The following is an extract from “The Consumption Cleanse” chapter on Refined Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners.

What white powdery drug with worldwide distribution is behind mass addiction and directly or indirectly related to 8 million deaths globally per year? You guessed it – sugar.

Allow me to set the record straight. Sugar in and of itself is not evil, per se. It occurs naturally in many foods, including fruits and milk. It is in the adding of excess sugar to you dietary intake that there lies a problem. There won’t be many medical folks out there saying that a teaspoon of sugar will strike you down mercilessly in the street, but there is a growing body of research that demonstrates the connection between sugar and obesity. Obesity itself isn’t a major killer but heart disease, diabetes and some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver) caused by obesity are. On top of that sugar has been shown to directly cause heart disease and diabetes even in people with normal weight. The worldwide deaths from these conditions in 2012 were 23.3 million (heart disease 17 million of which 23% can be attributed to obesity, diabetes 1.5 million of which 44% can be attributed to obesity, certain cancers 2 million (author’s estimate from disparate sources) of which between 7% and 41% can be attributed to obesity and obesity itself 2.8 million).1,2,3 There you have your 8 million deaths resulting from excessive consumption of the crack cocaine of the sweetener world.

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It should come as no surprise that stuff just tastes better when it has some “sweet” added to it. The question is what we should avoid and what we should use to get this effect, and at the same time ensure we are not killing ourselves in the process.

So let’s look at added sugar first. Whether it be raw (also known as cane), white or brown sugar, all sugar is processed or refined to some degree. To make raw sugar machines are used to juice cane to which lime is added to achieve the desired ph. balance and to rid the resulting liquid of impurities. This is then evaporated and passed through a centrifuge to get sugar crystals, which is then dried further to get the light brown substance known as raw sugar.

To make white sugar, sulphur dioxide is added to bleach the cane juice prior to evaporation. Phosphoric acid, calcium hydroxide or carbon dioxide is used to remove the impurities from the result which is then passed through a carbon filter before being crystalized in a vacuum. This is then left to evaporate to get white “table sugar”. Sounds appetizing already doesn’t it?

Brown sugar, contrary to popular belief, is even more processed than table sugar. It is in fact, table sugar mixed with molasses. Bringing molasses to the party does mean that brown sugar contains more nutritional value than white sugar and so it could be said that it is healthier, but it is akin to saying poking your eye out with a hot iron is ok for you as long as you rub aloe vera on it afterwards. Brown sugar is a source of minimal dietary potassium, calcium, magnesium and B vitamins but has all of the same negative health impacts as table sugar.

In terms of nutritional value, calories and your body’s metabolism, there is no meaningful difference between these types of sugar. If you simply must eat sugar, which hopefully you won’t after reading this, choose raw sugar as it involves less processing steps, consumes less energy, uses less resources and chemicals and produces less waste. Surprisingly, brown sugar is the worse choice, as it is more processed than white sugar.

In terms of artificial (sugar free) sweeteners, there is a veritable cornucopia of products, all of which should be avoided. There is Aspartame (Equal, Splenda & Nutrasweet), Acesulfame Potassium (Sunett, Ace K), Saccharin (Sweet N Low), and more recently High Fructose Corn Syrup and Molitol. These last two are discussed separately and relate to the sweetening of beverages and confectionary respectively. All sugar free artificial sweeteners should be avoided.

The third category of sweetener, after direct sugar and artificial sweeteners is “Natural Alternatives”, which are not associated with the many negative health impacts including death like the first two are. These can continue to be consumed in moderation. This category includes raw honey, blackstrap molasses, pure maple syrup, cinnamon (sugar free), stevia (sugar free) and Xylitol (sugar free).

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Our love for sugar may not at first herald the end of life as we know it, but in fact, it does. It has been progressively sneaking its way into our diet such that it is now added in 80% of the food sold in supermarkets.4 It is appearing in higher and higher doses and causing a devastating amount of disease and death such that it has overtaken tobacco in terms of leading causes of death.

We are consuming way more than we need. It is delivering abundant human and planetary misery for absolutely no gain whatsoever, give that it has zero nutritional value. “Americans currently consume 22 teaspoons of sugar per day,” says Bethany Doerfler, RD, LDN, and a clinical research dietician at North-western Medicine in Chicago. That’s more than three times as much as what’s recommended by the American Heart Association. As for children, the number is actually higher, at 32 teaspoons per day. And it is getting worse. In 1900 the US consume about 5 pounds of sugar per person, this skyrocketed to 150 pounds per person by 2000.

The World Health Organization puts the safe amount of sugar in a healthy diet at no more than 10 percent, whereas the sugar industry in the United States has claimed that 25 percent of our diet can safely consist of sugar—a disagreement with an obvious agenda. Companies selling sugary junk know that we like sweet stuff, they know how addictive it is and they know that sugar actually makes consumers consume more, the physiological explanation for which comes later. It’s a win-win for these companies and it is a lose-lose for people and for the earth. It is an unnecessary consumable that chews up global resources in its growing, processing, marketing, selling, consuming and then in health care required to deal with its effects

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If this poison is so bad for us, why are we consuming so damn much of it? Sugar addiction is a big deal. When we consume sugar (or cocaine), dopamine is released into the brain giving us a feeling of pleasure. The addict, once hooked, begins the not always slow road towards obesity and towards a plethora of other health problems. Cravings are real and as sugar is the crack cocaine of the sweetener world, when we add it to our food and drinks, we need MORE! “Studies are showing that in some people and animals, the brain can react to sugar very much like it can to drugs and alcohol,” Doerfler says. That’s why when you initially cut added sugars from your diet, you might feel deprived for a few days. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of “The End of Dieting” says “When your body is overloaded with waste, you feel more uncomfortable when not eating that food. It’s like stopping coffee.”

As for sugars chemical compadre, we consume artificial sweeteners because it is the sweet in sugar that we are addicted to, and we think that this is a safe way to get our “sweet” fix. It is not. It is the equivalent of thinking that your addiction is resolved by coming off heroin and jumping on morphine. The important thing to note is that while artificial sweeteners are not sugar and hence have different impacts within the body and possible not all of the negative impacts of sugar, they come with a whole new raft of health issues.

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Other than its unbeatable addictive qualities, complete lack of nutritional value and the vast swathes of earth that are cleared in order to grow it, why is sugar so bad for us?

Firstly it is important to note that glucose is in fact ok and required by our brain and cells to function. Lactose is primarily in dairy and indeed in mothers’ milk so it follows that this also is required by the body, particularly young bodies. Sucrose, which is half glucose and half fructose, is what makes our food sweet. The primary reason why added sugar (and High Fructose Corn Syrup) is so bad for you is that it contains a large quantity of fructose.

Glucose is essential and can be metabolized by pretty much every cell in the body. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies make it from proteins and fat. Fructose, however, is not essential to our functioning in any way. Fructose is bad. The only organ that can metabolize fructose is the liver. When large amounts of fructose enter the liver and it is already full of glycogen, most of the fructose gets turned into fat. Some of the fat gets shipped out, but part of it remains in the liver. The fat can build up over time and ultimately lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. It is also this process that is the leading cause of obesity, diabetes and other related ailments such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Fructose is also present in fruit, but as fruit is a real food with plenty of vitamins, minerals, fibre and water and because it’s not easy to overindulge in fruit, I am excluding fruit from this discourse.

Here are the leading reasons you might consider to motivate you to get off sugar.5

  1. Known cause of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. (See above)
  2. Known cause of Insulin Resistance leading to Obesity and Type II Diabetes. (See above)
  3. Known cause of Leptin (hormone) resistance. Leptin is secreted by our fat cells. The fatter we are the more Leptin is secreted. Leptin is supposed to tell the brain we are full and to stop eating. In obese individuals, the Leptin isn’t working (Leptin resistance) so the tendency is to eat more calories than what are needed. Willpower is no match for a leptin-based starvation signal. To reverse leptin resistance sugar consumption must stop.
  4. High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol. Sugar raises the bad cholesterol, triglycerides and causes various other issues that can ultimately lead to heart disease.
  5. No Vitamins or Minerals. Sugar contains only empty calories. Eating high sugar foods which contain very little nutrients instead of more nutritious foods will likely result in deficiencies of those nutrients.
  6. Sugar Doesn’t Cause Proper Satiety. Studies show that fructose does not cause satiety like glucose does, which contributes to higher calorie intake. 6,7
  7. Bad Choice of Land Use. “It is 2009, and sugar consumption continues to increase globally. Sucrose is a toxin and has no nutritional value to the human body. Isn’t that a little strange? Particularly, since sugar cane is grown upon thousands of acres of land to produce sucrose. Eight hundred and thirty million people in the world are undernourished, and 791 million of them live in so-called developing countries. Hence, what nourishing foods could these acres potentially grow if (a) sugar cane were no longer in high demand from the U.S. (as well as the rest of the top consumers–Brazil, Australia, and the EU) and (b) the land was used specifically to grow nourishing foods for the population in the global South?”8

 As for artificial sweeteners studies have linked artificial sweeteners to migraines, cancerous tumours, anxiety and even weight gain. In the June 2010 Issue of Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine it reveals that aspartame, acesulfame potassium and saccharin increases you desire to eat more.

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Now that the damage that can be caused by sugar and artificial sweeteners has been exposed, the name of the game is to cut sugar from you diet. Because of drug-like behaviour of sugar in the human body, kicking the habit is not as straightforward simply taking everything in moderation. Alcoholics cannot just have one drink. Cocaine fiends cannot have just one line. The only way to handle such a true physiological addiction is the cold turkey approach. But you won’t have to white-knuckle it because if you follow these suggestions, you will be able to reset you body’s neurotransmitters and hormones and the sugar free passage as painless as possible.

  1. Start the day with protein. Eat protein at every meal, particularly breakfast to balance blood sugar and insulin and cut cravings. Eat organic free range eggs, protein shakes for breakfast. Include nuts, seeds, lentils, other high protein vegetables and fish in moderation in you meals.
  2. Eat plenty of good carbohydrates. Eat as many non-starchy veggies including but not limited to greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, asparagus, green beans, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, fennel, eggplant, artichokes and peppers. Leave out potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, beets, grains and beans initially on account of their high carbohydrate content. This will expedite the withdrawal process. After 2 weeks you will have lost weight and be feeling great. At this time you can slowly re-introduce those excluded vegetables.
  3. Eat lots of good fats. Along with protein, ensure to eat plenty of good fats at every meal so as to balance you blood sugar and fuel you cells. Good fats are found in nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut butter, coconut oil, avocados and omega-3 fats from certain fish (subject to the latter subject on “Seafood”.
  4. Pack healthy snacks. Whether you at home, at work or on the road, keep on hand ration packs of healthy snacks to dig into when you feel the need to consume sugar. This should contain snacks including any of the ingredients mentioned above. This can be something as simple as a trail mix of nuts and seeds that you can gaze on instead of snack food at airports, fish jerky that you can whip out when you are drawn to a confectionary machine, canned fish or oysters that you can unpeel at a moment’s notice or and other favourite that is made from protein and good carbs and fats.
  5. Avoid Stress. When you are stressed, you cortisol levels go up and this makes you hungry and causes belly fat storage. Studies show that taking deep breaths activates a special nerve, called the vagus nerve that shifts your metabolism from fat storage to fat burning and quickly moves you out of the stress state. And all you have to do is take a deep breath. Deep breathing or breathing meditation exercises are ideal to reduce stress.
  6. Avoid Inflammation. Studies show that inflammation triggers blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and type-2 diabetes. The most common source of inflammatory foods other than sugar, flour, and trans-fats are hidden food sensitivities, most commonly gluten and dairy. Stay away from gluten and for the same 2 weeks as with the excluded vegetables above. You’ll notice a difference in you energy levels and cravings and if you have symptoms of intolerances they should disappear in this time as well. Note that subsequent chapters deal more comprehensively with gluten and dairy.
  7. Get Enough Sleep. Not getting sufficient sleep causes sugar and carbohydrate cravings by affecting your appetite hormones. Studies have shown that when humans were deprived of 2 hours of the recommended eight hours of sleep per night, there was an increase in hunger hormones, a decrease in appetite suppressing hormones and an increase in cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  8. Use Natural Alternatives. When something absolutely, positively needs to be made sweeter then use one of the natural alternatives to sugar. When you have a choice between something sweetened with sugar o something sweetened by a natural alternative, choose the latter.

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There is no need to add refined sugar and artificial sweeteners in you food and beverages when there are numerous natural alternatives that you can add to your favourite hot drink, deserts, baked goods or food and drink for that matter. Natural alternatives deliver the “sweet” that you seek, each adding their unique flavour and their own health benefits, something sugar and artificial sweeteners are devoid of.

  1. Raw Honey. Raw honey is packed full of flavonoids and antioxidants that reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, and vitamins, minerals and enzymes that help boost you immune system and protect your body from bacteria. Honey also has a low hypoglycaemic index which will help reduce blood sugar spikes. Generally speaking the most nutrient-dense honeys are the darker varieties.
  2. Blackstrap Molasses. Molasses is a by-product of sugarcane processing and contains high levels of iron, calcium, copper and manganese. It has a toasty, slightly bitter flavour and has high levels of antioxidants.
  3. Pure Maple Syrup. Packed full of polyphenols, a plant-based compound that works as an antioxidant, maple syrup also helps with muscle recovery as it is a source of manganese, a mineral used by the muscle recovery process. It also contains many other key nutrients, including zinc, iron, calcium, and potassium and is a great alternative to use for baking.
  4. Cinnamon (sugar free). My personal favourite, cinnamon is not only plant based and is completely sugar free, but it tastes great. You can use cinnamon sticks or powder, but we wary of some cinnamon powders as they are blended with refined sugar. Cinnamon helps to reduce sugar cravings by controlling blood glucose levels minimizing insulin spikes after meals. It has also been shown to lower LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides blood levels. Ceylon cinnamon is the true form of cinnamon and it is widely considered the best for blood sugar control and losing weight.
  5. Stevia (sugar free). Stevia is a sweet-tasting natural herb that is commonly used in tea, coffee, and desserts. This natural sweetener, extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant contains several nutrients, including phosphorus, calcium, proteins, vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and sodium. Make sure your stevia product does NOT contain maltodextrin, dextrose or any other sugar derivative.
  6. Xylitol (sugar free). Sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol are natural sweeteners that contain fewer calories than regular sugar, about 2 calories per gram on average. While sugar alcohols can raise your blood sugar levels, they won’t impact your blood sugar as much as other sugars because your body doesn’t completely absorb sugar alcohols. The Mayo Clinic warns that when eaten in large amounts, typically more than 50 grams, they can have a laxative effect.

Coconut palm sugar, a common natural alternative, is not included in this list based on an environmental concern. Once the sap is extracted for its sugar, the plant does not produce coconuts anymore. So if coconut production is to remain the same, then for coconut palm sugar it would be necessary to cultivate more land or reduce coconut consumption.

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Giving up sugar and artificial sweeteners must surely be compelling by this point. The advantages below, other than there being less likelihood of collecting any number of the ailments mentioned above are just icing on the cake.

  1. You’ll Stop Wanting Sugar. Once you have removed sugar from your diet and resolved your addiction, you will gradually lose the desire to eat anything with sugar in it and when you do, the blood sugar spike and subsequent come-down will reinforce why you decided to stop consuming it.
  2. You will consume less. When sugar is taken out of your diet, for the reasons explained above, you will consume less and the earth will be happier for it.
  3. Your energy will improve. We tend to think that sugar-filled foods such as energy drinks are what we need to boost energy, but in fact it is sugar that is blocking our body’s ability to keep our energy levels optimised. Without the sugar you would have a higher energy level naturally without the steep peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels causing you to crash once the effects of the sugar wear off.
  4. You will lose weight. Sugar and sugary food makes you crave more of whatever it is in, which often is high in carbohydrates, processed or junk food and drink. On top of sugar, these poor excuses for food probably has loads of other ingredients that are not good for you. By walking away from sugar you won’t need to deal with all of those extra calories, you will feel less hungry and will likely lose excess weight.
  5. Your gut will function more efficiently. By eliminating sugar you are allowing you stomach and bowels (and other internal organs) to behave more naturally when processing what you have eaten.
  6. Your skin will look better. Sugar may be effecting you skin from the inside. Many people report that their skin looks and feels healthier after they quit sugar.

Time to quit sugar?

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ENDNOTES

  1. World Health Organization, Global Health Authority (GHO) data, http://www.who.int/gho/ncd/mortality_morbidity/cvd/en/, accessed 19/01/2016.
  2. European Association for the Study of Obesity, “Obesity Facts and Figures”, http://easo.org/education-portal/obesity-facts-figures/, accessed 19/01/2016.
  3. World Health Organization, “The top 10 causes of death”, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/, accessed 19/01/2016.
  4. Damon Gameau, “That Sugar Film”, http://www.thatsugarfilm.com/film/, accessed 10/1/2016.
  5. Kris Gunnars, “Top 10 Reasons to Avoid Sugar as if Your Life Depended on it”, http://authoritynutrition.com/9-reasons-to-avoid-sugar/, accessed 15/1/2016.
  6. Monell Chemical Senses Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104, USA, “Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women”, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15181085, accessed 21/1/2016.
  7. Section of Endocrinology, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520-8020, USA, “Effects of fructose vs glucose on regional cerebral blood flow in brain regions involved with appetite and reward pathways”. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23280226, accessed 21/1/2016.
  8. Breeze Harper, Sistah Vegan (Lantern Books, 2010), p. 24.
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