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Seven shocking facts about sugar
1. It Was Sugar All Along
You can thank one man for launching the anti-fat crusade that spawned the explosion of sugary foods in America. That man was Ancel Keys, the University of Minnesota physiologist whose research in the 1950s and ’60s shaped the government’s dietary guidelines that convinced the world to look away from the toxic nature of sugar.
Keys, a hugely influential scientist, worked closely with the federal government and the American Heart Association and was even featured on the cover of Time magazine for an article advocating low-fat diets. As we saw in the chapter on meat, Keys convinced the world that saturated fat was the world’s biggest dietary villain.
But he made a crucial error: Although he had access to data on fat and heart disease from twenty-two different countries, he cherry-picked the six countries that most helped his argument and ignored the sixteen countries that did not.
2. Sugar Is Addictive
Despite the industry’s best efforts, it’s no longer a secret that sugar is bad for you. Yet despite its deadly reputation, millions of Americans struggle to give up their cookies, cake, ice cream, and sugary drinks. Why?
It’s not just that we love sugar and sweet tastes—it’s that we’re hooked. The awful truth is that sugar can dramatically alter your metabolism and your brain chemistry, causing you to suffer intense cravings. In a study, obese men were given milkshakes that contained equal amounts of nutrients and calories.
But half of the subjects got shakes containing high-glycemic corn syrup, which causes a rapid spike in blood sugar, and the other group’s milkshakes contained low-glycemic cornstarch, a carb that is digested more slowly
than syrup, causing just a gradual rise in blood glucose.
After drinking the shakes, the corn syrup group reported feeling much hungrier than the other group and ended up eating a lot more later on. All of the subjects were given brain scans, which showed that the syrup group had
increased blood flow in the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that regulates cravings, rewards, and addictive behaviors.
This is the same part of the brain that lights up when alcoholics have a drink, when compulsive gamblers walk into a casino, or when drug addicts take a hit of cocaine. When this reward center lights up in response to
stimuli like sugar, it reinforces the desire for that stimulus, which, over time, gives rise to intense cravings that play a role in addictive behavior.
3. Quitting Sugar Improves Your Health Rapidly
Sugar is so ubiquitous, and its effects on our brain chemistry so powerful, that breaking free of its grip can be enormously difficult. But here’s some motivation: As soon as you quit sugar, your health will improve rapidly.
In fact, it takes just ten days without sugar to see substantial metabolic and neurological benefits. In a study published in the journal Obesity and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, scientists recruited forty-three overweight teenagers who had at least one feature of metabolic syndromes, such as high blood sugar, hypertension, or abnormal cholesterol.
On average the subjects had been getting about 27 percent of their daily calories from sugar. But the researchers made one simple modification to their diets: They replaced all the sweet foods they were eating—candy, pastries, doughnuts, and chicken teriyaki (that sauce contains a lot of sugar!) with starches.
They kept the number of calories they ate the same, so the subjects didn’t lose any weight. The goal of the study was to see whether replacing sugar with slower-acting carbs could improve health even without weight loss.
4. There Are Many Ways to Say “Sugar”
There’s an old cliché that says Eskimos have one hundred words for snow. It makes sense, then, that we Americans have so many ways of saying “added sugar.” For the most part, you won’t find these in your cupboard they’re nearly all ingredients used in processed foods.
Here are a few clues that an ingredient is really just sugar: Anything with the word “agave.” Anything with the word “corn” (unless it’s whole corn), like high-fructose corn syrup or corn sweetener. Any derivative of rice (unless it’s vinegar), like brown rice syrup.
Anything that begins with the word “cane,” like cane juice or cane syrup. Many food manufacturers try to disguise the sugar in their products by using terms like “evaporated cane juice” in their ingredients labels. But don’t be fooled. Anytime you see a fruit concentrate or juice among the ingredients, you’re just seeing sugar in disguise.
Any word with the suffix “-ose,” like fructose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, or trehalose. Anything with the word “malt,” like malt syrup or flomalt or maltodextrin. Anything that starts with the prefix “iso-,” like isoglucose
Anything with the word “syrup,” like maple syrup, sorghum syrup, or corn syrup. And bear in mind the difference between maple syrup and “pancake syrup,” which is usually pure fructose. Obviously, anything that’s sweet, like molasses. And of course, anything with the word “sugar” in it, like date sugar, coconut sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar, and confectioners’ sugar.
5. Artificial Sweeteners Are Bad for You
Here is a classic example of what happens when you try to outsmart Mother Nature. Rather than accept the fact that we’re eating too much sugar and try to eat less, we look for a magic loophole an easy way to avoid doing the smart thing.
We saw it with trans fats and margarine, which were created as replacements for butter but turned out to be
unsafe for human consumption. And it is happening again with artificial sweeteners.
There are five that have received FDA approval—saccharin (Sweet’N Low), acesulfame (Sunett, Sweet One), aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, and others), sucralose (Splenda), and neotame, which is used by food manufacturers only.
They’re all bad for you. In a study of heart disease, people who consumed diet drinks every day had a greater risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Artificial sweeteners have proven to be carcinogenic in animal studies. They wreak havoc on your gut microbes, destroying beneficial bacteria and causing glucose intolerance.
They contain substances called excitotoxins, which can damage neurons and have been linked to neurologic side effects.
6. The Bitter Truth About Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are the mystery sweeteners, with weird names and murky origins. They’re derived from plants such as fruits and vegetables, and they’re used mainly by food manufacturers in everything from candy and bubble gum to cough drops and chewable vitamins.
Unlike artificial sweeteners, which can be thousands of times sweeter than sugar, sugar alcohols are usually less sweet. And they have calories, though many fewer than sugar, and we don’t absorb them very well. They’re easy to identify on food labels their names end in the suffix “-ol,” for instance, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and malitol.
Some experts recommend consuming these instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners. But I suggest keeping them to a minimum. Sugar alcohols are imperfectly absorbed by your intestines, which can cause diarrhea, bloating,
flatulence, and other forms of digestive distress.
They also mess with your gut microbes and cause bacterial overgrowth. And worst of all, they keep you hooked on sweetness.
7. Some Natural Sweeteners Are Better Than Others
To recap: Sugar is poison at the right dose. Don’t consume more than 5 teaspoons a day (although even that may be too much for some of us). Most adults consume an average of 22 teaspoons a day, and kids consume up to 35 teaspoons.
Artificial sweeteners are no better, and sugar alcohols present their own problems. Now what? Well, there are
natural alternatives to refined sugar. But they’re not perfect.
They have as many calories as refined table sugar, and they, too, reinforce cravings for sweet tastes. However, a few also deliver beneficial substances, like antioxidants.
The natural sweeteners with the lowest levels of antioxidants are agave, corn syrup, and brown rice syrup, all of which provide calories but nothing else worthwhile. Agave nectar, which sounds like it should be good for us, is almost pure fructose, a giant metabolic red flag.
Even raw cane sugar has more going for it. On the other hand, date sugar and blackstrap or dark molasses have practically the same levels of antioxidants as a serving of blueberries. That should come as no surprise since date sugar is just pulverized whole dates.
Almost as good: maple syrup and raw honey. When you absolutely need to sweeten something, you should try using one of these. Remember, the biggest problem is not the sugar you add to your food; it is the sugar
corporations add to your food. One 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar. You wouldn’t put that in your coffee.
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( Our purpose is simply to provide you with information. Be sure to consult a specialist or your family doctor before consuming anything. )