Sugar & Sweeteners Series #3:
Why All the Fuss About Sugar?

By Rachel Oppitz, ND

Let’s begin with a little sugar trivia:
•   A 20 ounce bottle of Coke contains 17 teaspoons of sugar.
•   In colonial times, the average amount of sugar consumed was 4 pounds per year.  Cardiovascular disease and cancer were virtually unknown.
•   Currently, the average person eats 160 pounds of sugar per year, which is equivalent to over half a cup per day (or 53 teaspoons).  The average teen boy eats twice as much sugar than any other age or gender group.  That puts him at over a cup of sugar a day (or 106 teaspoons).
•   Most children get on average 20 % of their daily calories from sugar—that means 29 teaspoons of refined sugar per day!
•   Only one child in five consumes the recommended MINIMUM of five fruits and vegetables a day, while the top 10 sources of carbohydrates in children’s diets include soft drinks, cakes, cookies, jam, fruit drinks, and fruit snacks.
•   Children who eat lots of sugar consume significantly lower amounts of protein, vitamin E, B-vitamins, iron, and zinc.

Most people are addicted to sugar, and along with grain addiction, the over-consumption of added sugars—whether they are high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, glucose, dextrose, or the sucrose from sugarcane and sugar beets—is one of the major health problems facing our nation today.  Although many people do not consider food a drug, sugar, white flour, and refined carbohydrates are akin to drugs in that they are addictive substances with effects on brain neurotransmitters similar to those from alcohol.  The taste for sweets leads to a craving for more sugar, just the way other drugs create cravings. Trying to go “cold turkey” from a diet with a heavy emphasis on these foods can result in withdrawal symptoms including strong cravings, fatigue, mood swings, irritability, depression, headaches, and dizziness.  The withdrawal symptoms are usually gone in about 10 days, but can range from three days to three weeks.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are also intoxicating, causing the brain to increase its production of the chemicals dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.  This process leads to a high, similar to that from alcohol and other drugs.
Coffee-and-doughnut-type breakfasts—low in protein and high in caffeine and sugary carbohydrates—commonly cause fatigue, mental confusion, nervousness, and indecisiveness.  These symptoms may be followed by the kind of hunger usually associated with a craving for something sweet or starchy.  Stimulants/depressants such as caffeine and alcohol also cause this syndrome.  Hypoglycemia is caused and exacerbated by irregular meals and high sugar, low protein diets.  The symptoms can be so severe that they are mistaken for panic attacks or even more serious mental illnesses including depression and anxiety.
Sugar depletes the body of calcium, phosphorus, chromium, vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins and potassium.  Vitamins B1, B2, and B6 are needed to detoxify and metabolize sugar; our bodies particularly need vitamin B1 to metabolize sugar.  Sugar also increases the magnesium and calcium excretion in our urine and decreases the overall absorption from our food (which predisposes to osteoporosis).  Just two teaspoons of sugar causes the calcium level to rise in the bloodstream while the phosphorus level drops, forcing all the other minerals in the body to go out of balance as well.  Sugar increases the loss of potassium because it causes the urine to become alkaline.  Excess sugar also contributes to amino acid deficiencies because sugar and amino acids compete for absorption in the intestines.  Specifically, the influx of the amino acids tryptophan and phenylalanine are inhibited by sugars.  Sugar also decreases the body’s white blood cell count, thereby suppressing immune function inviting disease and lowering resistance to colds, flu, and other infections.
It is no secret that dental diseases such as periodontal (gum) disease and cavities are directly related to refined sugars.  If you consume three sugar snacks per day, dental destruction exceeds dental and skeletal formation for up to six hours per day.  A Tufts University School of Dentistry study reported that the diet of a group of indigenous Brazilians consisted of two staples—fish and potatoes—but no sugar.  Not one permanent molar cavity was found in anyone under age 20.  By 1962 this same group of people was consuming about one pound of sugar weekly per person.  They were found to have fifty percent of their molars decayed.  The greatest nutritionist of the 20th century, Dr. Weston Price, studied indigenous cultures throughout the world; he noted that when refined sugars were added to the diet, the pelvis and jaws of subsequent generations narrowed and the teeth became crowded and malformed.  For more information, read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, DDS or visit www.westonaprice.org.
Learning disabilities and behavior problems are also associated with sugar intake due to allergy, yeast overgrowth, or low blood sugar reactions.  Sugar can affect any area of the body, especially the brain, causing learning and behavior problems.
The digestive tract is often referred to as the “Root of the Tree” because our entire body is impacted by the health of the intestines and liver.  Excesses of refined sugars, particularly in combination with common antibiotic use, contribute to dysbiosis, an abnormal ecology, favoring unfriendly bacteria and fungal overgrowth.  This imbalance is the source of an entire array of symptomatology, including fatigue, depression, dermatitis, and fibromyalgia.  A correlation has been found between refined sugar and Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, and constipation.  There are also many skin pathologies that are the result of excess sugar intake.
Elevated blood sugar levels cause increased liver cell division and may lead to liver enlargement and excess fat deposition there.  The heart and cardiovascular system are also vulnerable to sugar—excess sugar in the bloodstream stimulates the generation of free radicals; in blood vessels, free radical damage causes an accumulation of plaque that can lead to blocked arteries and cardiovascular disease.  Increased refined carbohydrate intake also elevates insulin levels which lead to inflammation and atherosclerosis/arteriosclerosis.  High sugar intake is correlated with elevated triglyceride and LDL levels.  Evidence also links high sugar intake to increased evidence of breast, ovarian, prostate, stomach, and colorectal cancer.  Many tumors are obligate glucose metabolizers, meaning that they need sugar to survive.
Type II diabetes and obesity are caused and exacerbated by over consumption of refined carbohydrates.  As sugar is stored in the form of fat tissue, resistance to insulin is exaggerated, and as fat cells manufacture additional estrogen, greater insulin resistance develops.  Overweight people commonly find they can eat less and less and still gain weight.  Also post-prandial (after meal) sugar cravings may be a result of low blood sugar, due to an insulin bolus, in response to the previous high-carbohydrate meal.  Watch out for “low-fat” foods, which have added sugar (and often more calories) to make up for the flavor missing when the fat is removed.
Sugar has also been cited as a contributing factor to premature aging (by increasing free radicals and advanced glycation end-products), reduced ability to build muscle, increased kidney size, asthma, ear infections, canker sores, cystic fibrosis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, gallstones, and gout.


DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR REDUCING AND ELIMINATING SUGAR

•   When reading labels, look out for:  white, brown, granulated, and powdered sugar; agave syrup; barley malt syrup; barley sweetener; brown rice syrup; cane juice; concentrated fruit sweetener; corn syrup; high fructose corn syrup; date sugar; dextrose; dried cane juice; fructose; galactose; glucose; glycogen; honey; lactose; malt; maltose; mannitol; maple syrup; maple sugar; molasses; monosaccharides; polysaccharides; raw sugar; sorbitol; sorghum; sucanat; sucrose; turbinado.

•   You can convert the grams of sugar stated on nutritional labels by 4.2 to get the number of teaspoons.

•   Be sure each meal includes adequate protein and smaller amounts of complex carbohydrates in the form of starchy and nonstarchy vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, and millet.

•   Use fresh fruit as a snack in place of fruit juice.  (Think of the number of apples or oranges it takes to make a glass of juice without the benefit of the fiber included in the whole fruit.

•   Try flavored carbonated water or iced herbal teas instead of pop.  Or, you may even develop a taste for plain water.

•   For home-baked pastries, decrease the sugar in any recipe to one-half or one-third the amount listed.  That’s usually plenty!  Otherwise, substitute dried fruit, applesauce, or other fruits, or less refined sugars such as pure maple syrup, sucanat, barley malt sweetener, or brown rice syrup.  Try more whole grain, nutritious flours so desserts are more nutritious as well as delicious.  There are many cookbooks available with recipes that are satisfying without the sugar highs and lows.

•   Go to a natural foods market and look for low-sugar sweets when you just need that fix.  Some examples are:  fruit or honey-sweetened fig bars, natural licorice, all fruit sorbets, honey or fruit juice sweetened ice cream, frozen yogurts or rice dream, barley malt sweetened chocolate chips for baking, or carob covered almonds.  Large quantities of these will raise your blood sugars as well.  But they will help you decrease your overall sugar concentration and adjust your taste buds, so that candy bars and high-sugar pastries will begin to taste foreign and too sweet.

•   When you really want a sweet treat, imagine the smell, the flavor, the texture in your mouth—then picture what attracts you:  the sensation in your body, the memories it recalls, the good feelings it invokes, or the feelings you may want to ignore.  Simply notice.


TO PREVENT YOUR CHILD FROM BECOMING ADDICTED TO SWEETS:

Wait to introduce sugary foods
Hold off on fruit.  Offering fruit to babies before other food groups may intensify an innate preference for sweet tastes, making it more difficult to tempt babies with grains, vegetables, and meats.
Be a role model, if you drink sodas all day and stockpile candy, your kids will too.
Do not use food as a reward, especially sweets.
Don’t ban sugar completely.  Research suggests that restricting sugar completely can make children want more.  If children are getting the nutrition they need over the course of the week, there’s no reason they can’t enjoy healthy sweet treats for dessert or a snack.


Just these small changes will make a big difference for you and, especially, for children.  Your health depends on it!