I have some hopefully good, deep stuff I am working on, but in the meanwhile, here is a quick, VERY SPECULATIVE thread on my theory for why refined sugars are probably bad for you:
First, refined sugars are evolutionarily novel. Unless you’re a Hazda, your ancient ancestors never had this much sugar.
Pick up a piece of raw sugar cane and gnaw on it. Raw sugar cane has such a high fiber to sugar content that you can use it as a toothbrush after chewing it for a bit.
According to the internet, a stick of raw sugar cane has 10 grams of sugar in it. A can of Coke has 39. Even milk (whole, skim, or fat-free) contains 12 grams of natural milk sugars (lactose) per glass. Your body has no problem handling the normal amounts of unrefined sugars in regular foods, but to get the amount of sugar found in a single soda, you’d have to eat almost four whole stalks of sugarcane, which you certainly aren’t going to do in a few minutes.
It’s when we extract all of the sugar and throw away the rest of the fiber, fat, and protein in the food that we run into trouble.
(The same is probably also true of fat, though I am rather fond of butter.)
In my opinion, all forms of heavily refined sugar are suspect, including fruit juice, which is essentially refined fructose. People think that fruit juice is “healthy” because it comes from fruit, which is a plant and therefore “natural” and “good for you,” unlike, say, sugar, which comes from sugar cane, which is… also a plant. Or HFCS, which is totally unnatural because it comes from… corn. Which is a plant.
“They actually did studies on the sugar plantations back in the early 1900s. All of the workers were healthy and lived longer than the sugar executives who got the refined, processed product.”
I don’t know if I agree with everything he has to say, but refined fructose is no more natural than any other refined sugar. Again, the amount of sugar you get from eating an apple is very different from the amount you get from a cup of apple juice.
Now people are talking about reducing childhood obesity by eliminating the scourge of 100% fruit juice:
Excessive fruit juice consumption is associated with increased risk for obesity… sucrose consumption without the corresponding fiber, as is commonly present in fruit juice, is associated with the metabolic syndrome, liver injury, and obesity.
Regular fruit is probably good for you. Refined is not.
Here’s another study on the problems with fructose:
If calcium levels in the blood are low, our bodies produce more parathyroid hormone, stimulating the absorption of calcium by the kidneys, as well as the production of vitamin D (calcitriol), also in the kidneys. Calcitriol stimulates the absorption of calcium in the intestine, decreases the production of PTH and stimulates the release of calcium from the bone. …
… Ferraris fed rats diets with high levels of glucose, fructose or starch. He and his team studied three groups of lactating rats and three groups of non-pregnant rats (the control group).
“Since the amounts of calcium channels and of binding proteins depend on the levels of the hormone calcitriol, we confirmed that calcitriol levels were much greater in lactating rats,” said Ferraris. … “However, when the rat mothers were consuming fructose, there were no increases in calcitriol levels,” Ferraris added. “The levels remained the same as those in non-pregnant rats, and as a consequence, there were no increases in intestinal and renal calcium transport.”
You then have two options: food cravings until you eat enough to balance the nutrients, or strip bones of calcium. This is what triggers tooth decay.
Sugar not only feeds the bacteria on your teeth (I think), it also weakens your teeth to pay the piper for sugar digestion. (Also, there may be something about sugar-fed bacteria lowering the pH in your mouth.)
The second thing that happens is your taste buds acclimate to excessive sugar. Soon “Sweet” tastes “normal.”
Now when you try to stop eating sugar, normal food tastes “boring” “sour” “bitter” etc.
This is where you just have to bite the bullet and cut sugar anyway. If you keep eating normal food, eventually it will start tasting good again.
It just takes time for your brain to change its assumptions about what food tastes like.
But if you keep sweetening your food with “artificial” sweeteners, then you never give yourself a chance to recalibrate what food should taste like. You will keep craving sugar.
And it is really hard to stop eating sugar and let your body return to normal when you crave sugar.
If artificial sweeteners help you reduce sugar consumption and eventually stop using it altogether, then they’re probably a good idea, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re going to get just as much cake and ice cream as always, just it won’t have any consequences anymore. No. Nature doesn’t work like that. Nature has consequences.
So I feel like I’ve been picking on fructose a lot in this post. I didn’t mean to. I am suspicious of all refined sugars; these are just the sources I happened across while researching today.
I am not sure about honey. I don’t eat a lot of honey, but maybe it’s okay. The Hadza of Tanzania eat a great deal of honey and they seem fine, but maybe they’re adapted to their diet in ways that we aren’t.
So what happens when you eat too much sugar? Aside from, obviously, food cravings, weight gain, mineral depletion, and tooth decay…
So here’s a theory:
Our bodies naturally cycle between winter and summer states. At least they do if you hail from a place that historically had winter; I can’t speak for people in radically different climates.
In the summer, plant matter (carbohydrates, fiber,) are widely available and any animal that can takes as much advantage of this as possible. As omnivores, we gorge on berries, leaves, fruits, tubers, really whatever we can. When we are satiated–when we have enough fat stores to last for the winter–our bodies start shutting down insulin production. That’s enough. We don’t need it anymore.
In the winter, there’s very little plant food naturally available, unless you’re a farmer (farming is relatively recent in areas with long winters.)
In the winter, you hunt animals for meat and fat.This is what the Inuit and Eskimo did almost all year round.
The digestion of meat and fat does not require insulin, but works on the ketogenic pathways which, long story short, also turn food into energy and keep people alive.
The real beauty of ketosis is that, apparently, it ramps up your energy production–that is, you feel physically warmer when running entirely off of meat and fat than when running off carbs. Given that ketosis is the winter digestive cycle, this is amazingly appropriate.
By spring, chances are you’ve lost a lot of the weight from last summer. Winters are harsh. With the fat gone, the body starts producing insulin again.
At this point, you go from hyperglycemia (too much sugar in your bloodstream if you eat anything sweet, due to no insulin,) to hypoglycemia–your body produces a lot of insulin to transform any plants you eat into energy FAST. (Remember the discussion above about how your body transforms fructose into fat? Back in our ancestral environment, that was a feature, not a bug!)
This lets you put on pounds quickly in the spring and summer, using now-available plants as your primary food source.
The difficulty with our society is we’ve figured out how to take the energy part out of the plants, refine it, and store up huge quantities of it so we can eat it any time we want, which is all the time.
Evolution makes us want to eat, obviously. Ancestors who didn’t have a good “eat now” drive didn’t eat whatever good food was available and didn’t become ancestors.
But now we’ve hacked that, and as a result we never go into the sugar-free periods we were built to occasionally endure.
I don’t think you need to go full keto or anti-bread or something to make up for this. Just cutting down on refined sugars (and most refined oils, btw) is probably enough for most people.
Note: Humans have been eating grains for longer than the domestication of plants–there’s a reason we thought it was a good idea to domesticate grains in the first place, and it wasn’t because they were a random, un-eaten weed. If your ancestors ate bread, then there’s a good chance that you can digest bread just fine.
But if bread causes you issues, then by all means, avoid it. Different people thrive on different foods.
Please remember that this thread is speculative.
AND FOR GOODNESS SAKES DON’T PUT SUGAR IN FRUIT THINGS. JAM DOES NOT NEED SUGAR. NEITHER DOES PIE.
IF YOU ARE USING DECENT FRUIT THEN YOU DON’T NEED SUGAR. THE ONLY REASON YOU NEED SUGAR IS IF YOUR FRUIT IS CRAP. THEN JUST GO EAT SOMETHING ELSE.