Is Sugar Falsely Getting A Bad Rap?
Sugar, as most people think of sugar, is actually a very different product than sugar in the raw. Many people wouldn’t even recognize raw sugar if they came across it in the wild. It looks a lot like bamboo, and like bamboo, it is actually considered a type of grass – called sugarcane. Our palates love the sweet taste of sugar, and physiologically this makes sense since our primary source of energy comes from glucose. Without energy, there is no survival. Sugarcane has been used for thousands of years as a natural source of energy by many cultures.
Were all these early cultures just naïve as to the negative health effects of this giant sweet grass, and only now in modern times, we have uncovered the dark secrets of this plant? Or is it possible that we are the ones who are naïve?
Sugar has been blamed for many health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. It is no wonder that the Internet is overflowing with anti-sugar websites and articles! After all, “sugar is still sugar” no matter if it’s processed, raw and organic, or from a fruit or plant, including Stevia, the latest “healthy” sugar alternative!
But is there any validity to these negative claims? Well, before we slap sugar with a guilty verdict and banish it forever from our diet, I believe we should allow this sweet villain a proper defense.
There have been many studies (1, 2, 3) showing the therapeutic effects of raw sugarcane juice. It has been shown to reverse jaundice and other liver-related disorders and has been shown to help fight against viral, bacterial, and protozoan infections by regulating the effects of natural killer cells in the body. Sound unbelievable? In furthering the defense of sugar, note should be taken of the high levels of phenols and flavonoids in sugarcane juice, both of which are compounds generally accepted as effective cancer fighters. What may be shocking for some are the recent studies (1, 2, 3) that found:
“…levels of phenols and flavonoids in sugarcane juice are similar to or HIGHER than other fruits and vegetables including those found in garlic.”
But wait—isn’t sugar supposed to cause cancer? Sorry sugar-haters, not all sugars are created equal, and it truly does depend on the type of sugar and the processing methods implemented.
The first major problem with “sugar” as we know it today, is that we are ingesting large amounts of it! One hundred years ago Americans were consuming less than 4 pounds of sugar per year, that is 384 teaspoons annually or around 1 teaspoon daily. Today the average person consumes an astronomical amount of nearly 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, that is 7,744 teaspoons or 80 pounds per year!
In fact, from 1970 to 2000 alone, there was a 25% increase of “added sugars” in the U.S. food system.
But did this explosion of sugar consumption arise from a nationwide addiction to berries, melons, and sugarcane stalks? I am going to go out-on-a-limb and say absolutely not. Had that been the case, we’d be a much healthier society today! There is, however, another culprit – the addition of sugar to nearly everything!
Over the last 100 years, sugar has been added to nearly all of the processed foods consumed on a regular basis by a majority of individuals, and from a marketing standpoint, this is rather brilliant. When processed food came on the scene, developers sought out ingredients that could be added to the foods to make them more palatable, and there are 2 additives that can do just that: sugar and salt. Isn’t it interesting that many “health experts” readily condemn both sugar and salt yet both are needed for sustained life? So if both compounds are necessary to properly nourish our bodies, then the problem must lay in the amount we consume.
As processed food was introduced and marketed to the public, people began eating more and more quantities of food laced with sugar. Even unsuspecting foods such as canned vegetables and bread contain added sugar! Certainly the natural glucose and fructose content in vegetables are more than enough sugar, and the majority of traditional rustic bread use only 4 ingredients – yeast, flour, water, and salt. So what gives?
A 2003 study published by the Journal of Nutrition found that regular consumption of foods high in sugar is more likely the result of “habit and association”, which then can lead to chemical changes in the brain making people crave food high in sugar.
So the more we consume products containing sugar, knowingly and unknowingly, the more we crave it.
But does this phenomenon apply to all things sugar, or only to sugar that has been extracted from its original source and processed? In other words, is this craving a result of added natural sugars, artificial sugars, or both?
Sucrose (50% glucose, 50% fructose), better known as white table sugar, has been around for quite some time. Historically, this type of sugar was primarily used in pastries and other sweet treats. However, since sugar was a commodity it could get pricey, and so these sweet treats were more of an indulgence than an everyday snack. As sugar became a more commonly used food additive, a cheaper and more efficient sugar, other than from sugarcane, needed to be created, and thus was the birth of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
HFCS comes from corn as the name suggests, however it does not start out as fructose. When corn is processed into corn syrup, it becomes almost entirely glucose.
Enzymes are then added to convert some of the glucose into fructose, and depending on the usage, it can have different glucose to fructose ratio percentages.
- HFCS 55 (55% fructose and 42% glucose) – primarily used in soft drinks
- HFCS 42 (42% fructose and 53% glucose) – used in processed foods, cereals, and baked goods (including bread)
This is interesting because although there are those who would have you believe all sugar has the same effect on the body, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and here’s why:
Fructose is a sugar found in many fruits and vegetables whereas HFCS is a product of processing and manufacturing to achieve a fructose-type product.
Though glucose and fructose are “connected” to sugar, they are metabolized differently in the body. Unlike glucose, fructose doesn’t cause insulin to be released or stimulate the production of leptin (a hormone directly linked to appetite and weight control). Chronically high levels of fructose now appear to behave more like fat in the body, rather than like other carbohydrates including glucose.
Another interesting difference between fructose that is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, and processed fructose, is the way uric acid production is effected in the body. In an interesting article entitled, ‘High Fructose Corn Syrup & Gout’, Dr. Solomon Fourouzesh explains how this occurs:
“Fructose increases uric acid through a complex process that causes cells to burn up their ATP rapidly, leading to “cell shock” and increased cell death. After eating excessive amounts of fructose, cells become starved of energy and enter a state of shock, just as if they have lost their blood supply. Massive cellular die-off leads to increased uric acid levels. And cells that are depleted of energy become inflamed and more susceptible to damage from oxidative stress. Fat cells actually become “sickly,” bloating up with excessive amounts of fat.”
Based on Dr. Fourouzesh’s explanation, and since there are hundreds (if not thousands) of foods that now contain HFCS, is it logical to conclude that we should limit the amount of HFCS we ingest? Should we also be limiting natural fructose found in fruit?
Thank goodness Mother Nature is way ahead of us on this. The fructose in fruit comes with a complex mix of nutrients that reduce the hazardous effects of fructose, whereas HFCS does not. More importantly, the fructose in fruit isn’t in a concentrated form like in HFCS. Therefore, an increase of uric acid production resulting from the consumption of fruit is minimal.
This leads to the question of whether or not juicing is a healthy practice.
There are conflicting reports that suggest that vital nutrients are lost when blending the fruit, resulting in the same uric acid production as consuming fructose concentrate. However, the truth is, nearly 90% of the nutrients are intact after juicing. But, there is a small “potential” problem.
Have you ever noticed how an apple starts to turn brown soon after you cut it open? The change that you see in the apple is called oxidation (oxidation is a natural process that occurs with all living cells at some point), and as this process progresses, the nutritional value of the fruit decreases. And as the nutritional value of the fruit (or vegetable) decreases, you eventually run into the problem of increased uric acid production, just as you would from HFCS. So, in order to ensure you are consuming nutritionally intact juice, simply drink it as soon as you make it while it is fresh!
Another issue surrounding the evils of sugar is the creation of something even more dangerous – artificial sugar. Health effects from the surge of sugar consumption sparked an even more dangerous trend – the use of artificial sugar, which includes:
- Acesulfame Potassium (AP)
“…doses were within the no-toxic-effect levels (1.5-3 g/kg body weight in rats) reported by the Joint Expert Committee for Food Additives of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In view of the present significant in vivo mammalian genotoxicity data, acesulfame-K should be used with caution.”
In an interesting review, H.J. Roberts, MD linked aspartame with induced heart arrhythmias and sudden death:
“…I have repeatedly reported the serious cardiovascular, ‘neuropsychiatric, metabolic and other adverse effects of aspartame products. (2-4) Among the first 1200 aspartame reactors in my database, 193 (16%) had symptomatic arrhythmia’s, 85 (7%) atypical chest pain, and 64 (5%) recent or aggravated hypertension…”
Russell L. Blaylock, MD, a neurosurgeon revealed that studies were falsified so the public would not know the truth about aspartame – That it causes cancer.
And during an interview, Dr. Betty Martini proclaimed there is, “no safe dose of Aspartame.”
Splenda (Sucralose) claims to be safe for diabetics and even clearly states this on the packaging. Yet, a recent study showed:
“…a statistically significant increase of Hba1C, a marker used to assess glucose control…”
And a 2008 Duke University study found that Splenda alters intestinal flora by destroying good bacteria (probiotics), which is needed for a healthy immune system. The following is only a small list of the many health problems that are caused by reduced probiotics in the gut:
- Systemic inflammation
Each of the above artificial sugars is many times sweeter than natural sugar and also come with a greater list of ill-health effects than raw sugarcane could ever produce within the human body if consumed moderately.
There are also other healthy sugars largely promoted: coconut sugar, honey, maple sugar, agave nectar, and of course…Stevia. But are they necessarily better than raw sugarcane? With the exception of honey which is the least processed, probably not.
They all need to be processed in order to get to the final “usable” product. And it’s through that processing that the product fundamentally changes and loses many of its health benefits. Consider how amazing orange juice tastes straight from a freshly picked orange compared to store bought orange juice. However, each still has many favorable properties and they are both certainly a better choice over artificial sugars and HFCS! A good rule of thumb is to consume food that has undergone the least amount of processing.
So can we still blame raw sugarcane for all of our health issues? I don’t think so. After all, raw sugarcane is from a plant, as is the widely praised Stevia leaf. It is important to realize that it’s the over-consumption of any product that has the potential to produce ill-health effects, and that is certainly what has happened with sugar over the years. I can’t help but wonder how different this situation would be had we stuck with consuming only raw sugarcane instead of introducing all of the less nutrient-rich versions of sugar – and of course if we had continued to consume lesser amounts!
Plant-based foods are naturally sweet on their own.
Let’s allow the foods that nature intended for us to eat to speak for themselves, without us feeling the need to somehow improve on their perfection.
Sugar is no different than any other additive used to “enhance” food, but just as too much salt can alter the taste and value of a food, so can excess sugar.
For the next week, try a little experiment:
Challenge yourself to eat only food without the added sugar of any kind. Let the natural food shine on its own! Read the labels on the foods you buy, and I guarantee that you’ll be surprised by just how much added sugar you actually consume…unknowingly.
Sugar from raw sugarcane is not the evil villain it has been made out to be. It is man who created this epidemic with the introduction of processed foods, marketing, and the creation of cheap versions of sugar for mass production. However, we can rise above this sugar syndrome with some education, a bit of knowledge, and a lot of common sense.
Now go out there and enjoy that piece of fruit without guilt!