Sugar: Poison in the Pantry

Anyone interested in improving their overall diet may sooner or later discover that they are consuming way too much sugar and try to “cut back.”  This is a discovery that often takes place after a sugar-laden holiday such as Easter after we’ve consumed all those jelly beans, chocolate bunny ears and “Peeps.”

You are right if you eat a great deal of sugar and come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t.  My first introduction to the problem with refined sugar was back in the ’70’s when I picked up a paperback book called Sugar Blues by William Dufty.  Dufty writes about what eating refined sugar can do to a body and what he did to stop eating it.  In the book, published in 1975, Dufty writes about how he met and married famous actress, Gloria Swanson, and how she taught him about diet and nutrition and helped him get completely off refined sugar.  He describes dramatic improvements in his health by doing so.

This is still one of the best, most straight-forward and informative books about sugar that I know of.  I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Dufty and I also saw his wife, Gloria, in New York at an event held at the United Nations.  I don’t recall how old Gloria Swanson was at that time–but definitely in her 80’s and she was absolutely gorgeous!  Her skin tone was so impressively smooth and youthful for her age.  And I saw her up close and realized that she was not simply covered up with a lot of makeup.  She was truly an example of someone who successfully preserved their health in old age.

Screenshot taken by me (Icea) from the trailer...

Screenshot taken by me (Icea) from the trailer to the movie Sunset Blvd. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Sugar Blues, Dufty discusses sugar in terms of being an addictive drug responsible for many devastating diseases throughout history.  He attacks the sugar industry in his book and points out that American food manufacturers have kept Americans hooked on sugar, particularly by hiding sugar in its many forms in virtually every food product found on the shelves of the supermarket.  Of course the sugar industry didn’t like this book and attacked Dufty for writing it.  But today all you have to do is google about refined sugar and you will find a multitude of authors and experts echoing exactly what Dufty had to say about sugar including his claim that too much sugar can cause depression and mental illness.

No matter whether you want to go in the direction of vegetarianism, vegan, macrobiotic, standard American some-of-everything, or the extreme opposite direction–the Paleo  Diet, which is heavy in animal protein–getting sugar out of your diet will take you a very long way in the right direction toward better health.

Why?

The reasons to stop eating refined sugar are enormous in number but here are the main ones:

1.  Sugar depletes the body of vital nutrients including minerals and B vitamins. That means when we eat sugar we are not only eating something that is itself nutritionally empty, the sugar is taking some of the nutrients we did manage to consume and destroying them too.  This leads to all kinds of imbalances that can affect virtually every system in your body especially your digestion and your hormones.

2.  Sugar (and it’s cousin white flour) heavily contribute to what is known as Candida, a condition in which the body has an overwhelming growth of a particularly damaging strain of yeast.  The yeast lives in the intestines and attach themselves to the intestinal walls sometimes even breaking through the wall and creating what is commonly called leaky gut syndrome.  There is much to know about Candida yeast infections and how easily they come about and you should also know that Candida can be difficult to get rid of and the treatments for it are themselves damaging.  But what I want you to know here is that every living thing on earth needs some kind of food and Candida yeast’s menu of choice is sugar and white flour!  I recently read that 60-70% of Americans have Candida yeast infections.

3.  Because sugar consumption affects so many bodily systems and functions, it heavily contributes to all manner of diseases and disorders:  diabetes, indigestion, gas, high blood pressure, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, heart disease such as arteriosclerosis, cavities, depression and mental illness, nutritional deficiency and weight gain, PMS, and the list goes on and on . . .
4.  Eating sugar is addictive and is a poison in the simplest sense of the word.  If you eat a little, you become more active (as in hyped-up, on overdrive, buzzing).  If you eat a lot, you slow down (this is the typical drowsy, can’t keep your eyes open stupor you may have experienced after a big sugar binge.)  And, like all other poisons, if you eat way too much you will become ill or die (see points 1 through 3).

What to do?

First, you need to educate yourself on what is and isn’t sugar.  The quick study is to start reading labels in the store and asking questions in the restaurant:  “Does this have sugar?”  Realize that sugar includes maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar, “natural” sugar, organic sugar, raw sugar, and all those chemical-sounding ingredients that end in “-ose.”  And don’t be fooled by the packaging.  Just because the paper is brown instead of white does not somehow make the sugar better for you.  But  there is much more to know than that and it is worth investing some time to become knowledgeable.

Second, find out what else acts just like sugar in your body.  This is where we get into the subject of refined white flour, alcohol and things that literally convert to sugar when you eat them.

Third–and this is the good news–learn what you can or should eat and drink that will help you overcome your cravings for sugar, help you regain nutritional balance and vitality and help you recover from the damage that sugar may have caused you.  For this I recommend you find a program that works for you and commit to following it.  You may have to look around and try different things.  The bottom line is that you make your decision to stop eating sugar.  Learning what to do instead will only be workable if you have made that strong decision first. (And that advice comes from personal experience.)

Check back with me here for some help.  This is the first in a series about sugar and I will be writing in much more detail about what I know that is useful!

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What’s Good Enough to Eat?

They’re everywhere – diet programs, weightloss systems, food philosophies, miracles promised if you take certain nutritional products.  There are just about as many opinions on what a human being should consume as there are “experts” on the subject!  Books, TV doctors, websites, blogs, health gurus, traveling side shows, official government recommendations . . . and food advice involved with social/political/economic issues.

I joined the United Farm Workers as a teenager.  My parents kept receiving brochures and letters signed by Cesar Chavez asking for donations to his cause, which at the time was about protecting the rights of migrant farm workers who were exposed to dangerous chemical pesticides in the grape fields.  (Remember the grape boycott?)  I read that the migrant workers came into the fields with their entire family and that the mothers and children were suffering with all kinds of health problems because of their exposure to poisonous substances. “Something,” I thought, “should be done about that.”

This truly concerned me and I joined for $10.  This was my first interest in a social cause and I continued paying for this membership for several years with my own allowance.  And of course, I did not eat grapes.

As I grew up my personal lineup of diet and health advice came from my mom and Soupy Sales (“Don’t forget your vitaminnies!”), Jack LaLanne, then Adelle Davis, next came the book, “Sugar Blues” by William Dufty, closely followed by George Ohsawa who coined the term “macrobiotics” and Michio Kushi who really brought this philosophy to life for me, and recently Dr. Robert Cohen and his research.  I have experienced being a meat-eater, a vegetarian, and a vegan over the years.  And what did I learn?

I learned that there are some very basic concepts that should be put in place before you can even begin to know what foods work for you.  They seem obvious to me now, but they weren’t at first and apparently they aren’t obvious to everyone else either.

The first concept is that you have to eat real food.  A friend of mine sent out a photo the other day taken by Deb Mahan showing a fast-food factory producing what looks like a pink, styrofoamy boa constrictor of foodstuff and asking you to guess what kind of food it is.  (I find the cardboard boxes with no other wrapping disturbing.) Anyway, it’s pretty easy to tell this is not real food.

I remember in college my boyfriend and I would chuckle over the fact that packages of individually-sliced and wrapped American cheese were labeled “cheese food” not “cheese.”  We knew that wasn’t real food.  We called it “plastic cheese.”

What about all those ingredients on so-called “food” packages that are mostly unpronounceable and that we mostly don’t have a clue what they are?  They aren’t real food, that’s for sure.

I think you get the point. Real food is not made of plastic, petroleum or chemistry-lab products.

[Additional case in point: Twinkies, the Undead Snack  opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com – Check out the third footnote at the bottom and click on it – there’s a list of the 39 ingredients in “Twinkies.”]

The second basic concept is that once you have chosen to eat a real food, you need to look at how refined or processed it is–i.e. how much has the original food been altered?  Most people know that refined white sugar is nothing like the original sugar cane plant.  Maybe you’ve heard that “carbs are bad.”  Well, that depends.  Are we talking about refined white flour products in which the flour bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original fields of waiving grain?  Rice that has been stripped down until there’s nothing left but the white carbohydrate part?  Or are we talking about whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, whole barley or whole oats that are called “complex carbohydrates,” act nothing like refined carbohydrates when you eat them, and used to be staple food all over the world?

Brown and white rice.
Image via Wikipedia

The third basic concept (and this is closely related to the second concept) is that no matter what type of food you decide you should eat, choose the highest quality of that food that you can.  “Quality” is relative, certainly.  But this is where you should look into what it means for food to be organic and why that is important.  And why your food should not be genetically modified.  The subject of food quality is worth learning about because it is key to understanding how what you eat will affect your health and how you live. I encourage you to gain that understanding and get into the drivers seat of deciding what effects you will create for yourself and your family with your food and don’t just leave it up to the “chefs” at the local fast food place or your favorite chain restaurant or the marketing directors of food manufacturing companies.

There is so much data to sort through on the subject of food!  Unfortunately it is can also be a highly political subject.  After all, what better way to control people than to control their food sources?  Diet and health advice is rife with rumors forwarded by vested interests.  Here’s an article that reminded me of that fact:  CDC researchers say mothers should stop breastfeeding to boost ‘efficacy’ of vaccines  www.naturalnews.com

But take heart and just start finding out.  Find out about organic food.  Check out the subject of “whole food.”  And if you can confront the political/economic realities, find out about GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). Following the three basic concepts I gave you will take you a long way toward understanding what’s good enough to eat.