What’s So Bad About Sugar?

Putting it as bluntly as possible – sugar is poison. I know you don’t want to hear this and you don’t want to believe it is as bad as that, but I beg you to stick with me and really let the truth sink in here. The definition of poison, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is: a substance that through its chemical action usually kills, injures, or impairs an organism. I know many of you are inwardly shrugging while thinking, “Yeah, I know sugar is bad for me, but the pleasure I get outweighs the dangers.” Denial of the truth of the toxicity of sugar will bring either you or someone you love into an early grave or a greatly reduced quality of life. Please read on.

From the moment sugar enters your mouth it begins wreaking havoc with your system. Your mouth is host to a myriad of microorganisms. Sorry – I know you don’t like to think about that. Some of those microorganisms are actually beneficial and some are not. A member of the latter group is a bacterium known as Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that loves sugar and, as it metabolizes some of the sugar you feed it, turns it into acids and enzymes that attack the enamel of your teeth. Every time you put sugar in your mouth you are feeding some nasty bacteria, encouraging them to grow in number so they can rot your teeth. Picture that every time you are tempted to eat something sweet. In addition to this Streptococcus mutans has been found in diseased heart and vascular tissue causing scientists to wonder if it travels from the mouth to the heart. But it gets far worse…

The real poison is what happens to sugar after it enters into your system. Now sugar in the form of glucose is the easiest energy source for every cell in your body, but we consume far more than we need. (In fact we don’t need sugar in the form of sweeteners at all; we get more than enough glucose from starches like grains and potatoes and, lacking those, can create glucose from fats and proteins.) Some excess glucose is simply stored as fat. The rest is sent along with fructose (which is 50% of table sugar) to your liver. Now to make a long story short, all this excess sugar in the liver has now been found to be associated with insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes), metabolic syndrome, elevated LDL (the “bad cholesterol” you worry about), decreased HDL (the “good cholesterol” you want to gain), elevated triglycerides (a fancy word for fat), an increased risk of heart disease, fatty liver disease, and hypertension. Yes, studies are showing that it is more likely the sugar (and carbs) you are consuming that are the cause of your cholesterol problems instead of the fat you consume. I promise to devote some future posts to explanations of how this all works, but it is far too complicated to explain all in this post.

In addition to being implicated in all of these cardiovascular and liver problems there have been recent studies that indicate higher levels of sugar promote cancerous tumor growth while restriction of sugar slows the growth of tumors. There is enough evidence, that if I had a loved one battling cancer of any type I would plead with them to give up all sugars and most complex carbohydrates in an effort to starve the cancer.

So, take your pick: gingivitis, heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer. Which are you willing to risk in order to enjoy your daily intake of sugar? Which of these are you willing to risk in your child, spouse, or other loved one?

Addendum: It was brought to my attention by a lovely reader that I had failed to bring up the point that I am not just talking about the white stuff we call table sugar. Many of us bought into the lie that other forms of sugar are somehow better for us or at least they are not quite as bad. Actually they are just as bad! Honey, agave, brown sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup are just as harmful as table sugar – they are made up of the same molecules of glucose and fructose and once past the taste buds your body cannot tell the difference.

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7 comments

  1. How about brown sugar, honey or agave?

    • That is a very important question; I am so glad you asked. I meant to include that in the post and somehow it was forgotten, so I will amend the post immediately and put it in.

      I hate to dash anyone’s hopes but sugar is sugar, and brown sugar, honey, agave, evaporated cane juice, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, and high fructose corn syrup are all sugar and are equally bad for you. They are all made up of similar ratios of glucose and fructose both of which in anything but very small doses are detrimental to the body.

  2. Pingback: Have a Healthy Happy Valantine Heart! « Bites of Life

  3. orit

    OH MY GOOD, aren’t we a little extreme? While sugar in excess had its problems, this is the only food our brain takes!! Yes it is better to consume a complex-ed carb (some of us are thinking these are poison too….), We as a nation eat way too much sugar and have it added to way too many foods – but – please see the grey area – it is not only bad and if we learn to control ourselves rather than blame someone/something else we can enjoy some sugar!!!

    • Orit,
      While I understand why you may see my post as a little extreme, and although I do admit to indulging in sweets sometimes when they are offered me (they do not come into my house) I have to stick by my assertion that in many ways sugar is poison to our systems. I know that every time I indulge I am doing at least small amounts of damage – damage that I do believe our bodies were created to be able to repair when the damage is relatively minor – but damage nonetheless. I understand that most people (myself included) may indulge once in a while, but I think we all need a wake up call on how detrimental sugar is – maybe then we will cut it down to a very occasional treat (the way it was a couple of hundred years ago) instead of treating it like a necessary part of our diet.
      I do have to disagree with you about sugar being the only food our brains use (if you are talking about sugars from the foods we eat). First of all, our muscles cells and most brain cells are designed to get energy from ketones (made from fatty acids) in the absence of glucose. While there are a few brain cell processes that require glucose exclusively, our livers are capable of making glucose from proteins and fats through a process called gluconeogenesis. So a case can be (and has been) made that an outside source of glucose is completely unnecessary. Indeed carbohydrates are the only macro-nutrients that do not seem to be essential for us to consume. Our bodies can make all the glucose they need from fats and proteins while both of those macro-nutrients do have forms that are essential for us to consume. Ultimately, I believe we need to cut out 95% of our sugar intake and reduce our complex carbohydrate intake by 50% or more.

  4. UK canuck

    hi there – I’ve been trying to eliminate all added sugar (sweetened everything including bread, yoghurt etc) but want some advice on how much I should cut back on starchy veg.? I do allow myself a bit of dessert every 6 weeks or so.

    • So sorry, it has been so long since you posted this – somehow it fell through the cracks. :(

      How much you need to cut back on starchy vegetables depends on your individual nutrition issues. In my husband’s case (with diabetes) or mine (with signs of metabolic syndrome) we eliminated them except for special occasions, but we only made that decision after testing his blood sugar before and after a meal that contained them. When they caused a spike (and all seemed to) we eliminated them from the diet. If that had not happened we would have continued to eat those in moderation. I believe that the majority of the dinner plate (75% or more) should be covered with meat and non-starchy vegetables, with the vegetables taking up at least half of the plate.

      It sure sounds like you are making a great attempt at eating healthy. Keep it up! And I think it’s ok to “have a bit of dessert” now and then. OH – You said you cut out sugar and asked about the starchy vegetables, but you didn’t mention flour and other grains. I would reduce or eliminate (in the case of flour) those before I worried about starchy vegetables.

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