A few months ago sugar was under attack, thanks to a Gary Taubes article in the NY Times. But, toxic is a strong word—does sugar merit such a harsh rap? Absolutely.
First, what do we mean when we say “sugar”? The particular sugar that’s getting the heat lately is fructose. Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit and vegetables. In this form, it’s fine. The dose is small and it comes packaged with fiber, so all is well when it comes to metabolizing fruit in the form of, let’s say, an apple.
Trouble arises though when we remove the fiber and up the dose. Troublemakers such as this include the dreaded high fructose corn syrup and white sugar, or table sugar (chemically known as sucrose: one glucose molecule attached to one fructose molecule). But a few other so-called “healthy sweeteners” are not much better. The list includes agave (which typically contains more fructose than high fructose corn syrup), molasses, raw sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, crystalline fructose, honey, invert sugar, and malt sugar.
Why is fructose such a problem—and why might some say it’s toxic? A toxin is something our body has a limited capacity to deal with; once that system has been taxed, the toxin builds up and we get sick, or worse, die. A small amount of a lethal toxin, like hemlock, might be all it takes, whereas it would take several bottles of hard alcohol in a short time period to do us in. Sugar, on the other hand (particularly fructose—more on that in a moment), becomes toxic to us slowly over time, but for the same reason: we overtax our ability to metabolize it.
A single soda is hardly lethal, but the consequences of repeated, larger doses of fructose create a metabolic nightmare in our livers. When we repeatedly overwhelm our body’s capacity to deal with fructose by eating packaged foods, high sugar treats like cookies or drinking sodas and fruit juices and such, we get sick: high cholesterol, high triglycerides, expanding waistlines and a whole mess of inflammation. These symptoms together are known as Metabolic Syndrome (often thought of as pre-diabetes).The evidence is becoming undeniable that sugar is a bigger culprit than fat.
The great news is this is avoidable, and to a certain extent reversible if you’ve already succumbed to our Western sugar-laden lifestyle. Follow these tips to steer clear of too much fructose:
Don’t be fooled by health food stores. Just because its “natural” doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with “natural sugar” that will still thwart weight loss and health efforts. Packaged foods—whether labeled organic, healthy, natural or not—are low in fiber, low in protein and higher in sugar.
If you do choose a packaged food, read your labels. Refer to the list above—if any of these sweeteners are in the top 5 ingredients, put it back on the shelf. The bulk of your diet should be unpackaged, whole foods including vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and clean, lean proteins.
Minimize or avoid juices and sodas as beverages. Water, sparkling water, and tea are better choices. But fruit juice is loaded with antioxidants right? Get those nutrients, antioxidants, etc. in the whole fruit instead. At the very least, dilute fruit juices with sparkling water for a lower sugar spritzer.
Original Article written by Dr Brooke Kalanick, ND, MS, LAc, naturopathic doctor and graduate of Bastyr University.