural fructose doesn't cause blood sugar to roller coaster unless the person overdoes it. Natural fructose is not addictive.
High fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, cannot be digested well, it actually inhibits digestion, is addictive, and causes a host of biochemical errors, as we'll see. HFCS is artificial; a no-food.
In this chapter, sugar means refined and synthetic sugar from beets, cane, and HFCS. The harmful physical effects are essentially the same of all three.
SUGAR AND OBESITY
Obesity is defined as more than 35% over normal weight. In 1993, 30% of Americans were obese. (Fats that Heal, p. 405) Today, more than half of Americans are in the overweight category, including children. The percentage increases almost every year.
Excess sugar consumption is largely responsible for obesity. Consuming 160 lbs per year of something indigestible would likely have a less healthy effect on the body. But in the case of sugar, it is worse. Sugar turns into fat. The excess glucose is changed to fatty acids, then triglycerides, then stored as adipose tissue. (Erasmus, p 34) This is due to Joe Sixpack's spare tire. Or little fat Johnny, who must have his coke every two hours.
Worse still, the types of fatty acids produced from refined sugar are killer types, the types that clog your arteries. They are not essential fatty acids, which are necessary for complete health, and they actually interfere with the normal functioning of the good essential fatty acids. (Erasmus, p 35)
HOW MUCH DO I NEED SUGAR DO WE REALLY NEED?
White sugar, none, according to Dufty. But modern needs are something created by commerce, advertising, politics. How many people do you know who drink at least one 12-ounce soda per day? If the sugar in each bottle could crystallize, it would be 10 tsp. (Appleton, p 16) Put 10 teaspoons of sugar in the bottom of an empty coke bottle and look at it. That's a lot? In a normal bloodstream, which is about 5 liters, about 2 teaspoons of glucose should be circulating at any one time. That means that a coke raises your blood sugar to 5 times its normal level, for at least four hours.
Now stop here a minute. This is a soda. Do you know someone who drinks more than one soda per day? How about per hour? Do the math.
To that, add the sugar in desserts, ice cream, jams, jelly, artificial fruit drinks, and candy. This doesn't even mention the hidden sugar found in ketchup, processed meats, baby food, condiments, cereals, and most other processed foods that you are likely to read the label for.
And by the way, did you know that alcohol is a sugar? So add wine, beer, liquor. And even tobacco! Get the image here? Do you think you know someone with only 2 teaspoons of glucose in their blood?
WHAT DOES REFINED SUGAR REALLY DO TO THE BODY?
An excellent chart on pages 68-72 of Appleton's book provides a quick overview. Some excerpts:
suppresses the immune system
causes hyperactivity in children
mineral deficiencies, especially chromium, copper, calcium, and magnesium
makes the blood acidic
decreased blood flow to the heart
causes food allergies
formation of free radicals
loss of enzyme function
increases liver and kidney size
Appleton refers to each of these problems with a different study. These symptoms are just several manifestations of one main mechanism: sugar cannot be digested. Sugar inactivates digestive enzymes. It remains in the tract, fermenting. Some of the toxic mass gradually seeps into the bloodstream where it acidifies the blood. The body tries desperate measures to maintain the normal pH of the blood. The symptom list above shows the end results of those efforts, the signs of their failure, or the degeneration of a tissue that has become the final resting place for the fermentation of waste in an overloaded system.
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