Over the top milkshake with lots of sugar

The Low Down on Sugar

Amanda Koch DesignAssistant

By Mélanie Préfontaine-Darius – Communications

There was a time when sugar was a delicacy, a condiment that was difficult to come by.  You were lucky to add it to your coffee or tea.

But according to Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, sugar was “still extraordinarily expensive until the middle of the 18th to 19th century.  This expense may have been a blessing in disguise, as it made it virtually impossible for most people to consume in excess.  And therein lies the problem.  Sugar acts as a chronic, dose-dependent liver toxin –poison – when consumed in excess.”

In fact, the rise of chronic metabolic disease follows the growth of the sugar industry and increases in per capita sugar consumption.

Today, we consume about twenty times more sugar than our ancestors did, and we have very little control over the amount since what was once a condiment has now become a dietary staple.

In mid-September 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association published papers revealing that, in 1965, the sugar industry paid three scientists from Harvard to draw attention away from the connection between sugar and heart disease and focus instead on fat. In their findings, they downgraded sugar to a problem for the dentist, not the cardiologist.

What those scientists did, skewed the conversation about fat and health for decades, letting sugar go pretty much unchecked until it found its way into virtually every packaged product on the market, and encouraged millions to avoid fat in favor of simple carbohydrates, which leads to chronic systemic inflammation. Fat-free cookies, fat-free ice cream, fat-free fat etc.

Meanwhile, since 1965, we have only become heavier. Roughly two billion people worldwide are now overweight, and six hundred million of them are obese. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally. Over the next twenty years, the World Economic Forum estimates that developed nations will spend $47 trillion on diseases caused by the global-industrial diet.
sugar in a wooden bowl and spoon

What are you consuming before you head out the door for work? Are you a cereal junky or do you simply grab a coffee on the go with a couple sugars? Perhaps you are in the know and are eating whole foods and enjoy a freshly prepared protein shake, a power smoothie bowl or chia pudding bowl, separate from and before your morning cup of java (minus the sugar). How do you feel when you arrive at work, how productive are you and how soon after arriving are you craving more sugary foods/processed food? Is all this sugar having an affect on your health and performance? You bet it does.

Let’s find out how and what we can do to change this vicious cycle to help us become top performers.

Why is Sugar Bad for Your Liver?

The main problem with sugar, and processed fructose in particular, is the fact that your liver has a very limited capacity to metabolize it. In a YouTube video, Dr. Lustig explains why sugar is so damaging for your liver and how it may lead to diabetes.   Part of the problem is that you can safely metabolize only about six teaspoons of added sugar per day.  And the average person consumes twenty teaspoons of added sugar per day. All that excess sugar is metabolized into body fat, and leads to chronic inflammation and many chronic metabolic diseases, including but not limited to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Type 3 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dementia
  • Cancer


someone measuring the size of their waist
casual businesswomen

According to SugarScience.org, a product of Dr. Lustig and colleagues, who have reviewed more than 8,000 independent studies on sugar and its role in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, brain health and more state that:

“Over time, consuming large quantities of added sugar can stress and damage critical organs, including the pancreas and liver. When the pancreas, which produces insulin to process sugars, becomes overworked, it can fail to regulate blood sugar properly. Large doses of the sugar fructose also can overwhelm the liver, which metabolizes fructose. In the process, the liver will convert excess fructose to fat, which is stored in the liver and also released into the bloodstream. This process contributes to key elements of MetS [metabolic syndrome], including high blood fats or triglycerides, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and extra body fat in the form of a sugar belly.”

casual businesswomen

Links to Kidney Damage

Your body is designed to have just one teaspoon of sugar in your blood at all times — if that.  If your blood sugar level were to rise to one tablespoon of sugar you would run the risk of going into a hyperglycemic coma and even dying.

Your body works very hard to prevent a hyperglycemic coma from happening by producing insulin to keep your blood sugar at the appropriate level.  Any meal or snack that is high in grains and sugar carbohydrates typically generates a rapid rise in blood glucose.  To compensate for this, your pancreas secretes insulin into your bloodstream, which lowers your blood sugar to keep you from dying.  Insulin, however, also turns the sugar into fat — so the more you secrete, the fatter you become.

If you consume a diet that is consistently high in sugar and grains, your blood glucose levels will be correspondingly high and over time your body will respond by becoming “desensitized” to insulin and will require more and more of it to get the job done.  Eventually, you become insulin resistant, and then diabetic. The negative health effects of an elevated blood sugar/insulin cycle begins to occur before insulin resistance sets in, it starts with Metabolic Syndrome.

A study found that people with only slightly elevated blood sugar levels have a greater risk of kidney disease, as evidenced by two complications often associated with the disease — abnormal blood filtration (hyperfiltration) and more albumin protein in the urine.  Past research has also found that people with slightly elevated blood sugar levels (but no diabetes or pre-diabetes) scored lower on memory tests.

a woman holding a glucose monitor and sugar cube

Type 2 Diabetes Raises Your Risk of Dementia

What is so dangerous about sugar is that it doesn’t just impact us based on what we consume today, it rewires our brains to ensure that we will consume more of it tomorrow.  The overconsumption of sugar is increasingly being linked to brain-related health issues such as depression, learning disorders, memory problems and overeating.

While insulin is usually associated with its role in keeping our blood sugar levels in a healthy range, it also plays a role in brain signaling.  In one animal study, when researchers disrupted the proper signaling of insulin in the brain, they were able to induce many of the characteristic brain changes seen with Alzheimer’s disease (disorientation, confusion, inability to learn and remember).

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the same pathological process that leads to insulin and leptin resistance and type 2 diabetes may also hold true for your brain, termed type 3 diabetes.  As you over-indulge on sugar and grains, your brain becomes overwhelmed by the consistently high levels of insulin and eventually insulin and leptin levels and signaling become profoundly disrupted, leading to impairments in your thinking and memory abilities.  Eventually this may cause permanent brain damage, among other health issues.  So it’s not surprising that a new study published in Diabetes Care found that type 2 diabetes is associated with a 60 percent increased risk of dementia in men and women.

An elderly woman is holding her head upset

A past study — published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013 — demonstrated that a mild elevation of blood sugar — a level of around 105 or 110 — is also associated with an elevated risk for dementia.  Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the books “Grain Brain” and “Brain Maker,” has concluded that Alzheimer’s disease is primarily predicated on lifestyle choices and, in a nutshell, anything that promotes insulin resistance will ultimately also raise your risk of Alzheimer’s.  He also believes a blood sugar level of 92 or higher is too high and that the ideal fasting blood sugar level is somewhere around 70 to 85.

An elderly woman is holding her head upset
woman falling into a burger addiction

Hedonic Hunger: Junk Foods Trick Your Brain into Wanting More Food

“Hedonic hunger” is a relatively new term. It describes the desire for food even when your body isn’t biologically in need of it.  This phenomenon is thought to be contributing to rising rates of obesity, and it almost always involves cravings for highly palatable foods, like those high in sugar and unhealthy fats (hydrogenated and trans-fats).

The more you eat junk foods, the more your body becomes used to them and requires more to give you the same pleasurable feelings, much like an addiction to drugs.  Eventually, you may need to eat junk food in order to maintain a feeling of well-being.


woman falling into a burger addiction

Scientific American reported:

“Research has shown that the brain begins responding to fatty and sugary foods even before they enter our mouth.  Merely seeing a desirable item excites the reward circuit.  As soon as such a dish touches the tongue, taste buds send signals to various regions of the brain, which in turn responds by spewing the neurochemical dopamine.  The result is an intense feeling of pleasure.

Frequently overeating highly palatable foods saturates the brain with so much dopamine that it eventually adapts by desensitizing itself, reducing the number of cellular receptors that recognize and respond to the neurochemical.

Consequently, the brains of overeaters demand a lot more sugar and fat to reach the same threshold of pleasure as they once experienced with smaller amounts of the foods.  These people may, in fact, continue to overeat as a way of recapturing or even maintaining a sense of well-being.”

Reengineering Your Food Environment to Break Junk Food Cravings

For people addicted to junk food, simple will power may not be enough to break the cycle.  Some experts, like Michael Lowe, a clinical psychologist at Drexel University (who also coined the term “hedonic hunger”), suggests reengineering your personal food environment.

This means not bringing junk food into your home and avoiding venues that sell it.  The good news is that the less sugar you eat, the faster your cravings will go away.  When you remove sugar from your diet, you may be initially struck by cravings and irritability, after a week or so the cravings will go away. What’s more, your weight and blood sugar improve, as will your energy and fitness levels.
time to throw out the junk food
Are You Addicted to Sugar?
Here’s How to Break Free

Eliminating excess sugar from your diet is a foundational element of reaching optimal health. It is recommend to try an energy psychology technique called Turbo Tapping, which has helped many “soda addicts” kick their sweet habit, and can work for any type of sweet craving you may have.

In order to minimize your sugar intake you’ll need to avoid most processed foods, as added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods and under more than 60 different names. If you’re insulin/leptin resistant, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are overweight, you should limit your total fructose/sugar intake to 15 grams per day until your insulin/leptin resistance has resolved.

For all others, it is recommended to limit your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less.  You simply cannot achieve optimal health on a diet of processed foods and sugar.  Also, be sure to avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose due to the health problems associated with them, which are worse than those associated with high fructose corn syrup and sugar.  Not all sugars are created equal.  Less processed and healthier options include coconut palm sugar and date sugar.  


A Few Tricks to Kick Your Sugar Cravings:

day. All that excess sugar is metabolized into body fat, and leads to chronic inflammation and many chronic metabolic diseases, including but not limited to:

  • Exercise: Anyone who exercises intensely on a regular basis will know that significant amounts of cardiovascular exercise is one of the best “cures” for food cravings. It always amazes me how my appetite, especially for sweets, dramatically decreases after a good workout. Woohoo!

The mechanism may very well be related to the dramatic reduction in insulin levels that occurs after exercise. Additionally, if you eat sugars or fruits around the time of the exercise, your sugar levels will not rise as it will be metabolized for fuel.


    organic black coffee in a white cup sitting on a table
    close up of running shoes
    • Organic, black coffee (1 cup/day): Coffee is a potent opioid receptor antagonist, and contains compounds such as cafestrol — found plentifully in both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee — which can bind to your opioid receptors, occupy them and essentially block your addiction to other opioid-releasing foods. This may profoundly reduce the addictive power of other substances, such as sugar.

    • Sour taste: Cultured vegetables help to reduce sweet cravings, too. This is doubly beneficial, as fermented vegetables also promote gut health!  You can also add lemon or lime juice to warm water.  This helps support the liver.
    organic black coffee in a white cup sitting on a table
    • Increase your consumption of healthy fats, such as omega-3, saturated and monounsaturated fats.Your body needs health-promoting fats from animal and plant sources for optimal functioning. In fact, emerging evidence suggests that healthy fats should make up at least 60 to 85 percent of your daily calories. A healthy fat should accompany each meal and is required for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

    Some of the best sources of healthy fats include avocado (also a good source of potassium – great for the heart), coconut oil, free-range eggs (also a good source of choline – great for the liver and brain), organic butter from raw milk and or grass-fed cattle (also a good source of butyric acid – helps with gut health), raw nuts like macadamia and pecans, (unheated) virgin olive oil and wild Alaskan salmon.  Please do not consume any fish from the Atlantic Ocean.

    • Drink pure, clean and non-fluoridated water:  Drinking pure water instead of sugary beverages like fruit juice and soda will go a long way toward improving your health. The best way to gauge your water needs is to observe the color of your urine — it should be light-pale yellow — and the frequency of your bathroom visits should be around seven to eight times per day. Typically, it is recommended that women consume at least 2L/day and that men consume at least 3L/day for kidney health.  If you are having caffeinated beverages daily, your body will require more than the 2 or 3 litres of pure water.

    Did you recognize yourself or a loved one in any of the above discussion? Now is the time to take charge of your health, it is all up to you. Do you want to experience quality sleep, wake-up feeling rested and full of energy – not feeling the need to grab that cup of java, conquering and being on top of the demands of daily work, and how about no longer experiencing an afternoon lull in energy, but rather be able to maintain consistent and stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and into the evening.  Stress levels will drop dramatically and you will be lighter, happier and healthier.

    Here’s to a new and improved you in 2021! You can do it!

    Sources: Food Revolution Network, Dr. Mercola and Dr. Perlmutter and Dr. Lustig

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