Would you like to gain 50 or 60 pounds this year? You could if you eat like the average American, who consumes more than 270,000 calories worth of sugar per year! About 40 percent of the calories in the American diet comes from sugar and refined grains. These empty calories have a direct correlation to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and dental cavities—as well as a possible relation to cancer, hypoglycemia, allergies, and hyperactivity. But more than that, if you’re a sugarholic, "Refined carbohydrates cause us to be malnourished in direct proportion to how much we consume them," says Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live.

The Basics

During digestion, your body breaks down all carbohydrates into glucose, which then enters your bloodstream. Your pancreas secretes insulin in response to this glucose; insulin then acts like a key to let the glucose into your individual cells. It’s simple, really: The more sugar—of any kind—you put into your system, the more insulin your pancreas produces. Even more than high blood sugar, consistently high levels of blood insulin indicate the impending onset of diabetes. Some carbohydrates—those with fiber, and the more fiber the better—take longer to be metabolized than others, but the body treats a piece of white bread or a glass of 100-percent juice in much the same way as a bowl of pasta or a cookie. Thus, in a discussion about sugar, refined flour can’t be ignored. White flour has almost the exact same effect on your body as does table sugar: An initial energy burst as your blood sugar spikes from the carbohydrates-turned-glucose, followed by fatigue and even irritability as your blood sugar dips below normal. But rather than address these highs and lows, most of us just pour down more calories to achieve another high!

Kick the Habit

Sugar’s main problem is its empty calories: It contains absolutely no vitamins or minerals. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t consume any unnecessary calories. But few have the will to be perfect all the time. If you think you’re consuming too many empty calories, give yourself a chance to experience the natural sweetness of whole foods by avoiding added sugar for a few weeks. Your taste buds will adjust! Try the plethora of fruits in your produce section: Numerous studies show that eating fruit is our best protection against oral and esophageal, lung, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. After a few weeks, if you still want extra sweetness, use small amounts of lower-glycemic sweeteners like agave nectar, floral honey (not the commercially produced kind), or barley malt syrup. But even these natural, less-refined sweeteners have loads of calories and very few nutrients, so use them in small amounts—like a teaspoon per day. Avoid refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, which are so processed that they drain your body of other nutrients during digestion.

Fake Sugar Is Just as Bad

Also avoid artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, Equal, or Sweet’N Low. These chemical sweeteners just perpetuate your sweet tooth and have no place in an optimal diet. Moreover, their long-term effects are still unknown. One thing is known, however: An eight-year study showed that people who drank one to two diet sodas per day were 65 percent more likely to become overweight than those who consumed the same amount of regular soda! (This does NOT mean that regular soda belongs in an optimal diet, either!) It might be that since artificial sweeteners taste sweet, your body thinks it should have gotten some calories. When it doesn’t, it craves more food, causing you to overeat. Another possible explanation is that you reward yourself with other indulgent treats because you were "good" by drinking a no-calorie soda. Beware of "sugar-free" foods; many contain artificial sweeteners. Those that don’t are often made of nearly all carbohydrates in the form of refined white flour. (Did you know a "sugar-free" muffin might contain more carbs than a doughnut? The muffin has more flour!) Recall that white flour spikes your blood sugar very much like table sugar. When it comes to sweets, many of us have a difficult time finding balance. I tend to be an "all-or-nothing" person; it’s almost easier for me to say I’ll never eat added sugar again than it is to limit it to a little bit here and there! But for people with diabetes or borderline diabetes, a "little" added sugar can be a big deal when you take into account dangerous blood sugar and insulin spikes. Still, your best bet for optimal health is to get some vigorous exercise most days of the week and make whole, unprocessed foods, as close to their most natural state as possible, the foundation of your diet.

When reading food labels, don’t be fooled by euphemisms!

All of these ingredients fall under the category of sugar and will raise your blood sugar to some degree:
  • Beet sugar
  • Black-strap
  • Brown sugar
  • Carob
  • Chocolate
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Date sugar
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Fruit sugar
  • Glucose
  • Golden syrup
  • Grape sugar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Honey maple syrup
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Levulose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannose
  • Maple sugar
  • Milk sugar
  • Molasses
  • Powdered sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Refiner’s sugar
  • Saccharose
  • Sorbitol
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucanat (dehydrated cane juice)
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Sugar cane syrup
  • Syrup
  • Table sugar
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado
  • Xylitol
  • Xylose

These lower-glycemic sweeteners will still raise your blood sugar, but not as quickly as refined white table sugar:
  • Agave nectar:
    Though it contains 16 grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon and about the same number of calories as sugar,it’s high in natural fructose.
  • Barley malt syrup:
    Contains 75%maltose,a more complex carbohydrate that takes longer for the body to break down.
  • Pure fructose:
    Found in fruit;not to be confused with high-fructose corn syrup.
  • 100%-pure floral honey:
    The kind made by bees,not a factory!It raises blood sugar only half as much and half as quickly as processed commercial honey

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