Chapter 4: Sugar is Toxic

Why You’re Fat and Sick

If what you call food has a bar code, it probably has added sugar.  When the sugar industry bribed some doctors to demonize fat and say sugar was great, they started putting loads of it in everything to replace the flavor of the removed fats (Lustig, 2021).    What does sugar do?  It turns out it’s a whole lot of things, and almost all of them are bad.  If we pay attention to Big Food’s marketing, sugar is mere “energy.” (In league with the government employees that will not admit that they were wrong).  That may be true if you are in a chemistry lab burning it in a calorimeter, but human bodies beg to differ.

Sugar does, in truth, have about five calories per gram.  It also poisons the mitochondria in your cells (Lustig, 2021).  Your cells really run on a chemical called ATP, and consuming sugar causes you to make less of it, not more.  So sugar is not really energy in the human body, but the opposite of it.  This is a very similar metabolic response to cyanide.  To call sugar “good for you” is ignorance upon stilts.  It is essential to understand that the broad category of sugar (added sugar) isn’t limited to white crystals.  Added sugars include sucrose, dextrose, syrups, honey,  and sugars from concentrated fruit juices.  The most insidious among these is fructose.   Think that calcium-fortified morning orange juice is a healthy choice?  Think again.  It’s a fructose bomb that is keeping you fat and sick.  This deadly poison is hidden everywhere.

Over half of the diet of most Western countries (including the USA) consists of ultra-processed foods, and nearly all of these contain sugar.   The key to reversing your status as fat and sick is to stop considering these things food altogether.  The tsunami of sickness striking the World (the West has exported it globally now) can be attributed mainly to this sugary ultra-processed food.  If that seems like an exaggeration, how else can the fact that over 3 Billion people are metabolically ill by WHO estimates? The global community has normalized eating tons of sugar. In 2017–2018, the average intake of added sugars was 17 teaspoons for American adults.

The problem doesn’t seem to be getting better. The entire bell curve of people’s weight dramatically shifts to the right over time.  In about 30 years, the average weight of Americans has gone up about 25 pounds.

It’s An Addiction

There is some surprising scientific evidence that sugar is, in fact, addicting. If you live and eat in the Western world, you are most likely addicted to it.  Sugar, much like alcohol and food more generally, sends strong signals to the reward centers of the human brain.  This dopamine is believed by many to be the root cause of addiction.  It has been convincingly argued (e.g., Lustig) that anything, including chemicals and behaviors—that fire the brain’s pleasure centers, can be addictive.

Sugar isn’t that different than crack cocaine; it just takes a little longer to kill you.   If you have ever said, “I have a bad sweet tooth,” you are probably a sugar addict. Big Food takes full advantage of this fact.  Over 70% of your local grocery store items have been spiked with added sugar.  Just because something has calories doesn’t mean it is food.  We may like alcohol, but we don’t think of it as a food, even though it has calories.  We must learn to treat sugar like alcohol and other drugs.  Being an alcoholic will kill you.

Big Food has mastered the art of using what are called the “SOS” chemicals to make their products as addictive as possible (as cheaply as possible, of course).  Aside from being the universal sign of distress, SOS stands for Salt, Oils, and Sugars.  All of these things fire off dopamine and make eating ultra-processed junk very enjoyable.  Damn right, you can’t eat just one!

In the natural world, only two significant things cause the brain to dependably secrete dopamine:  Feeding and sex.  We really like to do those things as a species!  Humans, being too clever for our own good, have figured out how to get dopamine out of the environment.  Dopamine is the driving force behind addiction.  Alcoholism?  We like the way alcohol makes us feed because dopamine is a “reward.” In other words, dopamine activates the pleasure centers in our brain.  The SOS chemicals, especially in combination, make those brain centers fire on all cylinders.

When it comes to diet, most of us have internalized the dogma of “nothing in excess” or, to put it differently, “moderation in all things.”  When something is particularly dangerous, moderation doesn’t work.  You need to swear it off entirely.  If someone says they smoke crack in moderation, we think they are a crack head.  If you are hooked on a highly addictive chemical, you must eliminate it entirely.  Most recovering alcoholics fall off the wagon because of “just one drink.”  Tons of people quit smoking for months and then fall off the wagon because they bummed “just one cigarette” off someone at a party.

If you are a fat ass, you need to construct a list of things you just don’t eat.  For some of us, it is chocolate cake or ice cream.  For others, it is french fries and potato chips.  (I’ve always viewed fried potatoes as mana from heaven, so this is especially hard to accept).  If you have overwhelming cravings for certain foods and feel really bad when you don’t have them, then you likely have a problem.  If not having a candy bar gives you the same demeanor as a smoker that hasn’t had a cigarette all day, then you know it’s time to kick the sugar habit.  By some estimates, the high fructose diet has similar health risks to being a smoker.  So if you gave up smoking for your health, the drive to get your dietary shit together should be just as strong.

Why Pick on Fructose?

Dr. George Bray (2010) has suggested a dichotomy regarding fructose.  He used the terms “good fructose” and “bad fructose.” Dr. Bray suggests that the fructose that comes from whole fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and 100% fruit juices is referred to as “good fructose” because it is associated with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that come with these “natural” products. Biologically, the sweetness of fructose and sucrose found in fruits was a clue that these foods contained other healthful nutrients. He points out that “numerous epidemiological studies have provided convincing evidence that higher intakes of fruits and vegetables reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.”

Conversely, Dr. Bray suggests that “Bad fructose” refers to the fructose that comes in refined foods and beverages that usually have few nutrients.  I don’t think anything is wrong with Dr. Bray’s idea, but I do think it should not be taken as a green light by metabolically ill people to eat a lot of sugar.  Healthy people can remain healthy by limiting fructose exposure to whole, natural foods. Still, metabolically ill people need to treat this stuff like the poison it is to them.

Dr. Bray explains that sweetened beverages are an easy target for change in the American diet.  Beverages, after all, are a significant source of dietary fructose.  The amount of calorically sweetened beverages Americans drink is related to energy intake, risk of obesity, and risk of cardiometabolic disease.  Dr. Bray goes on to state flatly, “The higher the consumption, the greater the risk. Thus, if fructose poses a health problem, then beverages are a target for change.”

The scientific evidence strongly suggests that the detrimental effects of too much sugar in the diet are due to fructose, not the glucose we’ve all learned to fear because of the phrase “blood glucose” associated with diabetes.  Worried about cholesterol?  Researchers Cohen and Schall (1988) compared the effect on the blood triglycerides of research participants by adding 100 g of sucrose, 50 g of fructose, or 50 g of glucose to a standard meal. They found that the lipemic (fats in the blood) response to glucose was not significantly different from the ingestion of fat alone.

In contrast, the lipemic response increased after adding either fructose or sucrose, suggesting that it was fructose and not glucose that increased triglyceride levels.  This is an essential mechanism by which fructose makes us fat and sick.  Other researchers have consistently shown a correlation between greater intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and weight gain and obesity in both children and adults.

Bray (2010) identifies two potential mechanisms that can account for most of the detrimental effects of calorically sweetened beverages and the fructose they provide.  The first, he suggests, is failure to suppress the intake of other foods to compensate for the calories in soft drinks.  In other words, sweetened beverages taste great and are not filling at all.  The other primary reason is differences in the metabolic pathways for fructose and glucose that facilitate the conversion of carbon from fructose into triglycerides and the formation of uric acid during fructose metabolism.  The association between fructose and uric acid is discussed in great detail in Dr. Perlmutter’s book, Drop Acid.

Studies have shown what you may have expected from your personal experiences:  You don’t cut down on what you eat when you drink a boat load of soda.  You eat just as much as you always do and get a ton of extra calories from the soda.  If you eat an apple, it contributes to you feeling full.  Drinking a glass of apple juice does nothing to make you feel full, so you eat just as much as if you had drunk a glass of water.

A Note on Deadly Oils

When preparing this book, I almost didn’t include this section.  The issue is essential, but the scientific community seems split on it.  The evidence is tough to sort out.  I will present both arguments and let you decide what is best for you.

The scientific community agrees that we need a certain amount of Omega 3 fatty acids to be healthy.  The bitter debate rages between advocates of “natural fats,” which tend to be saturated animal fats, and “vegetable” oils, which are not made from vegetables.

The war on saturated fat forced “vegetable” oils into prominence.  These poisons do, in fact, lower LDL, so if you only measure what is easy to measure and don’t look at the overall health situation, you think these things are great.  What we find when we dig deeper is that they are pro-inflammatory.  Inflammation is the real culprit in heart disease, so these “heart-healthy” oils do much more harm than good.

It is interesting to note that vegetable oils are not made from vegetables. The seed oils marketed as “vegetable oil” are highly processed industrial products. If you imagine vegetables being smashed in traditional ways with wooden presses, you’d better stick to extra virgin olive oil.

The bottom line is that salt, oil, and sugar should not be considered food.  They are chemicals added to foods to make them addictive.  Of course, the body needs specific amounts of salts and fats to be healthy.  But the amounts you’d get from whole, natural foods are more than adequate.  In the combinations and quantities you find them in highly processed foods, they are drugs to fuel food addiction and make the duped public fat and sick while making Big Food very, very wealthy.  As a general rule, the more processed a food is, the less accurate it is to call it food.  If vegetables are picked, washed, and flash-frozen, they have been processed to a small degree.  That sort of processing isn’t bad.

If you take something essentially healthy like a seed, strip out most of the content, and chemically alter what’s left, it has been processed too much and is no longer food.  Don’t fall for the “naturalistic” fallacy.  Just because something starts out as good, wholesome food doesn’t mean it stays that way.  It can be argued that whole-kernel corn is healthy. Still, nobody who has given the matter serious consideration can honestly conclude that high fructose corn syrup is anything but poison.  Cobra venom is “all-natural,” but I suggest you avoid it.  Cocaine is healthy because it comes from an “all-natural” leaf, right?  Never forget that there are things in nature that will kill you.  Also, don’t forget that good things often become destructive when you mess around with the chemistry.  Water is very healthy. Surely you don’t mind if I put just a little arsenic in it.  It is still healthy water, right?

The Psychology of Sugar

At this point, we’ve established that carbs are bad (for us fat asses at least), and fructose is a deadly poison.  If you are trying to quit smoking, it’s best not to buy cigarettes.  If you are a sugar addict, it is best not to have it around.  When you decide you’ve had enough of being fat and sick and will do something about it, don’t depend on the force of will alone.  Work with your psychology.  Cravings pass (just like feelings of hunger when you are fasting), but the time during the craving is critical.  If you have a gallon of ice cream in the freezer, you are likely to break down during a strong wave of cravings and eat it.  So, clean out your fridge, and clean out your pantry.  Get rid of anything that has sugar in it, and get rid of all the highly processed junk in your house.

If you want to make your life easy later on, start getting rid of all the fake sugar.  Plenty of sweet-tasting things are made with artificial sugars, and these things keep your brain wired to seek out sweet tastes.  It is better to get used to not having that sweet taste in your diet.  A lot of the keto community reports that life got a lot easier when they quit drinking diet sodas and tried to find low-carb treats that are artificially sweetened.  Make it easy on yourself, especially in the first few weeks of your new, low-carb lifestyle.  Remove the temptations and the psychological reminders that you crave sweet stuff.  If you live alone, this is easy.  If you have a sugar-addicted family, it may be more difficult.  If you have other adults in the house, ask for help.  Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it.  If your spouse/partner is a decent human being, they will want you to be healthy and be willing to sacrifice some of their own convenience so that you can be healthy.   If you have kids, pull rank and stop making them fat and sick.  It may seem cruel at the moment, but it’s your job to protect your kids from their bad choices.  It’s called good parenting.

We hear stories about alcoholics that begin recovery while tending bar. Still, one person’s success doesn’t make it a good idea.  Some people place a pack of cigarettes and a lighter by the TV when they quit smoking.  This is some nod to how incredible their force of will is.  My question is, “why?”  We are all individuals, and each of us has a brain that works slightly differently from everyone else. Still, most people are better off removing the temptations and triggers of lousy conduct.  When it comes to sugar addiction, there is a lot of truth to the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.”

In addition to cutting out carbs, sugars, and sweet tastes, you also want to ensure you feel full.   That feeling of fullness is known as satiety.  You can get that from eating plenty of fat and protein.  The most extreme end of the keto spectrum is perhaps the carnivore diet.  Carnivore folks swear by living on ribeyes because the combination of fat and protein keeps them feeling full and satisfied with nearly zero carbs.

You have probably heard that stress causes high blood pressure.  It does that and contributes to you being fat and sick in other ways.   When you are stressed, you are predisposed to get fatter, and that will cause an increase in appetite. There are several mechanisms at work here, and the release of the fattening hormone cortisol is a powerful one.    When you are focused on your stressors, you will be frustrated and unable to focus on your diet.  Especially in the early days of your journey to good health, try to remove stressors from your life and make a special effort to do things that destress you.

Your brain can easily confuse signals.  Sugar cravings can often be salt cravings, and eating something a little salty can help the sugar cravings.  Thirst can often be misinterpreted by the brain as hunger.  Any time you feel like giving up and eating a bag of chips, stop and drink a big glass of water.  Often, the volume in your stomach is enough to signal to your brain that you are okay.  It takes time for the signals to move from gut to brain, so give it fifteen minutes or so to register.

References and Further Reading

I’ve added a complete reference page to my book on this site.  I’ve also included “further reading” articles in books on this site, organized by the book chapter headings.  Book links to Amazon are affiliate links, and if you happen to buy something via one of those links, I get a small kickback from Amazon to help keep this site up and running.  Thank you for your support!

The chapter is mostly about how sugar is destroying you.  It is hidden in everything.  It is important to understand that ultra-processed junk food may be “carbs,” but it quickly turns into sugar within the body.  Dr. Lustig explains these things in the informative interview below:

To get the complete picture, check out Dr. Lustig’s controversial book:

As evil as sugar is, there is convincing evidence that the “healthy vegetable oils” in everyone’s diet are actually killing you.  Dr. Ken Berry explains in the short video below:

There is a lot of evidence that sugar is actually an addictive substance, which goes a long way in explaining why so many of us are fat asses.  Dr. Berry examines the evidence in the brief video below:


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Last Modified: 01/06/2023


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