Did you know that the average American consumes over 150 pounds of sugar a year? That is a staggering amount, considering less than 100 years ago, the average was 4 pounds a year.
For thousands of years, humans only ate small amounts of naturally occurring sugar such as fruit while it was in season. Our bodies simply cannot keep up with the massive amount of processed sugar in today’s typical American diet. Most people know that refined sugar is considered “empty calories,” meaning that is has no nutritional value, but it can impact your health in many ways. Your body treats this unnatural substance as a toxin, not a food.
A Diet High in Sugar May Cause…
Raw, whole sugar cane in its natural state contains fiber, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants and phytonutrients. After extensive processing , however, all of these nutrients are destroyed. Your body needs the nutrients for digestion, so when you eat refined sugar, your body must pull those missing nutrients out of your tissue and bones in order to digest it.
Over time this leeching of minerals (particularly calcium) contributes to bone density loss, inflammation and a whole host of other diseases. It also inhibits mineral absorption, so even if you are taking a calcium supplement you may not be benefiting from it if you have a diet high in processed sugar.
Immune System Suppression
Did you know that it suppresses your immune system? Sugar interferes with your white blood cell’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. In one study, when healthy volunteers consumed 100 grams of refined sugar, their white blood cells’ ability to destroy bacteria was impaired for at least 5 hours. (1)
Especially during cold and flu season, it is important to support your immune system by eating healthy foods and avoiding sugar. Unfortunately refined sugar is often added to cough drops and other cold and flu remedies, which is counterproductive when your body is trying to fight off a foreign invader. If you have a cold or the flu, ask your pharmacists or doctor to help you find over-the-counter medicine or prescription drugs that do not contain it.
Addiction, Weight Gain, and Cancer
Many products that are advertised as “fat free” have had the fat removed and replaced with sugar. While it is true the product may be fat free, this does not mean the food will not increase weight gain. In most cases, sugar is more fattening than fat! Healthy fats actually help your body lose weight by creating satiety. Sugar on the other hand, creates cravings for more. Refined sugar is high in calories but completely lacking in nutrients, which encourages your body to store more fat.
Sugar is addictive in the same way that cigarettes and alcohol are. Sugar addiction is a chemical dependency that causes cravings, mood swings, withdrawal symptoms, behavioral issues in children, and the urge to overeat. A study published in 2009 in the Journal of Nutrition found that sugar stimulated the same areas of the brain that cocaine, opiates and alcohol do! (2)
When you consume refined sugar, it is broken down into glucose and fructose. The glucose is absorbed quickly into the blood stream, causing your pancreas to secret the hormone insulin, which transports the glucose to your cells to be used as energy. The fructose goes directly to your liver where it is converted to fat. Over time, constant surges of insulin can lead to insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers. Uncontrolled blood sugar also can cause damage to blood vessels, impacting the health of the heart, kidneys, nerves, and eyes.
Refined sugar is a cancer fuel. Normal cells get their energy for reproduction from oxygen, whereas cancer cells get their energy from glucose (sugar). In other words, cancer cells require sugar to grow. Sugar is one of the major contributors to upset body chemistry, creating an acidic rather than alkaline environment in the body, which is necessary for cancer growth.
Read your Food Labels
Even if you avoid the candy, soda, and pastries, you may still be consuming refined sugar. It can be lurking in things you wouldn’t expect, like whole wheat bread, packaged meats, fruit juice and flavored yogurt. It also can be under many names, including evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, corn starch, fructose, glucose, maltodextrin, corn syrup solids, turbinado, beet, or brown sugar and more.
Note that agave nectar used to be considered healthy, but actually contains more fructose than high fructose corn syrup! Do not be fooled into thinking that artificial sweeteners are any better. In most cases, they are even worse for your health and your waistline. Read your food labels and eliminate refined sugar as much as possible
The good news? There are many natural and nutritious sweeteners that are good for you! Make the switch to natural sweetners that still contain their nutrients such as whole fruit, raw local honey, 100% pure maple syrup, natural stevia (this is an herb, not an artificial sweetener), raw organic coconut sugar, whole raw unrefined cane sugar, and blackstrap molasses.
Article References & Citations
- (1) Sanches, J. Reeser, J. Lau, et al., “Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis.,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 26, no.11 (November 1973): 1180-84.
- (2) Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebe. “Sugar and Fat Bingeing Have a Notable Difference in Addictive-like Behavior.” Journal of Nutrition 139, no.3 (March 2009): 623-28.