In the current global economic recession, governments are looking for ways to increase income and reduce expenditure. They need look no further than sugar. Our love affair with sugar is an addiction and it is killing us. No one needs it.
Sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide made up of two monosaccharides – glucose and fructose – in equal proportions. Many people believe that sucrose is healthy because it is a natural substance, and infer that fructose is even healthier because it is found in fruit.
Let’s begin by dispelling these myths. Firstly, there are many natural substances that are toxic, and some are extremely toxic. It is true that fruit contains fructose, but when we eat fruit – rather than fruit juices – the amount of fructose we consume is modest.
Whereas every cell in the human body can use glucose as an energy source, only one organ can handle fructose – the liver. This fact alone should alert us to its ‘foreign’ nature. And what does the liver do with all the surplus fructose? Well – surprise, surprise – it turns it all into fat. This is then shipped off to other parts of the body for storage.
So, fructose makes us fat? It does indeed, but the bad news doesn’t end there. When consumed in excess, fructose also causes an increase in:
- Blood fat levels – triglycerides, total blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol
- The prevalence of type 2 diabetes
- The prevalence of high blood pressure
- The prevalence of abnormal blood clotting and heart disease
Today, the average US citizen consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugars per day. For teenage males the figure is 34 teaspoons. This equates to some 25% of total calorie intake – ‘empty calories’ that not only fail to provide food value, but actually rob the body of essential nutrients. 70% of the consumed sugars come from manufactured foods, where the label may describe them as corn sweeteners, dextrose, glucose, honey or high fructose corn syrup. Whatever the source of the sweetener, it is no longer associated with the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals found in the original plant source.
If you live outside the US, don’t feel smug. Other countries are catching up fast.
So serious is this health problem that urgent consideration should be given to taxing sugar in the same way we tax alcohol and tobacco. Activists wax lyrical on the issue of tobacco and liquor advertising, and argue that tobacco products should be kept out of sight in supermarkets. For the sake of our children’s health and longevity, we should be applying these ideas to any food and drink that contains added sugar.
I was chatting with a ‘nutritionist’ in South Africa, who made the observation that many of the indigenous people were listless and lacking in energy. He felt that any nutritional supplement should be rich in fat and sugar, because these are the foods that provide energy. He was dismayed when I argued that most of the people he was referring to were drowning in fat and sugar. Any listlessness was almost certainly due to a lack of essential micronutrients – vitamins and minerals.
If you want more science – see Appleton
If you want a lecture – see Lustig