Friday, August 24, 2012

Is sugar toxic?

I've written about the dangers of sugar before, and the possibility of instituting a sugar tax in this country. You probably know that sugar is bad for you in terms of the high caloric intake. But do you know that it could be toxic? Watch the video from 60 Minutes below.

The basic premise is that the consumption of processed sugars leads to preventable diseases such as obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Sugar includes just regular sugar, honey, maple syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. These added sugars are found in many processed foods, and even foods such as peanut butter and ketchup. Sugar has fructose. Evolutionarily, we seek out fructose because there is no food on the planet that has fructose that is poisonous, so we know it's safe to eat. However, in the past, we would only consume small amounts of fructose with fruit, and fruit has fiber that slows the absorption and consumption of it.Today, the average American eats an average of 130 pounds of sugar per year, that's a third of a pound a day!

Traditionally, we've thought of all calories being equal. However, you can obviously determine that 100 calories of a doughnut versus 100 calories of fruit doesn't have equal health benefit. When sugar is consumed, the liver gets overloaded with fructose and generates excess fat. Some of this fat ends up in the bloodstream, which can lead to heart disease. In the 1970's, a government commission mandated that we limit fat in foods to battle heart disease. But, heart disease and diabetes have skyrocketed since then. This is because we replaced fat with sugar to make food still taste good.

Limiting sugar in your diet can also decrease your chances of certain types of cancer. Sugar causes spikes in insulin and insulin can fuel certain types of cancer. Breast and colon cancer, for example, have insulin receptors on the tumor that trigger it to consume glucose and grow.

Sugar is also much more addictive than we realize. The brain responds favorably to consuming sugar by releasing dopamine, this is similar to how drugs like cocaine affect your brain. You may also be building up a tolerance to sugar and therefore needing to eat more and more to feel the favorable effects.

The sugar industry says the science is not completely clear and that we must approach a balanced diet by reducing calories and exercising. This is true, except that the consumption of sugar should be drastically reduced. Males should eat 150 calories and women 100 calories of added sugar per day, which is less than the amount in one soda.

Do you think the government should step in to regulate sugar consumption?

I'm torn on this issue. On one hand, I believe in a limited government and think that people should be free to eat and use whatever they want. On the other hand, my taxes and health insurance premiums are paying to treat all of these preventable diseases that people are choosing to have because of poor diet and lifestyle choices. These preventable diseases amount to a third of medical spending in the U.S. Ultimately, I would like to pay a much lower insurance premium than people that eat toxic foods (like sugar) and don't exercise. However, I'm not sure what is going to happen with healthcare reform in the future. So maybe, a sugar tax is appropriate? Other countries are already doing it and it would be similar to what we already have with taxes for alcohol and tobacco. Of course, there would be a huge push back from industries that produce sugar or use it (like the soda industry). I think that this is going to become a hot topic in the near future.

How can you limit your sugar intake?

I buy mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, but also buy healthy processed foods such as almond milk, whole grain bread, etc. I've learned to meticulously read food labels. You can't trust anything on the front of the box. Unfortunately, so many processed foods contain added sugar. It's extremely difficult to avoid. Whole Foods has a lot more options in terms of unsweetened ketchup and peanut butter sweetened with agave nectar. You can replace sugar in baking with things like stevia. However, beware of artificial sweeteners, such as in diet soda, because they can also have very harmful effects, which is a whole other post in itself. I used to eat a lot of sweets but I've found that my cravings have gone away since I've stopped eating them. I like to keep fruits like strawberries, grapes, and blueberries around to eat whenever I have a craving for sugar. I also don't drink any soda or juice, just water and tea. I do eat honey sometimes but maybe I shouldn't since its included in the "processed sugar" category in the video, I'm going to have to research that more.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post, please comment below!


  1. i cut all sugar out (unless naturally occurring, like in actual fruit), and it was a huge change for my body. i feel like i operate significantly more efficiently now! i'll sneak once in awhile have a gluten free cookie or whatever, but i'm very careful about it! and then when i do cheat, i feel icky and sluggish. i think it's DEF toxic!

    1. I also feel blah when I do eat sugar at a party or something. I used to eat candy bars and ice cream every day so I've come a long way!


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