Sugarcane was first cultivated for pig food, and now millions of humans consume it daily. It is likely that you eat it and don’t even know it. This toxic substance is an addictive drug that is bad for your heart and bad for your health. It’s time to shed light on the truth: the dangers of sugar are very real. Here’s why sugar is enemy #1 of your 100 Year Heart.
The world’s most popular crop
The history of sugar is long and marred in scandal. Since its discovery centuries ago, sugar has been medicine, a form of currency, and a symbol of oppression. Much like the tobacco industry, the success of the sugar industry depended on slave labor. Once a symbol of wealth, sugar is now readily accessible to all and is incredibly difficult to avoid.
Sugarcane is the largest grown crop, surpassing corn, rice, and wheat, covering more than 60 million acres of land across the globe. This very profitable industry is expected to reach $90 billion worldwide within the next few years.
Per capita, the United States consumes more sugar than any other nation in the world. The average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar per day, or 130 cups a year! In fact, adults consume 30 percent more added sugar in their diet today than they did just three decades ago.
How sugar replaced fat
In the fall of 1955, US President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack at the age of 55. Dr. Paul Dudley White, a leading cardiologist, and President Eisenhower’s chief physician, led a press conference the following day. To avoid the same fate as Mr. President, he recommended cutting down on fat, cholesterol, and smoking. Unfortunately, this pivotal moment in history may have contributed to the rise of sugar.
Around the same time, research was being conducted by the sugar industry, examining the role between cardiovascular disease and sugar. Recently discovered documents revealed that the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to shift the focus away from sugar as the culprit and point to fat instead.
By the 1970s and ’80s, Americans began to embrace the low-fat fad, trusting physicians and scientists with very little evidence. The removal of fat caused processed food to become less palatable. To make low-fat food more desirable, manufacturers began adding more sugar to products. Much like the modern-day “keto,” “low-fat” labels caused products to fly off the grocery store shelves.
Sneaky ways sugar makes it into your diet
You might think that your sugar intake is not high because you usually skip dessert or forgo an ice cream cone with your family. However, most people drastically underestimate the amount of sugar that they consume.
Most sugar hides in processed products. Of all the added sugars in the average American diet, sugar-sweetened beverages top the list. Often people underestimate the dangers of sugar added to many brands of iced tea, sports drinks, and energy drinks. Even store-bought smoothies are sugar bombs!
In addition to beverages, sugar hides in many everyday food items. The biggest culprits are yogurts, cereal, condiments such as ketchup and BBQ sauce, and peanut butter. Surprisingly, sugar is even in bacon and bread! While the amount may seem small, it certainly adds up over time.
Sugar by any other name
The food industry is brilliant. They have found a way to hide sugar in products by giving it over 50 different names. So, when looking at an ingredient list on a package, here are some clues that sugar is in the product:
- An ingredient ends in “ose,” such as dextrose, lactose, sucrose, fructose, glucose, or maltose.
- An ingredient includes syrup, such as rice syrup, corn syrup, malt syrup, sorghum syrup, golden syrup, or buttered syrup.
- The word “sugar” is in the ingredient: cane sugar, beet sugar, date sugar, invert sugar, corn sweetener, or raw sugar.
Other forms of sugar include agave, molasses, maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrate.
Anyone who has children can attest to the addictive nature of sugar. Even for those who don’t have kids, the witnessed tantrums in the grocery store’s candy aisle should provide all the proof needed. Children aren’t the only ones taken in by sugar’s siren call, however.
Just as with alcohol or other substances, sugar is a very addictive drug. The level of craving and withdrawal may vary from person to person, but science has confirmed the addictive nature of sugar. Sugar induces the same response in the pleasure-seeking reward center of the brain as alcohol, cigarettes, and even cocaine. In one study, scientists reviewed PET scans and found significant changes in the brain after only 12 days of sugar intake. In fact, the part of the brain associated with well-being was affected after only one dose.
Sugar stimulates the brain to release dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that elicits positive feelings. However, the more an individual consumes sugar and experiences that rush of dopamine, the less the body releases dopamine on its own. The result is that we need more sugar to feel the same pleasurable response. Thus, the cycle of sugar addiction begins and the dangers of sugar become prevalent.
Dangers of sugar
Sugar most certainly contributes to the obesity epidemic, but the dangers of sugar far exceed weight gain. Sugar consumption contributes to multiple diseases, from diabetes to cancer. Nearly every health condition it linked to a high intake of sugar.
Sugar is particularly hard on the heart. Studies have found that diets high in sugar may lead to early death. For example, one 15-year study concluded that individuals who took in more than 25 percent of their daily calories from sugar were twice as likely to die from heart disease than those whose diets included less than 10 percent sugar.
Cholesterol levels have previously been associated with fat intake, but sugar may be the real culprit. A recent study found that drinking just one can of soda, or 12 ounces of any sugar-filled beverage, is associated with significantly lower levels of HDL cholesterol and much higher levels of triglycerides in adults.
Finally, sugar does a number on a system that we really want to be functioning at optimal levels these days: the immune system. Sugar spikes temporarily halt the immune system, and it can take hours for it to recover.
Does sugar affect heart rhythm?
Have you ever had a strange sensation in your chest, such as a racing heart, a fluttery feeling, or a skipped beat? You may have experienced a heart arrhythmia, and sugar may be to blame.
Blood glucose levels are meant to stay within a very tight range, regulated by insulin produced in our pancreas. Fluctuating blood glucose levels can cause changes in heart rhythm. In one such study, scientists discovered that high blood glucose levels could lead to irregular heartbeats. Sugar is also linked with instances of tachycardia, or an elevated heart rate, for some. This is just one of the terrifying dangers of sugar.
Are artificial sweeteners a healthier alternative?
If diet soda drinkers think they are in the clear, think again! Artificial sweeteners are just as dangerous as real sugar. Diet drinks are packed with manufactured chemicals and are harmful to the gut, teeth, and the entire body.
French researchers were interested in understanding the link between cardiovascular disease and artificially sweetened beverages. After examining over 100,000 records, they concluded that those who consumed diet beverages were 20 percent more likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who stayed away from diet drinks.
Raw honey is the sweetest way to go
One of humankind’s oldest sweeteners, honey tops the list as one of nature’s most potent superfoods. Evidence exists that humans gathered honey over 8,000 years ago, as depicted in cave paintings of honeycombs and bees.
Honey has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The father of medicine himself, Hippocrates, used honey in many of his ancient remedies. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Indians, and Chinese used honey for various health conditions, including digestive disorders, heart conditions, oral health, and pain. Today, honey continues to be used for its incredible wound healing and antimicrobial properties.
Choose the best honey
Not all honey is created equal. Honey is the third most adulterated food product globally, meaning that it is sometimes diluted with the less-expensive sugarcane or corn syrup. Therefore, consumers need to be wise when purchasing golden syrup.
Most of the honey that you find on supermarket shelves is highly processed. To improve the shelf life and look of honey and make the bottling process more manageable, it is often pasteurized. The pasteurization process heats the honey at extremely high temperatures, thus killing many vitamins and minerals. Most processed honey is also highly filtered, removing all of the heart-healthy pollen. Sadly, most honey in the United States is not honey at all.
When purchasing honey, it is absolutely essential to buy products that are raw and unfiltered. Raw honey is untouched by the manufacturing industry, preserving all the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that give honey its remarkable health benefits. Buying local honey may also provide health benefits, as the pollen exposure could help ward off seasonal allergies.
Excellent health benefits of honey
The complex honey-making process results in a rich, golden syrup packed with healthy antioxidants, minerals, and enzymes. Nutrients found in honey include zinc, copper, potassium, calcium, selenium, riboflavin, folate, and phosphorus, to name a few.
Honey contains approximately 45 percent fructose and 35 percent glucose. However, not all sweeteners are created equal. Compared to sugar, honey sits lower on the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly food affects your blood sugar. As such, honey keeps blood sugar levels slightly more stable.
Does honey help the heart?
Honey contains a handful of nutrients that are especially good for the cardiovascular system. Antioxidants in honey, such as quercetin, decrease the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, flavonoids improve blood flow to the heart, thin the blood, and improve overall function.
Honey may also have benefits when it comes to cholesterol. A 2013 study concluded that honey consumption significantly decreased total cholesterol levels, LDL, and triglycerides while increasing HDL cholesterol in the blood. In addition, other studies have confirmed that honey has a positive effect on lipids.
Honey is a great sugar substitute, but don’t overdo it!
Raw honey is a remarkable superfood and certainly the best replacement for sugar. However, as with all good things in life, moderation is the key. Keep in mind that our ancestors did not consume honey all the time. Instead, they used this golden syrup sparingly, adding a delightful hint of sweetness to their day.
Sugar is a drug. Don’t underestimate the dangers of this sweet poison or let it control your life. Once you start looking for it, you’ll find that sugar is hiding in even the most unlikely places. Avoid processed food and pay attention to labels, keeping an eye out for hidden sugar or artificial sugar substitutes. Consider enrolling in our four-week Foundational Nutrition program to help rewire your brain around food and break that sugar addiction for good.
Eat Well, Live Well, Think Well
Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD 2022