Monday, February 6, 2012

Sugar: The Other White Drug

Last week, I mentioned the book that started me on my way to better health. That book opened my mind to the crazy idea that what I was eating was more important than how much. I still cringe when I read or hear someone saying that losing weight is simple math: calories in must be less than calories out. When you really stop and think about that statement, it is completely asinine. Kerosene has 'calories' just like gasoline, but I don't put kerosene in my car and expect it to get me down the road. Our bodies are complex and require specific fuels. Our bodies are also incredibly resilient and will put up with years of abuse, neglect and bad fuel, but they will eventually break down, giving us warning signs along the way.

Four years ago, when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and informed I most likely had celiac disease, I had to give up all food with gluten. That was tough, but my body worked so much better without that little protein and my health made a massive move to the better. However, it was my choice to cut back on sugar one year prior that put me squarely on the right path. I won't claim I gave it up completely at that point, but I did make a commitment to taking in considerably less.

The difference was significant. My moods became more level and my afternoon slump lessened. I felt empowered. Coupled with the probiotics I began taking, in time, my heartburn disappeared and I no longer felt like I 'had' to have sugar. I could actually pass things up and be okay.

Why did reducing my sugar intake make such a difference? There are far too many reasons for me to list here. Plus, I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist and not qualified to break down all of the bodily processes impacted by sugar. Instead, let's focus on one dietary truth. Okay, some might say assumption, but, to me, it's a truth. If a food is highly processed and chemically altered, our bodies have not evolved to consume it. This holds for any modern, highly engineered food product. Not to belabor the car metaphor, but if I try to put ethanol in a 1970's Ford, I'm not going to get too far. Why? Because the Ford was designed and built before ethanol was considered a commercially viable fuel. I would be forcing fuel into a machine that wasn't designed to use it.

With that in mind, we should consider what the sugar we eat really is. Sugar is sucrose and is present in all plants. Sucrose is gleaned from sugar cane and sugar beets as these two plants have the highest concentration of sucrose. So far, that doesn't sound too bad, but to get from cane or beet to our favorite sweet stuff, the plants must be processed. I'll let the American Sugar Alliance describe the process:

During the refining process, the natural sugar that is stored in the cane stalk or beet root is separated from the rest of the plant material. For sugar cane, this is accomplished by a) grinding the cane to extract the juice,- b) boiling the juice until the syrup thickens and crystallizes- c) spinning the crystals in a centrifuge to produce raw sugar; d) shipping the raw sugar to a refinery where it is; e) washed and filtered to remove the last remaining plant materials and color; and f) crystallized, dried and packaged. Beet sugar processing is normally accomplished in one continuous process without the raw sugar stage. The sugar beets are washed, sliced and soaked in hot water to remove the sugar-containing juice. The juice is purified, filtered, concentrated and dried in a series of steps similar to sugar cane processing.

That doesn't sound all that bad. This makes sugar processing sound like something you could do in your own kitchen with the right equipment. Unfortunately, they leaving out all the chemicals used in the process. Here's a snippet from the website of one vendor of chemicals for the sugar industry:

Our wide range chemicals includes antiscalants, colour precipitants, bleaching aids, biocides/preservatives, dextran & starch inhibitor, viscosity reducers, defoamers, flocculants, descalants, bio-enzymes can significantly improve the efficiency of the operation.

Ooh, yummy!

Returning to the American Sugar Alliance website, you'll also see that although they don't mention all these chemicals, they do own the fact that sugar contains no nutrients. They also boast sugar is an important part of processed foods for texture, color, taste, bulk and rise. I'll give them credit that they don't refer to sugar as food. Obviously, it's not. It's simply used to make other processed food (read 'non-food') more palatable. For me, that means if a food has to add sugar for taste, it probably isn't a food, or at least, not a good one.

Of course, some might say that something that isn't good for you, isn't necessarily bad either. Since I've already promised to not overstep my qualifications, or lack thereof, I'll hand that argument over to the experts or at least the better informed. Read through the following pieces and decide for yourself if continuing to consume sugar is worth the way you feel right now.

Is Sugar Toxic by Gary Taubes: If you only read one article, read this one.

Processed Sugar Can Cause Addiction and Depression by Annette Nay, Ph.D.: A clinical report, but very interesting.

The Truth About Sugar from WebMD: This article doesn't take as hard a line on sugar, but does offer some interesting tidbits to consider.

Why Sugar Kills BBC interview with Dr. Anna Furth: This one might be a bit too far out there, but I found the discussion of how sugar interacts with protein in the body very interesting.

If after reading these articles, you decide you'd like to curb your sugar intake, but don't think you can, check out the Whole Approach website and take the online quiz. If you have an uncontrollable craving for sugar, you might benefit from the Anti-Candida Diet. If your problem isn't that extreme, investigate adding probiotics to your daily supplements. You'll be amazed at how quickly it takes the edge off. Even if you don't think sugar is your problem, prove it. Try cutting it out of your diet for a week and see how you feel. I think you'll be amazed.

Hope you had a SUPER weekend!



  1. Thank you. Very well written. You have inspired me to take the next step toward better health.

    1. Congratulations! And a big thanks from me to you. In three sentences, you made all my late nights of writing completely worth it. :-)


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