After having read Dr. Scott Olson’s book Sugarettes: Sugar Addiction and Your Health, it inspired me to raise even more awareness about sugar’s destructive effects on our health. You can read my review of Sugarettes to learn how this book can help you break your habits with sugar in your diet. I am especially passionate about this topic because 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. For these reasons, I invited Dr. Olson for an interview to have him share more of his valuable research with you here on Evolving Wellness.
Interview Between Evita Ochel and Scott Olson, ND
Topic 1: How Sugar Disrupts Our Acid-Alkaline Balance
A few years ago, along my professional journey of researching and teaching about nutrition, 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. I learned that if people are eating anything like the Standard American Diet, they are in a state of acidosis. This underlying condition creates the perfect landscape for illness and imbalance. It also explains many of the chronic diseases that are prevalent in our society today, the reason why most people gain weight and then cannot lose it, the prevalence of osteoporosis, and much more.
Of course, our blood pH is tightly controlled and fluctuates within a very tiny range under normal circumstances. Anything outside of that is a matter of life and death. On the other hand, our urine and saliva fluctuate significantly based on what we eat and what is the state of health of our body. Therefore, to maintain our blood in a healthy pH range of roughly 7.35 to 7.45, our body must use buffers to offset fluctuations that are most often associated with our diet and stress. This is where the problems get dangerous 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 healthy functions.
Given that sugar is highly acidic when it is broken down in our body, I wanted to begin by asking Dr. Olson about this.
EVITA: In your book, you did not cover anything about how sugar is linked to disrupting 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.
Topic 2: The Fructose Debate
The problem with fructose is still a bit of a challenge for me, as I continue to find inconsistent answers about it in science books and from different experts. When it comes to fructose, it appears that it is far from a black and white topic. My past education taught me to believe that fructose is the sugar most associated with fruits. Hence, in the beginning, I thought it was a natural sugar that was well tolerated and positively functional for our body.
However, the more sources I consult, the more I hear that fructose is far from natural or healthy and should by no means be associated with fruits. The late Jack Challem healthy eating advocate, researcher, and author explains this well.
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.
Jack Challem, Health and Nutrition Author
The concluding message amongst researchers is that the fructose we commonly talk about in society is not what is found in fruit. There is naturally-occurring fructose and fabricated fructose. The former is in fruits and is perfectly healthy, whereas the latter is synthetically refined sugar and problematic for our health. I was eager to know what Dr. Olson had to share about this.
EVITA: I have recently come across an article that introduced and explained that levulose is the real fruit sugar, which is commonly called fructose and mistaken for the synthetically made stuff. What has your experience been with this topic?
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 things 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 in simple terms. There exist three 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 the same is that those atoms are placed in different ways, thereby giving each of the structures a different shape.
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.
Topic 3: Agave Nectar as a Natural Sweetener
If you try to be more health-conscious and consume more organic and raw foods, then you are familiar with agave nectar or agave syrup. This has quickly become the latest fad sweetener that is being added to various processed health foods. It is being marketed as being healthy and safe, especially when compared to regular table sugar (sucrose) or HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). I was under that same impression at first and assumed that it would be a natural extract of the Agave plant, similar to maple syrup. Unfortunately, the more I researched this and really learned about the agave plant and the process that makes the syrup, it is not that simple.
If you eat any products with agave nectar or syrup, I strongly advise you to do your due diligence concerning the product’s quality. Where did it originate? How was it processed? Are there any fillers or additives? After all, it is through questioning that we learn more and grow in our understanding of what we eat and how our bodies work. I didn’t think Dr. Olson would have a favorable opinion about it, either way, but I wanted to get his take on this topic as well.
EVITA: I was initially under the impression that agave nectar sweeteners provided a natural and unprocessed form of adding some sweetness to certain foods. Recently, however, I have found out that this is not entirely true. It seems that the agave nectar that is being used and marketed widely is actually a form of fructose that may be worse than high-fructose corn syrup. Can you share your opinion about 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 more easily. 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.
Topic 4: Stevia as a Natural Sweetener
As more and more people learn about the health dangers of sugar and artificial sweeteners, there are more reports about using various natural sweeteners. One of these is the infamous Stevia. I have personally never tried stevia, but I know many people who swear by it. Stevia is said to be loaded with antioxidants and protects against DNA damage. As it goes with all these different natural sweeteners, it appears that its quality and how it was processed plays a significant role in whether it can be considered a healthy or unhealthy option. Given its growing popularity, I also asked Dr. Olson about this.
EVITA: In the United States, the FDA is looking at approving the natural sweetener known as Stevia. How do you feel about this and the potential of this product as an excellent alternative to sugar?
DR. OLSON: Stevia is great. It is very sweet-tasting, has no calories, and actually helps with blood sugar control. I definitely recommend it as a good alternative to sugar.
Topic 5: Honey as a Natural Sweetener
While agave and stevia are still both relatively new sweeteners for most people in North America, everyone is familiar with honey. It has been used for centuries all across the world as a natural sweetener. Unlike all other sweeteners, honey does not come as an isolate or extract from a plant. It is a genuinely natural product made by bees in nature. That is, of course, when it hasn’t been processed or tampered with, which is common with cheap, commercial honey. When used in discerning amounts, honey appears to have value and even medical use. However, it is not a vegan product, so it will not be a suitable option for everyone. Here is what Dr. Olson had to say about it.
EVITA: How do you feel about people using honey in small amounts if they are not ethical vegans? I know that in your book, you talked about our ancestors having tiny amounts of it available to them. Would you then recommend it as a natural sweetener and alternative to sugar, and if so, in what form or quality?
DR. OLSON: The issue is not really about having these foods in your diet; it is really about whether they are 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.
A big thank you to Dr. Olson for his time and valuable input. We need to be aware of this type of information today more than ever given the slew of processed and refined foods that fill our grocery store shelves. Health fads come and go, and if we are not conscious of what we put into our bodies, we can end up with unfavorable health and weight consequences. Use your diet to heal and help yourself, rather than to hurt yourself. You can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes type 2 - our top chronic diseases just by eliminating sugar and sugary foods from your diet. At the beginning of the 20th century, we were conditioned to believe that cigarettes were a good thing, only to find out later that they are one of our greatest health threats and killers. We are on the path to seeing the same thing happen with sugar.
Related Reading and Resources
- 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.