Is There a Healthy Sugar to Satisfy Sweetness without the Drawbacks?
Sugar. The enemy of your health. But so addicting!
Why is sugar so addicting?
Sugar, in a way, acts like a drug. When rats were fed Ensure, they became addicted. “Repeated consumption of a highly rewarding, energy‐dense food induces neuroadaptations in cognitive‐motivational circuits.” 1
This addiction extends to us humans, too. “In both animals and humans, the evidence in the literature shows substantial parallels and overlap between drugs of abuse and sugar, from the standpoint of brain neurochemistry as well as behaviour.” 2
Additionally, we tend to seek out sugar to relieve stress. “Stress makes you crave comfort foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar. Over time, your behavioral responses to stress becomes automatic, causing you to seek out the same comfort foods to generate those good feelings again.” 3
What is the price of this addiction?
In a way, the addiction makes sense, since we need certain types of sugar to survive. Fear of any kind of sugar is unfounded since "we need sugar in our bloodstream just to stay alive. Glucose is the only fuel that red blood cells - and a few other types - can use." 4 And we receive glucose from nearly every type of carbohydrate we consume, like raw fruits and vegetables. Another major type of sugar is fructose, which comes only from fruits. These sources of sugars are fine to eat without any adverse effects.
Industrial sugar is yet another type of sugar. They are not found in their unaltered state in nature; they have been altered by industrial refinement and processing. What’s confusing to many is that fructose is contained in many industrial sugars, but it is extracted from the plants that it comes from. Without the fiber and other phytonutrients that you’d get from eating a raw fruit, and mixed in with other refined sugars, yes, fructose can be bad for you.
But the point is that research only shows that illnesses are associated with industrial sugars. “The deleterious effect of fructose was limited to industrial fructose, with no evidence for a negative effect of fruit fructose. This apparent inconsistency might be explained by the positive effects of other nutrients (e.g., fibers) and antioxidants in fresh fruit. In industrial food, the glucose present in the high fructose corn syrup might even accelerate fructose absorption, making industrial sugars much unhealthier.”5
The most common ailments associated with excess industrial sugars are obesity and diabetes. “The intake of added sugars, such as from table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup has increased dramatically in the last hundred years and correlates closely with the rise in obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.”6
Doctor Ridha Arem agrees, noting that “with too much sugar in your system, your body loses sensitivity to insulin; your liver and muscles cannot recognize insulin and allow it into their cells to process glucose. As a result, glucose is stored as fat, mostly packed into your abdomen as dangerous visceral fat.”7 Others also link added sugars to obesity and diabetes.
Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen warn us to
“avoid simple sugars, including high fructose corn syrup and most white processed foods, which have a very direct effect on your arteries. When your blood is high (over 106 mg/dl) in sugar, it disrupts the cells lining your blood vessels, allowing nicks and tears to occur in the inner arterial lining that lead to inflammation and plaque buildup. Simple sugars can also contribute to obesity or lead to insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes, which is also very damaging to your arteries.”8
To learn more about inflammation and how to naturally prevent it, see our article 8 Great Anti-Inflammation Foods.
The American Heart Association links industrial sugar to many other diseases, too. “Excessive consumption of sugars has been linked with several metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions, as well as shortfalls of essential nutrients.”9
Why should we be concerned
Drugs we know are bad. We can identify them outright. This is not always the case with the food we eat, however. Mostly, we know to stay away from the obvious sources of industrial sugar like candy bars, donuts, and cake. Cake today, in fact, has more sugar than any other ingredient. “In the 20th century we managed to take reﬁnement and enrichment to the extreme, and now have industrial breads with little ﬂavor or texture left in them, and cakes that contain more sugar than ﬂour.”10
But think twice before reaching for your next ‘healthy’ beverage, like fruit juice, vitamin water, and even almond milk. The amount of hidden added sugar is a very serious issue. To see why, read Can Water Help You Lose Weight?
Industrial sugar lurks in most packaged foods, as well. Pasta, bread, crackers, boxes of popcorn, and salad dressings are loaded with them.
“Wheat grown on American soil is not a nutrient dense food to begin with, but then the food manufacturers remove the most valuable part of the food and then add bleach, preservatives, salt, sugar, and food coloring to make breads, breakfast cereals, and other convenience foods. Yet many Americans consider such food healthy merely because it is low in fat.”11
Read food labels carefully to understand just how much sugar you’re getting. Take a look at how many grams of sugar there are. Note in the ingredients list that “sugar” is just one of many guises industrial sugar goes under. Other names to note include
"evaporated cane sugar, corn syrup, corn sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, sucrose, malt, malt syrup, barley malt syrup, barley malt extract, maltose, maltodextrin, dextrose, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, beet juice, muscovato, succanat, turbinado sugar, invert sugar."12
This excerpt sums up the dangers of industrial sugars:
“To the extent that sugar-rich foods displace more broadly nourishing foods from our diet, they are detrimental to human health, a source of calories “empty” of any other nutritional value, and a major contributor to the modern epidemic of obesity and associated health problems, including diabetes. People in the developed world, particularly in the United States, consume large amounts of reﬁned sugars. Adults in the United States get about 20% of their calories from reﬁned sugars, children between 20% and 40%. Most of this sugar intake comes not from candies and confections, but from soft drinks. Signiﬁcant amounts of sugar also find their way into most processed foods, including many savory sauces, dressings, meats, and baked goods. The total sugar content in processed foods is often unclear from the ingredients list, where different sugars can be listed separately as sucrose, dextrose, levulose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.”13
How to kick the addiction
By reducing your industrial sugar consumption, you increase your wellbeing. But if you have a particularly strong sweet tooth, a potent approach is to try substituting for sweetness, like I did in my Mixed Nut Chocolate Cake.
Since only industrial sugars are bad for us, swap in some fresh fruits in place of snack packs, for instance.
Another example is to start preparing your own breakfasts. Store-bought cereals are loaded with industrial sugars. “Grains are still the base for these cereals, but they may actually be outweighed by sugar and other sweeteners. Sucrose is especially favored for its ability to give a frosty or glassy surface to the crisp grain ﬂakes and slow the penetration of milk and resulting sogginess.”14
Yet, moms and growing kids continue to head straight towards the cereal aisle, unaware that “similar puffed and processed whole grain products are still sitting on store shelves today, sold under every major brand label.”15
Even athletes may be surprised to find that “even store-bought granola, loaded with unhealthy oils and sugar, makes for an unhealthy way to start your day.”16
A benefit of Homemade Granola is that it does not contain any industrial sugars, it’s already better than 99% of all store-bought cereal choices
To find out more about my own struggles with industrial sugar and how powerful homemade granola was in helping me overcome them, check this article out: Homemade Granola: A Subtly Sweet Step towards Wellness.
There are many other ways to kick the industrial sugar habit, too. Share below what has worked for you.
1. Kelley, A. E., M. J. Will, T. L. Steininger, M. Zhang, and S. N. Haber. "Restricted Daily Consumption of a Highly Palatable Food (chocolate EnsureR) Alters Striatal Enkephalin Gene Expression." European Journal of Neuroscience 18, no. 9 (2003): 2592-598. doi:10.1046/j.1460-9568.2003.02991.x. p.2592.
2. Dinicolantonio, James J., James H. Okeefe, and William L. Wilson. "Sugar Addiction: Is It Real? A Narrative Review." British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2017. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971. p. 1.
3. Arem, Ridha, and Ridha Arem. The Protein Boost Diet: Improve Your Hormone Efficiency for a Fast Metabolism and Weight Loss. New York: Atria Books, 2014. p. 77.
4. Shanahan, Catherine M.D. Deep Nutrition: why your genes need traditional food. S.l.: Flatiron Books, 2017. p. 209.
5. S Petta, G Marchesini, L Caracausi, F S Macaluso, C Camma, S Ciminnisi, D Cabibi, R Porcasi, A Craxi, V Di Marco. Industrial, not fruit fructose intake is associated with the severity of liver fibrosis in genotype 1 chronic hepatitis C patients. J Hepatol. 2013 Dec;59(6):1169-76. p. 1173.
6. Johnson, R. J., T. Nakagawa, L. G. Sanchez-Lozada, M. Shafiu, S. Sundaram, M. Le, T. Ishimoto, Y. Y. Sautin, and M. A. Lanaspa. "Sugar, Uric Acid, and the Etiology of Diabetes and Obesity." Diabetes 62, no. 10 (2013): 3307-315. doi:10.2337/db12-1814. p. 3307.
7. Arem, Ridha, and Ridha Arem. The Protein Boost Diet: Improve Your Hormone Efficiency for a Fast Metabolism and Weight Loss. New York: Atria Books, 2014. p. 22.
8. Roizen, Michael F., Mehmet Oz, Lisa Oz, and Ted Spiker. You-- the owners manual: an insiders guide to the body that will make you healthier and younger. New York: William Morrow, 2013. p. 61.
9. Johnson, R. K., L. J. Appel, M. Brands, B. V. Howard, M. Lefevre, R. H. Lustig, F. Sacks, L. M. Steffen, and J. Wylie-Rosett. "Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association." Circulation 120, no. 11 (2009): 1011-020. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.109.192627. p. 1011.
10. McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. p. 517.
11. Fuhrman, Joel. Eat to live: the revolutionary formula for fast and sustained weight loss. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005. pp. 33-34.
12. Shanahan, Catherine M.D. Deep Nutrition: why your genes need traditional food. S.l.: Flatiron Books, 2017. p. 227.
13. McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. pp. 657-658.
14. Shanahan, Catherine M.D. Deep Nutrition: why your genes need traditional food. S.l.: Flatiron Books, 2017. p. 100. Ibid.
17.McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. p. 712.
18. Fahrasmane, L., B. Parfait, and G. Aurore. "Bananas, A Source Of Compounds With Health Properties." Acta Horticulturae, no. 1040 (2014): 75-82. doi:10.17660/actahortic.2014.1040.9. p. 75