The excessive amount of hidden sugar in processed foods has quite literally become the backbone that supports America’s rapid increase in disease. It rots your teeth, it causes cancer, and it’s largely to blame for America’s obesity epidemic. And yet, the average American consumes it at a rate of about 19 teaspoons per day.
Research coming out of some of America’s most respected institutions now confirms that sugar is a primary dietary factor driving chronic disease development. So far, scientific studies have linked excessive fructose consumption to about 78 different diseases and health problems, including heart disease and cancer.
NATURAL SUGAR VS ADDED SUGAR
Natural sugar is sugar found already in fruits and vegetables while added sugar is sugar that has been added to food.
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars: glucose and fructose.
- Glucose is found in every living cell on the planet. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies produce it.
- Fructose (the sweet part of sugar) is different. Our bodies do not produce it in any significant amount and there is no physiological need for it.
The worst culprit among sugars, is fructose. Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver in any significant amounts.
This is not a problem if we eat a little bit (such as from fruit) or we just finished a workout. In this case, the fructose will be turned into glycogen and stored in the liver until we need it. However, eating excess fructose overloads the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat. This is where added sugar is a problem.
Keep in mind that all of this does NOT apply to fruit. It is almost impossible to overeat fructose by eating fruit. However, fruit juice is a different story. There’s no fiber in it, no chewing resistance, and it contains pretty much the same amount of sugar as Coca Cola. Fruit is okay, fruit juice is not.
There is also massive individual variability here. People who lead a healthy lifestyle by working out regularly and already eat a clean diet can afford to eat some fructose. Instead of being turned into fat, it will go towards replenishing glycogen stores in the liver.
A small serving cup of plain yogurt has about seven grams of sugar in the form of lactose, a natural sugar found in dairy, which does not cause any major harm.
A fruit flavored yogurt on the other hand, contains about 19 grams of sugar, 12 grams of which is added sugar. This equates to eating a small cup of plain yogurt with a bowl of Frosted Corn Flakes.
SUGAR: THE MAIN COMPONENT OF WEIGHT GAIN
In the 1980’s, the low fat craze became the holy grail of weight loss and health advice. To learn more about how this happened, and why, check out my post Why Fat is Your Friend.
The low-fat craze has been particularly harmful, because when the food industry removed the fat, they replaced it with high amounts of sugar to make the food taste good. Without either fat or sugar, the food would be bitter and plain and no one would buy it.
Here are just a few ways sugar can make you gain weight:
- When people eat a diet that is high in fructose, the liver gets overloaded and starts turning the fructose into fat. Eating a lot of sugar chronically raises insulin levels (the key hormone that regulates human metabolism and energy) in the blood, which deposits energy from foods into fat cells.
- Fructose also causes weight gain by its effects on a hormone called leptin. Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain “I’m full”. When the brain becomes resistant to leptin (doesn’t “see” the leptin in the blood) it continues to think “I’m hungry”. The brain thinks that the body is starving and makes us eat more and burn less.
- Fructose does not induce satiety in the same way as glucose. A relatively new study published in 2013 examined the effects of fructose vs. glucose on satiety and food intake. Fructose does not make you feel full after a meal in the same way as glucose, which leads to an increase in overall calorie intake.
- Sugar, due to its powerful effects on the reward system in the brain, leads to classic signs of addiction comparable to drugs of abuse. This activates powerful reward-seeking behavior that can drive overeating.
WHY SUGAR IS ADDICTIVE
Sugar has been found to be 8x as addictive as cocaine, which also ensures that you’ll stay hooked on processed foods and sweet drinks. Research published in the Public Library of Science highlights a lab rat experiment involving sugar and cocaine.
The rats were given cocaine until they became dependent on it. Then, researchers gave them a choice – the rats could continue to have the cocaine or they could switch to sugar.
94% chose sugar. Even when they had to work hard to access the sugar, the rats were more interested in it than they were in the cocaine. This shows that sugar had a much more powerful effect on their brains. The same thing can be observed in humans.
HOW TO DECREASE SUGAR IN YOUR DIET
When a person attempts to cut off their sugar addiction, it can be tough.
Food manufacturers are smart. They know that’s how the brain works and so they cram their products to the brim with refined sugar for the sake of profit. There are 600,000 food items available in America, 80% of them have added sugar.
- Cut back on the amount of sugar you personally add to your food and drink.
- Use Stevia instead of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. You can learn more about the best and worst of sugar substitutes here, Sugar Substitutes—What’s Safe and What’s Not.
- Use fresh fruit in replacement of canned fruit or sugar for meals or recipes calling for a bit of sweetness.
- Use spices instead of sugar to add flavor to your meal.
The most important thing you can do is cook real food. You can forget about counting sugar or calories, because when you cook real food, you and your family will be eating (and feeling) much better.
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” – Michael Pollan
Read the labels on items you purchase, because processed sugar can hide under a lot of different names.
For more information, I HIGHLY recommend watching the documentary Fed Up. (It’s on Netflix!)