White Refined Sugar is an Anti-nutrient
What this post is about:
- Eating refined sugar actually does you more harm than good
- Refined sugar costs your body small amounts of certain micro-nutrients
- If you tried to live on just refined sugar, you would almost certainly become very sick in surprisingly little time, and eventually die
- 5-a-day is just not enough! And most people are not eating 5-a-day!
- Sugar is a poison
- People think healthy food is boring, because it tastes bland - but only to their palate which has been poisoned by sugar and salt - when people tell me they think vegetables taste boring and bland, I know it’s the PERSON that is ‘broken’ not the vegetables
- A diet high in sugar and processed foods, and low in fresh vegetables, is likely high in processed carbohydrates and processed sugars
- Such a diet is causing low-level nutrient deficiencies and vast swathes of our population are suffering poor health as a result
White refined sugar
If you follow this blog on a regular basis, you will by now know that I have a real issue with white refined sugar, and in my opinion, MotherNaturesDiet ranks refined sugar as public enemy #1 in the health world. I have written lots about sugar before (from here on, when I use the word ‘sugar’ in this post, I am referring to white refined sugar, good old table sugar, or the modern mass-produced sugar-syrups that are used as ‘sugar’ in modern food manufacturing, such as HFCS and similar compounds that come under so many names) and I shall endeavour not to repeat myself too much in this post. If you are interested in reading more about the evils of sugar, go to www.MotherNaturesDiet.me and find the little ‘search’ box a short way down on the right hand side of the page, type in ‘sugar’ and hit return, and you will find lots of posts about sugar. Today, I want to draw your attention to the subject of sugar as an anti-nutrient, and the implications this has for the rest of your diet, and how it impacts the Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs) the government suggest you consume of various vitamins and minerals. As you read, you will see how this all ties together. As with most of my other long posts, I will try my best to keep the science to a minimum, so that this article makes sense to everyone. I will purposefully over-simplify the science, and write this in pretty plain English, so that the article is of interest to the widest possible audience. Scientists and nutrition experts please forgive the simplicity!
Sugar as an anti-nutrient
White refined sugar is a highly processed substance. The white crystals in your sugar bowl have been extracted from sugarcane (or sugar beets, but sugarcane is the starting point of 80 percent of the world’s sugar) via a fairly lengthy process that first involves mechanically crushing the plant to squeeze all the juice out. That juice is then filtered and boiled down to remove the water from it, then that product is refined through a number of chemical and mechanical processed to finally end up with what we know as white refined sugar, or just ‘sugar’ for the rest of this post. Sugar, in this highly refined form, is a pure carbohydrate (one of the three major macronutrients – proteins, fats, carbohydrates, as I’m sure you know). Sugar contains ONLY carbohydrate energy (calories), and nothing else. NO protein, NO fat, NO fibre, NO water, NO vitamins, NO minerals and NO enzymes. Sugar is often referred to as an anti-nutrient. That means it requires some of the nutrients you already have stored in your body, in order to metabolise and process the sugar that you consume in your diet. It requires some B vitamins (particularly vitamin B1 (thiamine), and B3 (niacin)), some vitamin C, and also calcium (we’ll talk about the calcium later), and trace amounts of potassium, magnesium, zinc, chromium and sodium in order to absorb and use the energy provided by refined sugar, this most popular of carbohydrates. This means, that consuming foods high in sugar (this includes HFCS, the food industry’s favourite additive, High Fructose Corn Syrup – often labelled as glucose-fructose syrup in the UK), depletes your bodies stored reserves of these nutrients. Now, without all those names, brackets and explanations, let me just repeat that for the purposes of clarity. Sugar is an anti-nutrient. That means it provides calories, but it provides no other nutrients at all, most notably, it does not provide the nutrients required to metabolise the calories that it in itself provides. Therefore, your body needs to tap into its own nutrient reserves in order to metabolise and use those calories that come in the sugar. So, by extension, if you ate enough sugar, and nothing else, your body would eventually be stripped of all its reserves of those vital nutrients, leaving you very ill, and eventually you would die. B1 deficiency can lead to death, as can B3 deficiency, and Vit C deficiency, and iron deficiency, and so on. Ah, now you see why it is called an anti-nutrient. Because not only does it NOT provide you any micro-nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals), but it depletes the stores of those micronutrients you already have.
Are you getting your 5-a-day?
Now you see, this really bothers me, because this is completely overlooked by everyone else in healthcare and nutrition – I just can’t seem to find anyone who is openly talking about this. Sure there are a gazillion people out there saying sugar is bad, and there are people out there pointing out that sugary foods are displacing more nutritious foods from our diet, but no one is picking up on this point that refined sugar strips micronutrients from your body. So ‘they’ tell us to eat our 5-a-day fruits and vegetables, in order to get our vitamins and minerals (and some fibre). But no one is seeing this, that if you eat your 5-a-day AND a load of sugar, then you need MORE than 5-a-day in order to actually end up with enough micronutrients to be equivalent to that which you get from 5-a-day. OK, so I don’t have exact numbers for you – there is virtually NO published science on this topic, largely because back in the 1970s the topic of “sugar is an anti-nutrient” went in and out of courtrooms in Corporate America, where some doctors and researchers tried to promote the truth, and some large sugar-selling corporations took them to court for proof! Since then, everyone is afraid to touch the subject, and there is a very little research out there. Your body uses certain amounts of some micronutrients, like B1 and B3, to metabolise all sugars. So think, if you ate a piece of fish or some greens or some other good source of B1 (thiamine) and B3 (niacin), but then washed it down with a bar of chocolate, some of the B1 and B3 that you consumed, would be USED by your body to metabolise those sugars. If ‘they’ recommend that we eat our 5-a-day in order to get our RDA of vitamins and minerals, what if the vitamins and minerals from 1 or 2 of those 5-a-day are being used up to process the bar of chocolate, oven pizza, can of cola and 3 pints of lager that also went in on the same day? AND, many experts are concerned that RDA’s are far too low for most people to enjoy really good health. AND it seems that after being told to eat 5-a-day for the last 25 years, less than 40% of Britons actually do eat that much fruit and veg. AND many experts say we should be eating 7-a-day (Australia recommends 7), 10-a-day (France), 12-a-day, 13-a-day or even 17-a-day (Japan, and MotherNaturesDiet!!).
Can you see where I am going with this?
Piecing these bits together:
- We are told to eat 5-a-day
- But perhaps 12-a-day would be closer to what most people need in order to be really healthy
- But most people (over 60%) don’t eat even 5-a-day
- (and most data is self-reported…there are people out there who think a splash of ketchup, the tomato paste on a pizza base, a glass of supermarket orange juice, a kids shop-bought juice drink, a glass of wine or a tin of soup provides 1 of their 5-a-day! WRONG! You need whole fresh vegetables and fruits to count, everything else is processed and usually has salt and sugar added!)
- It’s my guess that 75% of Britons fail to eat 5-a-day fresh vegetables and whole fruits
- AND most people eat confectionary and processed foods containing added sugar
- The sugar will “cancel out” at least 1 of the portions of veg they are eating
- Net result: most Britons are likely living on really only 1- or 2-a-day at best
- This means we are in a society broadly awash with low-level vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- End result: everyone tired, everyone sick, everyone low on energy, catching bugs all the time, lethargy, weariness, poor immune systems, and many less important symptoms too!
Among important, vital tasks in your body, vitamins and minerals also do lots of minor jobs – such as keeping your hair, eyes and skin healthy, such as helping you look and feel youthful, maintaining function in your muscles, helping you to have lots of energy, ensuring optimally functioning sex hormones, and much more besides. It’s no wonder our society is suffering widespread fatigue, auto-immune failure, developmental problems and many more maladies besides. People are eating too much crap, and too little real, whole, fresh food.
The Ultimate Paradox: The Western World today is overfed and undernourished
If your diet is like that of so many in the Western world – high is refined sugar, low in fresh organic vegetables – then there is a very strong possibility that you are eating plenty of calories, but actually causing yourself to suffer from nutrient deficiencies. If you are an avid reader of all-things-health and wellness, you will surely have come across this phrase before: It’s ‘The Ultimate Paradox: The Western World today is Overfed and Undernourished’. Now you are starting to understand why. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to some very serious health problems. Back in 1793, a cargo ship en route from the Caribbean to Europe was shipwrecked. The cargo it was carrying was sugar. The surviving crew of 5 men were stranded awaiting hope of rescue, but they thought they had nothing to worry about because they had water and lots and lots of sugar. These men ate just sugar and water for 9 days and when they were rescued, they were so ill several of them were close to death. These men were never hungry, yet they were dying of starvation. After their rescue, a French scientist was so intrigued by their poor health that he conducted an experiment on dogs, feeding them just water and sugar, and in no time at all, all of the dogs died from starvation. We know that a man can live without food, providing he has fresh air and clean water, for anything up to about 3 months – hunger strikers in prison have proved this point. Yet on sugar and water, death is close in less than two weeks. In short – you can live for a lot longer on just water, than on water and refined white sugar. Those sugar-calories might provide ‘energy’, but not in a form that is healthy for your body to use. Additionally, I have read a few studies completed by Irwin Stone and Linus Pauling showing that Vitamin C helps insulin to utilise sugar in the body. Basically, the research showed that when someone has enough Vitamin C in their body, they will only need a quarter of the amount of insulin released in order to utilise the sugar, compared to someone that was deficient in Vitamin C. In other words, if you eat lots of vegetables and fruits, and not much refined white sugar, then you are going to have a decent amount of vitamin C inside you at any one time – remember Vit C is water soluble, so you can’t store it for the long term, you have to consume it pretty much every day. Additionally, the vitamin C in fruit helps buffer the inevitable insulin ‘spike’ we hear about, that is associated with insulin resistance in people who consume a lot of sugar. Conversely, a doughnut, or a cola, or a concentrated or pasteurised (heated) fruit juice will have no vitamin C because temperatures of 30 degrees C destroy all vitamin C so there is nothing to help the insulin. So again, a diet high in veggies and fruits, some raw and some cooked, will flood the body with lots of health-giving micronutrients. But a diet high in sugary foods, and low in veggies, will lead to many mild nutrient deficiencies, many of which have a knock-on effect on other functions in a healthy body. As a final point, the sugarcane, the plant that we started with, does contain the nutrients required to metabolise refined sugar. Broadly speaking, all carbohydrates require B1 (thiamine) and B3 (niacin) and some minerals to be digested and metabolised, but in whole foods (plants, vegetables, fruits, etc.) the carbohydrate is packaged by Mother Nature with all you need and usually more. However, with processed foods, especially refined sugar, the nutrients have been stripped out, leaving just the sugar and nothing else. It’s the refining down to pure sugar crystals, separating that carbohydrate energy from its mother plant, that causes the problems. As with all natural things, Mother Nature creates all species balanced in perfect harmony, but humans come along and mess up her Grand Design. So eating sugar, and hence foods with lots of sugar in them, takes valuable nutrients away from your body. You’re eating fuel, there are carbohydrate calories you can burn, but you’re not gaining any nutrition.
“It’s like you’re stoking the fire but not heating the house.” “It’s as if you’ve got your central heating turned up but all the windows are wide open. Your fuel bill is going up, but you’re still sitting there cold.”
Erm, aside from the science, what does this mean for my daily diet?
Glad you asked. Now let’s think about what this means for some of the foods that many people include in the typical Western diet. I want to look at the first meal of the day, breakfast. Have you ever noticed that boxed breakfast cereals almost always boast of ‘Fortified with added vitamins and iron/minerals’? Now if you will forgive me, I am going to rant a little about this, and I cannot always provide proven scientific studies to back this up, but stick with me and you’ll see where I am going. (For what it’s worth, one day, when MND becomes a profit-making enterprise, I will FUND studies to prove these things, but for now, let’s say it’s my hunch.) So breakfast cereals almost always boast that they are ‘Fortified with added vitamins and minerals’, and I have spent a lot of time wondering why. Is it because the nice people who make them really care about what we eat? Is it because they want us to be really healthy? The cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, because these nutrients were once a part of the original plant (the cereal grain) before manufacturing. In the manufacturing of breakfast cereals, all the goodness is stripped from cereal grains. The product that is left, after it has been crushed, beaten, washed, boiled, bashed, squashed and finally heated to a dry crispy breakfast cereal, is the nutritional equivalent of cardboard in my opinion. Much like refined white sugar, the un-fortified breakfast cereal has virtually no nutrients at all left in it, and not enough to support its own digestion and metabolism once you eat it. Yet it does have energy, it has calories. But it has one further problem too. It also has no taste. While I call breakfast cereals ‘nutritional cardboard’, I would imagine they taste about as good as cardboard too. See how cereals are made: http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/clips/zr69wmn In order to make breakfast cereals taste nice, and desirable, the manufacturers then add lots of refined white sugar. So now we have a product that is utterly devoid of any good nutrients, lacking the nutrients required for its own digestion and metabolism inside a human body. So the manufacturers add synthetic vitamins, iron and often other minerals too, back into the end product, in order for it to be digested, absorbed and metabolised once it’s eaten. Now to my mind, that means that if they DIDN’T fortify those cereals with vitamins and minerals, effectively, eating them in large quantities would cause you to suffer nutrient deficiencies, some of which could lead to death. Just like those sailors in 1793, if you were stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat but breakfast cereals covered in sugar, if they weren’t fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals, you could possibly eat yourself to death in no time at all. Now the manufacturers could say they have simply added back in, the vitamins and minerals that came out when the grain was picked and processed, and that would be reasonably true, except that now the vitamins and minerals are an inferior, synthetic product. This is the reason WHY flour is enriched with vitamins and minerals – you can read a little about this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enriched_flour
- In 1930s, millers began fortifying refined grains with B vitamins
- In the US, it became law in January 1954 that flour (for making bread) had to be enriched – because it was so devoid of any nutrients, they realised it was making people sick
- Even as recently as 1996, scientists were still discovering the harm refined grains are doing to us, and in the US millers were required by law to add further B vits (folic acid) to flour for breadmaking
- See here the current UK law stipulating that certain B vitamins and iron MUST be in flour and bread for it to be sold legally in the UK: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1998/141/schedule/1/made
So now all bread, wheat flour, cereals, pasta…all are fortified with vitamins. OTHERWISE IT MAKES YOU SICK. While flour and cereals are enriched – sugar isn’t! Let me say that again – flour and cereals are enriched with synthetic vitamins and minerals – but refined sugar, and high-fructose corn-syrup, are NOT! Over the years (this debate is NOT new!) many scientists have argued to have sugar classified as a POISON. My Oxford English dictionary says that a poison is “A substance that when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism causes death or injury” Those shipwrecked sailors were nearly dead after a week and a half of eating nothing but sugar. If you tried to consume nothing but sugar and water, you WOULD DIE in less than one month. This would not happen if you only ate chicken, or salmon, or broccoli, or pears. I’m not saying you could live on any one single food forever, but you’d last a lot longer on broccoli than you would on white refined sugar. By my reckoning, that makes sugar a POISON. But there are powerful corporations and vast financial implications protecting sugar. It’s been this way for a long term – 300 years ago the sugar trade drove the slave trade from Western Africa to the Caribbean, and sugar revenues funded British supremacy of the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t go thinking that today, sugar is any less important financially, and politically, than it was then. With HFCS being pumped into more and more processed foods, the grain and sugar industries are vast and powerful. Everywhere, people are eating far more sugar than they used to. The average adult American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar each year now (teenagers can consume over 200 pounds)! This is 14 times more than was ingested about 100 years ago. In the same time frame, the US has become the most obese nation on Earth.
Poisoned palate, no taste
It has been shown that a high sugar diet also depletes stores of zinc in the body. Low zinc can cause a loss of taste perception. I have written many time before about this. I get frustrated that people think “healthy eating is boring” – what they mean is, the food tastes bland. They mean, eating pizza is much more fun than eating broccoli. I have said many times that the problem is NOT that broccoli is bland, the problem is that most people have had their palate poisoned by all the sugar and salt and artificial flavours added to processed food. If pizza, and burgers and cookie dough ice cream are a part of your daily diet, then by comparison, yes broccoli will taste bland! But as I have written before, once you drop all processed food from you diet, and cut all sugar and added salt from your food, after a few weeks, your palate revives (very possibly connected to recovering from a mild zinc deficiency) and you can taste real food flavours again! I have written about this before and spoken about this many times. It’s NOT that vegetables are boring, it’s that most people can’t taste the real flavour of fresh vegetables, because they are addicted to sugar, as a result of a mild zinc deficiency. Decreased zinc leads to a lack of taste sensitivity, and as a result, people crave sweeter and sweeter foods to actually get a ‘hit’ of taste from their food. They can’t taste anything that isn’t sweet. Food manufacturers KNOW this and add more sugar to make their food products addictive. It makes you buy more! When people tell me they “have a sweet tooth” or that they are “a carb monster” or suffering from “Carb cravings” then I know that the reality is that they eat too much processed food, their diet includes too much refined sugar and they have a poisoned palate that cannot taste real food without added sugar and salt. I also know that typically, such people eat a diet that is low in micro-nutrients, and over the long haul, over decades, they will be suffering from and complaining about, the same things so many others complain about – fatigue, aging, poor skin and hair and deteriorating eyesight, bowel problems, metabolic syndrome, diminished insulin response, obesity, skin problems, poor immunity, and more. If you have attended my MotherNaturesDiet seminar, you will be familiar with some of this already, You will recognise many of the effects of low-level nutrient deficiencies that are now, in my opinion, widespread in our society. Eating the MND way is the antidote to all this. On average, I eat 15 to 20 servings of vegetables and fruit every day. I typically eat around 14 servings of vegetables, and 2 or 3 pieces of fruit every day. I also keep processed foods and added sugars to an absolute minimum, accounting for no more than a few percent of my total diet (measured by calories.) This is the MND way, a high-nutrient, low-sugar diet. You can see how that looks ‘on your plate’ in these posts here: Eating the MND way every day – 17-a-day average! Packing in my green veggies!!! A[nother] typical day eating the MND way!