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Is sugar really THAT bad for us?

By Jordanna Levin |


I Quit Sugar -Is sugar really that bad for us?
Photo by: Image via Thinkstock

You might have guessed we have somewhat of a vested interest in this whole quitting sugar thing. So naturally, one of the questions we hear all the time is: “Is sugar really THAT bad for us?”

The short answer? Yes it is.

To be clear though, when we talk about sugar, we’re talking specifically about fructose. “Sugar” is roughly 50 per cent fructose, 50 per cent glucose. It’s fructose that’s the problem; the glucose part is fine. (And actually forms the building block of most food we eat.)

So why do we think sugar is so bad? Here’s what the science has to say.

Sugar makes us fat.

Turns out, fat isn’t the devil we thought it was when it comes to weight gain. Sugar, on the other hand, is contributing to the obesity epidemic in a very real way.

Why? Every molecule we ingest has corresponding appetite hormones. And when we’ve eaten enough of said molecule, these hormones tell our brains, “we’re full now, stop eating”. We’re designed to eat only as much as we need.

Every molecule, that is, except fructose. When we eat fructose, it’s like our body doesn’t notice it. It goes undetected. And so we can eat and eat and eat it, but our bodies don’t feel full. In other words, we have no fructose “off switch”.

After eating fructose, most of the metabolic burden for metabolising it rests on your liver. The way that fructose is converted in our body means it’s not used straight away as energy, but converted directly to fat.

Sugar makes us sick.

More and more research is being done on the effects of fructose on our bodies. Numerous studies have shown that fructose:

Sugar is a poison.

We’re not using that term loosely either. A bunch of scientists from the University of California have called for sugar to be treated as a poison, in much the same way as alcohol and nicotine. They suggest it be taxed, labelled and integrated into education campaigns to warn people of its dangers. Yeah, but how dangerous is it really?

Sugar is killing us.

The same scientists say sugary food is responsible for 35 million deaths worldwide. Those are some serious numbers!

They point out that at the levels consumed in the West, sugar alters metabolism, raises blood pressure, disrupts hormonal signaling and causes significant damage to the liver, leading to a whole host of metabolic issues and diseases.

Want to know more? Watch the YouTube lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” by Professor Robert Lustig, a highly regarded endocrinologist and arguably the world’s leading expert in childhood obesity. You can also check out the New York Times science writer Gary Taubes’ essay Is Sugar Toxic.

But sugar is natural, so why is it so bad?

Well arsenic is also natural, but you wouldn’t want to eat it! Ditto with sugar.

The problem is we’re designed to eat VERY LITTLE fructose. When we were cave people, it was both highly valuable (as insta-energy for chasing wildebeest) and extremely rare (a few berries or some honeycomb here and there).

Sugar is too easily attainable for us now that when we eat it, our body freaks and turns it immediately to fat, thus wreaking metabolic havoc. Which takes us back to the no “off switch” thing. It’s a massive liability.

Can’t we just eat it in moderation?

We’re all for balance. And we like to advocate a low-sugar, rather than no-sugar, life. But for many of us moderation is difficult. We can’t help but binge on sugar. Humans are programmed this way. We are programmed to seek it out, obsessively so.

Sugar is an addiction.

That’s not us exaggerating to get your attention. While it’s still very hard for scientists to compare different types of human physiological experience, there’s definitely evidence that sugar can be as rewarding and attractive to us as addictive drugs like cocaine. And perhaps even more so.

And it’s not just a physical addiction either. Many of us have a deep emotional attachment to sugar, which makes it even harder to break our dependence on it.

Consider this final thought. Isn’t it odd that while we all eat more low-fat products than ever before, and join more gyms, we’re only getting fatter and sicker?

Dare we mention that this increase is directly proportional to the rate of our increased sugar consumption? Are you convinced yet?

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