“Sugar has some pretty deleterious effects on our health” – Dr. Kevin Jackson
Rob Heppell: Welcome to the “Your Best You Today” show. I’m your host, Rob Heppell, and join with health expert Dr. Kevin Jackson. Dr. Kevin Jackson is a naturopathic doctor who has been helping people find natural solutions to their health for over 25 years. With the “Your Best You Today” online radio show, we’re going to dive into common issues and explore natural solutions to them. Welcome back, Dr. Kevin.
Dr. Kevin Jackson: Hey, Rob. Good to be here.
Rob: Last time, we dove into the 10 most important changes to positively affect general health. Even to me, a lot of these were really enlightening. We’re not going to go through them here, but I recommend everyone, if you haven’t listened to the first episode, make sure you listen to that. Building off of that, out of that list, what do you think is the number one thing that we should tackle this week?
Dr. Kevin: We talked a little bit about tobacco. I think that’s a no‑brainer. I think everybody knows, I think if you smoke or if you chew tobacco, or use it in some form, that you’re harming your health. That’s probably the biggest thing you can do to change your health, generally, is to stop using tobacco. I’m not going to go into that today. The next thing that really, I see in my practice probably affects people’s health more than anything else is sugar.
Dr. Kevin: Yeah.
Rob: Table sugar?
Dr. Kevin: Sugar in any form. We’re going to get into that. I think sugar, when I speak of sugar, people think of that white stuff in the bowl that you put into your cup of coffee.
Really, sugar is anything that acts like sugar or is basically sweet. We’ll be getting into that more specifically in a bit.
Rob: Why is it so important? Why should we be concerned with sugar?
Dr. Kevin: Sugar is probably one of the greatest, single, substances that we ingest that has probably the most effect on our health, in a negative way.
There was a research study by Credit Suisse Institute. They were doing a health study. They found that in the United States alone, they were spending about a trillion dollars a year in healthcare that was related directly to issues tied to excessive sugar consumption. That alone is a pretty scary number when we’re talking about one trillion dollars a year. Sugar has some pretty deleterious effects on our health, and we’ll be talking about that in a bit.
Rob: What are the different types of sugar? Obviously we can look at the bigger picture of carbohydrates which we can maybe talk about at another time. When you’re saying sugar, what is sugar and what do you include in that?
Dr. Kevin: Sugar are molecules found in carbohydrates and are sometimes refined from carbohydrates and tend to be very sweet. They add sweetness to what we drink and eat. The common one being sucrose, white table sugar. It’s actually a disaccharide. It’s two sugar molecules together. That’s the thing that we think of when we talk of sugar, so white sugar. Brown sugar is really no different than white sugar.
Rob: Really? That’s not the healthy alternative?
Dr. Kevin: Brown sugar is just white sugar with a little molasses added to it. It has the same negative health effects that white sugar does, as do all the other alternatives. You probably…
Rob: What about honey?
Dr. Kevin: Honey is just as horrible as white sugar. People may have a problem with that. Honey contains a few micronutrients in it that may be good for us.
The predominant effect of honey is the same as white sugar. It has the same negative effects on our health, just as with molasses and maple syrup and agave syrup and rice syrup and malt syrup. They’re all equally bad when we’re looking at how it’s impacting our health.
Rob: What does it do to us? How is it affecting our body in such a negative way? Sugar has calories. If I have too many calories, I’m going to gain weight. Is that the issue?
Dr. Kevin: That’s a small piece of the puzzle, Rob. People talk about calories. It’s a big concern, but really calories are not what we’re going to talk about here today, because it’s really a very tiny piece of our concern when we talk about health.
I know that may sound strange, because calories have dictated or been dictated to us over the years, how important calories are. They used to say a calorie is a calorie is a calorie meaning it doesn’t matter where you get your calorie from, it’s the same thing. That’s just totally untrue.
The reason I say that is that when we ingest sugars, sugars play this very negative effect on our health by having an impact on body chemistry. We’ll talk more specifically about that in a bit. The big issue is that we ingest so much sugar. In 1820, North Americans ingested about seven pounds of sugar per year. We now ingest about 130 pounds of sugar a year. That’s a substantial increase, and it’s wreaking havoc on our health.
If we extrapolate that, we look at what does that mean. If you’re ingesting 130 pounds a year, that’s around 9,700 pounds of sugar in a lifetime. That’s enough to fill an industrial dumpster.
Those numbers are very scary when you think about the implications, which we are getting into in a bit. A lot of what we ingest when it comes to sugar comes from soft drinks. In fact, about 33 percent of all our sugar intake comes from soft drinks or sodas. Those substances, on average, we’re looking at around 53 gallons of soda or soft drinks in one calendar year. That’s what the average a North American ingests.
Rob: Pretty well a gallon a week, right?
Dr. Kevin: Yeah. A gallon a week. As we talked about before, Rob, there’s a lot of people out there who don’t drink any soda at all. If the average is a gallon a week, that means there’s a lot of people drinking two and three gallons a week. That’s pretty scary. Unfortunately, it’s very common for people to go out and eat somewhere if they are in a restaurant, and it’s just a natural thing to have some soda. That’s where we get a massive amount of our sugar intake from.
Rob: I’m glad that if I’m at a restaurant, I’ll just order a Diet Coke. I should be safe then, right?
Dr. Kevin: Yeah. That’s a great alternative, Rob. Diet coke, for example, or diet drinks often contain aspartame. Aspartame is an amino acid complex that’s known as Equal as well, and it’s very sweet, but the problems are manyfold.
The first thing is that about 10 percent of all aspartame converts to formaldehyde in your body, and I know you’re very familiar with that substance, Rob.
Rob: [laughs] Sure.
Dr. Kevin: Formaldehyde, obviously, we know what that does to us. If you drink enough aspartame or ingest enough of it, because it’s hidden not only in diet drinks, but it’s hidden in diet Jell‑O and other drink mixes and in even protein bars nowadays, you can get it in yogurt, it’s ubiquitous. It’s all around us. Unfortunately, we’re exposed all too often. I have seen a number of patients who react very negatively to the effects of aspartame. It’s something I strongly recommend that you stay away from.
An interesting thing, an interesting fact about aspartame is it actually promotes diabetes. Many of the people who ingest aspartame drinks, or foods that have aspartame in them believe that they’re actually helping their diabetics state or pre‑diabetic state by ingesting these things when in fact they’re actually promoting diabetes.
There’s some good research on this. Anyway, aspartame is a common alternative to sugars. Another common one is Splenda or sucralose. Sucralose or Splenda is chlorinated sucrose. Think of sucrose, sugar and chlorine, bleach. Not a pleasant thing to put into your body again. The jury is really out on this substance. There are certainly a number of people who react negatively to it as well. It’s another unhealthy alternative to put into your body.
Rob: Are we stuck then? There are no sweeteners at all? If we have a sweet tooth or just want just a touch of flavor is it going to be bland from here on out?
Dr. Kevin: No, it doesn’t have to be bland. Stevia, which is an extract from the leaf of a stevia plant, actually doesn’t affect blood sugar at all the way that these other things that we’re speaking of, like, certainly, the sugars and the different types of sugar have a very negative effect on our blood sugar.
Stevia doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have any negative effect at all. It’s much sweeter than sugar so you have to actually use less of it. You can actually bake with it. You can mix it into things that you’d normally mix sugar into and no real downside to it. It’s healthy in some ways for you to ingest. It comes in many different forms, many different names. What you’re looking for is Stevia or steviosides made from the stevia plant.
Rob: Let’s dive into how is this affecting my body? It’s no secret to you that I’ve always been battling my weight over my lifetime. If I’m trying to reduce calories which you said we really shouldn’t worry about calories…I go from Cokes to diet Cokes or other sweeteners.
What’s happening inside my body? Why am I still gaining weight or having a problem losing weight? What are the other effects? Weight gain is one of them, but what in your body is happening from a digestive and metabolic perspective with sugar?
Dr. Kevin: That’s a great question. I think sugar has so many far‑reaching effects on our health. Where do you start? The first thing is, it starts when we’re four years old and our parents say to us, “If you’re good, you can have a cookie.” We learn at a young age that sweet means reward. We tend to, when we get older, reward ourselves with sweets. It becomes an integral part of our diet.
We assume that dessert is the thing we should be eating after every evening meal. We assume that if it’s a hot day outside and there’s a vendor selling ice cream, we should be ingesting that stuff because that’s what we’ve learned to do over the years.
The unfortunate thing about that is that from the very first time that you’re that four‑year‑old and you get that first cookie, that sugar from that cookie is negatively impacting your blood sugar levels. What tends to happen is, we eat these high‑sugar foods and our blood sugar goes up.
When our blood sugar goes up, your body makes insulin from the pancreas to counteract, or to bring that blood sugar back down into a normal range. If that happened once a month, then we would have virtually no problems. Unfortunately, with sugar, for a number of reasons, one is it’s addictive, we tend to ingest sugar on a regular basis. With time, that starts to catch up to us.
The thing with sugar, and again, sugar in all forms, there’s high‑fructose corn syrup, which is even more deadly than sucrose they’re finding now, because of it’s negative effects on liver function, and they’re putting that in a lot of soft drinks as well. It has more of an instantaneous effect on spiking our blood sugar.
The issue comes down to a number of things, the main one being the effect of sugar on insulin. When you’re that young kid and you’re exposed to the sugar and your insulin goes up, it tends to go right back down to normal quite quickly. But as time goes on, we become more and more resistant to the effect of the sugar.
What that means is that sugar, when we ingest it, the body instantaneously tries to bring the levels down. If levels are very high, it has a very negative effect on our health. Insulin tells the cells to, in effect, open and allow the sugar to go into the cells so it’s not floating around in our bloodstream for extreme periods of time. When this happens, insulin does its job effectively.
But if we’re constantly demanding insulin because we’re eating sugar all the time, the insulin has this negative effect on us with time. It usually takes many years, sometimes decades. Most young people can ingest sugar, and they don’t really notice too much of an effect. Sometimes, you’ll see it in kids where they’re bouncing off the walls.
It can cause that hyperactivity, but it’s not causing that systemic disease process that I see in people in their fourth and fifth decades and beyond. My real concerns around sugar start with the effects of sugar on insulin. Why is insulin so bad? The big issue really is that as we become more exposed to sugar, our body has to produce more insulin because insulin is less effective in our body in doing the job of getting the sugar to go back into the cells.
When that happens, insulin starts to become more predominant in our body on a daily basis. When it’s there more often, it starts promoting negative effects. This is something that most of the people out there listening to this can probably understand, or they know somebody who has a problem with this… insulin tells the body to store fat.
If you’re ingesting things that promote insulin production all the time, namely sugars and other forms of carbohydrate which we’ll talk about in another episode, if you’re doing that constantly, your insulin levels are elevated and therefore your body’s in fat storage for prolonged periods of time.
People often come into my office and they’ll say, “I used to be able to eat everything and it never bothered me. I never put any weight on, and if I got a little…gained a couple pounds too many, I could lose it in a couple of days.
But now, it’s like my metabolism has shifted, and I don’t understand what’s happened, because I can’t lose that weight now no matter what I do, or I have to exercise five, six times a week just to break even or lose a little bit of weight. Typically, when I see that, that’s an insulin issue. That’s driven by sugars.
What we need to do, in that perspective, is get the sugars out of the diet. That’s typically one of the things I’m looking at right away with this kind of a patient is saying, “How much sugar are you ingesting?” Most people don’t understand that these sugars are hidden in so many places. As a result, they’ll say, “I’m not ingesting much sugar”. When we figure it all out, we get to that 32 teaspoons a day or even more sometimes that people are ingesting, and it’s completely unknown to them.
Rob: Before we get into other effects of sugar, I think this has been great for this episode.
I think this is a great place to maybe stop it. We’ve talked about the negative effects from a, correct me if I’m wrong, a metabolic state, how it’s affecting weight gain and things like that. From what you’ve said in the beginning, I’m assuming, then, that when you’re saying sugars, you’ve been saying you have a diet pop or diet soda is having the same effects. The insulin is spiking, which is encouraging fat storage.
With that, just to wrap this up, is there any healthy…we’ve been talking about drinking a lot of it. If we’re not having the sugar filled pop or soda pop or we’re not having the diet soda, what if we’re having 100 percent fruit juice like orange juice from concentrate? Is that a healthier alternative or not?
Dr. Kevin: That’s a great question. That’s one of the most common questions I get in my practice is people assume that if they’re having eight ounces of freshly squeezed even orange juice everyday, they assume that it’s good for them, because they’ve been told that it’s high in vitamin C, which typically isn’t that high in vitamin C.
The big issue with eight ounces of freshly squeezed orange juice is that on average, it’s got eight teaspoons of sugar in it. That’s 32 grams of sugar. The big issue with a fluid that has sugar in it is that it causes your blood sugar to spike faster than if you’re eating a solid with sugar in it. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in the next episode on how sugar in its different forms affects us differently, and what the further implications of elevated insulin have on our health.
Rob: Kevin, let’s wrap this up. Just from this alone, and we’re going to encourage them to listen to the next episode where we go into the sugar and its effects even deeper, do they just cut their cold turkey? What could their experiment with over the next week from a sugar intake perspective? Are they going to feel any negative effects?
Dr. Kevin: Yes.
Rob: What should they do just in the start of being more sugar aware.
Dr. Kevin: I think that’s a great way of approaching it, Rob. It’s being sugar aware. The best way to do that is to read packages. Most of the packaging nowadays tells you how many grams of sugar there is per serving of whatever it is you’re eating if it’s coming from a package, obviously, if you’re preparing it. If you’re eating your vegetables, that’s not an issue.
A lot of products out there, a great example is yogurt, that’s sweetened, you’ll see how many grams of sugar there is in there. Even a small yogurt, 170‑gram yogurt can have up to 24 grams of sugar in it. 24 grams of sugar doesn’t mean a lot to most people. If you divide the grams of sugar by four, that tells you how many teaspoons of sugar in it. 24 grams of sugar is six teaspoons of sugar in one yogurt.
What I recommend that people do is to start adding up how many grams of sugar they’re ingesting from their products they’re eating on a daily basis, divide that grams of sugar by four, and that’ll tell you how many teaspoons you’re taking in in a day. If you’re ingesting less than two teaspoons a day, you’re doing very well.
If you’re not, then you should really try to scale it back. Depending on how severe your health concerns are, sometimes you need to cut it all out. In a general perspective, to try to just be a healthier person, try to get that sugar down to as low as possible. If you can get it under two teaspoons a day, you’re doing great.
Rob: That’s awesome. We’ve been up to the challenge, and we’ve worked at it quite well. It’s a tough road, but you always have to keep on it. I think this is going to be great. People are going to be really opening their eyes as they look at those labels and see actually how many grams of sugar they’re ingesting over the course of the day.
Thanks so much for Dr. Kevin for sharing that great information about sugar. We’ll continue this conversation for our next episode when we dive deeper into sugar and how it affects your health. Let us know what you think about our show, Your Best You Today. If you like what you hear, please tell a friend. If you have any questions at all, make sure you go to our website at yourbestyoutoday.com and fill the comment form and ask us, and we will answer your questions on an upcoming episode.
On behalf of Dr. Kevin Jackson, this is Rob Heppell.