After having read Dr. Scott Olson’s new book Sugarettes, it stirred within me a desire to learn even more where sugar and the harm it causes our body was concerned.
If you are not yet familiar with Dr. Olson or his new book, check out the article Dr. Olson wrote for Evolving Wellness called “Cravings: When Sugar Calls do You Come Running?” or my review of his book Sugarettes.
I am especially passionate about this topic as our society promotes sugar as if it were some essential nutrient for our bodies. We give sugar to children from the time they are little. We use sugar as treats and rewards throughout our lives, and we make almost every holiday revolve around sugar. However, very few people are actually aware of how dependent on sugar we are and how much harm it causes where our physical, mental and emotional health is concerned.
Hence today I am pleased to welcome Dr. Olson back to Evolving Wellness for an interview, where I had the chance to ask him a few questions that explore sugar and some of the other “natural” sweeteners we have today that mimic the sweet taste. What is good? What isn’t and why?
Acid Alkaline Health Balance and Sugar
Based on my personal education and understanding of science, a few years ago I started to become very interested in the acid-alkaline balance in our body and how this delicate balance is responsible for our overall health.
In most of my research I found out that today the avergage person, if they are eating anything like the “Standard American Diet,” is in a state of acidosis. This explains many of the diseases that are prevalent in our society today, the reason why most people gain weight and then cannot lose it, osteoporosis and much more.
I am very aware of the fact that our body will not let our blood fluctuate much as it is literally a matter of life and death, but our urine and saliva fluctuates greatly based on what we eat and what state our body is in. Hence, to maintain our blood in the healthy pH zone (roughly 7.35 – 7.45) our body must use buffers to offset fluctuations which are most often associated with our diet and stress. That is where the problem gets serious for our health because those buffers are often minerals that are held in our bones and ones that are needed in our body for other functions to keep us healthy.
Well guess what, sugar is highly acidic when it is broken down in our body. Hence I began by asking Dr. Olson the following:
EVITA: In your book you did not cover anything about how sugar is linked to and disrupts the acid-alkaline balance of the body. Have you researched this at all and if so what is your take on it?
DR. OLSON: If you were to take a strictly medical view of acid/base balance, you would recognize that the body works very hard to maintain the acid/base balance in the body. The reasons for this are many and important for the overall function and maintenance of the body. Being out of acid/base balance is a life-threatening condition. So, I’m not of the thought that we can really alter our acid/base balance all that much because the body will do whatever it has to in order to maintain a good acid/base balance.
Having said that, there are many foods that we eat (sugar among them) that do push us out of balance and towards a more acidic state. It is easy to measure this by using pH strips and testing your urine or saliva. What this shows me is that the body is still maintaining its pH balance, but it is now working hard to get rid of all the excess acid. So while many people believe that the foods we eat alter our pH, the reality is that it is true, but it is subtle and not dramatic.
I do, however, think that there is great value in measuring our pH.
When I put people on diets that are based on what humans should be eating (I recommend 80 percent fruits and vegetables, 20 percent protein) then their pH moves from acidic to more basic (as evidenced by their pH testing). I use pH monitoring as a way to help steer people towards a more healthy diet.
The Fructose Debate
The problem with fructose is still a bit of a challenge to me as I continue to find inconsistent answers on it from the science books and research available out there. When it comes to fructose it is just so far from black and white.
I have always been taught and teach (based on credible biochemistry books) that fructose is the sugar most associated with fruits. Hence in the beginning I thought it was a natural sugar that was well accepted by and dealt with by our body.
However today, more and more sources are saying that fructose is far from natural or healthy and should by no means be associated with fruits. One research report, “Is Fructose Dangerous?” from Jack Challem, The Nutrition Reporter and author, speaks pretty much of this.
The one thing that Jack does say, that somewhat clears up the question of is fructose safe, healthy or natural for us is when he explains the following:
Fructose accounts for only 5 to 7.7 percent of the net weight of cherries, pears, bananas, grapes, and apples. That’s about 5.5 to 8 teaspoons per pound of fresh fruit. There’s even less fructose – 2 to 3 percent, or roughly 2 to 3 teaspoons per pound – in strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, oranges, and grapefruit. Honey, refined by bees, contains 40 percent fructose, but its extreme sweetness deters most people from consuming it in large amounts.
I came across another challenge when I read the following article from Natural News, “Agave Nectar, The High Fructose Health Food Fraud.” It is written by a citizen journalist, but well referenced with lots of sources. Although this article’s main objective is to deal with agave nectar, it has the following to say about fructose:
Fructose is not what is found in fruit. Commonly, fructose is compared with its opposite and truly naturally occurring sweetener, known as ‘levulose’. There are some chemical similarities between fructose (man made) and levulose (made by nature), and so the synthetically refined sugar fructose was labeled in a way to make one believe it comes from fruit. Levulose is not fructose even though people will claim it is.
Take water for example. We all know that the chemical formula for water is H2O: two hydrogens and one oxygen. The opposite would be O2H, which is nothing close to water. Likewise, man-made fructose would have to have the chemical formula changed for it to be levulose, so it is not levulose. Saying fructose is levulose is like saying that margarine is the same as butter. Refined fructose lacks amino acids, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and fiber. As a result, the body doesn’t recognize refined fructose. Levulose, on the other hand, is naturally occurring in fruits, and is not isolated but bound to other naturally occurring sugars. Unlike man-made fructose, levulose contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine.(5) Levulose is digested in the intestine. Refined fructose robs the body of many micronutrient treasures in order to assimilate itself for physiological use. While naturally occurring fruit sugars contain levulose bound to other sugars, high fructose corn syrup contains “free” (unbound), chemically refined fructose. Research indicates that free refined fructose interferes with the heart’s use of key minerals like magnesium, copper and chromium. (6)
EVITA: I have recently come across an article (see above) that introduced and explained levulose as the real fruit sugar and fructose as the synthetically made up sugar made to mimic levulose. Have you looked into this at all and heard of this sugar and if so what is your take on this?
DR.OLSON: This is a new one for me. Levulose and Fructose are just different names for the same thing. I would love to see the research you have on this. I know dextrose and glucose are the same thing too, but that we often see dextrose on an ingredient list. Glucose and fructose, by the way, have the same chemical structure; they are just shaped differently (isomers), but that small change makes a big difference in our bodies.
If the biochemistry part of this topic scares you, let me explain simply. There exist 3 simple sugars that are common to our diet: glucose, fructose and galactose. Each of them have the same chemical formula C6H12O6, but the reason they are not one and the same is that those atoms are placed in different ways, thereby giving each of the structures a different shape, exactly as Dr. Olson referred to the idea of isomers.
Now because of this difference in shape, our body treats each of these three sugars a little differently. Therefore, what my conclusion is on the subject is that I think we should perhaps refer to “natural fructose” as levulose because the fructose that is found in all processed products today is “refined fructose”, which has been proven to be very unhealthy, especially where heart disease is concerned and this often gives people the idea that it is safe and healthy for them because it is just like fruit sugar. This way we will not scare one group of people away from eating fruits and at the same time not give the other group of people that eat processed food the false impression that it is in some way healthy.
Agave Nectar as a Natural Sweetener
If you try to eat more health conscious, organic or raw, then you are familiar with agave nectar or syrup. This has quickly become the latest sweetener added to some processed health food and is marketed as being healthy and safe, especially as compared to typical table sugar (sucrose) or HFCS (high fructose corn syup).
Well guess what? I was under that same impression assuming that it is simply the “agave nectar” extracted from the agave plant (of which by the way there are numerous varieties), in a way like honey is. Unfortunately as I have started to look into this and really learned about the agave plant, it is not quite that simple.
One very good article to look into on this is the one from Natural News that I quoted above: “Agave Nectar, The High Fructose Health Food Fraud“. If you eat any products with agave nectar or syrup, I strongly advise you to read this article as it will surely make you think and ask questions where agave sweeteners are concerned. And remember it is through questioning that we learn more and grow in our understanding of what we eat and how our bodies work.
Recently founder of Natural News, Mike Adams wrote a rebuttal to the above article which is “Agave Nectar: A Rebuttal to Misinformed Attacks on this Natural Sweetener.” While it is worth reading and outlines well some misinformation, in the end refined fructose is fructose and sugar is sugar and we should not be eating a lot of either if any.
EVITA: I was under the impression that agave nectar sweeteners were a natural and unprocessed way of adding some sweetness to some organic energy bars, etc. Recently though, I have found out that this is not quite true as the agave nectar being used and marketed is in fact a form of fructose that is worse than high fructose corn syrup. Have you heard anything about this, and if so what is your take on this?
DR. OLSON: Agave is supposedly a low-glycemic food and that is because it contains fructose (fructose is not detected by glucometers – the tools used to measure blood sugar). What we are learning is that fructose is much more harmful than glucose: it is turned into fat easier; it leads to insulin insensitivity easier…. That is the reason why people are starting to turn away from fructose-containing foods (including agave), but fructose is fructose, no matter the source.
Stevia as a Natural Sweetener
As more and more people are finding out about the health dangers of sugar and artificial sweeteners, we are hearing more and more about so called natural sweeteners. One of these is the ever so famous today “stevia”. I have personally never yet tried stevia, I just have not had a need for it, but know many people who swear by it. Mike Adams of Natural News also heavily supports this sweetener and you can read more about his research of this substance in his latest article on stevia, “Natural Sweetener Stevia Loaded With Antioxidants; Protects Against DNA Damage.”
Hence I wanted to see what Dr. Olson had to say about this natural sweetener too, especially that the FDA is looking at approving this product as a common natural sweetener.
EVITA: Stevia? Need I say more – good or not in your opinion?
DR. OLSON: Stevia is great. It is very sweet-tasting, has no calories and actually helps with blood sugar control. I have this post on Stevia: http://olsonnd.com/question-what-about-stevia-and-xylitol/
Honey as a Natural Sweetener
Where as agave nectar or stevia are still both relatively new sweeteners for most, we are all familiar with honey. Honey has for centuries now been used as a natural sweetener.
My take on honey is such that IF I was going to sweeten say some herbal tea and I had stevia, raw honey, agave nectar or sugar, I would still pick honey over all the others. Perhaps it is that this is one substance that has seen us through so many generations and I am showing my familiarity with it. I am not sure. What I do know is that whatever new information I come across I always examine it from my own personal intuition. Does something make sense to me, yes or no? And with honey, as long as it is in tiny amounts, and by tiny I mean literally ¼ to 1 teaspoonful every few days or so, I think we have nothing to worry about.
So I decided to see if Dr. Olson had some advice where this was concerned.
EVITA: How about having some honey in small amounts here and there? I know what you said in your book about our ancestors having tiny amounts of it available to them, so is it generally okay in your opinion to use sparingly and if so, raw, hard or liquid honey?
DR. OLSON: The issue is not really about having these foods in your diet; it is really about are they raising your blood sugar. I think it is great for most people to remove all sweeteners from their lives for a period of time (say, 30 days or so). But most people have an extremely hard time staying away from all sugars. My suggestion then, is to go ahead and have your sugary treats on occasions, just make sure that they are near a meal. This keeps your blood sugar low.
Doing this, though, means that the cravings for sugar remain. I find if I eat something sweet, I have to fight my cravings for the next two days or so – this is just the sugar addiction raising its ugly head.
I therefore would like to thank Dr. Olson for his time and this valuable input. I think we need to be aware of this type of information today more than ever, as more and more of us are becoming very conscious of what we put into our bodies and the effects of those substances. Today too many diseases are raging in epidemic proportions with heart disease and diabetes type 2 being just two of them that are directly influenced by our consumption of sugar and sugar based foods.
In the beginning of the last century we heard how healthy cigarettes were, just to be trying to get them out of people’s lives for their deadly effects by the end of the century. Who knows, we may just see the same thing happen with sugar in this century.
For more information on sugar and your health, check out Dr. Olson’s new book Sugarettes that is available both in print and now even on your kindle.
Sugarettes (Kindle Edition) by Dr. Scott Olson ND