I’ve a story to share and it has to do with gummy bears.
Mostly sweet stuff actually. Like gummies, ice-cream, candies, jellies, lollipops, etc.
Haribo Goldbears used to be my absolute favorite. I could easily eat a 3lbs / 1.3kg bag of those within a day. What’s one Mentos tube within 15 minutes to me?
I Had A Sweet Tooth, A SEVERE One
My usual defense when asked why I eat so much sweet stuff, “I have a sweet tooth!”
Look! A photoshoot for these photogenic colorful Haribo bears!
So what made me stop eating them?
You stopped eating them?!
Yes I’ve stopped eating them entirely after I became vegetarian because I found out that it contains beef gelatin. But I do crave for other forms of gummy… I am only human and I struggle with it.
Read on and you’ll find out why.
To answer my own question, it’s because apart from realizing how overwhelmed my taste buds were after gobbling that much sweets (I practically couldn’t taste anything else, you know that feeling?), I was getting lethargic, growing a belly, and not to mention nurturing tooth decay.
I got so sick from eating so much sweets that I decided to not go near them, at least until I recovered from them.
That’s what I thought. That I could take a break from it.
Then… of course there were THE cravings.
With these ‘withdrawals’ and crankiness that came together with it, I began to wonder, for starters, what is sugar? And what’s up with all the havoc it is wrecking?
Here’s what I’ve put together for you in this post.
Okay hold on.
The lesson plan looks crazy intimidating even to me, so it’s been broken into 2 posts so you don’t get reading indigestion from sugar overload.
Part 1 goes from point 1: Sugar for People Like You & Me to Point 6: Sweet Tooth or Addiction.
Part 2 goes from point 7: Sugar, It’s EVERYWHERE to Point 11: Yes Sugar, No Sugar?
Let’s find out whether you have a sweet tooth or a sugar addiction.
Sugar for People Like You & Me
Scouring through dictionary definitions, research papers and websites, I found there’s no one straightforward answer for my question, What is Sugar?
Instead, I was overwhelmed by exceptionally profound and technical medical and scientific terms.
I was lost.
So what the heck, I decided to go with Wikipedia. Yes, I know. It may not be the most reliable but at least I understood what it was saying.
In other words, as a regular person not trained in medicine or science, I would take it that sugar is a form of simple carbohydrate.
Of course there’s an entire article written about sugar but I didn’t want to confuse you as well so I just took the first sentence before it all seemed Greek to me.
But if you’re keen to read for yourself, here are two resources:
Perhaps you can understand those technical terms better and explain them to me!
I guess, what makes defining sugar in a pared-down version is so challenging is also because there are so many types of sugar and atoms, molecules, chains whatever that make up ‘sugar’.
And I think the sugar we generally understand refers to table sugar or Sucrose. Those granulated white grains of sweetness. And these, by the way, aren’t natural. They are refined.
Which leads us to my next point.
Sugar, The Master of Disguise
Remember I said that there are different types or forms of sugar?
Here, we are going to keep it simple so that we can understand the sugar we consume better rather than get lost in a tornado of medical jargon.
So there are,
- Naturally-Occurring Sugars
- Starches & Processed Starches
- Added Sugars / Artificial Sweeteners
So where can we find these naturally-occurring sugars?
Let’s see what the American Heart Association says, in two of its articles,
Some sugar occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, milk and grains. The culprit in undermining a healthy diet is “added sugar”— the kind added to food during processing, as well as the obvious sweet stuff spooned into your coffee or onto your grapefruit.
There are also simple sugars in more nutritious foods, like fruit and milk. These are “naturally occurring” sugars and, unlike refined sugars, these sugars often come with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that our bodies need.
Based on the two quotes above, it seems to suggest that naturally-occurring sugars found in unprocessed foods seem to have nutritional value.
Being skeptical, it makes me question if it’s not sugar that’s nutritious but its counterparts that downplays the negative effects of sugar while still allowing it to play its part — giving us that sweet taste.
So for instance, an apple has naturally-occurring sugars (giving it the benefit of doubt that food producers didn’t genetically modify the apple that I am using as an example), but it also has fiber, minerals, vitamins etc that give us nutrients. When we eat and digest that sugar, due to the complex combination of “stuff” in that apple, sugar is released slowly, we get the nutrients that benefit us together with some sweetness.
We will get to the mechanics of why the speed and quantity of sugar that get digested in our bodies make a difference to our health in a bit.
Next player please.
Think a perfect fast-food meal!
Processed white buns, processed cheddar cheese, processed patties (meat or not), sparse bits of lettuce as a token of healthiness, heaps of sweetened sauces like ketchup, a large soda (basically sugar with water and gas actually), and heavily processed potatoes that make you french fries.
Sounds great doesn’t it?
It’s not just all the excessive sugars but all the processed starches. White bread, white rice, potato products, prepared breakfast cereals are digested into glucose literally in an instant in the digestive tract.
You can eat a bowl of cornflakes with no added sugar, or a bowl of sugar with no added cornflakes, it might taste different, but below the neck, they are metabolically the same thing.
– Dr. David Ludwig, Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
(Fed Up, 2014)
I think the above is clear and self-explanatory.
Of course there are the natural starches like potatoes, called rapid-release carbohydrates, which you also digest into glucose quickly.
Now we have the worst of the worst.
Sugar can hide behind many names on nutrition labels like Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, Dextrose, Lactose, Maltose, Invert Sugar, and Turbinado Sugar. And the most well known of all? High Fructose Corn Syrup.
– Fed Up (2014)
Wanna see a list of the different names sugar has?
(You might have spotted the asterisk next to a number of them, indicating that they contain fructose. We’ll get to that in a bit.)
If you think about it, we might not even recognize a good number of them if we even read the nutrition labels of processed foods.
They may have different names but guess what?
You absorb them exactly the same. And so all of the studies that have pitted High Fructose Corn Syrup against sugar showed no difference between the two. They are both equally bad.
– Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco
(Fed Up, 2014)
Isn’t that comforting?
Then I chanced upon this article by the American Heart Association, again, titled Artificial Sweeteners Are Also Called Non-Nutritive Sweeteners, and this is what it says,
The American Heart Association labels low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, and noncaloric sweeteners as non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs), since they offer no nutritional benefits such as vitamins and minerals and they are low or have no calories.
Well first, I honestly don’t know how to react to “non-nutritive sweeteners”.
After reading so much about sugar and watching documentaries and lectures about it, I have grown skeptical about how unassuming names are given to something that actually harms my health.
So “non-nutritive sweeteners” have zero nutrients which mean they don’t do anything good for my health… But they have low or no calories, so am I supposed to go ‘Yay!’ I found a low/no calorie food!
If you haven’t read my post on how we’ve been duped about burning calories to lose weight, all calories are the same, or calories in means calories out, please head over to that post after you are done with this. You can find the link below.
Because most folks aren’t aware about the cover-ups from the food industry, co-opted scientists and researchers, and even government institutions and policies, it makes me realize how misinformed most people are.
And guess what?
It’s not their fault that they get fat because of what the government tells them to eat, and no thanks to the aggressive yet subliminal advertising messaging and play of words.
No thanks to extra value meals, fast food promotions about how eating junk is cheaper than cooking real food.
But it’s your fault if you choose to ignore proven scientific research and to continue destroying your own health by eating junk.
That said, it brings me back to something.
When I was younger, I recall my mum buying those tins of glucose for me and my siblings to drink. And I remember thinking – why isn’t it sweet?
Wait a minute. But why is it that some sugars are sweeter than others even when the amount is smaller?
A Short Introduction of The Infamous High Fructose Corn Syrup
In Dr. Robert Lustig’s lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, he said that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was invented in 1966 in Japan and was introduced to the American market in 1975.
And what’s so special about HFCS?
It is sweeter and cheaper, making it a cost-effective alternative for Frankenfood producers to switch from regular table sugar to high fructose corn syrup.
At the 17 minute and 49 seconds mark of Sugar: The Bitter Truth, Dr. Lustig showed us the relative sweetness of various carbohydrates:.
We’ll get to fructose in a short while because I would like to touch on glucose first.
It case you don’t get why glucose is in the picture above, it’s time for you to understand glucose’s role in our lives, Especially in relation to sugar.
Sugar is not one chemical. It’s two. Glucose is the energy of life. Every cell in every organism on the planet can burn glucose for energy. Glucose is mildly sweet, but not very interesting (think molasses). Fructose is an entirely different animal. Fructose is very sweet, the molecule we seek. Both burn at four calories per gram. If fructose were just like glucose, then sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) would be just like starch. But fructose is not glucose. Because a calorie is not a calorie.
– Dr. Robert Lustig, Still Believe ‘A Calorie Is A Calorie?’
Maybe you get that fructose is not glucose. But what’s that about a calorie is not a calorie? (Go read my article Calories In, Calories Out? Eat Less, Exercise More? It’s BS. and you’ll get it.)
So, now fructose finally comes into the picture.
What’s the deal with fructose?
Well, according to that same lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth again,
- Fructose is not glucose
- Fructose doesn’t suppress the hunger hormones ghrelin
- Fructose is a carbohydrate
- Fructose is metabolized like fat
- Fructose is also a toxin
What’s going on?
I don’t get it.
It’s okay. It took me a really long time to get it after reading up books by doctors, research papers, scouring websites, and watching documentaries to create this post and share the information with you.
It simply means we are eating poison.
Sugar is poison?
We will get to the “sugar is addictive” part in a bit.
But poison. Really?
You will read more about it in just a bit.
Let’s focus on fructose and high fructose corn syrup because it’s in almost all the processed foods we eat these days.
But you know what? High fructose corn syrup isn’t the only type of sugar contributing to our overconsumption.
“Anything that ends in syrup or –ose, such as maltose or glucose, they’re all sugars,” Dr. Johnson said.
– By Another Other Name It’s Still Sweetener, American Heart Association
Okay time to explain what I am trying to say here.
Remember, I illustrated how sugar is a master of disguise?
It has multiple names to sneak its way into food.
So by giving fructose and high fructose corn syrup a short air time is to emphasize how these seemingly harmless sugars that have been marketed to us as well, harmless, are actually slow acting toxins.
But the difference between all the sugars and glucose as explained is this: Glucose is blood sugar and a fuel that gives us energy.
And Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, mentioned in his lecture, Sugar, The Bitter Truth, “Glucose is the energy of life.”
In my other post, I explained that calories = energy.
If you were wondering why the divide between all the other sugars and glucose, now you should get it.
Glucose gives us energy, but these non-nutritive sweeteners that are low in calories or no calories don’t give us any nutritional benefits nor energy.
What does this make those HEAPS of hidden sugar then?
What Are Empty Calories?
Beverages and food with added sugar usually provide empty calories.
– Food-based Dietary Guidelines for Adults, Singapore Health Promotion Board
It makes those HEAPS of hidden sugar empty calories.
Let me add a note here. So sugar with its other aliases, let’s just group them as non-nutritive sweeteners / added sugars, have either low calories or no calories.
This would probably mean the that those with calories are empty calories; calories that give you no nutrition. They are just there.
But are they really just there? A harmless bystander?
Sugar has calories, but no other nutritional value. Eating and drinking a lot of added sugar is one probable cause of rising obesity rates in the United States. It is also linked to increased risks for high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels and inflammation in the body—all very bad things your heart and health in general.
– Sugar 101, American Heart Association
Added sugars (including refined sugars) provide calories, but lack vitamins, minerals and fiber and can lead to weight gain.
Carbohydrates, American Heart Association
In case you are too caught up with the part on empty calories, let’s focus on the fact that it is NOT sugar being empty calories that’s making you unhealthy and fat.
It is how sugar reacts when we digest it and what are the negative effects, whether immediate or over time.
It‘s the fructose in these sweeteners that makes them sweet, just as it makes fruit sweet, and it appears to be the fructose that makes them so fattening and, in turn, so bad for our health. The American Heart Association and other authorities have lately—better late than never— taken to targeting fructose, and thus sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, as a cause of obesity and maybe even heart disease, but they do so primarily on the basis that these sweeteners are “empty calories,” which means they don‘t come with any vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants attached. This misses the point, however. Fructose actually has unhealthy effects—including making us fat—that have little to do with its lack of vitamins or antioxidants and far more to do with how our bodies process it. The sugary combination of roughly half fructose and half glucose might be particularly effective in making us fat.
– p86, Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It
Let’s drive the point home, deep into our brains that have been subliminally conditioned and programmed by all the pervasive big-budget advertisements we see almost everyday.
By now you should get the drift that sugar can sneak into our food using different names. And besides sugar being empty calories — which is bad enough — the main focus should be what are the negative effects of consuming sugar.
I guess now you are wondering then, what happens when we eat and digest sugar?
What Happens When You Consume (Too Much) Sugar?
The Nutrition Source by Harvard Public School of Health (HPSH) website’s article Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar tells us the following,
When people eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which enters the blood.
Or an alternative source, in the same lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, from 45:25 – 51:00 on the Metabolism of Glucose, Dr. Robert Lustig said,
When sugar is consumed, it is metabolized into glucose.
When you eat sugar of any kind, your pancreas produces a master metabolism hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to help sugar get into your cells. Once sugar is in the cells, it can be turned into energy by your mitochondria (the energy-burning factories in your cells). So insulin is designed to help you use the sugar you eat, or, if you eat more than you need, store it for later use.
– p44, Ultra-Metabolism
So you might be thinking, ‘Okay, so sugar becomes glucose. What’s the big deal? It still doesn’t tell me what’s the difference between natural sugars and artificial sugars. Nor does it tell me how consuming sugar harms me.’
Oh it is a big deal.
And the difference is here.
the form in which the sugars are ingested and the physical and chemical properties of the food matrices do have significant effects on the rates of absorption.
– David AT Southgate, Digestion and metabolism of sugars
To help you understand, let me provide you an illustration of how our bodies metabolise sugars…
Let’s do a little explanation.
On the left, you have natural sugars found in foods with fiber like an apple.
When you consume that apple, the fiber & other properties in the apple helps slow down the breakdown of sugar, releasing the glucose slowly, hence blood sugar rise is lower and longer.
But on the right, that’s the problem.
When you consume added sugars or artificial sweeteners in the forms of soft drinks, soda, even juices, and candies, they get absorbed straight through the portal system to the liver because there is no fiber to be digested or broken down.
Your liver gets a sugar rush, so it has no choice but to turn them all into fat immediately.
And where do these fat get stored immediately, well, around your waist.
Well, so far, clear?
At its best, the interaction between your insulin level and the sugar in your blood is a finely tuned machine. You eat some sugar, and your body produces just enough insulin to metabolize it. Later you eat a little more sugar, and the same thing happens again.
– p44, Ultra-Metabolism
In other words, different types of sugar, a.k.a natural sugars versus the gazillion different types of added sugars, artificial sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners, whatever you call them, may be absorbed the same way, but at different rates.
And that makes a hell of a difference.
Another example to illustrate my point.
Sweet Tooth or Addiction?
What happens actually when you receive a ‘sugar rush’? Think fast food meal or 2 donuts and 1 cup of soft drink.
High levels of insulin can also block your brain from receiving the signal that you’re full.
The problem is the brain thinks you’re starving, so how do you feel when you’re starving? Crabby, tired, slothy, sit on a couch, don’t want to do anything and of course, hungry.
– Fed Up (2014)
To continue that statement, what do you do when you are hungry?
And unless you change what you eat, nothing’s gonna change. The cycle will just continue like clockwork.
There you are, trying your very best to satiate that hunger, in other words, appease the hunger signals sent to you from the brain, the hungrier you get.
To make things worse, you learn that Sugar can be addictive, Princeton scientist says.
In this article, which I urge you to have a read, gives us insights that withdrawal from sugar-bingeing — for us that’s eating all the hidden and added sugars which exceed our daily recommended dose — resulted in cravings and relapses akin to addiction.
[Professor] Hoebel has shown that rats eating large amounts of sugar when hungry, a phenomenon he describes as sugar-bingeing, undergo neurochemical changes in the brain that appear to mimic those produced by substances of abuse, including cocaine, morphine and nicotine. Sugar induces behavioral changes, too. “In certain models, sugar-bingeing causes long-lasting effects in the brain and increases the inclination to take other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol,” Hoebel said.
– Kitta MacPherson, Sugar can be addictive, Princeton scientist says
Isn’t it clearer now that sugar has far worse detrimental effects on us than pure empty calories?
It is a vicious cycle that unless intervened, would set us on the life ridden with diseases plus now a high possibility of addiction which makes it even harder to get out of this sweet but slow quicksand.
If you’re still wondering if sugar is really that addictive, pop over to Youtube and check out this video: Sugar, Is It As Addictive As Cocaine?
Or you know what, check out more research below that show us how all the hidden and added sugar seem to be less innocent than the food producers would like them to be.
- Student-faculty research suggests Oreos can be compared to drugs of abuse in lab rats
- Is Sugar Addictive?
- Is Sugar A Drug? Experts Weigh In On The Science of Addiction
So… do we really have a sweet tooth or are we addicted to sugar?
Well, my verdict is we have been made into sugar addicts thanks to the added sugars available for our cravings… now turned into fast fixes.
Why do you think I can’t quit eating my Haribo bears entirely?
And if you’re wondering, Oh my god there’s almost sugar in everything we eat! Then what should we do? We can’t possibly not eat anything!
Let’s recap what we’ve learnt in this post, Sweet Tooth or Addicted to Sugar? Sweetie, You’ll Be The Death of Me. (PART 1).
1. Sugar for People Like You & Me
2. Sugar, The Master of Disguise
3. A Short Introduction of The Infamous HFCS
4. What Are Empty Calories
5. What Happens When You Consume (Too Much) Sugar?
6. Sweet Tooth or Addiction?
Now, you need to digest what you’ve read.
Try to understand what’s this post all about before you head over to sequel, Sweet Tooth or Addicted to Sugar? Sweetie, You’ll Be The Death of Me. (PART 2) where you will continue learning about:
7. Sugar, it’s EVERYWHERE
8. So, Why Add (SO MUCH) Sugar to Our Food?
9. Killing You Slowly But Sweetly
10. Did You Know There Are Health Guidelines for Sugar?
11. Yes Sugar, No Sugar?
Hey man, if you’ve found this article useful, please be the kind soul you are and share it with as many friends as you can.
It’s free to share!
And you could help many uninformed people out there, and who knows the lives you can touch!