Sugar Sugar

I love sugar. I mean, I really love sugar. If I have a choice between sweet and salty, I’ll go for sweet every time. And once I start eating sugar, I have a really hard time stopping. Leave me alone with a bag of Mini Eggs and I’ll make myself sick. So when I saw an article in the New York Times Magazine asking if sugar is toxic, I had to check it out. I didn’t particularly like what I read.

We’ve all heard that high fructose corn syrup is bad news. One study found that it was contaminated with mercury. Another study found that rats gained more weight when they consumed high fructose corn syrup than when they consumed table sugar. And so, I’ve been working to avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is called glucose/fructose here in Canada. And I’m not alone. So many of us have gotten the message about high fructose corn syrup that the corn refiners have decided to re-brand it as “corn sugar”, and launched a massive campaign to clear its name.

The article in the Times actually agreed with the corn refiners, believe it or not. It quoted Robert Lustig, a Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology as saying that high fructose corn syrup is effectively the same as table sugar. But that doesn’t make high fructose corn syrup OK in Dr. Lustig’s eyes. On the contrary, he claims that all sugar – and particularly, its fructose component – is toxic. And there are actually many people who agree with him.

What’s so bad about sugar? The fructose that is present in refined sweeteners leads to an increase in fat in our bloodstream. This is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. According to the article in the Times, it’s also associated with increased rates of certain kinds of cancers. Basically, high amounts of fructose seem to throw our body chemistry out of whack in such a way that we end up consuming more calories and suffering from insulin resistance, which leads to a variety of health problems. And table sugar, like high fructose corn syrup, contains about 50% fructose. Chemically speaking, there’s very little difference.

Because of corn subsidies, high fructose corn syrup is really cheap to produce. Food manufacturers can produce soft drinks and a whole lot of other sweet treats at low cost. And they do. But that’s not the end of it – there’s added sugar in pretty much everything we eat, from bread to pasta sauce to chicken nuggets. And it only got worse when we were all told to eat less fat. Have you ever had a low-fat cookie? It’s really, really sweet. When we ate less fat, we ate more sugar. If Dr. Lustig is right, then our dietary changes over the past couple of decades actually increased our problems instead of solving them.

How can something that tastes so good be so bad?

Because I love sweet things, I decided to look for a loophole. If sugar is bad, what are my options? I’m not comfortable with artificial sweeteners like aspartame. But I could switch to honey or maple syrup. I’ll just go full-on hippie and only consume natural sweeteners. Would that work?

The answer isn’t totally clear. There’s some evidence to suggest that the fructose in honey is processed by the body differently than the fructose in table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. But that doesn’t mean that you can drink the stuff – honey is still a sugar, and as such, should be used sparingly. Plus, honey is really expensive compared to sugar. Although I guess that could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

So, where does this leave me? I don’t want heart disease or diabetes or cancer. I certainly don’t want my kids to have heart disease or diabetes or cancer. I don’t drink soft drinks, or even really juice, but I do eat rather a lot of homemade ice cream and more than my fair share of chocolate. And, honestly, I can’t see quitting that altogether. I also can’t see cutting my kids off from all sweeteners. We could reduce our consumption, for sure, but eliminating sugar entirely from our family’s diet would be a very tall order.

I am viewing this article as something of a wake-up call, though. I’ve known for a long time that eating so much candy that I don’t feel good isn’t healthy for me. It’s no surprise, really. So I plan to work on cutting back. Maybe I won’t buy the extra-jumbo bag of Easter chocolate, and maybe I won’t add chocolate syrup to my ice cream. Or maybe I can (gasp!) just eat a piece of fruit (which, by the way, is far lower in fructose than table sugar is).

I wonder what you think. Do you avoid high fructose corn syrup or refined sugar? Do you have a sweet tooth like me? And do you think that sugar really is the root of all of our health problems? I’d love to hear!

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  1. I limit the sugar in my diet by mostly keeping it out of the house. It works, but oh my goodness don’t I wish there were some chocolate in the pantry on the afternoons I work at home sans Critter.
    Rachael’s last post … How We Do HomeworkMy Profile

  2. I don’t eat sugar very often, you could say that I try to avoid it. I wouldn’t even buy sugar if it wasn’t for my husband having it in his tea. I cut it out of my coffee years ago because it makes my teeth fuzzy and I know it’s not good for me, not to mention that it’s just extra, empty calories. When I have a craving though I do give in to a piece of a chocolate bar or a cookie. And I do buy my kids stuff with sugar in it but I try to limit it to once a day whether it be a granola bar or some cookies after dinner. I think the best rule is “everything in moderation” because just about anything processed is bad for you.

  3. I have a remarkable sweet tooth as well. I live for my 3:00 p.m. chocolate fix. But during this pregnancy, my midwife convinced me to cut down on the sugar–as well as the morning chai tea latte (full of sugar) and my after dinner desert–because I was so tired all the time. “You’ll feel better after three days,” she said. And she was right.

    I have indulged in the chocolate eggs a bit this Easter, and I’ll still have desert once or twice a week, but so far so good. I like feeling better. And as for my sugar fix: I found that having only really nice, really expensive gourmet dark chocolate works to curb my cravings. A little of that stuff goes a lot further–and because of its price, I only ever have a little on hand at a time.
    Sarah’s last post … A Baby Book for my Big BoyMy Profile

  4. I have an INSANE sweet tooth, and it looks like Lilah has inherited it. I will go on a crazy binge if left alone with a bag of mini eggs/chocolate/sweets of any kind. So we don’t keep it in the house, for the most part. I have been very, very good for the past few weeks, and then I went on a bender this weekend with all the Easter goodies around. This morning I woke up feeling worse than I would with a bad hangover – I have terrible heartburn, zero energy, and I’m cranky as all get out. So that’s what sugar does to me. And the more I eat, the more I want to eat. I need to detox, stat!
    Amanda’s last post … Of Pagan Rituals and Sugar HighsMy Profile

  5. I read that article too and it made me quite depressed, especially as I was consuming something sweet as I read… It definitely made me think, but I have yet to make any kind of drastic changes in the last day or so since I finished it. It makes me more concerned about my children than myself, as most things that affect health do. I try to limit their sweets, and have cut out HFCS, but to eliminate all sugar would take some doing.

  6. I was a complete sugar junkie until I read a book called Lick the Sugar Habit – it talks a lot about the same things covered in recent articles, but it also goes into the history elements – before processed foods all came with added sugar we were less likely have consume problem levels, now sugar is in seemingly everything. It really opened my eyes and I spent about a year or so trying to avoid all refined sugar (not always easy or even possible). I felt great, lost a bit of weight and realized how much happier I am without all that sugar. Now I’m trying to live a life of moderation, but slipping a lot more often (silly Easter Bunny), so I’m looking at the recent news coverage as a much-needed wake-up call!
    Krista’s last post … Things I Love In AprilMy Profile

  7. My biggest problem with sugar is that it is so darn addictive. Breaking the addiction is the hard part. It almost seems you have to go without for a little while until the cravings subside.

  8. I’m pretty vigilant about keeping HFCS out of the house, but regular sugar? Not so much. I do my best to keep our diet healthy, so that when we indulge I feel a minimal amount of guilt.

  9. I’m a freak when it comes to sweet things in that I actually prefer savory and anything creamy like a BIG BOWL OF WHIPPED CREAM, which might explain why the doctor told me that I actually have higher than average cholesteral levels. Yes, lean with high cholesteral 🙁 Major bummer.

    I was, however, not impressed, when my husband bought a package of fruity yogurt cups for Theo and the number one ingredient is sugar followed by fructose – what? both?! Of course, Theo LOVES them. So unimpressed.
    harriet Fancott’s last post … The GoodMy Profile

  10. I’m Type 2 diabetic, diagnosed when I was quite young (31) with no history of it in my family, and although I was (am) overweight, I was not obese enough to make it obvious that I was a risk for diabetes. All of my doctors were shocked with my diagnosis, although likely not as shocked as I was. I’m not sure why I’m so lucky, but I can say that my own experience has made me firmer in making refined carbohydrates (including sugar) less available to the kids. Who knows why I’m so unlucky, but I think eating whole foods can only be a better than the alternative.

    For my own part, I try to use honey or Splenda as a sweetner more than sugar. Honey has other beneficial properties over sugar. Splenda, while man-made, actually is not absorbed by the body (unlike aspartame). The tongue tastes the sweet and then the entire particle travels through the out-pipe of the body. It’s the only man-made sweetner I use, but I use it very rarely.
    Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves’s last post … Can Kale Actually Taste GoodMy Profile

  11. I have a sweet tooth as well, but because of that article, I was very particular about our Easter candy this year. I only bought a chocolate bunny for my husband and daughter and nothing else- not even one for me. And we completely skipped the Whopper’s Robins Eggs that we normally fill our candy bowl with. And no peeps. Or jelly beans.

    I know the 2 bunnies were probably more sugar than we needed, but I felt good about cutting back. I’ve also re-committed myself to sticking to just our CSA foods and a few extras like eggs and milk. That should get rid of most of the sugar in our diets. And if I feel like baking a pie (because I make a good pie), I’ll send it with my DH to share at work so it’s not us who are eating it, but I still get the fun of baking. Maybe that’s bad because now I’m poisoning my husband’s coworkers… Hmmm..
    TopHat’s last post … Inquisition Monday- WaitingMy Profile

  12. The thing is, there will always be something that is not good for us. I remember about 10 years ago when there was an uproar from a news outlet when they reported that eating too many pickles could cause cancer. Of course, you take what you know and what you hear, and you use your judgement to make a decision. Is eating less sugar going to be good for you? Of course! How can it not be? Do you need to toss it all out? Probably not.
    Mama in the City’s last post … Crying Over Change- Youd Have Thought The Vacation Was CancelledMy Profile

  13. I have low cholestorol, am not overweight and have a one-a-day chocolate bar habit. I figure it’s cheaper and better for me than smoking or drinking, and I have a theory that if I let myself fidget with the extra sugar boost, that the trickle effect is a good mood. I also think that if 80% of my diet is good and whole, then I can indulge the craving for chocolate with relatively little guilt.

    I make decisions about my diet every day. My decisions have primarily been made with great suspicion for food technology… paranoid, yes I may be. I choose real food over simulated flavours everytime I get the choice. Aspartame is something I react badly to, so that’s an easy choice. If I don’t know what it is on the label, I will likely NOT buy it (yes I read labels, it makes for a long time in the grocery store). Soda has never agreed with me, I don’t trust anything that should have fat but is labeled “no fat”. And my husband has hypertension & high blood pressure, so I have to be careful to buy only low-salt labels of tomato sauces, etc….

    I have always all my life chose the veggies off my plate and left the dinner roll alone. I am lucky that way, my husband craved the salt and breads and fats that gave him the cholestorol and hypertension that haunt him. But he is strong enough to learn to like healthy eating now, and is very sensitive to the stuff he used to love. Other than the chocolate (which my husband teases me about) I think we do pretty good. My youngest has a terrible sweet tooth though! He will literally eat himself sick with candy so we have to watch him — hopefully that doesn’t lead to a food fixation in the future. The kids are quite lean at this age (9 and 14) their dad was always a bit on the “husky” side.

    (long comment, sorry)

  14. I think that these studies are useless to people who read studies. Because if you are reading that article and blogging about it, that means you think about what you put into your body. Homemade ice cream, in my opinion, is not the problem. HFCS isn’t necessarily either – the problem is that it is corn syrup (not table sugar) that is being added to processed foods. So avoiding HFCS is a good idea but not quite for the reason you would think.

    Personally, I could go for months without sugar. It’s greasy, spicy, fatty, greasy (oh, did I say that already? GREASY), salty goodness that I crave.

  15. I generally avoid buying lots of sugary things as well… if it’s not in the house we won’t eat it. And if I get really desperate I can always bake some cookies (or eat the chocolate chips out of the bag).
    Michelle @ The Parent Vortex’s last post … Playful Self-Discipline- Living Right NowMy Profile

  16. I have a big sugar habit to break. I don’t drink coffee and don’t have soda that often, but chocolates are my downfall . . .
    Lady M’s last post … Books and BasketsMy Profile

  17. I’m not a huge sweet person, though as I write this, I’m sipping a Tim’s Double-Double. (It’s not all bad, it’s with milk, instead of cream). And I do love chocolate, and find the more I eat the more I want. But now you really have me thinking. Generally I think I’m a pretty healthy eater, obviously there is always room for improvement, but I do choose healthy MOST of the time. Nonetheless, I have been thinking about changing up some of my habits, and now you’ve convinced me to really start to moderate sugar consumption. Hmmmm. I wonder if I can do it.

    This is a really good piece Amber.
    Christine @ Coffees & Commutes’s last post … The Gift of MemoriesMy Profile

  18. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, although it’s stronger since I had kids (damned kids). I do generally try to avoid highly processed foods. But I’m wishy washy about it, like everything else. I have completely stopped buying crappy quality chocolate for any of us – it’s high quality or nothing. we tend to have less of it but enjoy it more.
    allison’s last post … Wordless Wednesday- Pretty But Not Too Bright OR This Ones Not Going to Survive Long in the WildMy Profile

  19. my kids got some easter chocolate from relatives that was labeled “chocolate flavoured.”


    Now and again I do want a piece of really dark, bitter chocolate, but I have a savoury tooth and so does my younger child. My older child has inherited my husband’s sweet tooth. It is disturbing to me to see the addiction to sugar – he has a bit and he wants MORE MORE MORE (whereas the younger one will leave half a cookie on his plate when he’s had enough) When I consider his lineage — my in-laws both have type 2 diabetes, my mom’s side of the family all struggle with their weight and various cancers — I have to be cautious about how many treats I allow. And I can tell if he eats up a new food, like a fish stick, and wants seconds … there is obviously sugar added.

  20. I don’t have a sweet tooth at all, and nothing turns my stomach more than chocolate (think of my poor children – that’s why they LOVE coming grocery shopping with me, so that they can make sure there’s chocolate in the house!). Anthroposophy dotes on raw cane sugar, and when my kids were small I read about it, it made sense (can’t remember much), and that’s what we use.
    Francesca’s last post … Japanese crochet in French- Tunique VintageMy Profile

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  1. […] in April I wrote a blog post about the evils of sugar. I read an article in the New York Times Magazine suggesting that sugar is toxic, and decided to […]

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  3. […] somewhat concerned about my gigantic sweet tooth, because I don’t believe sugar is all that good for you. If you’re eating it in moderation, that’s one thing. But given studies that show a […]

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