Sugar – bad for you – really?

That sweet nectar that makes so many dull things taste so good, how can that possibly be bad for you? How dare we even consider asking the question why sugar is bad for you? After all, did the advertisers not teach us that sugar gives us energy? Would they really give us food that is bad for us – never??

I wish, oh, I mean I really wish that all the above were true. Just about everyone I know loves a bit of sweetness every now and then, but what if that sweetness is the cause of our health and weight issues. Look I don’t for a minute believe that it is only sugar that is the problem, but I will concede this, the amount of sugar we consume is absolutely a gigantic problem in the modern diet.

According to the latest surveys, each one of us eats on average 65kg of sugar a year.

Too Much Sugar Today

That is 13 bags of 5kg sugar in a year. Considering that 200 years ago the average sugar intake per year was only 1kg.1 No, you read that right, it was only 1kg per year. Here is a little bit of an eye-opener for you to give you an idea of how much sugar this really is.

Where Does All This Sugar Come From?

It is not just from the teaspoons of sugar you put in your coffee, or on your breakfast cereal I can guarantee you this. When I looked into the sugar phenomenon, I was astounded. Look, the horrible truth is that sugar tastes great. It makes food taste great, so, sugar is used in just about everything that is manufactured.

I understand why industry uses sugar in all their products. It is a  business, and as a business you want people to buy your product. So it would make sense that you make your product taste as good as you can possibly make it taste right. I don’t think the one food producer speaks to another food producer to see how much sugar they are using so that they can use less sugar to make sure they are not poisoning the population.

If every producer is loading their products with sugar to make it taste good, you can see how this can quickly lead to overconsumption of sugar.

To make matters worse, with the rise of the low-fat fad diets, sugar fell into even more products. It is a fact that removing the fat from food groups make them taste terrible. To make these food taste good again they have to add sugar. So much for diets and health foods. The low-fat lie has caused an epidemic in overconsumption of sugar through low-fat products. Most of the time low-fat products contain more sugar than high-fat products.2

To answer the question, your sugar consumption comes from almost everything you eat. Please look on your product labels, sugar is hidden in many forms. Look out for these things on the label – they are sugars:

  • Sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Maltose
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Corn sweetener
  • Honey
  • Corn syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sorbitol
  • Brown sugar
  • Lactose
  • Molasses
  • Syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • High-fructose corn syrup

Also While we are on labels, when reading the amount of sugar on the label, remember to look at the portion size you will be eating. Divide the gram value by 4 to give you a teaspoon value. Consider that you should not eat more than 6 teaspoons (25 g) for women, 9 teaspoons (38 g) of added sugar per day.

How Much Sugar In?

The values are teaspoons of sugar
Apples – 2.5 (per 100g)
Appletiser 7
Apricots – 2.3 (per 100g)
Banana Nut Crunch – 4.5
Bananas – 3 (per 100g)
Beer 7
Blueberries – 1.7 (per 100g)
Brown and wholewheat bread – 2 slices 0.5
Butterfinger bar (60 grams) – 7
Cake (one small slice) on average 4
Can Red Bull (250ml) 5.5
Canned Fruit (Average for half a cup) 3
Carrot cake (1 medium slice) – 3
Cheerios – 1
Chocolate bar (small ones 50 – 60 grams) 6
Chocolate mousse (1 medium portion) – 3
Coca-Cola (one can) – 8
Cocoa Krispies – 9.75
Cocoa Puffs – 9.25
Cookie Crisp – 8
Corn Flakes (per 50 grams not including what you add) 1
Cranberries (per 100g) – 1
Cream Soda 12.5
Custard (1 medium portion) – 3
Donut (1 jam doughnut) 3.5
Froot Loops (per 50 grams not including what you add) 5
Frosted Flakes – 8
Fruit pie (1 medium portion) – 3.5
Fruits (on average per fruit) 2 -5
Glass of Orange Juice 6
Granola & Cereal Bars 4
Grapes – 4 (per 100g)
Honey Nut Cheerios – 8.25
Ice cream (half a cup) 3
Jam Per teaspoon 1
Kiwifruit – 2.3 (per 100g)
Lemons – 0.5 (per 100g)
Low-Fat Foods (on avg per tablespoon) 1
Lucky Charms – 9
M&M’s packet 7.5
Mangos – 3.2 (per 100g)
Milk (one cup) 3
Milk chocolate bar (44 grams) – 5.75
Milk chocolate M&M’s (packet 47.9 grams) – 7
Mountain Dew (one can) – 11.5
Muffin (one chocolate chip muffin) – 4.75
Pepsi cola (one can) – 8.75
Pineapples – 2.5
Raisin Bran – 7
Raspberries – 1 (per 100g)
Rice Krispies – 2.5
Sauces & Instant Gravies (per tablespoon) 1
seedless prunes (dried Fruit per cup) 25
Shredded Wheat – 0.1
Snickers bar (52.7 grams) – 6.75
Special K (per 50 grams) 1.5
Sponge cake (1 medium slice) – 5.5
Sprite (one can) – 8.25
Strawberries – 1.3 (per 100g)
Swiss roll (1 roll) – 2.5
Tomatoes – 0.7
vegetables ( underground veggies avg 50g) 0.5

Do yourself a favour. Add up all the sugar you eat from the products you consume in a day, then you will really see where the amount of sugar depicted in the video above comes from. Our manufactured food are all loaded with extra sugar.

Ok so why is sugar bad for you?

From what we have covered above, we have to start with the amount of sugar we eat. You will have to admit that eating 65 kg of sugar a year is extreme and completely overboard. There is no human that was built to run on that amount of sugar in any way shape or form. Ever heard the saying, too much of a good thing is bad for you.

Right, so that was the logical argument, but we have to look into the nutrition argument as well.

Sugars are the smallest and simplest type of carbohydrate.3 They are easily digested and absorbed by the body. There are two types of sugars, and most foods contain a little of each. The first is single sugars (monosaccharides) are small enough to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. these are fructose, galactose and glucose.

Sugars that contain two molecules of sugar linked together are known as disaccharides and are broken down in our bodies into single sugars and these include sucrose (normal table sugar ) which is made up of glucose and fructose, lactose (sugar in milk) which is made up of glucose and galactose, maltose (sugar found in malt) which is made up of two glucose molecules.

Now we know sugar occurs naturally in dairy products, fruit and vegetables. These are not considered bad sugars, rather it is the sugars that are added to our food, or our food being processed that is cause for concern. For instance, we could argue that fruit juice is healthy because it comes from fruit and it is natural sugar right.

Here is the problem though. When you eat one fruit, it will fill you up. but to make the glass of fruit juice you want to drink it will take 4 fruits to make the one glass. What you have done is take out the good fibre from the fruit and compressed all the sugars from four fruits into one meal. You will find the same problem with dried fruit.

Sugars provide calories, or “energy,” for the body. Each gram of sugar provides 4 calories. Your body breaks down sugars into glucose. Glucose in the blood (often referred to as “blood sugar”) is a primary energy source for the body.  Glucose can be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for later use.

Sugar Nutrient Value

There is nothing in sugar except for calories. So if you are eating empty calories what value does it add to your daily nutrient needs. Answer – 0%. Diets lower in added sugars and higher in nutrient-dense foods can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cavities.

Let me use an example to show you what I mean by dead calories. 1 teaspoon of sugar is equal to 16 calories which are equal to one cup of cucumbers. You can see that value for value you get much more from food than from sugar. So this is the second problem with sugar. First we eat too much of it, and second, there is no nutritive value in the sugar, especially not in the amounts we eat it. However, empty calories are not the biggest problem of sugar.

Let’s have a look at what all sugar effects in our bodies.

Blood Glucose cycleSugar and your pancreas

As soon as you eat, your pancreas starts pumping out insulin. Eating too much sugar causes your body to stop reacting properly to insulin. This means your pancreas starts pumping out more insulin. Eventually, your pancreas will get overworked and will break causing your blood sugar levels will rise, setting you up for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The effect of sugar on your brain

Sugar causes a big influx of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) released into the brain, which gives a feeling of energy and gusto. It is no wonder so many people are addicted to sugar because they are after that good feeling.  Like most addictions, your brain starts to need more and more sugar to get that same feeling of pleasure. Have you ever had that must get it now feeling, where you would kill for that ice-cream or chocolate or anything sweet? This is where it c those “gotta-have-it” feelings for your after-dinner ice cream that are so hard to tame

Sugar and your heart

we already established that your pancreas pumps out insulin into your bloodstream. This extra insulin affects your arteries by causing the arterial walls to grow faster than normal and get tense. This stresses your heart and causes damage to the cardio system. The obvious outcome of this is heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Research also suggests that getting 25% of your calories comes from added sugar puts you at twice as high a risk for heart disease as people that eat less than 10% of their calories from sugar.

Sugar and arthritis

Excess in sugar causes more inflammation in your body. This inflammation can attack joints so if you suffer from sore joints and do not have gout or arthritis, lay off the sugar. Speaking of Arthritis, studies have shown that overconsumption of sugar can increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Sugar and your liver

Having to much sugar can cause your liver to become insulin resistant. This condition is very serious in the long run as it disrupts your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. This is the surest route to Type 2 Diabetes, an epidemic of the modern world.

Sugar and your kidneys

Look most of the time your kidneys is quite capable of dealing with filtering your blood sugar in your body. But if you’ve pushed it too far, and you have diabetes, having sugar can overtax the kidneys and can lead to kidney damage and eventually kidney failure.

Sugar and obesity

There is nothing new in the statement that too much sugar causes weight gain and obesity. I doubt that it is only sugar that is the culprit, but there is enough studies that show sugar contributes heavily to weight gain. What is maybe not as well known is that being overweight puts you at a much higher risk for type 2 diabetes. So if you want to get rid of those extra rolls you have to start with the sugars.

So is sugar really from the devil?

I would love to say no not at all, but I would be lying. If it were 200 years ago, I would say no, sugar is good. But in today’s world where sugar permeates everything we eat, it is definitely an evil that we have to get rid of in our diet. If you can stop eating all manufactured products, then you can still use sugar, and you will be fine. But if you cannot let go of those sodas and cookies, boxed foods etc. you might be in for a nasty and unhealthy surprise in your future.

If you are already overweight, I plead with you, get off the sugar. If you really must have something sweet use stevia or xylitol. Eventually, when you don’t use sugar for two weeks, the sweet things don’t taste so good anymore. I know this is not easy but think of your tomorrow. It is worth it.

If you want to take control of your health and your weight, feel free to join our Eat2Live Weight Loss Plan

We would love to hear back from you, please leave a comment, a question or a thought in the comment box below. 

Please have a listen to this video by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. It is quite eye-opening.

1. New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

2. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health 

3. Nutrition Facts Label: Sugars