Sugar: Poison? Regulation? Hmmm…

teaspoon of sugar

I’ve been hearing a lot about sugar in the news and on talk shows lately. I think it might be because of this study.

The conversation has sort of centered around the whole concept of regulating sugar the way we do alcohol and tobacco, and considering it a toxic substance. I realize that sounds kind of crazy. But when someone says that sugar is poison, I suppose they’re right, to a degree. Alcohol, tobacco and sugar can all kill you… it just generally takes a while.

Here’s how I understand it. We like the taste of sugar because it’s sweet. In evolutionary terms, this is because sweet things found in nature are typically not poisonous, and are therefore safe to eat. And just like fat and salt, sugar can do some good things for our bodies.

Also like fat and salt, we now have way more access to sugar than our ancestors did. Sugar is in everything, and often under names we don’t recognize as sugar: fructose, dextrose, cane, glucose, corn syrup, maltodextrin… the list goes on and on. The various forms of added and refined sugar are more than our bodies can easily use or metabolize.

While many of these added sugars in our processed food aren’t all that different from the natural sugar in fruit, they aren’t usually accompanied by the nutrition and fiber of fruit sugar. Fruit isn’t a year round thing in all climates anyway. Think of how much year-round fruit and added sugar in sauces, breads, soups, yogurt (“healthy” stuff!) and sweets has increased our sugar intake in the past decades.

Now think about diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems that we don’t fully understand (cancer?). Could all that sugar have anything to do with it?

Less obvious might be the problems dealt with by those living with something like yeast overgrowth, which feeds on sugar. I have a friend who for years suffered with canker sores, breathing troubles, anxiety, skin issues and low moods. After various trial and error attempts with her diet, it seems that cutting as much sugar as possible is the key to improving her overall health. Yeast overgrowth can also inhibit proper digestion and manifest in oral and genital yeast infections.

I think we all know that sugar is not something to overdo, but I know I appreciated the reminder. And because sugar is such a sneaky bastard, hiding under pseudonyms and making us addicted, a little education can do us a world of good.

For a good conversation on sugar, regulation and health, check out this story from radio show On Point.


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