A Sugar Darkly

Sugar, is it as dangerous as it seems?

Sugar, its been around for a incredibly long time, its existence has been around since the better part of humanity. But within a relatively short amount of time, its become a maligned molecule, its dangers have been in great contention and a reoccurring theme in the scientific community for decades as the main culprit for obesity. High intakes are associated with a risk of many serious conditions. Conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, hyperactivity, dental caries, and most of all obesity. Its been dated back all the way to the 11th century, and originates back to the regions of India and China, why are we just now seeing all of these pathologies? Is the molecule itself inherently bad? Not necessarily. Its because we have been eating higher and higher amounts of calories than in any other period of history than before.

Yes, ever.

Its quite enticing for policy makers, scientists, and media to categorize a single category of food to be eliminated that would reduce the prevalence of obesity.There hasn’t been relatively any change in the energy we expend daily in the past 20 years. We speak of a lazy society, with our pupils hard pressed to the television alongside our butts planted our couches, but it isn’t the case in the data. People may be sitting more and weigh more, but the energy used to move our heavier selves is still about the same. So the prescription can’t solely be just move more. What has changed, is energy intake.According to the USDA, “Americans at the beginning of the 21st century are consuming more food and several hundred more calories per person per day than did their counterparts in the late 1950s” they further concluded, “Although multiple factors can account for weight gain, the basic cause is an excess of energy intake over energy expenditure. In general, Americans’ activity levels have not kept pace with their increase in calorie consumption” just as the American Heart Association surmises later in this article below.

Sugar is difficult to avoid in today’s age.

About 3/4 of all foods and beverages contain added sugar in a large array of forms, and the consumption of soft drinks has increased five fold since 1950. With humans not moving enough to accommodate this increase in calories, weight gain is inevitable, due to the basic principles of metabolism. Which adheres to the laws of thermodynamics. Sugar is embedded in copious amounts of foods. Its vilified as the culprit to the prevalency of many diseases as well as the obesity epidemic in the United States.The assessment in which its causing obesity has some validity.

But is sugar really the enemy?

Once you understand sugar, how its processed and its molecular makeup, its not as relatively as insidious as its portrayed. As a caveat, if you are sedentary, eat very poorly, and never exercise then yes, sugar is quite a concern for your health and should be avoided.What contemporary science is showing now is that sugar has little to no ill effects on lean individuals.The problem is, most people are not at a healthy body weight, and the policy is a tactic to help the masses, its unreasonable to tell the entire overweight population who have no interest or background in health to measure their food intake everyday. And typically individuals in these studies who attempt to measure their intake, do very poorly. “… the accuracy and precision of energy intake measurements by self-report in free-living individuals are much worse.”

The heavy hitter on the block for this epidemic is the sugar sweetened beverage.

The effects of soda, being so energy dense, and a huge array of populations consume them, it is a prudent measure to combat this energy surplus with some of the most energy dense compounds that hold no nutritional value. Another problem is the accuracy in which laymen people try to measure their energy intake.If you want to tip back sodas, juices, or eat candies you don’t necessarily have to tip your scale.

When you look at sugar as the molecule that it is, it isn’t as devious as health professionals say, it is the way in which we embed it in foods and beverages to stimulate the senses is the problem.While sugar itself isn’t damaging, it is the large amounts that are ingested and the easiest way to ingest this potentially non-harmful molecule, is in its liquid form, usually referred to as — sugar sweetened beverages or sodas.

It is the prolonged intake of it over the course of long periods of time which contributes to fat gain, and obesity.Now, before continuing any further this is not a promotional plug OR berating piece against Pepsi, Haagen Dazs, or Nestle. Its an assessment of how the body works in regards to sugar consumption with the contemporary data, and to inform on how sugar can be allowed in a daily diet. And I think after reading this you will be pleased to understand its not as scary as a lot of media has made it out to be. The marketers targeting of audiences that are more prone to drink and promote these beverages is much scarier, when that audience doesn’t understand energy balance, leading to a lot of unneeded pathology and suffering.

It’s an all world problem

The increasing intake of sugar is a major concern to The WHO. They are making it known that the recommended daily amount of calories that come from sugar should be no more than 10% of your total daily calories. This is a valid approach by policy makers because of the correlation of sugar consumption with having high risk of causing health problems.Along with the WHO, The US dietary Guidelines are similar. Dr Walter Willet, in regards to the data analysis of the prominence of diseases in the US states “Sugar sweetened beverages, really do stick out like sore thumbs”.

Analysis suggests that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is related to the risk of diabetes, the metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. He further states, “The average consumption of sugar is bad enough, but its not that everybody eats the average, we find that millions of Americans eating double the average, almost 30% of their calories coming from sugar…… Overwhelmingly the factor is soda” This is an approach to help curb the millions of Americans exceeding the average sugar consumption, predominately through sugar laden liquids, to help save lives, reduce suffering, obesity, and premature death.It is a long-term and wide net approach to govern people and help them.

The problem isn’t sugar itself, the problem is the targeting of people who are not as well informed on the impacts of exceedingly high average sugar intakes impacts on the body. It is much easier to proscribe sugar sweetened beverages than to teach laymen people, who may not even care to understand, the laws of thermodynamics, energy balance, and metabolism.

You’re giving us mixed messages, you are saying sugar isn’t bad for you, but its causing all of these problems. Well, kind of. Sugar in and of itself isn't bad.

The prolonged and sustained abusive intake of sugar, that creates an energy surplus is bad.If you still dont believe how sugar beverages could help contribute to this problem (nearly 2/3 of the United States is overweight) and take the average American, who drinks soda.The average American that drinks soda, drinks 2.6 glasses of soda per day. If we use Mountain Dew as an example, that 2.6 glasses has the same amount of sugar as nearly 12 Krispy Kreme donuts. Now you can see how this practice everyday can create a run-away-effect with damaging consequences.Now I think this depiction of the AVERAGE consumption equates to a dozen donuts starkly puts it in perspective. Sugar is just being abused unknowingly in most cases. It isn’t sugar’s fault, its our fault. Would you like to know how much sugar an average man would be taking in if he consumed 30% of his total calories with sugar Dr Willet was speaking about?An average man, eating 30% of his calories from sugar, would equate in sugar to nearly 21 krispy kreme donuts. 202.25 grams of sugar.

The WHO recommends that people limit their total calories to 10% from -free sugars. Now what is a free sugar? ‘Free sugars’ include all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition lactose (milk sugars) when naturally present in milk and milk products and sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods (particularly fruits and vegetables) are excluded.

The American Heart Association has also stated that sugar consumption should be regulated. But it has stated that it recognizes that the recommendations its promoting are based on data that is limited, and that few prospective randomized trails have been produced.The majority suggesting studies that there are links between sugars and cardiovascular disease are epidemiological studies, which establish connections, or associations, rather than cause and effect. Observational studies of obesity and nutrition when these studies establish association rather than cause and effect.But what do know for a fact is the risks of being obese are quite real and the scientific community has mountainous amounts of data.An analysis from the Human Health Services states it quite eloquently,“Obesity is a significant risk factor for and contributor to increased morbidity and mortality, most importantly from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes, but also from cancer and chronic diseases, including osteoarthritis, liver and kidney disease, sleep apnea, and depression. The prevalence of obesity has increased steadily over the past 5 decades, and obesity may have a significant impact on quality-adjusted life years. Obesity is also strongly associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality as well as cardiovascular and cancer mortality. Despite the substantial effects of obesity, weight loss can result in a significant reduction in risk for the majority of these comorbid conditions.”A lot of these studies that are taking the affect of sugar sweetened beverages people are eating at Ad libitum. The need is for reducing energy consumption. But as policy makers understand, they are not going to make everyone count their calories everyday to ensure their weight loss. In fact most people who only diet are up to 2/3 more likely to regain weight if not more weight than they lost while dieting. So promoting the omission of sugar is inherently going to be much easier for large sums of people to adopt.When people eat Ad libitum is Latin for “at one’s pleasure”; and drink sugary drinks weight gain is seen, when people have energy restricted diets and drink sugary drinks, no weight gain is seen. This is seen through isoenergetic exchange (having the same amount of energy) of sugars with other carbohydrates is not associated with weight change. And this isn’t troublesome that the WHO to take into account this approach, they’re designing dietary guidelines for populations, not to advise individual patients. So applying trials of people living free consuming these diets at their leisure is the most prudent approach for their goalsbecause that is most likely what people ACTUALLY do. But it doesn’t mean taking in sugar is the ultimate decider on your health.A comprehensive study in the British Medical Journal analyzing many findings out of the implications of sugar intake, found that “data suggest that the change in body fatness that occurs with modifying intake of sugars suggests results from an alteration in energy balance rather than a physiological or metabolic consequence of monosaccharides or disaccharides.”

What this concludes is that it isn’t necessarily the sugar ingestion that stimulates the storage of fat in the body in and of it itself, its stating that the profuse consumption of sugar laden foods and beverages, that are dense in calories and potential energy, but low in nutrients, put people in a state where there body has been given large amount of calories that they will not burn over the course of the day. Repeating this day in and day out, has damaging results. Sugar sweetened beverages are used as a tool of an omission of calories, calories that don’t help you what so ever nutritionally. It leads to fat storage because the body is in a state of surplus energy.This repetitive cycle will lead people to gain weight quickly because of the high energy density of carbohydrates that are in the form of sugar in each can or food. It seems reasonable, and with the quantity of people suffering from obesity, even pertinent that limiting sugars to 10% is a good idea. The majority of foods filled with sugar are little in nutrients, are not satiating, are high in calories, which lead to the over-consumption of energy. A dozen donuts worth in fact.From the stand point of these entities trying to curb a public health concern, some deeming it a crisis and epidemic, these solutions are extremely admirable and a sophisticated approach. Good advice relating to sugars intake is a relevant component of a strategy to reduce the high risk of overweight and obesity in most countries and large sums of people by recommending to avoiding sugar. Because vast sums of people do not check their energy balance(it is also very hard to accurately) as well as sugar consumption.Most notably assessed with sugar sweetened beverages, they do not fill you up leaving you hungry to eat the food you either would have eaten, tacking on the additional calories you consume with each can and if they’re not burned off, they’re stored, that is just simply how the body works.

The bottom line on gaining fat.

A fundamental principle of nutrition and metabolism is that body weight change is associated with an imbalance between the energy content of food eaten and energy expended by the body to maintain life and to perform physical work.In addition, the American Society for Nutrition put forth a consensus on energy balance. A statement on energy balance, noting its very high complexity. Getting millions of people to accurately measure it, everyday, is highly unlikely.But no matter what the intake of foods are the body still is bounded by the laws of thermodynamics. Over consuming calories, via calorically dense drinks low in satiety, manufacturers wanting their product to be bought, and naivety of energy balance, are contributors to the rise of obesity but they’re are not the only ones. More on the others later. First to dispel another myth.

Well the problem is High Fructose Corn Syrup. It isn’t natural!

No, this is simply not true that HFCS is the problemThis has been a falsified claim for some time now, even though this is a still a terse debate in the public sphere, academia and the scientific community have came to an agreement that it is not different or deleterious.It does not have any more negative effects than consumption of sucrose.Both controversy and confusion exist concerning fructose, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) with respect to their metabolism and health effects. These concerns have often been fueled by speculation based on studies of animals with limited data. Despite indisputably strong scientific evidence that its metabolism is no different than sucrose. The recent controversies arose when a scientific commentary was published suggesting a possible unique link between HFCS consumption and obesity.Since then, a broad scientific consensus has emerged that there are no metabolic or endocrine response differences between HFCS and sucrose related to obesity or any other adverse health outcome.An analysis from Cambridge University Press in Nutritional Research Review states. “the human body does not differentiate fructose absorption, whether it comes from HFCS, cane or beet sugar, or from an intrinsic source such as that present in fruits or fruit juices” This likeness in response from the body is unsurprising regarding given that each of these sugars contain approximately equal amounts of fructose and glucose, contain the same number of calories, possess the same level of sweetness, and are absorbed identically through the gastrointestinal tract. The historic choice of the name “high-fructose” corn syrup certainly contributed to the confusion, even though HFCS contains virtually the same amount of fructose as sucrose. It was more of a poor name choice of history, the name “high fructose” does sound particularly harmful and terrifying.Although consumption of HFCS in the United States dramatically increased from the early 1970s when it first came into use until about 1999, over the past decade the consumption of HFCS has actually subsided.

USDA Economic Research Service. U.S. per capita loss-adjusted food availability: “Total Calories.” CDC, 2010 National Center for Health Statistics

Whereas obesity has increased or remained at the same levels in most population groups According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, between 1970 and 2005, sugars and sweeteners available for consumption rose 76 calories per individual from 400 calories to 476 caloriesFurthermore, worldwide consumption of sucrose is 9 times as much as HFCS, and there are epidemics of obesity and diabetes in areas where little or no HFCS is available.Intake HFCS in the US significantly increased from the early 70s when it was first used until about 1999, over the past decade the consumption of HFCS has decreased. In comparison to obesity’s rise . How could HFCS contribute if its use is down and obesity’s risen, how we eat and drink and energy imbalance, overweight and obesity, and the large collection of other nutrition-related cardiometabolic complications have shifted so greatly in the past 50 years.

The negative claims about HFCS were used in VERY HIGH DOSAGES as well as used the pure forms experiments comparing pure fructose versus pure glucose at exaggerated levels, its not the way that sugars are consumed in the normal human diet, even if you are the cookie monster.The response by the body still is the same regardless of the molecular compound of sugarLean women had no different signs of change between fasting plasma insulin leptin when fructose is ingested HFCS or SucroseStudies by Stanhope et al. showed findings similar to those that we reported in both men and women and also demonstrated no difference in postprandial triglycerides after consumption of either high fructose corn syrup or sucrose at 1/4 of total energy intake.

The perfect storm for gaining unwanted weight.

General properties, such as thirst and hunger, are distinguished and vary between beverages and solid foods consumed.When you eat, you are forming complex chains of memories, associations, and physiological processes. If you are hungrier after consuming a high calorie drink, where little satiety occurs, you will still proceed to eat food until satiation. When drinking a beverage a lot of these complex chains are minimized or skipped all together. The majority of soda drinkers watch more television, which adds to even more distraction, that can skip these long complex chains that complete satiation. In case you want to learn more about food and memory formations, check out an article about Mindful Eating , here.

Little satiety occurs when you consume a high calorie drink, if you are still hungry once a a high calorie drink is consumed and it insignificantly impacted how full you feel, you will eat food until your body responds to the stimuli of feeling full.The difference in satiation of calories matters a great deal. Solid foods and liquid beverages affect the appetite very differently. There are many factors that come into satiety some such as memory cognition, gastric emptying, intestinal travel difference, orosensory factors, absorption rate, and the rate at which the endocrine system responds varies substantially. When eating foods a lot of processes go on that are distinctly different than drinking. There are forming of memories when you eat food that allow your brain to recognize you have eaten, this is a big problem with distracted eating, drinking high caloric drinks do not have the same memory formation.Drinks or liquids respond with much less responses from an appetite standpoint as well as compensatory responses (feeling of refueled for energy expended).Sugars that are found in fluid form may be less sufficiently compensated for energy at subsequent meals, thus leading to increased overall energy intake and weight gain. When speaking about less compensated it is referring to to adjusting the food you take in or expend more or less in response to drinking sugar sweetened beverages, hence its contribution to a positive energy balanceSugar or sugar in the form of HFCS isn’t the only thing that is causing problems, and if you think subtracting just sugar out of your diet will help your cause, the laws of thermodynamics still apply.

The World Health Organization completed a review of the effects of all added fructose-containing sugars on fat tissue gain. When randomized trials showed that added fructose-containing sugars in comparison with different carbohydrates with their energy matched, it didnt effect body weight.Other dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors for chronic diseases also cause a substantial number of deaths in the US. The role of sugar in disease and obesity is not the only dealer of disease. The complexity of the processes energy intake and energy expenditure stated by the American Nutrition Society, can’t be just this one molecule’s fault.Scapegoating sugar as the head contributor to the obesity crisis is mostly not subject on the molecule, sugar is safely ingested, but manufacturers do create products that are sweet tasting in order to sell and appeal to their customers, whether they are informed of the risks of over consumption or not.Identifying sugar as the only contributor to this problem of weight gain is unrealistic. An analysis of 3 Harvard associates, showed that the implementation of these foods people gained weight to depict its not just sugar by using:

  • French fries
  • potato chips
  • unprocessed meats
  • processed meats
  • baked, broiled, or mashed potatoes.

All of these implementations of different and varying types of foods resulted in similar or greater weight gain than sugary beverages after every 4 year follow up. Additionally, in some cases sugar intake had a smaller risk of those of who had high trans fatty acids, lack of exercise, low n-3 Fatty acids, high salt intake, this is just some evidence that sugar isn’t the only thing contributing to cardiometabolic risks.Moreover, it has been found that various changes and variables of lifestyle were independently associated with weight gain for the long-term, including changes in the consumption of specific foods and beverages(sugar), physical activity, television watching, smoking habits, and alcohol use.A study with the British Medicine Journal has shown that suggesting a change in body fatness with the change of energy balance rather than metabolic repercussions of disacharides or monosachharides.For example with a replacement of carbohydrate that was isoenergetic (having the same cost in energy) with sugar no weight loss was seen.Only when free fructose at high dosages that added excess calories increased body weight. People generally eat at ad libitum, which is why many studies practice this approach, to find relatively ways to help limit the way in which people gain weight, and the results have been to limit sugar, mostly in the form of beverages without emphasizing the need to achieve weight loss.The interventions are mainly trying to limit high calorie intakes by subtracting or making it known that sugar should be limited, which will in return limit sugar sweetened beverages, which will lower calorie intake, and weight loss is likely to be the result.

How Sugar works

All sugars are forms of carbohydrates.Sugar is categorized into 3 types

  • Monosaccharides
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides


have a simple molecular structure, “mono” meaning one.They come in the form of

  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Glactose

Glucose is also referred to or categorized as blood sugar. Glucose is the human body’s key source of energy. Fructose– think fruit — fructose is naturally in fruit as well as white table sugar, and the wrongfully dreaded high fructose corn syrup as we’ve seen above.The conversion of fructose ends to glucose, this conversion is processed in the liver, following this process its released into the blood for various physiological processes.

Oligosaccharides — Olig, meaning a few, have numerous connections of monosaccharides that resemble chains.

These sugars are connected to the fiber that comprise plants.We can somewhat break these down into glucose. The more complex the composition the more time it takes to digest.


Long chains of monosaccharides, most of the time, containing 10 or more monosaccharides.Some examples, are starch, glycogen, and cellulose.No matter what the type of sugar our metabolism breaks down these starches down to be used as glucose, cellulose is a source of dietary fiber and cannot be broken down.So there are two pathways they’re broken down into glucose to be used as energy, or go without being metabolized as dietary fiber.Our body can’t differentiate between the natural sugar found in fruit, milk, Hagen daze, twizzlers, they’re all broken down into the same.Now remember it’s not advocating eating these unhealthy foods but rather an explanation that it is a process of metabolism, the end results are the same. Because these are all broken down at different rates in the body. BUT YOU SHOULD STILL BE EATING HEALTHY FOODS.Now you should still be eating fruits and vegetables, this is just a depiction that sugar isn’t as bad as it seems, it is more of the over consumption of a lot of sugar ( energy ) you haven’t expended over the course of a long period of time and therefore you gain weight, adopt all of the risks you have when being obese.You do want to keep free sugars low, because typically the increase in free sugar consumption, typically the lower amount of micronutrients ingested.Micronutrients are the small essential compounds our bodies need.If you want to check out more on micronutrients, how much you need, and if multivitamins are needed, check this article out here

Sugars, while not harming active lean individuals, they do show to effect the health of sedentary and overweight individuals. So if you are sedentary and overweight you should steer clear of a lot of sugar consumption. Individuals with leaner bodies process sugars better than the overweight individuals typically of those who ingest them. If you exercise and are at a healthy body weight you will be fine with some simple sugars.

But, you should always be getting most of your nutrients and calories from nutrient dense and fresh foods.

If you are overweight and do not exercise this extra energy in the form of sugar should be avoided, if you are a healthy active individual sugars can be more tolerated. If you want to be healthy it seems prudent that you don’t eat copious amounts of sugar, because the forms of sugar hold very little nutritional value. Offsetting your calories with sugar laden foods and drinks will just lead to a slew of other complications if micronutrients are not consumed appropriately. Excess sugar may also promote the development of CVD and T2DM indirectly by causing increased body weight and fat gain, but this is also a topic of controversy. Westernized diets are consumed ad libitum, and the fact that a stark majority of individuals are overweight, with the prevalence of this obesity among US adults, it portrays evidence that this diet — ad libitum- is consumed in amounts beyond energy requirements potentially causing these adverse effects related to sugar intake.Sugar isn’t entirely terrible comparable to many other substances people are just fine with ingesting. But if you do want to optimize your body to the best of its abilities, keeping sugar intakes to their recommended daily amount, about 10% of total daily calories, should be an approach you take to avoid the risks until the entire landscape of sugar evidence is conclusive.

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