The One Minute Guide to Sugar (and Why It’s So Bad!)

I think we can all universally agree that too much sugar is not a good thing.

Sugar makes us hyper and then it makes us cranky and tired. We crave sugar. We go searching through our pantry for a fix. We all know this – but it seems like no one really takes it very seriously.

“We are a nation of sugar addicts, raising sugar addicted kids, with constant access to cheap and powerfully addicting sugar. The addict’s cravings go way beyond wanting the sweet taste. Long-term sugar abuse actually rewires the human brain, until we are all – in a very real sense – cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” – Catherine Shanahan

Some say that with today’s Western Diet where an average of 20% of our calories come from sugar sugar is becoming “the new tobacco” and the “number one enemy in the US“.

The statistics are scary. 70% of Americans are overweight, a third of us are obese. Sugar is in practically everything we eat, as evidenced by the 22 teaspoons consumed per day.

What is sugar?

Sugar is a carbohydrate that gives our bodies energy – it provides fuel for our cells. It’s made up of glucose, fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (from cane or beet sugar), galactose and other “ose’s”.

Why do we like it so much?

Two main reasons.

  1. We’re genetically programmed to like sugar.  In nature, fructose is a rare – found mostly in seasonal fruit and some vegetables. So, in the days of hunters and gatherers, sugar was scarce, and the presence of sugar triggered a reward center in our brains. Today, the more we eat sugar the more we need to get that same effect.
  2. It’s addictive. When we eat sugar, our blood sugar rises. Our pancreas respond by releasing insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar) which causes a drop in blood sugar. Low blood sugar levels renews our craving and increases our appetite. So we eat again, even if our bodies don’t need to. And the cycle begins again.

Where does sugar hide?

It’s pretty much in everything. Desserts, ketchup, barbecue sauce, applesauce, salad dressing, fruit yogurt, granola bars, pasta sauce, soda, energy drinks, dried fruit, breakfast cereals and even some brands of peanut butter, canned veggies and soups.

Why is it so bad?

Today, food scientists and marketers have figured out a way to add sugar into practically everything, making your food (and your kids food) cheap, delicious and addicting. This fascinating New York Times article dives into how scientists are creating such precise formulas on foods that are addicting and convenient. There’s nothing nutritious about sugar. It’s a food that doesn’t make us feel full, so we eat more that we should and that sugar stores as fat which leads to – you guessed it – obesity. But that’s not it. Too much sugar can cause:

  • Type 2 diabetes from the increased cycles of blood sugar highs and lows
  • Tooth decay
  • Brain fog and deficiencies in cognitive health
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • And more…

What about fruit and fruit juices?

There’s some debate on this one. While fresh fruit does have quite a bit of sugar, it also contains a lot of important nutrients. Fruit juice, on the other hand, has a lot of the fiber and vitamins stripped out in the juicing process, leaving you with… the sugar.