By Dr. Mercola
"The Truth About Sugar" features Cara Patterson, Rick Shabilla, Audrey Cannon, and Simon Gallagher, who between them consume nearly 120 teaspoons of sugar a day.
Refined sugar has become a dietary staple in most developed nations, and many are at a loss as to how to avoid this pernicious ingredient, which can be found in virtually every processed food — typically in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.
High-sugar diets are undoubtedly the primary culprit in skyrocketing obesity and type 2 diabetes rates and other chronic health problems associated with insulin resistance.
For example, according to recent research1 presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2015, obese children as young as 8 now display signs of heart disease, and excessive sugar consumption right from birth on is at the root of this trend.
Cutting out Sugar Is One of the Easiest and Fastest Ways to Improve Your Health
"The Truth About Sugar," which aired on BBC One, aims to "demystify some of the myths about sugar — namely, what food products secretly contain it — and demonstrate the impact it can make on your health if you reduce the amount you eat."
Three of the individuals in the film did indeed manage to lose nearly 6 kilos (13 pounds) each after going on a low-sugar diet — cutting their added sugar from an average of 23 to 39 teaspoons a day, down to 6 teaspoons, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Recent research2,3,4,5 has revealed that cutting out added sugars can improve biomarkers associated with health in as little as 10 days — even when overall calorie count and percentage of carbohydrates remains the same.
The study, led by Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist who has long argued that added sugar is toxic when consumed in too-high amounts, reduced the amount of added sugars from an average of 27 percent of daily calories down to about 10 percent.
This is in line with the most recent recommendations by the federal government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, issued in February.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also proposed adding "added sugar" to the Nutrition Facts panel on processed foods, set at 10 percent of total energy intake for a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet.
Dr. Lustig's research suggests such a labeling addition could potentially make a big difference in people's health, provided they read food labels.
Sugar Is Disguised Under Many Names
Many are simply unaware of just how much sugar they're consuming. Added sugar oftentimes hides under other less familiar names, such as dextrose, maltose, galactose, and maltodextrin, for example.
According to SugarScience.org, added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names. (For a full list, please see SugarScience.org's "Hidden in Plain Sight" page.6)
Misled by shrewd advertisers, many are also still unaware of how too much sugar can disrupt your health and well-being. As previously reported by The New York Times:7
"The scientists who started SugarScience.org say they have reviewed 8,000 independent clinical research articles on sugar and its role in metabolic conditions that are some of the leading killers of Americans, like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and liver disease.
The link between sugar and chronic disease has attracted increasing scientific scrutiny in recent years. But many studies have provided conflicting conclusions, and experts say part of the reason is that biased studies have clouded the debate."
Industry Front Groups Work to Keep Sugar Hazards Secret
Indeed, the sugar-processed food and beverage industries have fought hard to hide and downplay the health hazards associated with sugar. Large sums of money have been spent to this end, and scientific integrity has been tossed by the wayside in order to convince you that sugar belongs in your diet.
Weight problems, they say, are due to inactivity — not excessive sugar consumption. The Global Energy Balance Network is one front group peddling this misinformation, originally funded with millions of dollars by none other than Coca-Cola.
But we are making progress as last week, due to all the public exposure and negative press, the Global Energy Network shut down.8
It was to counter profit-driven industry interests that SugarScience.org9 was created. Run by dozens of scientists at three American universities, this educational website makes independent research available to the public, so if you want the real scoop on what sugar does to your health, this is the place to look.
Refined Sugar Is All Energy and No Nutrition
When we talk about sugar, we're really including ALL sugars, including honey, agave, table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and the natural fructose found in fresh-pressed fruit juice and whole fruits.
However, refined sugar and processed fructose are two of the worst, with fructose having even worse health impacts than refined sugar. In the film, biologist Marty Jopson, Ph.D., explains what makes refined sugar so unhealthy.
Sugar cane and sugar beets are used in sugar production, as these plants have high concentrations of sugar. The refining process further increases that sugar concentration.
Since all the fiber, roughage, and most of the water is removed, what's left — the refined sugar — is nothing but empty calories (pure energy), completely devoid of nutrition. Should you fail to use up all these calories through physical activity, it will inevitably be stored as fat. And that's the problem with eating some 30 teaspoons or more of refined sugar a day. You simply cannot burn it all!
For example, to burn off the calories from one Snickers bar you'd have to walk about five miles, and to offset a one-soda-per-day habit — equivalent to about 10 teaspoons of sugar — you have to walk one hour per day just to prevent additional weight gain.
But it's not just candy, pastries and soda that are loaded with added sugars. Savory foods contain it as well. As do most, if not all condiments, and even infant formula and baby food.
How Much Sugar Do You Eat Each Day?
If you're like most people, you probably don't know the exact answer to that question, and the reason for this is because it's in virtually all processed food products, including products you would never suspect would have added sugar in it.
For example, the film mentions that a serving of Pad Thai noodles contains 9.5 teaspoons of sugar; a package of sweet and sour chicken with rice contains 12.5 teaspoons (more than a can of soda); and a can of baked beans contains 6 teaspoons of sugar — which, remember, would ideally be your grand total for the day!
The film goes on to discuss the science of addictive foods, and how food manufacturers employ scientists to determine the precise "bliss point" of each food, be it tomato sauce or chips. This "bliss point" is achieved through combinations of sugar, salt, and fat, plus proprietary additives and flavorings, as detailed in my previous article "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food."
One question raised is: were food manufacturers to take sugar out of their foods completely, would we still buy them? The answer is likely no, because without all these flavor additives, of which sugar is more or less essential, many processed foods would be unpalatable, as the processing removes much of the natural flavors.
This is a problem relegated to the processed food industry. You don't really have this problem when you're cooking from scratch with whole foods, which are packed with natural flavors. Then all you need is seasoning. Rarely, if ever would you consider adding several teaspoons of sugar to a home-cooked meal!
How Quickly Can a High-Sugar Diet Pack on Unwanted Pounds?
So, just how quickly can a high sugar diet like this pack on extra pounds? To use Dr. Jopson's example, let's say you drink 3 cups of tea or coffee per day, and you add 2 teaspoons of sugar to each cup. Let's also assume that you're not burning off that extra sugar due to a sit-down job and leisure time inactivity. At the end of one year, that sugar (6 teaspoons a day), would turn into a whopping 4.5 kilos, or 9.9 pounds, of body fat.
When you consider that most consume five or six times more sugar than that each day, it's easy to see how obesity has become more the norm than the exception. One of the volunteers featured in "The Truth About Sugar" had a body fat percentage of 51, and that's not unusual these days. A body fat percentage of 32 and over is considered obese for women, and anything above 25 percent falls in the obese category for men.
What to Do If Your Body Fat Percentage Is Too High
It's important to realize that the benefits of reducing belly fat go far beyond aesthetics. Abdominal fat — the visceral fat that deposits around your internal organs — releases proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, affecting how your body breaks down sugars and fats.
The chronic inflammation associated with visceral fat accumulation can trigger a wide range of systemic diseases linked with metabolic syndrome. This is why carrying extra weight around your middle is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and other chronic diseases, and why measuring your waist-to-hip ratio is actually a better indicator of your health status than body mass index (BMI).
For the majority of people, severely restricting carbohydrates such as sugars, fructose, and grains in your diet will be the key to weight loss. Refined carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and most other processed foods will raise your insulin levels and, over time, cause insulin resistance, which is the No. 1 underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.
If you're currently drinking soda, other sweetened beverages, or fruit juices on a daily basis, you may want to start by eliminating those, and work your way through the rest of your food choices from there. The only beverage your body truly needs is clean, pure water.
As you cut the sugars from your diet, you need to replace them with healthy substitutes like vegetables and healthy fats (including natural saturated fats). You can find a detailed a step-by-step guide to this type of healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan, and I urge you to consult this guide if you are trying to lose weight.
Remember, one of the simplest guidelines to shedding excess weight is to EAT REAL FOOD, meaning food in the most natural form you can find, ideally whole organic produce, and pasture-raised when it comes to meats and animal products like dairy and eggs.
Intermittent fasting can further boost weight loss, as it:
- Increases secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), a fat-burning hormone
- Increases catecholamines, which increases resting energy expenditure
- Decreases insulin levels and improves insulin sensitivity
- Increases ghrelin, aka "the hunger hormone," thereby reducing overeating
- Shifts your body from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary fuel
Sugar Addiction Is Real
And, as revealed in my interview with Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of The New York Times bestseller, "The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction," refined and processed "hyperpalatables" (sugary, fatty, and salty food combinations) hijack the reward center in your brain, causing brain changes identical to those in drug addicts and alcoholics.
A critical player in all forms of addiction, including food addiction, is the neurotransmitter dopamine. Groundbreaking research into addiction has revealed that you will not feel pleasure or reward unless dopamine binds with its receptor, called the D2 receptor, which is located all throughout the reward center in your brain. When dopamine links to this receptor, immediate changes take place in brain cells and then you experience a "hit" of pleasure and reward.
However, when you indulge in too much of these hyper-stimulators, your brain's reward center notes that you're overstimulated, which the brain perceives as adverse to survival, and so it compensates by decreasing your sense of pleasure and reward. It does this by downregulating your D2 receptors, basically eliminating some of them.
But this survival strategy creates another problem, because now you don't feel anywhere near the pleasure and reward you once had when you began your addiction, no matter whether it's food or drugs. As a result, you develop tolerance which means that you want more and more of your fix but never achieve the same "high" you once had. And so, cravings grow stronger.
Breaking Sugar Addiction
Fortunately, there are solutions to unhealthy junk food cravings. One of the most effective strategies I know of is intermittent fasting — mentioned above — along with diet modifications that effectively help reset your body's metabolism, i.e. replacing sugars and non-vegetable carbs with vegetables and healthy fats.
Intermittent fasting will help you reduce your calorie intake and help your liver to produce healing ketones. When sugar is not needed for your primary fuel and when your sugar stores run low, your body will crave it less.
Another helpful technique, which addresses the emotional component of food cravings, is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). If you maintain negative thoughts and feelings about yourself while trying to take physical steps to improve your body, you're unlikely to succeed. Fine-tuning your brain to "positive" mode is absolutely imperative to achieve optimal physical health.
Unfortunately, many people shun this notion, not because it doesn't make sense, but because the medical establishment has conned them into believing that it means they'll be shelling out many thousands of dollars for traditional psychological care.
While traditional psychological approaches may sometimes work, EFT has shown to be a far better, not to mention inexpensive, solution. If you feel that your emotions, or your own self-image, may be your own worst enemies when it comes to altering your relationship with food, I highly recommend you read my free EFT manual and consider trying EFT on your own. A version of EFT specifically geared toward combating sugar cravings is called Turbo Tapping.
For further instructions, please see the article, "Turbo Tapping: How to Get Rid of Your Soda Addiction." In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman also demonstrates how to use EFT to fight food cravings of all kinds.
Eating REAL Food Is the Answer
The concerted effort by the processed food industry to make their products as addictive as possible has the unfortunate side effect of stimulating your metabolism to burn carbs as its primary fuel. As long as you are in primary carb-burning mode, you will strongly crave these types of foods.
The solution is to decrease the amount of processed foods you eat, and replace them with real foods, i.e. high-quality whole foods. Also remember that non-vegetable carbs need to be replaced with healthy fats to successfully achieve this metabolic switchover.
Again, intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways to end junk food cravings, especially cravings for sugar and grains. No matter how cleverly enhanced these junk foods are, your cravings for them will dramatically diminish, if not vanish altogether, once your body starts burning fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel.
To protect your health, I recommend spending 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent or less on processed foods. Unfortunately, most Americans currently do the opposite, which is in large part why so many struggle with junk food cravings. Remember, virtually ALL processed foods are to some degree designed to have a high "craveability" factor, and it's really difficult to find products that do not contain high amounts of addictive sugar and carbs.