The food landscape of our modern-day society revolves around two food groups, both of which are destroying people’s health, weight, and quality of life. These being meat and sugar. You can learn why you should remove meat from your diet in another article I have here on the website. In this article, I am going to specifically focus on raising awareness about sugar, and why, if we care about our health, we want to avoid this substance altogether.
The amount of sugar that is present in our food today and consumed by people is mind-boggling. But what effect is this having on us—our weight and our health? Unfortunately a gravely negative effect on all parts of our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, yet so few of us take effective action to do anything about it. According to a USDA document which outlines Dietary Trends from 1970-2005, sugar consumption increased by 19% since 1970, coming in at about 140 pounds of sugar per person, per year or 30 teaspoons of sugar per day! Children’s sugar intake is also alarming; the average child eats 32 teaspoons of sugar per day. What else is both interesting and scary is that corn syrup consumption increased 387% in that time frame!
It is important to understand that this does not apply to natural whole plant foods that contain sugar, such as fruits. The problem specifically concerns white sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and their derivatives. Any, one or more, of them are commonly added to almost every single processed food. We are not just talking about ice cream, cakes, cookies, sugary drinks, and candy. From pasta sauce to canned soup, sugar is routinely added to processed foods. What makes this story worse is that sugar, just like most of our food today, is itself processed. There is nothing natural about white sugar, although most refer to it as a “natural sweetener” to offset the difference between it and the artificial sweeteners. A better term for all these sugar and sweetener categories should be chemical sweeteners.
What is, perhaps, the worst about our sugar-flooded foods is that most people refer them as treats, when in fact they are anything but, and more appropriately should be referred to as threats. They in no way treat our body, rather they are a threat to our weight, energy levels, and overall health.
What is Sugar?
Whether white or brown, whether granular, cubed, or liquid, sugar is composed of the disaccharide carbohydrate sucrose, which is a combination of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. Sugar is made from either sugarcane or sugar beets. In North America, about half of all sugar comes from sugarcane and the other half from sugar beets. Given that practically all sugar beets in the U.S. are genetically modified, this makes sugar from them a GMO food ingredient. This adds a further health risk to a substance that is already full of health risks.
The actual processing and refining of sugar involve numerous chemicals, including Sulfur Dioxide or neurotoxic Acrylamides to bleach the naturally brown/beige sugar and corrosive Phosphoric Acid and Calcium Hydroxide to purify it. Sugar is also commonly processed with bone char from the bones of cows making it a non-vegan product.
Yet, even without any of the above problems, by its very nature sugar is a drug that has no nutritional value and is an addictive chemical. Many health experts have routinely come forth comparing sugar’s addictive properties to tobacco and cocaine due to the effect it has on our brain. Sadly, most people in the population have no idea just how harmful sugar is for our health. The serious risks that come with eating sugar are actually not just about diabetes type 2, as most people think. On the contrary, diabetes type 2 is caused by high-fat diets, which are high in fried foods and animal foods. The chronic, high concentration of fat circulating in the body ends up impeding the ability of the body to deal with sugar properly. The real serious risks that people need to be aware of involve our brain and nervous system, our oral health, including the breakdown of our tooth enamel and healthy gum tissue, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and even infertility, amongst other health problems.
Sugar Effects on the BRAIN
One of the most debilitating health problems in our today is depression. According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Our mental health is suffering in other ways too. The world’s biggest mental health problem is anxiety. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for those most at risk around the world. And anti-depressant drug use has been on the rise worldwide for years now, making them one of the most commonly prescribed drugs. The United States has the highest rate of anti-depressant use in the world, followed by Iceland, Australia, and Canada.
So what does this have to do with sugar?
Our natural feel-good brain chemical is the neurotransmitter serotonin. Our bodies naturally make this in balanced amounts. Sugar raises the serotonin level in our brain. Hence, we can understand why we feel good eating sweets. Through this mechanism, sugars cause the body to have a chemical-high mentally, which results in a lift in mood. The problem with this is that over time the body cuts back serotonin production, which results in slight to severe depression. By not having a sugary substance, one can experience mood swings, unhappiness, irritability, frustration, anxiety, and other negative symptoms.
In summary, sugar creates a serotonin imbalance and, to make matters worse, the brain becomes addicted to getting the serotonin-high artificially. This creates a dependency and addiction to sugar and sugary foods.
Sugar Effects on the TEETH
It has been widely-known now for many decades that sugar increases the risk of cavities. However, to get the full story, we have to understand that while sugar itself can be slightly corrosive to the tooth enamel, depending on its concentration and material it comes in contact with, most cavities are caused by bacteria. These cavity-causing bacteria feed on sugar, which in turn creates a very unhealthy environment in our mouths. The more sugar we eat, the more of these destructive bacteria we support. In addition, sugar is the leading cause of dental deterioration, bleeding gums, and loss of teeth.
In the early 1900s, renowned dentist and author, Weston Price, traveled around the world and studied the oral health and dietary habits of people in various parts of the world, including Indigenous tribes. What he discovered will come as no surprise to us - the more sugar and flour that were in the diet, the worse people’s oral health was. On the flip side, the more communities ate traditional diets, which did not include processed or sugary foods, the healthier their teeth were. His research can be found in his books Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects.
Sugar Effects on the PANCREAS
In addition to what I already mentioned above about diabetes type 2 and its true cause being a high-fat diet, the pancreas is nevertheless impacted by the damage to its cells and tissue, and the loss of function to properly regulate insulin and blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which our body uses to regulate that amount of sugar in the blood. If concentrations of sugar in the blood are too high, this can result in severe and life-threatening consequences, just as concentrations of blood sugar that are too low.
When a diet is both high in fat and high in sugar, this creates the perfect storm for determinantal health symptoms and diseases. The pancreas tries to compensate for the unnatural concentration of blood sugar, but with time it fails and this leads to insulin resistance, inflammation, and other problems, which influence the risk of diabetes type 2, heart disease, and even cancer. Obesity, which is often present in people who eat high fat and high sugar diets, is also a leading risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
Sugar Effects on our BONES
When sugar is digested it has an acidic effect on the body. It is one of many such foods and disrupts the body’s acid-alkaline balance. Even though the body will always attempt to buffer and compensate for such fluctuations, as it is literally a matter of life and death, over time this takes a major toll on our health. States of chronic acidosis increase inflammation in the body the risks of most chronic and degenerative diseases. The process of blood buffering and blood pH control involves the kidneys, lungs, and bones.
The process to buffer the blood towards the alkaline range, and keep it within the tightly controlled range of 7.35 to 7.45 pH is done with the help of alkaline substances, such as bicarbonate, potassium, and calcium. When our diet is on the alkalizing side, which happens by eating whole plant foods, our pH balance is not threatened like it is when the diet is full of sugar, sugary processed foods, and animal foods. Over time, diets that produce metabolic acidosis can create mineral imbalances and increase the risk of bone health problems, including osteoporosis and fractures.
Sugar Effects on our HEART
When most people think of what causes heart disease, fat is normally the answer that follows. However, we have to awaken to the fact that sugar leads to heart disease as well, and today there is a significant link between diabetes and heart disease. Diabetics are at a higher risk for atherosclerosis - hardening of the arteries. Sugar causes inflammation, which leads to artery damage. Weakened arteries can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Inflammation raises the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which are leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Sugar Effects on DEFICIENCIES
Those who consume sugar and processed sugary foods normally have no idea that not only are they putting in empty calories, lacking in nutrients, into their bodies, but they are also increasing the risk of stripping valuable nutrients from their bodies. The digestion of sugar requires many vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Over time this is taxing on our system and will manifest as various degrees of nutritional deficiencies. Some of these will be very apparent, such as B-vitamin and magnesium deficiencies, which produce obvious muscle and nervous system symptoms. Other deficiencies will not be as obvious but can manifest as poor skin, hair, and nails. The worse the overall quality of the diet is, the more the person eating sugar is at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Such shortcomings also cannot be fixed by taking a synthetic multivitamin but require a proper nutritional solution that includes a nutrient-rich diet.
Sugar Effects on OBESITY
Glucose is our body’s preferred fuel source for generating energy, and generally speaking, all sugar breaks down into glucose. For most of us, there is a huge discrepancy between how much fuel is needed and how much we provide our body. Being resourceful, our body never discards free energy, which means that it will store that which it does not need or require at any given time. On average, 40% of sugar ingested is stored as fat. If we take those above mentioned 30 teaspoons of sugar that the average North American eats daily, that accounts for over 400 calories daily just in sugar alone!
Hence, it is no surprise that high sugar diets, which are always based on processed foods that also contain high-fat content and numerous additives, readily lead to weight problems and obesity. These weight risks, in turn, increase the risk of inflammation and all chronic and degenerative diseases.
Sugar Effects on the IMMUNE SYSTEM
It is unfortunate and mind-boggling that so many seemingly reasonable adults who have children in their care and want those children to be healthy at the same time allow them to have a diet high in sugar. Granted, some people lack the appropriate education and financial resources to properly feed their kids, but others know better, are able to provide better, and still do it. Aside from the fact that common holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day are saturated with candy, most of the sugar kids eat is part of their everyday diet.
Eating sugar makes the immune system slow down to a crawl. In fact, sugar has been found to almost paralyze the white blood cells responsible for engulfing harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria for up to around 5 hours and reduces their ability to work properly by up to 40%. The effects of sugar and the immune system appear to have been first studied by Dr. Linus Pauling in the early-mid 1900s. Today, you can read more about this from natural health experts like Dr. Marcel Hernandez or allopathic health experts like Dr. William Sears. To add to this, over time, the stress hormone cortisol becomes elevated and causes increases to various infections as well as general organ malfunction, including heart disease.
As you can see, eating sugar is not just about gaining weight or blood sugar imbalances; it creates problems for our whole body. Many of the risks are also compounding and amplify each other further. It is time, therefore, to take back your health and wake up to the bitter truth about sugar. Why risk so much when there are much healthier and better ways to treat ourselves.
The above summary list and explanations that I provided above are just the tip of the iceberg too. Sugar causes damage to literally every system or organ in our body, including ones not even mentioned like the liver and kidneys. It is also linked to learning disorders in kids, such as ADD/ADHD, and sugar is directly related to cancer. The higher the sugar consumption, the greater the risks.
My hope is that you don’t just brush this information aside or try to pretend that you never heard it. Ignorance does not bode well in the long-run. Take responsibility for your health based on what you choose to eat and take steps to remove sugar from your diet. If you need more information, motivation, or inspiration, then I recommend to follow-up with Dr. Olson’s book Sugarettes, which is a nice little book with a sobering message. You deserve better and you hold the power to choose how you will create your health by the food choices you make each day.
- Film: Fed Up — The film the food industry doesn’t want you to see; from Katie Couric and Laurie David (the Oscar-winning producer of An Inconvenient Truth), Fed Up will change the way you eat forever.
- Film: That Sugar Film — In the vein of “Supersize Me,” Damon Gameau becomes a human guinea-pig when he puts himself through a grueling 6-week diet consuming the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar a day.
- Cookbook: Bake with Dates — Features 118 sugar-free recipes that are all vegan—free of animal products like butter, eggs, and milk—normally found in baked goods. These recipes use dates, whole grains, nuts, and other natural ingredients to produce healthy, nutritious food your whole family will enjoy.
- Cookbook: Naturally Sweet Vegan Treats — Satisfy your sweet tooth the healthy way with these delicious plant-based treats free from refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Each recipe is sweetened with natural alternatives like nuts, coconut, spices, vegetables, fruit, maple syrup, and coconut sugar, so you can indulge without worrying about unhealthy chemical additives.
- Cookbook: Vegan Treats — 100 Easy Vegan Bites and Bakes — Features recipes for sweet vegan treats that are easy to make, deliciously decadent and use natural, inexpensive ingredients that will transform any plant-based diet, satisfying all and every possible sweet tooth craving.
- Cookbook: The Best Sugar-Free Vegan Cookbook Ever — Features 60+ recipes with gluten-free options, soy-free, nut-free options, and spice tips for satisfying meals even the pickiest eaters will love.