By Dr. Mercola
Your body gets all the sugar it needs from natural sources in fruits and vegetables. When combined with additional fiber, vitamins and minerals, natural sugar is processed slightly differently than added refined white sugar or the myriad of other names the industry is using to disguise sugar in your food.
Avoiding foods laced with sugar is easier said than done, unless you have switched to a diet of almost exclusively whole foods. Many processed foods come with the addition of sweetener to tempt your palate.
Sugar is one of the most damaging substances to your body and can trigger an addiction that’s hard to break. This addiction is rampant in adults and children alike, and is planned for by manufacturers through defining a specific “bliss point” for their products that brings customers back for more.1
This scientific calculation of ingredients designed to make you crave their product may also be your downfall. The truth the junk food industry doesn’t want you to know is that sugar has significant and deadly effects on your health. Unfortunately, you may not always know what you’re eating.
The Food Label May Not List Sugar
In 1812, people ate approximately 45 grams of sugar every five days.2 That’s about the amount in one can of soda. By 2012, most Americans were consuming sugar to the equivalent of 17 cans of soda every five days.
That’s a huge jump! Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes they’re eating that much sugar, as it hides under names you may not know.
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans put out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) limit the amount of sugar to 10 percent of your total daily calories.3
For a 2,000 calorie diet this amounts to 10 to 12 teaspoons, or just over the amount in one 12-ounce can of regular Coke. But even this amount can trigger health problems.
The National Cancer Institute estimates the average American consumes approximately 15 teaspoons of added sugar each day.4 You may recognize your cake, candy or sweet treat is loaded with sugar, but may not think about your condiments, salad dressings, canned foods and drinks other than sodas.
For instance, just 2 tablespoons of barbeque sauce has 10 grams (5 teaspoons) of sugar.5
If you’ve been reading food labels to help limit foods that contain sugar, you might not recognize all the names manufacturers are using. Sugar, sucrose and fructose are fairly recognizable. However, did you know Dextran, Ethyl Maltol and Panela are also sugars used to sweeten your foods?
Food companies may also claim their product has no “refined sugar.” This means the product doesn’t contain white sugar, but it doesn’t mean it has no sugar.
There are no current studies that support the use of other types of reportedly “healthier” sweeteners as added sugar when you’re already eating too much sugar in the first place.
These products may be labeled as “healthier” as they originate from plant or animal sources, such as honey or fruit. But, adding sugar to products that in turn boost your daily intake of added sugar only increases your overall risk of damage to your health.
The Many Names for Sugar
With greater media attention and consumer demand, some companies are beginning to make changes. For instance, Yoplait recently reduced their sugar content in their popular strawberry yogurt from 26 grams — one gram less than a Snickers bar6 — to 18 grams.7
There are different types of dry and syrup sugars that may go unnoticed as you read the labels. Here’s a list of some of the more common sugars. However, there are more names for sugar than are listed here.
Also remember that food labels list ingredients in order of their appearance in the product. There is more of the first ingredient than the second and so forth. This means that although sugar may appear in the fourth position of the product label you’re reading, it may not be the fourth largest ingredient overall.
If a different type of sugar is listed in the sixth, eighth and tenth positions, the combined total may put sugar in the second position.
This list doesn’t contain the names of sugars that include the word “sugar,” such as beet sugar or date sugar. You’ll notice that some of these sugars end with the word “syrup” or with an “ose” at the end of the word, such as galactose or fructose, also indicating they are sugars.8
✓ Blackstrap molasses
✓ Buttered syrup
✓ Cane juice crystals
✓ Evaporated cane juice
✓ Carob syrup
✓ Fruit juice
✓ Fruit juice concentrate
✓ Brown rice syrup
✓ Corn syrup solids
✓ Florida crystals
✓ Golden syrup
✓ Maple syrup
✓ Refiner’s syrup
✓ Sorghum syrup
✓ Barley malt
✓ Corn syrup
✓ Diastatic malt
✓ Ethyl maltol
✓ Glucose solids
✓ Malt syrup
✓ Rice syrup
Liquid Sugar Is Even More Dangerous
Added sugar in any form is dangerous to your health, but a liquid form may be the worst for a couple of reasons. Although the type of sugar may not be too different, the product it is added to may make a difference in the way your body metabolizes the calories and how satisfied you feel by those calories.
Any liquids you consume with added sugar fit this description. Although fruit juices are sometimes marketed as healthier choices, they often contain the same amount of sugar as other sugary drinks.
They have the added disadvantage of having the pectin or fiber removed, which is found naturally in the fruit. Fiber is what helps offset the effect of sugar in your body.
Researchers have found that fruit juice may have the same negative effects on your body as other drinks with added sugar.9 Drinking your calories also doesn’t give you the same feeling of satisfaction as eating solid foods, leading to greater caloric intake to feel satisfied and full.10,11
Even when caloric consumption is controlled, drinking a high amount of sugars may lead to an increase in the amount of body fat you carry.12
In a 10-week study using participants who were overweight or obese, researchers found that giving them 25 percent of their calories as liquid, while controlling overall caloric intake, led to a decreased insulin sensitivity and increase in belly fat.
If you want to switch beverages, be wary of picking up bottles of prepackaged iced tea or flavored waters. Your best options are to replace liquid calories with clean, fresh water. You may choose to flavor with a wedge of fresh lime or lemon. Brew your own iced tea at home with lemon to reduce your intake of added sugars.
The Type Also Matters
For several years the corn industry used advertising to convince consumers that eating high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was no different than eating any other type of sugar. But, as media attention to research grew, consumers became wise to the idea that HFCS was not the healthy alternative manufacturers were claiming.
The same is true for fructose. Your body can easily metabolize and use glucose, but fructose is only metabolized in your liver.13 This increases your risk of dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol and lipid levels) and insulin resistance.
High amounts of fructose in your diet have been linked to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.14,15,16 Although limiting your overall sugar intake is important, tracking the amount of fructose you eat and limiting it to 25 grams or less a day is also key to your health.
Agave nectar is marketed as a healthier choice among sweeteners, but is between 70 and 90 percent fructose.17 Knowledge of the research and health effects of fructose is important if you want to be as healthy as possible. Your best chance of making permanent health changes come when you have a good understanding and belief about why you’re making the change.
To learn more about the effects of fructose on your body and how you metabolize it see my previous article, “Sugar May Be Bad, but This Sweetener Called Fructose Is Far More Deadly.”
Whom Do You Believe?
The food industry works hard to ensure any information you hear reflects well on their products. To this end they have gone to great lengths to hire “experts” who support the industry and communicate evidence in a way that bolsters the manufacturer’s use of specific ingredients. Dr. David Katz is one such person.
Katz is a prolific writer and contributor to several news outlets as well as a paid industry expert. He grew in popularity through his prolific writing and frequent appearance on the news, and not through scientific research breakthroughs or work in public health.
He has become an expert at developing a story so the company he currently represents receives positive attention. This is nothing new in the realm of lobbyists and persuasive debaters. What is new is the way he has positioned himself to become an expert, while continuing to change his position over time as the company he represents also changes.
For instance, in the 2012 lawsuit against Chobani for using “evaporated cane juice” to boost sugar content in their yogurt, Katz agreed the food industry may deceive consumers, but failed to agree to a comparison to the tobacco industry saying:18
“With tobacco the product is just bad and we can eradicate it. No one needs to smoke. But we’re not going to eradicate food.”
While he may be correct in the assumption no one needs cigarettes, I believe no one needs added sugar in their food either. Later it was revealed Chobani had paid him $3,500 per hour as an expert witness.19 Just three years later, he contradicted his statements when Kind Snacks was funding his expertise.
Cancer Has a Sweet Tooth
Katz also managed to secure funding to the tune of $731,000 from The Hershey Company to research the health benefits of chocolate,20 striving to improve Hershey’s image in an environment where media is more rapidly focusing on the poor health outcomes from junk food and sugar. This conflict of interest was not mentioned in a subsequent published study for the National Institutes of Health Clinical Trials database evaluating the health benefits of chocolate.21
You aren’t the only one who enjoys sugar. Cancer cells also thrive on sugar. A prospective study looked at nearly 78,000 men and women who had no previous history of diabetes or cancer.
Over a mean follow-up period of a little over 7 years, researchers found a statistically significant number who consumed high amounts of sugar developed pancreatic cancer. They said:22 “The consumption of added sugar, soft drinks and sweetened fruit soups or stewed fruit was positively associated with the risk of pancreatic cancer.”
While this demonstrated an increased risk of some cancers when your consumption of sugar is high, other research into the function of cancer cell mitochondria tells us these cells thrive on sugar and don’t burn other fuel as effectively.23 Recent research has demonstrated cancer cells rely on sugar to maintain cell function.24
Crush Your Sugar Addiction
Sugar causes very real damage to your body and cells, and the addiction to the substance is also very real. There are several strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate your intake of added sugars, while still enjoying your meals and feeling satisfied after eating.
✓ Knowledge Is Power
Making permanent changes to your lifestyle and nutritional choices is easier when you know the why behind the change. You can see a quick list of the 76 different ways sugar negatively impacts your health in my previous article titled, “The Truth About Sugar Addiction.”
✓ Reduce Your Net Carbs
Sugar is metabolized as a carbohydrate in your body, spiking your blood sugar and insulin levels. Your net carbs are calculated by taking the total grams of carbs and subtracting the total grams of fiber. By keeping your net carbs below 100 grams per day, and for a healthier diet as low as 50 grams per day, you will reduce your cravings for sweets.
✓ Eat Real Food
If a food is boxed, canned or bottled, it’s likely also been processed and may include added sugar. Whole, organic and non-genetically engineered (GE) foods provide your body with the nutrition you need to function optimally and natural sugars bound to fiber that reduces your net carbs.
✓ Read Labels
On processed foods you do purchase, scour the label for ingredients that represent sugar to evaluate the total amount. The less sugar you eat, the less you’ll crave.
✓ Use Safe Sweeteners
You may be tempted to reach for the sugar-free dessert option, but unless that’s a piece of whole fruit, you’re likely eating a sugar substitute. Not all substitutes are created equally. There are significant health risks to using sugar substitutes such as aspartame, but there is one that is on the shelf in my kitchen. Stevia is a liquid sweetener I use in my recipes that is safe and effective.
Lo Han Guo (also spelled Luo Han Kuo) is another alternative. It's completely safe in its natural form and can be used to sweeten most dishes and drinks. A third alternative is to use pure glucose (dextrose).
It is only 70 percent as sweet as sucrose, so you'll end up using a bit more of it for the same amount of sweetness, making it slightly more expensive than regular sugar — but still well worth it for your health as it does not contain any fructose whatsoever.
Contrary to fructose, glucose can be used directly by every cell in your body and as such is a far safer sugar alternative. It will however raise your net carb intake.
✓ Reduce the Sugar You Add Gradually
If going cold turkey hasn’t worked for you in the past, try slowly reducing the amount of sugar you add to your drinks. This helps give your taste buds time to adjust to drinking your favorite tea or coffee without the added sweetener.
✓ Increase Your Healthy Fat Intake at Meals
Fat increases your satisfaction with meals and your food, reducing your craving for something sweet afterward. Avocados, coconut oil, nuts and seeds increase your healthy fat content, fill you up and reduce your sweet cravings.
✓ Include Fermented Foods in Your Nutrition Plan
Fermented foods support your digestive health and improve your gut microbiome. The sour taste naturally helps reduce your sweet cravings.
✓ Try Turbo Tapping
Emotional and stress eating is not uncommon. Using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) you can address your stress levels and the discomfort you may feel from giving up junk foods in your diet. Turbo tapping is a form of EFT designed specifically for sugar addiction and is well worth a try if you’re struggling to give up soda and other sweets.