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Friday, May 18, 2012

Is Sugar Toxic?

I have spent the last week and a half moving. Moving is awful. The new place is great!  Im happy to be here, but the act of moving is awful. One unexpected side effect of moving, is the increased amounts of eating out. Either I am too busy to cook or as in the case right now, there is no food in the new fridge.  So with an increase in eating out comes an increase in sugar intake. 

Recently, a 60-minutes segment discussed the controversial topic of sugar. I never watch 60-minutes but somehow I happened to catch that week’s episode. When the segment started, I thought “Oh boy, here we go,” automatically assuming the segment would be full of myths and theories I would spend great time to dispel. However, to my pleasant surprise, the segment turned out to be full of factual information. 

Things I like from the segment

1. Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the same- It’s true. It doesn’t matter if the sugar come from corn or cane, it’s still sugar. It will react the same in the body. I would argue that if soda had cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, we would still be discussing the same problems regarding weight and chronic disease.
2. Excessive sugar intake can contribute to heart disease and diabetes- Yes in particular the monosaccharide fructose from sugar, can cause an increase in bad cholesterol, a decrease in good cholesterol, and an increase in triglycerides. It certainly attributes to weight gain with the excess of empty calories.

Things I don’t like from the segment

1. Natural sugar is a Darwinian signal of food safety- I’m going to need to hear more explanation of this.
2. Not enough emphasis on “added sugars”- There is a difference between natural sugars and added sugars. Natural sugars exist in fruit and dairy products. This is an important distinction that needs to be clarified.
3. There was no mention of how to find added sugars in your foods- Most manufacturers don’t use just sugar on their ingredient list. There are a myriad of names to describe sugar based on the source. It will be important for you to know how to find it on a food label. See below for more information on that.
4. Referring to sugar as “toxic.” There are so many uses of toxins today for the body. And no, a detox cleanse will not make you healthier. What does that mean anyways? I digress…Most things consumed to excess can be detrimental to the body. If we remove excess sugars from our diets, and replace it with saturated fat, will we be healthier? Or will the new (or old) toxic substance then be saturated fat?  

Just the Facts

So let’s get to the nitty gritty. Sugar becomes glucose in the blood. And glucose is the body’s main source and most efficient source of fuel.  So intake of foods that convert to glucose through digestion should be a regular part of your diet. These foods include whole grains and oatmeal; legumes; dairy products (if you are not lactose intolerant); and fruits. When these are consumed in their original forms, they are full of fiber, starches, vitamins and minerals. 

Notice in the above list, I mentioned foods that are not simple sugars. They are complex carbohydrates. However, simple sugars such as cane sugar (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup, etc. consumed in excess creates the problem. I continue to return to the notion of moderation. This is not an innate characteristic of Western culture. We are usually “go big or go home.” But eating moderately, in proper portions, allows you that piece of chocolate cake on your birthday. And we should all enjoy cake on our birthday! 

My bottom line: Sugar can be detrimental to your health when consumed in excess!

Recommendations for added sugars: 

Men get 36g of added sugar daily; Women get 24 g.
Note: 1 tsp of sugar = 4g of sugar
PS: One 12oz can of soda has 39g of sugar. All added sugars!

How to spot added sugar on the food label

You will need to read the ingredient list. Although sugars are listed on the label, you need to define source of sugar. Take for example, this food label of blueberry yogurt. There are 19g of sugar per serving. When I look in the ingredient list, I come to the first form of sugar which is the milk and blueberry. These are a natural source, so Im okay with it. When I look further I see sugar and fructose. These are added. They didn’t exist naturally in the process of yogurt. And Im not cool with these. Unfortunately, we cannot tell how much of the 19g of sugar belongs to the milk and sugar and how much is the result of sugar and fructose. So I would instead choose a non-fat plain yogurt and add my own fruit.  

Common names for added sugar on a food label

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
What do you think? Is sugar toxic?

Today’s Verse: “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.” Romans 14:20.

Next Blog: Mystery Food Cures of the Bible


  1. In excess, yes, but the problemis that sugar is sneaked into so many products that we are in excess without even realizing it! Thanks for shedding light on a challenge that can be overcome with knowledge. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge!" (Hosea 4:6)

    1. Alison, you are so correct! That is an excellent point that I didn't highlight enough in the blog. We have to start being our own advocates. Read food labels, ask questions at restaurants because it can be hidden. Thanks for the comment!