Sugar Part III: Refined White Sugar

This post is part of my series on sugar. You can find the other blogs in this series here: Sugar Part I: High Fructose Corn Syrup Sugar Part II: Artificial Sweeteners Sugar Part IV: Natural Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

For many years I felt like I was making the “right” choice by using plain white sugar. I mean I wasn’t using artificial sweeteners and I avoided High Fructose Corn Syrup. Sure I used white sugar, but at least it was REAL sugar. Lately I’m wondering if it really is real and I’m definitely rethinking my intake of white sugar.

The refined white sugar that we get at the store starts out as either sugar cane or sugar beets. The process for making sugar is fairly similar with both of them. First they take the sugar cane or sugar beets and wash them, cut them, press or mash them and use chemicals to turn them into a syrup. Next the syrup is heated until crystals form. The syrup is then put in a machine that spins rapidly to separate the crystals from the syrup. The crystals that are left after this are sometimes called raw sugar. In order to get white sugar the crystals are further refined by being treated with more chemicals, filtered and again allowed to crystallize and this time solidify. At the end of this process it is “bleached snow-white usually by the use of pork or cattle bones.”

I knew that white sugar was highly processed, but I have to be honest I was still a little surprised to read how much it is processed. I feel a little leery of products that have been processed that much. I mean a lot of the processing that our foods undergo these days is relatively new and that makes me wonder if we really know what effects it could have on our health.

What we do know is that white sugar is processed in a way that removes ALL of the nutritional value of the sugar cane or sugar beet used. Refined white sugar contains absolutely no macro- or micro-nutrients. All of the minerals, vitamins, proteins, fats, fiber, and enzymes have been removed. All that is left is pure sugar.

What happens when you eat a refined carbohydrate like sugar? Your body must borrow vital nutrients from healthy cells to metabolize the incomplete food. Calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium are taken from various parts of the body to make use of the sugar…

Refined sugar, by some, is called a drug, because in the refining process everything of food value has been removed except the carbohydrates-pure calories, without vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, enzymes or any of the other elements that make up food.

...Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition says, “…white refined sugar-is not a food. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways. Its true name is sucrose and its chemical formula is C12H22O11.

It has 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms, 11 oxygen atoms, and absolutely nothing else to offer.” ...The chemical formula for cocaine is C17H21NO4. Sugar’s formula again is C12H22O11. For all practical purposes, the difference is that sugar is missing the “N”, or nitrogen atom…

I’ve always sort of known that sugar wasn’t good for me and that I should cut back on my consumption of it, but I’ve never thought of sugar like a drug before. In many ways it makes sense to think of it like a drug. Sugar is addictive, and seriously detrimental for our health. It affects our brains and our body chemistry.

Here are just a few of the MANY health problems that have been linked to sugar:

  • Sugar weakens your immune system
  • Sugar has been shown to feed cancer cells
  • Sugar feeds bad bacteria and can contribute to Candida overgrowth in the body
  • Sugar “disrupts the effective transfer of amino acids to muscle tissue.”
  • Sugar causes your tissues to lose elasticity
  • Sugar can cause deficiencies in copper, calcium and magnesium
  • Sugar consumption can lead to tooth decay and gum disease
  • Sugar weakens eyesight
  • Sugar can cause your digestive tract to become too acidic
  • Sugar consumption can lead to arthritis, asthma, food allergies, gallstones, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, hemorrhoids, osteoporosis, varicose veins, infertility…
  • and the list goes on and on…

Seriously, this list just brushes the surface!

Ok, so I know that sugar isn’t good for me. I know that it will slowly destroy my health. I want to be healthy. But, honestly, that sweet, sweet taste is sometimes irresistible! So, what do sugar addicts like me do? Well, let’s talk about some basic steps we can all take, to limit our sugar consumption and improve our health:

  1. Clean out your cupboard and throw out anything that contains High Fructose Corn Syrup
  2. Start reading labels and avoiding High Fructose Corn Syrup, and other sweeteners, and products with added sugar.
  3. Try to avoid processed foods in general because they are likely to contain sweeteners in amounts that far exceed the recommended moderate intake of sugar.
  4. Become familiar with natural unrefined sugars and start using them as substitutes in your cooking.
  5. Try to cut back on your consumption of sweets overall (even natural sweeteners). Eat fewer sweets, less often. Maybe cut a smaller piece of cake, or only eat sweets on certain days of the week – whatever works for you.

Where am I at in these steps – well, let me put it this way… a few days ago I ate almost an entire cake (all be it a small cake) by myself in two days. Sure I used unrefined natural cane sugar in it, but still not so good, right? So, I guess you could say I’m working on number 4, but not quite ready for number 5. I do find though that I do better quitting something cold turkey then I do trying to limit it. So, maybe I’ll have to skip number 5 and go straight to number 6: Avoid all sweets except fruit. But, personally I think that life would be a little sad without at least some indulgence in sweet, so I’d like to try and find some balance. It’s hard for me though – anyone have any suggestions?

In the next Sugar Series Post we’ll talk about natural and unrefined sugars. What are they? Where do you find them? And how do you cook with them? We’ll address all the questions I had about natural sweeteners when I started down this path.

For now, what are your thoughts on sugar? What number of the steps are you on? Have you tried to reduce or cut out white sugar? If so, how did it make you feel?

Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman Further Reading and References:

This post has been entered in the following blog carnivals: Fight Back Friday June 11th Food Revolution Friday Food on Fridays Wholesome Whole Foods Vegetarian Foodie Fridays Please visit each of these wonderful carnivals. You'll find great recipes all about food from all over the blogosphere.

EDIT: I just found out about this free workbook from The WellGrounded Life all about How to Break the Sugar Habit. I just had to share since it went so well with the topic of this post. Check it out and remember it's FREE.