There’s no doubt that Americans are addicted to sugar. We consume an average of 150 lbs. per person per year. For many of us, that means we eat our own weight in sugar every year! So it might be helpful to find out what that means – what sugar really is, what food value it has, and what problems it causes.
The sugar industry is big: $1billion per year. As with any other billion-dollar business, there’s bound to be a ton of information that will support such an empire anywhere you look – the media, bookstores, advertising, etc.
Boats like this don’t like to be rocked.
On the other side is a group claiming that white sugar is poison, a harmful drug, barely differing from cocaine, etc. Some claims are true; others are unreferenced opinion, often bordering on hysteria. For our purposes, we’ll focus on what we really can verify about sugar, and hopefully avoid the errors of disinformation on both sides of the fence.
The first question to be asked is, “What is sugar?”
That’s easy – it’s that white stuff in the sugar bowl. Refined white cane sugar is only one type, however. There’s also brown sugar, raw sugar, fruit sugar, corn sugar, milk sugar, beet sugar, alcohol, monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. All these are also sugar.
Start with white sugar. It is made by refining sugar cane, a process involving many chemicals. Or from beets, whose refinement also involves synthetic chemicals, and charcoal. The big problem is that the finished product contains none of the nutrients, vitamins, or minerals of the original plant. White sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which means a fractionated, artificial, devitalized by-product of the original plant. The original plant was a complex carbohydrate, which means it contained all the properties of a whole food: vitamins, minerals, enzymes.
Refined sugar from beets and cane is sucrose. Up to the mid 1970s, sucrose was the primary sugar consumed by Americans. That changed when manufacturers discovered a cheaper source of refined sugar: corn. A process was evolved that could change the natural fructose in corn to glucose, and then by adding synthetic chemicals, change the glucose back into an artificial, synthetic type of fructose called high fructose.
High fructose became big really fast. In 1984, Coke and Pepsi changed from cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). U.S. consumption of high fructose corn syrup went up 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990, researchers reported in 2004 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Today, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the preferred sweetener in most soft drinks and processed foods. Don’t believe it? Read the labels.
“High-fructose corn syrup” is highly valued by food manufacturers. It’s easy to transport in tanker trucks. It isn’t susceptible to freezer burn, as is sugar. It has a long shelf life and keeps foods from becoming dry. It gives bread and baked products a wonderful color. It’s also cheaper than white sugar, partly because of generous federal subsidies and trade policies that encourage farmers to grow more corn.
Fast food chains add it to their products because it is cheaper. It’s in the sauces, in the condiments, in the breadings, in the buns and in the drinks. It is the commercially preferred artificial sweetener. What’s worse than sugar? Now you know.
Remember, natural fructose is contained in most raw fruits and vegetables. It is a natural food. Moderate amounts of natural fructose can be easily digested by the body with no stress or depleting of mineral stores. Natural fructose does not cause rollercoaster blood sugar, unless the person overdoes it. Natural fructose is not addicting.
High fructose corn syrup, by contrast, cannot be well digested, actually inhibits digestion, is addicting, and causes a great number of biochemical errors. HFCS is artificial; a non-food.
In addition to these by-products, simple carbohydrates do increase blood glucose. And this is the real problem with refined sugar: the quantity of pure glucose suddenly taken in.
But our modern needs are something created by business, by advertising, and by politics. How many people do you know who drink at least one 12 oz soft drink per day? If the sugar from each bottle could be crystallized out, it would amount to 10 teaspoons. Put 10 teaspoons of sugar in the bottom of an empty coke bottle and look at it. Is that a lot? In a normal bloodstream, which is about 5 liters, approximately 2 teaspoons of glucose should be circulating at any one time. That means that one coke raises the blood sugar to 5 times its normal level, for at least four hours.
Now stop here a minute. This is one soft drink. Do you know anyone who drinks more than one soft drink per day? Do the math.
To that, add the sugar in desserts, ice cream, jams, jello, artificial fruit drinks, and candy. This is not even mentioning hidden sugar found in ketchup, processed meats, baby food, condiments, cereals, and most other processed foods whose label you may chance to read.