By Mark Lundegren
By now, nearly everyone on the planet understands that high sugar consumption may not be good for us. If this point seems no longer worthy of mention, we would encourage you to reconsider.
After all, not very long ago many of us were skeptical of sugar’s health risks, just as some of us are still, offering an important lesson about our perceptions generally. And in our time, even with our new sugar misgivings, commercial interests still actively tout sugar’s dubious benefits, blithely characterize extensive research suggesting toxicity and harm from high sugar consumption as less than credible, and quietly lobby for continued public policies friendly to sugar producers.
Modern Sugar In Four Of Its Many Familiar Forms
But more important than the past and present-day denial of sugar risks is the fact that, for a majority of us, our daily life still involves enormous and unnatural sugar consumption, in both direct and indirect forms (such as carbohydrate-rich grains and foods with added sugars).
Our behavior, in other words, generally runs counter to our growing belief about the harm of high-sugar diets, with sugar consumption (including high fructose sweeteners) still on the rise worldwide. A world leader in added or free sugar use (and obesity and other diseases of affluence) is the United States, where average added sugar consumption is now about 40 kilograms (90 pounds) per person annually. Unfortunately, other nations are not far behind.
With the continuing rise in sugar intake worldwide and concurrent increases in various chronic health problems – a trend that first began when sugar intake dramatically rose in Western countries more than a century ago – the topic of sugar use in fact remains important and timely. This is true for people seeking optimal health and well-being amidst industrial affluence and for all of us paying or subsidizing the high medical bills of those who do not.
Today, a number of research teams are investigating the safe upper limits for human sugar consumption. This important work is slowed and hamstrung, however, by a lack of adequate funding for this research (a hangover from past sugar denial among political and public health leaders) and by the inherent complexity of this research.
Setting our maximum daily sugar limit scientifically is complex because sugar effects must be isolated from other dietary factors, measured over a considerable period of time (given that sugar toxicity appears to be gradual rather than a sudden phenomenon), and compared across people with different genes and natural differences in sugar sensitivity.
As this crucial work – perhaps the single most important area of nutritional research today – slowly grinds to a rigorous and definitive conclusion, researchers, physicians, and the rest of us are left to guess how much sugar is too much. For HumanaNatura, our conclusion is that added sugars and sugar-producing foods are probably far more harmful than most of us realize, and that little or no added sugar (and other unnatural carbohydrate-rich foods) is the answer researchers will ultimately arrive at. We base this conclusion on our experience working with people having different levels of sugar intake, extensive research showing disease trends substantially correlated with sugar use, and the simple fact that sugars were only a small part of our human diet in nature (when they came almost entirely from wild fruits).
An excellent summary of the history, science, politics, and health issues of sugar use by Gary Taubes, entitled Is Sugar Toxic, was published recently in the New York Times Magazine. Taubes is a long-time sugar critic and author of Why We Get Fat. Included in Taubes’ article is a discussion of rigorous if yet still not fully conclusive (“not credible” in sugar-speak) research suggesting at least three important negative health impacts from high sugar use:
1. Diabetes & Obesity (Diabesity) – hypothesized as resulting from sugar’s tendency to cause elevated and unnatural levels of the sugar-metabolizing hormone insulin and the resulting storage of excess sugar as fat, development of insulin resistance by cells generally, full or partial pancreatic failure from excessive demands for insulin production, and liver impairment via metabolic imbalance
2. Heart Disease & Stroke – hypothesized as caused by sugar and insulin’s tendency to elevate triglycerides (blood fats) and encourage blood vessel inflammation, together resulting in the chronic and unnatural formation of cardiovascular plaques, clots, and blockages (a general and growing disease condition known as atherosclerosis)
3. Metastatic Cancer – hypothesized as resulting from insulin’s potential, when chronically and unnaturally elevated via high sugar use, to increase body and organ tissue inflammation, physiological or metabolic imbalance, and growth in pre-cancerous cells able (or gradually selected) to utilize insulin as a catalyst
Given these important and increasingly clear health risks associated with sugar use, and the fact that high sugar intake is neither natural in humans nor required for healthy life, HumanaNatura advocates a two-step strategy to proactively and greatly limit sugar consumption.
HumanaNatura’s sugar reduction strategy involves: 1) limiting dietary sugars and dense carbohydrates to those contained in raw fruits and vegetables (our natural sources of sugar) and 2) further limiting fruit sugars as needed until we individually achieve a lean body mass. Importantly, we encourage this sugar strategy and the basic goal of a lean body for people of all ages (excepting infants, whose natural diet is breast milk).
Learn more about the history and suspected health risks associated with unnatural sugar consumption at Taubes’ New York Times article, Is Sugar Toxic, and review HumanaNatura’s dietary guidelines via the Natural Eating section of our comprehensive, science-based Personal Health Program.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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