Much to the surprise of my family, I can go weeks on end without any measurable sugar…and I feel so great when I do. I don’t get tired in the evenings. My skin looks great. I don’t get sick. I have so much more energy.
The first 3 days of no sugar is extremely tough, but once I make it through that I can usually coast quite a while. Then, inevitably, I think that — after it’s been weeks — that I have enough willpower for ‘just one sweet treat.’ As soon as that ‘dam is breached,’ my willpower vanishes. I eat my fill of sugar, and I feel terrible and wonder ‘Why did I do that?’ …and I then need to go through 3 more tough days of willpower. But the benefits of eating zero sugar greatly surpass the toughness of this trial.
There is near unanimous science that says too much sugar, especially processed sugar, is detrimental to human health in numerous ways. Still, all forms of sugar seem to pervade the marketplace and lurk in many food products that people eat every day. It is one thing to add a touch of organic sugar to a cup of tea, but quite another to consume pounds of the stuff without realizing we’re doing it.
Sugar in and of itself is not “bad,” anymore than fat is. The human body needs some of each, but not the amounts that modern urban people typically consume.
How exactly does sugar harm the human body, and why do we still consume so much of it year in and year out? Here are some illuminating facts and myths about sugar that everyone should consider:
- Generally speaking, there are two different types of sugar that the human body can digest. One is the kind in fruits and grains. They’re called complex sugars because they are further broken down after consumption. These kinds of sugars tend to be quite good for us in the right quantities.
- The other kind are the simple sugars, so called because the body needs to do very little to break them down for use. The offer a fast burst of energy, but also a crash later on. Candies, corn syrup (including high-fructose corn syrup) and table sugar are the main sources of these, and consuming more than a minimum amount can lead to various health problems.
- Simple sugars in even small quantities can nearly shut down the body’s immune system for several hours after eating. The simple carbohydrates interfere with the blood’s ability to kill harmful bacteria, thus cutting the efficiency of the immune system by about 40 percent, temporarily.
- Especially in children, too much simple sugar can cause adrenaline highs followed by low blood-sugar “crashes” that affect behavior in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Many adults, too, have serious problems with sugar highs and lows.
- Though research is still being done in the area of sugar’s effect on blood pressure, it appears that men are particularly susceptible to granulated sugars and other sucrose sources. Too much sucrose has been shown to lead to high blood pressure in people who are sensitive to it.
- The old adage is true: Eating too many sweets can literally rot the teeth away. Foods that have added sugar, like sweet desserts and candies, allow plaque to mix with sugar inside the mouth; the result is long-term tooth decay. Dentists recommend avoiding excessive sweets, regular flossing, and brushing at least twice per day.
- One of the oldest raps against sugar has to do with diabetes. While sugar itself does not directly cause the disease, eating a diet with too much sugar can lead to overweight conditions that can, in turn, produce diabetes. The bottom line is, it is almost always a wise move to avoid eating too much processed sugar.
- Myth: Brown sugar is much better than white. The truth is that brown sugar is nearly identical to white sugar, except that is has a bit of molasses in it. Otherwise, it’s just the same old processed stuff that usually looks pure white.
- Myth: If there’s no “sugar” on the nutritional label, then a product contains no sugar. Yikes! Nothing could be more incorrect. The fact is that food companies have learned how to play the label game very well; they have disguised sugar under other legally permissible names like glucose, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, maltose, dextrose and others. Learn to read labels properly in order to see whether they really contain sugar.
- Myth: Unprocessed sugar is the same as organic. No so. There are many levels of processing in the sugar industry. Products at the grocery stores that specifically say, “organic sugar” have to meet a specific standard for purity and sourcing. So-called “raw” sugar and “unprocessed” sugars might be just that: unprocessed. But, they are not, by definition, organic.
- Myth: It would be best to just cut all sugar from the diet. This is a bit extreme, and would transform from a myth into a true statement with the addition of the word “most” in place of “all.” Western diets contain far too much processed, unrefined sugars and far too few natural sugars like those found in fruits and vegetables. There is no harm in eating desserts every now and then as part of a balanced diet, experts say. For most people, it is probably wise to cut down on unnecessary sugars and minimize the consumption of sweets and desserts.
- Myth: Artificial sweeteners are a great substitute for sugar. No so. There is still much research being done in this area and it appears that many of the artificial sweeteners are not good for long-term health because they have been linked to weight gain, disruption of bacteria in the stomach, and diabetes.
In 1900, the average American only consumed about 5 pounds of sugar per year. Now, each U.S. adult consumes about 75 pounds per year, much of it from high fructose corn syrup. (75 pounds!!)
Sugar isn’t evil, but over-consumption of it can have all kinds of bad effects, including tooth decay, obesity, insomnia, hypertension, hair loss, hypoglycemia, type 2 diabetes and other assorted maladies. While it is never wise to completely remove a basic food from the diet, most Americans could probably do with much less processed sugar.