By Glenn Ellis
(Trice Edney Wire) – There’s no doubt that Americans are addicted to sugar. We consume an average of 150 lbs. per person per year. For many of us, that means we eat our own weight in sugar every year! So it might be helpful to find out what that means – what sugar really is, what food value it has, and what problems it causes. The sugar industry is big: $100 billion per year. As with any other billion-dollar business, there’s bound to be a ton of information that will support such an empire anywhere you look – the media, bookstores, advertising, etc.
Boats like this don’t like to be rocked. On the other side is a group claiming that white sugar is poison, a harmful drug, barely differing from cocaine, etc. Some claims are true; others are unreferenced opinion, often bordering on hysteria. For our purposes, we’ll focus on what we really can verify about sugar, and hopefully avoid the errors of disinformation on both sides of the fence.
The first question to be asked is, “What is sugar?”
That’s easy – it’s that white stuff in the sugar bowl. Refined white cane sugar is only one type, however. There’s also brown sugar, raw sugar, fruit sugar, corn sugar, milk sugar, beet sugar, alcohol, monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. All these are also sugar.
Start with white sugar. It is made by refining sugar cane, a process involving many chemicals. Or from beets, whose refinement also involves synthetic chemicals, and charcoal. The big problem is that the finished product contains none of the nutrients, vitamins, or minerals of the original plant. White sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which means a fractionated, artificial, devitalized by-product of the original plant. The original plant was a complex carbohydrate, which means it contained all the properties of a whole food: vitamins, minerals, enzymes. Refined sugar from beets and sugar cane is sucrose. Up to the mid 1970s, sucrose was the primary sugar consumed by Americans. That changed when manufacturers discovered a cheaper source of refined sugar: corn. A process was evolved that could change the natural fructose in corn to glucose, and then by adding synthetic chemicals, change the glucose back into an artificial, synthetic type of fructose called high fructose.
“High-fructose corn syrup” is highly valued by food manufacturers. It’s easy to transport in tanker trucks. It isn’t susceptible to freezer burn, as is sugar. It has a long shelf life and keeps foods from becoming dry. It gives bread and baked products a wonderful color. It’s also cheaper than white sugar, partly because of generous federal subsidies and trade policies that encourage farmers to grow more corn. Fast food chains add it to their products because it is cheaper. It’s in the sauces, in the condiments, in the breadings, in the buns and in the drinks. It is the commercially preferred artificial sweetener. What’s worse than sugar? Now you know.
Natural fructose is contained in most raw fruits and vegetables. It is a natural food. Moderate amounts of natural fructose can be easily digested by the body with no stress or depleting of mineral stores. Natural fructose does not cause rollercoaster blood sugar, unless the person overdoes it. Natural fructose is not addicting. High fructose corn syrup, by contrast, cannot be well digested, inhibits digestion, is addicting, and causes a great number of biochemical errors in the body. In addition to these by-products, simple carbohydrates do increase blood glucose. And this is the real problem with refined sugar: the quantity of pure glucose suddenly taken in.
The most important point is that sugar itself is not bad. However, too much sugar, without enough protein, fat, and fiber to balance it out, can cause our bodies to make too much insulin. It is not the sugar, but rather the insulin that may be a problem for spurring cancer cell growth. To prevent this, you should limit the simple sugar in your diet. There is no need to follow a stringent diet and swear off every single dessert. The key is moderation.
There are three things in the diet that can help reduce the amount of insulin produced by the body when you eat sugar and carbohydrates. These are protein, fat, and fiber. When eaten along with even the simplest sugars, these three items help the body to make less insulin in response to simple sugar.
If you eat sugar with some protein, some fat, or some fiber, your body won’t produce as much insulin. Eating this other food helps your body process sugar more slowly, and this means that your body does not overproduce insulin. In short, protein, fat, and fiber help your body process sugar in a more healthful way.
When you understand the science behind the headlines, you can relax and focus on eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that you can enjoy and that will put you on the road to wellness.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics.