When sugar is refined, it is first extracted from sources such as sugar cane and beets. All vitamins, proteins, fiber, fats, enzymes, and other nutrients are then stripped away during the extraction process until nothing remains but sweet calories. As many as 64 elements are destroyed during this process.
In this day and age, most of us understand why we need to reduce processed sugar in our diet. But the problem is that refined sugar is now found in almost every product, and hidden cleverly and obscurely on ingredient labels. Even worse, refined sugars such as corn sugar and high-fructose corn sugar are now made from genetically modified corn. Sometimes, sugar is substituted with lab-created artificial sweeteners such as Equal®, NutraSweet®, Aspartame®, and Splenda® to reduce calories at the expense of our health. Food manufacturers capitalize on the fact that many of us have a sweet tooth, and instead of providing sugars from natural, whole food sources, they provide a cheaper source of highly refined and chemicalized sugar.
- The link between refined sugar & chronic disease
- Why you should always avoid artificial sweeteners
- Learn about the natural sweeteners from nature
The Rise & Fall of Blood Sugar
Because refined sugar is stripped of all the other elements that would accompany it as a whole food (such as in a whole fruit), this stripped product rapidly enters the bloodstream and creates sudden sugar spikes, putting us on a sugar-high. Then our blood sugar crashes, causing us to feel tired and emotionally unstable.
Blood sugar levels fluctuate dramatically on sugar-highs on a continual basis from all of our high sugar processed food intake, and we often experience the highs and lows of an emotional roller-coaster. We are not srue why we feel the way we do - all we know is that we go from suddenly feeling upbeat and energetic, to feeling tired, short-tempered, and argumentative.
How insulin regulates blood sugar...
Refined Sugar is Everywhere
The US is the largest consumer of sweeteners, be it refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. The average American consumes 130 lbs. of refined sugar each year (including sugar from 300 bottles of soda). Drinking only one can of soda each day can make you 10 lbs. heavier each year. Sugar is spooned directly into our coffee and tea, and on our breakfast cereals that are already filled with sugar.
The sugar in a 16 oz. Starbucks Frappuccino at 44 g of sugar is the equivalent of eating 3 donuts (or 10 teaspoons of sugar). Sugar is not only a major culprit in sodas, but milk-based drinks are often filled with sugar too, as are veggie juices, ice-teas, fruit juices, and most commercially prepared drinks.
Most of the added sugar we eat comes comes from genetically modified corn, and is found in just about every processed food and drink category on the market:
- Junk foods
- Sodas, milk based drinks, veggie juices, "natural" iced-tea, "natural" fruit juices
- Specialty tea & coffee drinks, lattes, frappuccinos
- Jam, jellies
- Ice cream, sherbets, frozen yogurt
- Pastries, cookies, donuts, muffins
- Breads, bagels, rolls, cereals
- Canned fruits, vegetables, soups, stews
- Baby food
- Tomato ketchup, mustard, condiments in general
- Packaged meats (try to find bacon that does not contain a sugar ingredient)
- Peanut butter
- Protein bars and shakes
- Pet foods
The list is endless.
Hidden Sugar on Labels
On labels, sugar is not always listed simply as "sugar," but rather under a variety of other names to make it seem less conspicuous. These include corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, xylitol, and fructose.
So-Called "Health Foods"
Many so-called "health foods" such as protein bars and snacks are loaded with more sugar than a donut. For some inexplicable reason, fruit juices that are naturally sweet are also loaded with additional sugar (is there really so little of the fruit in the product that it needs sugar?).
High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
In the early 1980's, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) replaced sugar in sodas and other products, partly because of the bad rap sugar was receiving as an "unhealthy" sweetener. It is also cheaper to manufacture than sugar. The food industry attempted to pass HFCS off as a healthier alternative. They are both very similar, and both equally as unhealthy (but as corn-based sweeteners come from genetically modified corn, it is an even worse offender).
Refined sugar is sucrose, made up of a molecule of glucose bonded to a molecule of fructose in a 50/50 mixture. HFCS is typically 55% fructose and 45% glucose. This is why our bodies experience identical physiological effects to HFCS and refined sugar.
Why We Crave It
There are two reasons we crave foods and drinks with refined sugar:
- Because the sugar has been highly refined and stripped of all its nutrients, it literally is "empty calories." When sugar enters the mouth, the body knows that calories are entering the body and searches for the nutrients it expects to find, nutrients such as fiber that will help modulate not only how quickly or slowly the sugars are digested, but how they are digested. Because the body finds only empty calories, it causes an increase in appetite in the hopes of receiving foods that contain the nutrients it needs in the form of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The appetite increase is not for more sugar, it is for the missing nutrients.
- Refined sugar itself is extremely addictive. Similar to coffee, drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, it acts on the same areas of the brain and when we try to give it up, we experience withdrawal symptoms. This addiction is what leads to weight gain, compulsive eating, and obesity. Unfortunately, many refined foods high in sugar also contain something called "excitotoxins." These are chemical substances put into foods by food manufacturers that are also highly addictive and keep us coming back for more.
Your Body Needs Healthy Carbohydrates
Sugar is a carbohydrate, and carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for the body (not fats, and not proteins). Glucose (a carbohydrate) is also the only source of fuel the brain uses. It is natural for the body to call out for carbohydrates because they are a crucial energy source, hence why low carb diets are not only very unhealthy, but can cause binging on a mass scale as the body craves the missing nutrients. Forcing the body to continually use protein and fat for its primary fuel source is not what the body was biologically built to do.
Why you should avoid low-carb diets...
There is big nutritional difference between the carbs in processed foods and the carbs in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and legumes. These are the carbs the body is craving for and the carbs it needs to experience vibrant health.
Unless we understand this, we continue to eat unhealthy highly refined carbohydrates in processed foods and the cycle repeats itself over and over again. The result?
- Chronic over-stimulation of the pituitary and pancreas glands.
- Weight gain.
- Nutritional deficiencies.
- Chronic inflammation (especially since high-sugar foods are typically high-fat and highly chemicalized).
- Choosing natural sweeteners
- Health dangers of artificial sweeteners
- Refined sugar
- Refined sugar & chronic disease
- Soda's, pop & energy drinks
- Additives & chemicals in our food
- What are processed & refined foods
- The Dirty Dozen: What they are & why you should avoid them
- Addicted to sugary foods? Kick that addiction now
- Get off the diet merry-go-round
- Healthy food choices for children
- Healthy food choices for pets
- The FDA: Failure to protect human & pet food
- Food pyramids & food politics