How Sweet It’s Not

There is a new documentary in town called Fed Up and it attacks “the conventional wisdom of why we gain weight and how to lose it, Fed Up unearths a dirty secret of the American food industry-far more of us get sick from what we eat than anyone has previously realized.” Moreover, it stars that seductively toothsome foe, Sugar.

Personally, I’ve been on the anti-sugar kick for a while now, and am glad to see the growing awareness about it’s harmful effects. 

Learning about the evils of excess sugar.

Sugar came on to my radar when I began hear more media buzz insisting that sugar was a slow-acting poison. Was this true? I am a fanatic when it come to my children’s food consumption, not just for their overall health but also because my eldest daughter’s Asperger’s is aggravated by certain foods and food additives. (Food additives that are almost all banned in Europe but aren’t given so much as a warning label in the USA, let me point out.) I decided to do my due diligence and find out it there were any facts to go with this fad.

To that end I read all the peer-reviewed articles about fructose consumption that I could get my grubby paws on and several books on the topic. Among the, I found Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Dr. Robert H. Lustig to be one of the most concise, scientific, and helpful. Another favorable aspect of Lustig’s book is that the author is a pediatric endocrinologist and a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), so his information was solid with lots of juicy evidence.

According to Lustig, sugar contributes heavily to the rise in obesity and harms the body even when it doesn’t “show” via obesity. In America, 80% of overweight/obese people and 40% of all normal/under weight adults have metabolic syndrome, and the culprit is added sugar. Most of the time, people aren’t even aware of how much fructose and/or high fructose corn syrup has been added to their foods. Nevertheless, high sugar foods are the ones people tend to “crave”, which is unsurprising considering that sugar lights up your brain like cocaine and heroin.

Moderation is key.

While the body starts to fall apart (liver first) when asked to metabolize large quantities of sugar, small amounts of fructose are not going to bring about instant destruction. Lustig recommends going back to eating dessert only once a week at most, eschewing colas as if they were Satan’s armpit sweat, avoiding processed foods, reading the nutrition labels to see how many added sugars are in “healthy” or “all natural” foods, and eating fruit rather than drinking fruit juice. These things are doable.

Artificial sweeteners are not your friends.

Don’t think eating crap with a lot of pretend sugar in it will save you, either. Artificial sweeteners are worse than the real dope when it comes to causing metabolic syndrome. The diet colas and “sugar-free” treats that you are so fond of are out to get you.

Eat sugar “Tudor style”.

Only a small portion of the Tudor population consumed sugar at all, and even then it was used sparingly by all but the very elite. Sugar was considered “medicinal” and was an expensive product sold by apothecaries. The average Tudor couldn’t afford it and only the wealthiest people could use it regularly. Tudor cooks most often used fruits, honey, and spices to make foods taste sweet. Even when sugar was used it wasn’t used in a desert  it wasn’t applied with the same lavishness it is today. For example, a recipe for sweet cheese tarts from the reign of Henry VIII used a bit more than 2 cups of flour with only 1/5 cup of sugar. Modern recipes for sweet cheese tarts call for 1.75 cups of flour and 1 full cup of processed sugar. That’s more than five times the sugar contained by tarts once deemed fit for a king.

The sugar itself was different as well. Up until a few decades ago, “sugar was sold in solid form, often in cones, blocks or loaves. This cone is probably a bit smaller and less refined than high quality medieval sugar. It is made from sugar cane that has been hand cut and crushed mechanically to extract the pure sugar cane juice. The juice is then heated to reduce its water content, and the resulting thick syrup is poured into cone-shaped molds to dry. The sugar is minimally processed and unadulterated, having no added molasses or chemicals, and contains all the minerals and vitamins inherently present in sugarcane juice.” Today’s table sugar is 99.96% pure sucrose. There is nothing else in it. Thus, it burns through your liver like wildfire and soaks your brain like hard whiskey.

Hmmm. If sugar is bad for you …

then look upon the face of evil and despair!

menacing chocolate-easter-bunny

8 thoughts on “How Sweet It’s Not

  1. So would this imply that sugar that is less processed (i.e. sugar in the raw and other vegan sugars) might be less problematic than the pure white sugar that’s around? Still bad, but not super evil, as it were?

    1. Depends on who/how/where of the organic sugar in question. Complexity continues to stalk my life …

    1. Stevia I know isn’t “horrible” … or at least no links to horrible 🙂 I have no clue about Monkfruit sugar. Honey (REAL honey, not the crap in supermarkets) is processed differently by the body as well. My next post should be on honey, come to think of it.

  2. Sugar….aka false energy!! A crutch for so many people.

  3. Hey Kyra. Great Blog! I just read the William Davis book Wheat Belly about the premise that processed wheat is the real culprit. Does Lustig mention anything about that in his book?

    1. Lustig is an endocrinologist, so it’s not his forte. My only issue with Wheat Belly is that a wheat product isn’t just a wheat product; it’s everything from doughnuts to eggroll wraps. A lot of “healthy” or “whole grain” stuff is loaded with sugar, so they are hard to untangle …

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