Repeated daily doses of refined sugar especially when packaged with other health-hazardous food components such as saturated fats and chemical additives can lead to serious health problems. These include coronary heart disease, cholesterol buildup, and other disorders arising from veins, arteries, and a heart muscle weakened by a high-sugar diet.
Yet our diet is rife with sugar. We add it to our coffee, cereal, and desserts, and our food producers throw it into nearly everything they package canned vegetables, processed meats, condiments, not to mention canned syrupy fruits, and other desserts.
An educated consumer learns to read labels, to recognize sugar in all forms, and to avoid it wherever possible, since most people can get all they need from fruits, (nature’s main source) and vegetables, and from the breakdown of starch indigestion.
Let’s look at some of the sugars used as food additives.
Sucrose. This is the most common. It is usually listed on packages as “sugar,” but sometimes, in foods with so much sugar that sugar should be the first word on the ingredients list, “ sucrose” is listed separately near the end of the list along with several other kinds of sugar, to pacify the unwary. Don’t be fooled. “Sucrose” is really plain old table sugar, the same stuff that makes dessert such a minefield for dieters.
Corn syrup. Strange as it sounds, it’s possible that most of the sugar you eat comes in the form of corn syrup. This cheap, almost 100 percent glucose sugar is extracted from corn starch. It is inexpensive, liquid, and easy to use. It is therefore the one most manufacturers of processed foods prefer, and the one they use the most, in everything from soup to nuts. The term “corn syrup” on a label is a tip-off that the product anything from coffee lightener to candy bars contains glucose in an uncombined form.
“Glucose” or “ corn syrup” is also a tip-off that you are getting more sugar than you would be getting if you made the product yourself using table sugar. This is because glucose is less sweet than table sugar. It is also very cheap, and thus profitable for manufacturers to use in large amounts.
Sugar growers and processors have effectively blocked any legislation requiring label declarations of the amount of glucose used in a product. Since the sweeter a product is, the more appealing, it is easy to understand how much sugar a high-sugar diet of store-bought foods may be yielding you.
Don’t forget that glucose may also be referred to as grape sugar, fruit sugar, or blood sugar. (It won’t be called blood sugar on a label, though.)
When you’re tempted to choose a can of glucose-loaded soda over a piece of naturally energizing fruit, remember the description of one glucose critic Dr. Harvey Wiley, the person primarily responsible for the passage of the important Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 used for this unhealthiest of all the sweeteners. He called it “ the champion adulterant.”
Fructose. There are foods being sold with the label “no sugar added” that plainly include fructose on the ingredients list. This is false. Make no mistake fructose is sugar.
If you read magazines for dieters or athletes, then you’ve read the ballyhoo on behalf of the supposedly “new, improved” sugar, fructose. Fructose sales benefit agribusiness because when used commercially, this sweetener is derived from corn. Income from sales also accrues to the pockets of food marketing corporations, since fructose is widely used in fast foods in its liquid form.
Could this be the explanation for the sudden interest in this high-priced sugar substitute? It seems likely since defenders of the consumers’ best interests and respectable medical authorities seem to be conspicuous by their absence on the fructose bandwagon.
Human beings have been consuming fructose in its natural, unrefined state as long as we have walked the earth. Real fruit sugar is found in cherries, bananas, apples, and grapes (5-8 percent) and is also found in smaller quantities in strawberries, grapefruit, oranges, blackberries, and blueberries (2-3 percent). Fructose also accounts for almost half of the sweeteners you get in honey. And of course, your body breaks down cane or beet sugar sucrose into fructose and glucose. Certainly, our bodies are adapted to use fructose. But it is questionable whether refined, pure fructose is better for you than any other refined sugar.
There are those who claim that fructose does not cause the sharp changes in blood sugar levels that sucrose does, and therefore must be beneficial for diabetics and hypoglycemics as a sucrose substitute. They argue that it is digested at a very slow pace, and thus, unlike sucrose or glucose, does not flood the bloodstream with sugar. Such flooding can overstimulate insulin production, causing wide fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
Then, in the liver, fructose is metabolized twice as fast as glucose, where it is rapidly transformed into glucose and then glycogen for storage.
The proponents of fructose conclude that, even if you do eat too much, it enters the bloodstream slowly and leaves it fast (due to the rapid conversion by the liver), bypassing the whole insulin-producing mechanism so fraught with peril to hypoglycemics and diabetics.
In addition, they point out that, since fructose is sweeter than glucose, you are likely to eat less at one time.
These arguments might be persuasive, were it not for the fact that most fructose is converted to glucose in the body and is then indistinguishable from the glucose that comes from sucrose or corn syrup.
Furthermore, experiments with animals indicate that the theory that fructose does not stimulate insulin production is probably wrong. Animals fed pure fructose show higher levels of both insulin and triglycerides than animals fed starch. (High triglyceride levels have been implicated in coronary heart disease.) Researchers have demonstrated that fructose raises glycerol levels. (Glycerol is a part of the lipid-fat family.) They concluded that fructose raises lipid levels more than other refined sugars do. Lipids are fats: you do not need extra fats circulating in your bloodstream.
And fructose has other disadvantages. The liver doesn’t convert all of the excess fructose in the system to glucose. What escapes conversion and is not used by the cells (which use it far less efficiently than glucose) may be thrown out via the urine. This can cause confusion about test results for diabetes mellitus, whose diagnostic indication is sugar in the urine.
Fructose has also been shown to raise uric acid levels (though this is not considered a threat to normally healthy individuals).
Too much sugar of any kind isn’t good for you. Fructose, in particular, can cause diarrhea if you eat too much.
Finally and this has to be a consideration for most of us fructose is expensive to produce and costly to buy. Since many medical authorities feel it offers no special advantages in diseased states, i.e. dental caries or diabetes, you should not be too anxious to switch.
Sorbitol This is another sweetener often used as a food additive. If you are avoiding sugary chewing gums, you may have switched to a sugarless brand compounded with this carbohydrate-like substance. Chemically, it is monosaccharide-derived alcohol, sweet like sugar, but not really sugar. Sorbitol can be extracted from fruits; however, when we encounter it in chewing gums, diabetic foods, and commercial bakery foods, it is usually synthetic. Manufacturers like it because it not only makes food sweet but keeps it moist.
Which Form of Sugar Should You Use on the Table?
We have already discussed the pros and cons of the sweetest sugar, fructose. Now let’s look at the many forms in which people eat the most common one, sucrose. Are there advantages to eating it like brown sugar or raw sugar, or to using maple syrup, molasses, or honey instead?
Brown sugar. Unfortunately, according to sugar researchers, both light- and dark brown sugar maybe even more dangerous than white sugar, since brown sugar usually gets its healthy-looking “ tan” not from nature, but by way of a colorizing process involving charcoal and other factors that are suspected presently of being carcinogens.43 Otherwise, brown sugar is just like white sugar; highly refined, nutrient-depleted, too-rapidly-absorbed sucrose.
Raw sugar. When you buy raw sugar, if you think you’re purchasing a more natural, less refined product that will do your body less harm than refined, white sugar, you’ll have to revise your thinking. Raw “ turbinado” sugar has been through almost the whole refining process white sugar undergoes. Dr. John Yudkin, the eminent sugar authority quoted at the beginning of this chapter, uses this humorous analogy to describe the similarity:
i magine me walking out into the street wearing nothing but my tie, and
then stating that I am dressed; but if I take my tie off, I might say that I
am now undressed. It’s the same way with raw and refined sugar. Those
who imagine raw sugar as nearly natural material are like people who
would think me wonderfully dressed if I walked into the street wearing
only my tie. “
Maple syrup. Do the quality and the unusual flavor of maple syrup justify the price? How much nutrition are you getting for your dollar?
Even when it’s the real thing, maple syrup is still largely sugar. And when it’s not pure maple syrup as most waffle and pancake syrups are not it may be worse than sugar.
Consider this warning from Beatrice Trum Hunter, the author of Consumer Beware: what you are blissfully dribbling over your morning waffles may be rich in paraformaldehyde as well as sugar. In some maple-tree-producing states, this chemical is used in the tree to eliminate certain bacterial factors. The sap flows faster and, of course, this benefits the producer if not the consumer.
You can avoid contaminated syrups by buying only those from Canada, Vermont, or other states that do not permit this practice.
O f course, real Vermont or Canadian maple syrup is scarce and expensive. Many waffle syrups do not even contain maple syrup. You can only read the labels to decide whether it’s worth buying these concoctions of corn syrup, sugar, and, often, artificial flavors. As an alternative, try switching to honey, perhaps combined with a more nutritious, rarely contaminated sweetener such as unsulfured molasses, if you appreciate a more robust, pronounced flavor in your syrup.
Light cane molasses. If you have a sweet tooth you’ve decided to try to live within a healthy way, here’s a sweetener to consider. Molasses is produced during the process of refining sugar from sugarcane. But this product is the fraction that manufacturers are least interested in the small portion bearing the mineral and B-vitamin content. However, even this sweetener borders on being an empty calorie food, too. So use it in moderation.
Honey. If you are at all health-conscious, you probably put honey instead of jam on your toast. A few drops of Orange Blossom honey have replaced the sugar in your tea; you dribble it over your breakfast fruit and flakes and use it as an afternoon energizer.
Your honey may not be the purely natural food it’s reputed to be. But if you can answer the following questions yes, then you have purchased a true health food, superior in many ways to sugar, reminiscent of the food famous since the days of the Israelites.
- Did it come from a reputable health food store?
- Does the label use one or more of these descriptive terms: “ raw,” “ unfiltered,” “ unpasteurized,” “ unheated,” “ no heat used”? This label declaration, which is not required by law, is your assurance that you have not purchased just a “ liquid sugar,” a product that has been so heat-treated and refined that it offers no advantages over sugar.
Honey is a naturally occurring sugar requiring no refinement. It supplies more nutrients than white sugar or maple syrup. Honey consists of minerals such as potassium and calcium, important trace minerals, and small amounts of essential B vitamins. The darker your honey is, the truer this is.
Honey is free of pesticide poisons, thanks to the fact that bees will usually avoid blossoms that have been sprayed, or will perish after exposure because of their intolerance to such toxins.
You cannot automatically replace white sugar with honey unless you realize that honey, like all sugars, can produce dental caries and add appreciable amounts of calories to the diet.
Additionally, honey will digest at approximately the same rate as the other simple sugars and is therefore not recommended for hypoglycemics or diabetics. It is a common allergen.
On the more positive side, unlike its overly refined counterparts, honey does have a full complement of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes, which allow it to be digested without robbing the body of B vitamins that are necessary for the digestion and absorption of other simple carbohydrate foods.
Also, honey has antibacterial and antiseptic qualities.
Saccharin is not sugar and it is not a food. It is a nonnutritive, artificial sweetener made from coal tar. However, it is important to discuss it in a chapter on sweeteners because so many people use it as a sugar substitute, and very few are aware of how extremely serious the risk of consuming saccharin is especially to their children.
While it has been around since 1879, it’s only since the 1960s, when dieting became a national obsession (remember Twiggy?) and diet soft drinks and other snacks became big business, that Americans began consuming it in large quantities. Saccharin is three to four hundred times sweeter than sugar. By now a whole industry has grown up based on it an industry that is fighting to protect its investments, even if serious health disorders occur over the years.
Although Food and Drug Administration pathologists had raised the question of whether saccharin might cause cancer as early as 1951, it was not until the late 1970s that saccharin was decisively shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, as the result of a carefully designed study by the Canadian Health Department of the effects of both saccharin and OTF (ortho-toluene formed), a common impurity found in saccharin, on rats. Three out of one hundred rats fed a diet of 5 percent saccharin from birth developed bladder cancers. Still more frightening, a whopping fourteen out of one hundred of their offspring tested did, too. The normal rate for bladder cancer in rats is less than 2 percent. (Rats fed OTF showed no such ill effects.)
This means, according to the FDA, that at the highest level of risk for humans, 4 persons out of 10,000 would develop bladder cancer if they drank just one twelve-ounce can of diet soda a day for a lifetime. That’s 90,400 out of 226 million Americans.
U.S. law requires that the FDA immediately ban the use of any food additive shown to cause cancer when fed either to animals or to human beings. There is a good reason for this clause, called the Delaney amendment (after New York Congressman James D. Delaney) in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. There is wide agreement among authorities in the study of cancer worldwide that there is no safe amount of a carcinogen: if something causes cancer in large doses, it will do so in small doses also, though cancer may take longer to appear.
Thus, the aggressively asserted and widely publicized argument of the powerful agribusiness and food industry interests, that the Canadian study was irrelevant because the rats were fed such a large quantity of saccharin (they equated it with 800 cans of diet soda a day), is so much hot air. Should industry really have the right to sell you a carcinogenic soda just because you or your children are likelier to come down with bladder cancer at the age of fifty rather than seventeen if you drink it habitually today?
No two people have the same tolerance level for any nutrient or non-nutrient. And the effects of saccharin tend to be cumulative. Therefore a person having a diet containing a high saccharine content in foods such as diet soda and chewing gum, diabetic candies, bread or other items would, over a period of years, increase their cancer risk rate far above that of a person not consuming these as regularly. Additionally, the person’s state of health when consuming the saccharin could make the saccharin more potent in its effects. For example, a person recuperating from a major disease that has lowered his immune response, especially a child or elderly individual, could have a greater likelihood of having an adverse reaction to the saccharin than an otherwise healthy individual.
Therefore no one, no scientist anywhere, can claim that saccharin is an innocuous substance, as our reactions to it are so specific.
It is tragic that so many people were taken in by the food industry’s media blitz. Now that the Delaney amendment has been weakened by the precedent of Congress’s allowing saccharin to remain on the market, you are less likely to be protected from other carcinogenic food additives that will be discovered in the future. Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, has again become the watchword of the food industry. For your health’s sake and that of your children, you’d be well advised to take it very seriously, and beware of saccharin.
Know your sweeteners. Glucose is the “champion food additive,” and is present in any food whose label mentions corn sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, grape sugar, or fruit sugar. It is not very sweet, so there is probably a lot present if it is there at all. Table sugar may also be listed by its chemical name, sucrose. Supersweet fructose, or fruit sugar, is usually derived from corn for commercial purposes at considerable expense; its advantages over other forms of refined sugar are probably greater to manufacturers in the form of large profit margins than to consumers in the form of any of the much-ballyhooed health benefits. Sorbitol, while sweet, is not actually a sugar, but is metabolized in the body like sugar.
A quarter of the sugar you eat is probably added by food processors. If you must use sugar on your table and for baking, raw, unrefined honey is probably the healthiest form in which to use it. (But have you tried including dried fruit in baked goods instead even of honey?) Real maple syrup, uncontaminated by paraformaldehyde, is delicious, but awfully expensive and it is still mostly sugar. Unsulfured molasses supplies some B vitamins and minerals that table sugar does not. But all sugary sweeteners can be habit-forming and should be used with great moderation.
Table sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, and raw sugar are so similar that it makes no difference which you choose except that brown sugar has added chemicals that may be harmful.
Saccharin has been shown to cause cancer in test animals and their offspring, and using it doesn’t reduce your caloric intake all that much. It is a carcinogen that should not have been allowed to remain on the market.
The healthy alternative is to wean yourself away from all added sugars as much as possible. Switch from gooey desserts to chewy, naturally sweet fruits. And use dried fruits only in moderation, too: the natural sugar in them is extremely concentrated, and may cause cavities just like refined sugar. Rice syrup, barley syrup, and other grain syrups are less processed, have more vitamins and minerals, and are preferable over all other sugars mentioned.