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Is sugar really toxic?
While a bit of honey in your tea may be harmless, eating food laced with added sugars all day is a different matter. The current research quite clearly shows that sugar, at a high enough intake, is toxic.
Toxic in that it adversely affects your metabolism in a way that increases risk for disease, and there is plenty of evidence to show it can directly result in some serious health consequences. So what happens when you compare someone who is relatively sugar-free to those consume added sugar at a level that matches the average dietary intake?
To answer this, a high profile research team from the University of California conducted a “this is you, on sugar” experiment. Over just 2-weeks they found that added sugars, at levels that match average intakes, significantly increased a number of cardiovascular risk markers in the blood of young adults. Keep in mind that most people are consuming this much sugar, every day, for most of their lives.
But what about links to actual diseases? We have heard sugar rots your teeth, but could it damage organs such as your liver, brain and heart as well?
Linking any dietary factor to disease is inherently difficult due to problems such as inaccurate measures of what people are eating and teasing out the effects of sugar vs the food its hidden in.
Unfortunately, we have sugar-sweetened beverages: liquid sugar, and people are drinking loads of it. Large-scale studies of sugar-sweetened beverages have shown strong links to diseases you might expect, such as heart disease, obesity, and type-2 diabetes.
In most cases increases in risk are similar magnitude to smoking or not exercising.
But, most concerning, other and sometimes surprising diseases are now strongly associated with drinking sugar, such as gout, arthritis, autoimmune disease, fatty liver disease, depression, and dementia.
It appears that sugar does actually rot your body, resulting in breakdown of organs and tissues and ultimately life-threatening diseases.
Can you really “detox” sugar?
Ironically, the proof that sugar is bad for you is in the pudding. Despite the popularity of sugar detox or reduction diets, only recently has the science shed light on the health effects of quitting sugar.
And it appears that detoxing sugar could indeed transform your health. To see if your taste for sugary foods does change after quitting sugar, in one study a group of 20 people cut out all added sugars and artificial sweeteners in their diets for 2-weeks.
After the sugar detox challenge, 95% of people found that sweet foods and drinks tasted sweeter or too sweet, 75% found that other foods tasted sweeter, and 95% said that forward they would use less or even no sugar.
And quitting sugar got easy fast; with 86.6% of people reporting that they had no more cravings for sugar after just 6-days. And the health benefits are fast and striking.
In 2016 Robert Lustig MD, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at University of California and author of “Fat Chance, The Hidden Truth About Sugar,” published his own sugar detox study. Lustig and his team found that restricting sugar, while keeping calories constant, in the diet of a group of adolescents resulted in big reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin, and body fat, within just 9-days!
The bitter truth
Reportedly, when white, crystalline, refined sugar first appeared as a possible food item people treated it with trepidation, it looks like a drug.
Over a century later sugar is the new tobacco, with comparable health effects and controversy surrounding its regulation. It is clear that too much is toxic, and that cutting down sugar intake is a major health priority for most people.
The problem is that modern, processed foods are sugar coated, both literally and figuratively, so cutting down on sugar is hard.
That’s why a structured dietary “sugar detox” program that raises awareness of the problem while providing support tools and social motivation has the power to lift the lid on sugar and transform lives.
Benjamin Brown, ND. Ben is a naturopath, nutritionist, speaker, and science writer. He is Lecturer at BCNH College of Nutrition and Health, Technical Director at Viridian Nutrition and author of The Digestive Health Solution.