Part of the problem with sugar is that we’re eating so much of it. In 1700, when sugar was a rarity and only for the wealthy, average consumption was at approximately 4 pounds per year. By 1900 that number had risen to 90 pounds per year. Today, the average American consumes around 150 pounds of sugar each year, that’s approaching one half pound per day.
These outrageous levels of sugar consumption are an enormous part of the health problem in North America today, quite directly responsible for obesity, diabetes, and a host of degenerative diseases.
It can have harmful effects on metabolism and contribute to all sorts of diseases.
Here are six disturbing reasons why you should avoid added sugar like the plague.
1. Added Sugar Contains No Essential Nutrients and is Bad For Your Teeth
You’ve probably heard this a million times before… but it’s worth repeating. Added sugars (like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) contain a whole bunch of calories with NO essential nutrients. For this reason, they are called “empty” calories.
There are no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals in sugar… just pure energy. When people eat up to 10-20% of calories as sugar (or more), this can become a major problem and contribute to nutrient deficiencies.
Sugar is also very bad for the teeth, because it provides easily digestible energy for the bad bacteria in the mouth.
2. Added Sugar is High in Fructose, Which Can Overload Your Liver
In order to understand what is so bad about sugar, then you need to understand what it is made of.
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars… glucose and fructose. Glucose is found in every living cell on the planet. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies produce it. Fructose is different. Our bodies do not produce it in any significant amount and there is no physiological need for it.
The thing with fructose is that it can only be metabolized by the liver in insignificant amounts. This is not a problem if we eat a little bit (such as from fruit) or we just finished an exercise session. In this case, the fructose will be turned into glycogen and stored in the liver until we need it. This can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), a growing problem in Western countries that is strongly associated with metabolic diseases.
However, if the liver is full of glycogen (much more common), eating a lot of fructose overloads the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat. When repeatedly eating large amounts of sugar, this process can lead to fatty liver and all sorts of serious problems.
Keep in mind that all of this does NOT apply to fruit. It is almost impossible to overeat fructose by eating fruit. There is also massive individual variability here. People who are healthy and active can tolerate more sugar than people who are inactive and eat a Western, high-carb, high-calorie diet.
3. Sugar Can Cause Insulin Resistance, a Stepping Stone Towards Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
Insulin is a very important hormone in the body. It allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells from the bloodstream and tells the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat. Having too much glucose in the blood is very harmful and one of the reasons for complications of diabetes, like blindness.
One feature of the metabolic dysfunction that is caused by the Western diet, is that insulin stops working as it should. The cells become “resistant” to it. This is also known as insulin resistance, which is believed to be a leading driver of many diseases… including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease and especially type II diabetes.
When our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, the beta cells in our pancreas make more of it. Eventually, as insulin resistance becomes progressively worse, the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand of producing enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels down.
At this point, blood sugar levels skyrocket and a diagnosis of type II diabetes is made. Given that sugar can cause insulin resistance, it is not surprising to see that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have up to an 83% higher risk of Type II diabetes.
4. Because it Causes Massive Dopamine Release in The Brain, Sugar is Highly Addictive
Sugar can be addictive for a lot of people. Like abusive drugs, sugar causes a release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain, much more than we were ever exposed to from foods found in nature.
For this reason, people who have a susceptibility to addiction can become strongly addicted to sugar and other junk foods. The “everything in moderation” message may be a bad idea for people who are addicted to junk food… because the only thing that works for true addiction is abstinence.
5. Due to its Effects on Hormones and the Brain, Sugar has Unique Fat-Promoting Effects
Different foods can have different effects on our brains and the hormones that control food intake. Studies show that fructose doesn’t have the same kind of effect on satiety as glucose.
In one study, people drank either a fructose-sweetened drink or a glucose-sweetened drink. Afterwards, the fructose drinkers had much less activity in the satiety centers of the brain and felt hungrier. There is also a study where fructose didn’t lower the hunger hormone ghrelin nearly as much as glucose did.
Over time, because the calories from sugar aren’t as fulfilling, this can translate into an increased calorie intake.
6. Sugar is a Leading Contributor to Obesity in Both Children and Adults
The way sugar affects hormones and the brain is a recipe for fat gain disaster. It leads to decreased satiety… and can get people addicted so that they lose control over their consumption.
Not surprisingly, people who consume the most sugar are by far the most likely to become overweight or obese. This applies to all age groups.
7. It Ain’t The Fat… It’s Sugar That Raises Your Cholesterol and Gives You Heart Disease
For many decades, people have blamed saturated fat for heart disease… which is the #1 killer in the world. The evidence is mounting that sugar, NOT fat, may be one of the leading drivers of heart disease via the harmful effects of fructose on metabolism.
Studies show that large amounts of fructose can raise triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL (very, very bad), raise blood glucose and insulin levels and increase abdominal obesity — in as little as 10 weeks. These are all major risk factors for heart disease.