Seductive Sugar....and our calamitous relationship

Sugar... oh so sweet and so seductive


Like heroin, cocaine and caffeine, sugar is an addictive, destructive drug, yet we consume it daily in everything from cigarettes to bread.   -William Dufty, author of Sugar Blues.

We know sugar and refined sweeteners are a leading contributor to many health problems:  diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis to name but a very few.  Yet, as a culture, we continue to consume it in heaping piles on an annual basis.

How did we get here as a culture?  The use of sugar has been on the rise for hundreds of years.

Consumption in the USA:

  • In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 2009, more than 50 percent of Americans consume 1/2 pound of sugar per day, which is 180 pounds of sugar per year! YIKES!

Sugar's history is an amazing tale to be told.

US citizens are the world's largest (no pun intended) consumers of sugar.  The first sugar refinery was built in NYC in 1689, sweet breakfast porridge became popular and consumption soared to 4 pounds per year. We now consume 100 pounds per year on average.  For those of us who consume very little, where does that leave others in this average consumption?

Loving sweet tasting foods is a natural human desire.  Whole foods that are sweet nourish the body cells with complex carbohydrates, fiber, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and all sorts of nutrients yet to be "discovered."  Whole sweet foods release a slow and steady level of carbohydrates into our blood streams.  Not so for the refined stuff....

Refined sweeteners have been stripped of most of their nutritional value.  No nourishment to offer to the body cells?  Then the "food" item actually robs nutrition from your body cells.  The body must deplete its own store of nutrients to digest and absorb sucrose properly. This creates nutritional deficiencies. This is an empty calorie syndrome.

Refined sugar enters the blood stream very quickly raising the blood sugar to very high levels and the resultant high levels of insulin crash the blood sugar.  This is how we get swings of hyper excitability followed by lethargy and depression.  We feel good for a microscopic period of time, a sugar high, then we crash and burn turning into moody, frustrated, tired individuals.

Sugar is highly addictive.  A little bit raises and crashes the blood sugar leaving you craving more, more, more! And did I mention more, NOW?  When we go through sugar withdrawal we have mood swings, severe cravings, headaches, fatigue, irritability... symptoms akin to drug and alcohol withdrawal.

Sugar is put into all manufactured foods, those factory made "food products."  The reason is clear, sugar is addictive, add it to food and people will buy and eat more.  What a great sales campaign!

The health consequences of sugar are profound. Excess sugar intake is associated with weight gain and obesity. Being overweight raises your risk for many health conditions: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, gallbladder and liver diseases, osteoarthritis, gynecological problems such as infertility, respiratory problems, sleep apnea, and colon, breast and endometrial cancers, to name but a few.

I find it amazing that rarely does a diabetic (or anyone else with metabolic health issues resulting from refined foods and sugars) get advised to remove all sugar from their diets in order to regulate their blood sugar and insulin levels and heal their bodies.  If a person had liver disease or lung cancer, would we not advise that they remove the offenders: alcohol and tobacco?

If sugar is so bad...why do we crave it?  Sugar in the bloodstream stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain that respond to heroin and cocaine but in a very pronounced way compared to other yummy foods.  Sugar becomes an uncontrollable habit.  One feels great while consuming, bottoms out when it leaves our blood stream, and rush to find more.

Leaving sugar out of the diet for 2 weeks ends this yo-yo affair with the sweet, white stuff.

Interestingly enough, until the middle of the 1800's, refined, "white" sugar was a luxury.  The wealthy could afford refined sugar cane sugar.  Most common people used maple syrup, honey, and crude forms of molasses and the true molasses rich brown sugars (not the modern grocery store variety that is merely white sugar with caramel coloring added).

Take yourself back to the Little House On The Prairie books and recall how they consumed sugar.  Manufactured sugar and sweets were truly a rare treat, only at holidays.  (Keep in mind that the sugar and food indulgent holidays were far fewer in Laura Ingall’s days. Another testimony to where our collective health has gone and why!)

Think how long a hard candy or small piece of chocolate, given as a Christmas gift, would last Laura.  Now think about how we pack away candy and whole, large chocolate bars on a daily basis.  Any wonder why and how  our health suffers the degenerative consequences?  Can you imagine how long an Equal Exchange large chocolate bar would last Laura… weeks upon weeks, turning into months!

Want to return to vibrant health?  Removing sugar from your diet is a huge step in the direction of restoring metabolic health. How to do this sugar detox is a question of your style of functioning.  Are you an all or nothing type that can completely cut sugar now and never look back (trust me, you will feel so good you will not want to look back!) or do you function better weaning yourself slowly?  Knowing what works for you and doing it, surrounding yourself with loving support, and finding ways to  sweeten your life without sugar are key components to kicking the sugar habit.

PS  Stay tuned for my thoughts on kids' parties and sugar!

Fun Food Focus

Satisfy that sweet tooth with 1/2 an apple and a handful of raw walnuts or pecans.  The nuts add fat and protein to balance your blood sugar and insulin reaction.  You won't feel a blood sugar crash 30 minutes or so after eating the apple.  

Fresh fruits are gentler on your blood sugar.  Dried fruits are very concentrated fruit sugars and will elevate and crash your blood sugar, leaving you craving more sweetness to drive your blood sugar back up.  Dried fruits will contribute to the same yo-yo cycle with blood sugar rushes and crashes.  Eat them with divine respect for the concentrated source of fruit sugar that they are;  be mindful of this sugar effect even with natural foods.