The Evils Of Refined Sugar
Friday, 3 October 2008
So what is so evil about sugar? It’s all-natural, you say. It comes from a plant: the sugar cane. What could be so bad about having a little of nature’s sweet goodness once in awhile? The answer is nothing, if you really only are having just a little unrefined sugar only once in awhile, and if you haven’t already developed a health condition that is caused by and/or exacerbated by sugar consumption (such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, candidiasis, or a suppressed immune system). The problem is that most Americans today on average consume an astounding 135 pounds of sugar per year.¹ And most of that is the bad stuff – refined white table sugar or high fructose corn syrup – which is not only found in sweets and sodas but gets added to most processed food to make it taste better and get you addicted to it. Sugar is everywhere – peanut butter, crackers, canned soups and tomato sauces, and condiments almost always have some form of simple sugar added. By the time many of us become aware that we are swimming in a sea of glucose, we are already seeing the physical effects.
I once had a family member say to me, “but your body needs sugar for energy.” Of course it needs sugar. All carbohydrates are a form of sugar, and they eventually break down in your system into glucose, or blood sugar, its simplest form, where it is then metabolized as the body’s primary energy source. The problem is that your blood sugar is strictly regulated as your body can only handle a very specific amount at one time. Fruits and other unrefined carbohydrate foods contain fiber that naturally slows the absorption of sugar in your body. Refined sugars have been stripped of these properties, allowing the sugar to go immediately to your bloodstream. Your body then reacts by pumping out insulin to stop the overflow of sugar. That’s why after you eat something sweet you get a sugar high followed by a crash. After the crash, you feel like you need more sugar to bring your energy level back up again, and it becomes a cycle.
The constant battle to regulate your blood sugar will eventually wear out your insulin response, and any number of things will happen. First, the energy required to handle all that sugar will reduce the capacity of your immune system and you will become ill more frequently. You may become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar from too much insulin) and experience dizziness and shakiness between meals, mood swings, irritability and fatigue. You will probably develop candidiasis, which is an overgrowth of the dangerous yeast candida albicans throughout your digestive tract, causing digestive distress, fatigue and frequent yeast infections. Finally, you could become diabetic – and once that happens, there is no going back. Now your body cannot handle the slightest amount of sugar without going into shock.
Are you scared yet? You should be. Scientists are saying that 1 in 3 of today’s children will develop diabetes in their lifetime.² The good news is, it can be prevented, and you don’t have to give up your sweet tooth. There are alternatives. Here are a couple of great sugar substitutes:
Agave Nectar – The raw nectar of the agave plant. Tastes like honey, but it’s very low-glycemic and perfect for drizzling on hot cereals or on pancakes (instead of maple syrup, which is extremely high-glycemic).
Stevia – A natural herb that is potently sweet and has 0 calories. You only need a pinch to sweeten a cup of tea.
Xylitol – A naturally occurring sugar alcohol often derived from corn, berries or birch. A low-glycemic alternative to sugar that is useful for baking, although it is quite expensive. It also has plaque-reducing properties and is actually good for your teeth.
Notice I didn’t put honey on that list. Why? Although it is a natural substance, honey is also a simple sugar. Yes it has lots of healthy enzymes but commercial honey is almost always heated and the enzymes are destroyed. I do use honey occasionally and sparingly, but only raw organic honey.
Other Words Of Advice
Avoid processed foods – eat fresh whole foods and unrefined grains instead. Refined flours, even gluten-free ones such as tapioca, white rice and cornstarch, are too easily broken down in your system and have a similar effect to refined sugar.
Choose low-glycemic fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches and berries, and avoid higher glycemic ones such as bananas, raisins, and melons. Avoid fruit juices as they are concentrated fruit sugar without the fiber and often have sugar added to them as well. Dried fruit is also more concentrated and tends to attract mold, so I stay away from that as well.
Here is a link to the glycemic index of foods: http://www.aapca1.org/documents/stop_light_diet.pdf
I have to admit, sometimes I cheat a little bit. Especially this past week – it was my husband’s birthday, and I baked a flourless chocolate cake. Flourless chocolate cakes make a great gluten-free dessert, but as far as I know you can’t make a good one without butter (the one form of dairy I can tolerate) and, unless you use xylitol (which I was out of and decided not to spend $10 on), sugar. In the afternoon, we stopped for tea and chocolates (yes, more chocolate) and then hit this great little wine bar in the marina before going out to dinner. Between the honey I added to my tea, the chocolates, the cake, and then the wine, I really over-did it. The next day I not only had a major sugar hangover but was also experiencing flare-ups of my usual reactions to sugar – hypoglycemia, fatigue, brain fog and candida. Now I’m back on the candida diet temporarily, and juicing fresh vegetables every day to cleanse my system. It’s amazing how much more energy you have when you are getting it from the antioxidants in plants instead of sugar.
For more information on the negative health effects of sugar: