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Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health

Published on April 23, 2013,

The UK’s most read quality newspaper has entered the sugar debate with an article investigating both the damaging effects of sugar and looking at how hard it is to go sugar-free. Their use of anti-sugar writer David Gillespie’s expression “Sweet Poison” in the title is an interesting indication of how things are starting to change. This is an extract from the Telegraph…

Sugar

Sugar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each week the average Briton consumes 238 teaspoonfuls of a potentially toxic substance linked to long-term health problems – often without knowing it. But just how hard is it to go sugar-free?

It seems that our desire to load up with sugar regularly may not be the cheeky reward-cum-energy boost we think it is. Increasingly, experts believe we can be truly addicted to sugar. French scientists in Bordeaux reported that in animal trials, rats chose sugar over cocaine (even when they were addicted to cocaine), and speculated that no mammals’ sweet receptors are naturally adapted to the high concentrations of sweet tastes on offer in modern times. They worried, in a paper published in 2007, that the intense stimulation of these receptors by our typical 21st-century sugar-rich diets must generate a supra-normal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.

So if you feel like you are craving a chocolatey treat, that craving is more than just a figure of speech. You may be one of the world’s most common dependants: a sugar addict.

Are you addicted to sugar?

1. Do you struggle to walk past a sugary treat without taking ‘just one’?

2. Do you have routines around sugar consumption – for example, always having pudding, or needing a piece of chocolate to relax in front of the television?

3. Are there times when you feel as if you cannot go on without a sugar hit?

4. If you are forced to go without sugar for 24 hours, do you develop headaches and mood swings?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one of the questions above, you are addicted

But take heart. Around the world, a growing body of expert opinion – the ‘No Sugar’ movement – is leading a global fightback and warning that our sweet habit is completely out of control, leaving a nasty taste in the mouth of the body public. Sugar, whether added to food by you or the manufacturer, is the greatest threat to human health, bar none, they say. And unless we wise up and quit en masse, we don’t just risk personal obesity and disease, but national bankruptcy and collapse as the toll our ill health takes on our countries’ economies threatens to destabilise the modern world.

The movement is led by Robert Lustig, professor of paediatric endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, numerous scientific and press articles, and presenter of “Sugar: the Bitter Truth”, a YouTube clip viewed more than 3,300,000 times. But ‘No Sugar’ proponents also include Australian writer David Gillespie, author of Sweet Poison and the new Sweet Poison Quit Plan, just out in the UK, as well as actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who reveals in her new cookbook It’s All Good that her family are not permitted to eat any refined carbs (let alone sugar), and even Andy Burnham, the Opposition Health Secretary, who called in January for high-sugar children’s foods such as Frosties and Sugar Puffs to be banned by politicians.

Lustig leads the field with his warning that not all calories are equal, because not all monosaccharides – the simplest forms of sugar, the building blocks of all carbohydrates – are equal.

At a basic level, sucrose, or table sugar (which is made up of equal molecules of the monosaccharides fructose and glucose) is not metabolised in the same way that a carbohydrate such as flour is.

He explains: ”An analysis of 175 countries over the past decade showed that when you look for the cause of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, the total number of calories you consume is irrelevant. It’s the specific calories that count. When people ate 150 calories more every day, the rate of diabetes went up 0.1 per cent. But if those 150 calories came from a can of fizzy drink, the rate went up 1.1 per cent. Added sugar is 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories.”

Why is this? Well, look more closely through the microscope, and Lustig (and others) believe it is the fructose molecule in sugar that is to blame.

Lustig explains that instead of helping to sate us, some scientists believe that fructose fools our brains into thinking we are not full, so we overeat. Moreover, excess fructose cannot be converted into energy by the mitochondria inside our cells (which perform this function). “Instead,” he explains, “they turn excess fructose into liver fat. That starts a cascade of insulin resistance (insulin promotes sugar uptake from blood) which leads to chronic metabolic disease, including diabetes and heart disease.”

Look online and you’ll see fructose described as “fruit sugar” – it’s the nutrient that nature put into apples and pears to entice humans (and birds) to eat them. So do we stop eating fruit in order to go sugar-free? It’s not that easy. Fruit is sweetened by fructose but it doesn’t contain very much, although you still shouldn’t eat very sweet fruit like grapes and melon to excess.

The problem lies in sources of sweetness like corn syrup, agave or maple syrup and honey, which contain a higher percentage of fructose than fruit, especially if they have been processed, meaning additional fructose is added in. Some agave nectars, for example, can be 92 per cent fructose, eight per cent glucose.

The food industry loves these sweeteners, especially high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), as they make every type of food more palatable – from soup to bagels, ketchup to bread. In the United States, HFCS is especially popular following governmental production quotas of domestic sugar, subsidies of US corn, and an import tariff on foreign sugar, making HFCS super cheap. As a liquid, it is also easier to blend and transport. In particular, it is used in low-fat foods (which would otherwise taste, says Lustig, “like cardboard”). His theory goes a long way to explaining why the low-fat diets which rose to popularity in the Seventies have coincided with a rise in obesity and related illnesses.

So before you can think about giving these sweeteners up, you have to turn label detective – and find them…

See the whole article including at:  Sweet poison: why sugar is ruining our health

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