White Refined Sugar - Yah or Nah? An In-Depth Look at Sugar!

Is Sugar Really as Bad as Everyone Says?


We have all heard that white refined sugar is not good for us - especially in abundance.  I typically don't just accept what I hear as truth.  Instead, I have to figure out for myself if I agree or not.  In this post I am trying to answer for myself whether I believe white refined sugar really is all that bad for us.  You'll be surprised at what I've found.  This turned into a much longer post than I intended - sorry.  I'll break it down into multiple posts later but for now....read on.

Here's what I found:

Added Sugar Causes Tooth Decay

Ask any dentist how they feel about added sugar and they will tell you it is not good for your teeth.  When we eat sugar, acid is produced in our mouth.  That acid eats away at tooth enamel and leads to tooth decay.  This one seems like a no brainer to me.

Added Sugar Makes You Fat

According to Livestrong.com, sugar is composed of simple carbohydrates which are converted into glucose for energy.  Any unused glucose is stored as fat cells in our bodies.  So, if we don't want unused glucose (sugar) stored as fat cells in our body we need to ensure that we are getting no more sugar than necessary per day.  

How much added sugar should we consume per day (not from natural sources such as fruit)?  According to Rodale.com, the average American consumes around 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar every day!  In this article they stated, "According to the new guidelines, we should really be eating a fraction of that amount. The recommended sugar intake for adult women is 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per day, for adult men, it’s 9 teaspoons (36 grams) daily, and for children, it's 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day."

Processed foods, which typically contain high amounts of sugar, account for a great deal of the excess sugar we are consuming.  The sugar that is consumed in excess of what our bodies need is stored as fat.  In addition, most processed foods lack in vitamins and nutrients.  So, not only are we getting fat we are also getting more unhealthy.

Added Sugar Causes Vitamin and Mineral Depletion

I've always heard that people who consume large amounts of sugar have more issues with their health because their bodies lack the necessary vitamins and minerals.  I always assumed that this was just because they were eating sugar instead of nutritious foods.  What I found out shocked me!  Excess sugar actually depletes the body of it's stored vitamins and minerals.  Check this out from LiveStrong.com:

"Refined sugars use your body's stored B-vitamins, calcium and magnesium for their digestion. Natural sugars are present in foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits, which already contain the needed nutrients for their digestion. Regular consumption of foods high in refined sugar will deplete B-vitamins, calcium and magnesium stores from your body, writes Tessler. When your body lacks B-vitamins, your nervous system suffers and you may experience fatigue, depression, anxiety and lack of energy. Lack of calcium and magnesium may contribute to arthritis and osteoporosis, adds Tessler."

Added Sugar Can Lead To Diabetes

According to Webmd.com, "High sugar levels slowly erode the ability of cells in the pancreas to make insulin. The pancreas overcompensates, though, and insulin levels remain overly high. Gradually, the pancreas is permanently damaged."

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas is permanently damaged and insulin levels are no longer produced efficiently (or at all).  Diabetes brings on a whole host of medical issues and risks.  You can read more about that here.

Added Sugar Causes Health & Behavior Issues In Our Children

Empty Calories:

According to Mayo Clinic, "The ugly truth is that added sugar means empty calories (no nutrients beyond calories) that put kids at risk of obesity and health problems that can show up as early as adolescence."  This coupled with my earlier findings that added sugar depletes the body of it's vitamins and minerals is enough for me to get my kids off added sugar!  Their little growing and developing bodies need all the vitamins and nutrients they can get!

Learning Issues:

This National Geographic Study shows what happens when rats are given sugary drinks.  The study shows that high-fructose diets sabotaged the rats' ability to adapt to change, a key factor in learning. The sugary drinks fed to the rats disrupted the sugar-regulating protein insulin in a brain area called the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory formation in both rats and humans

Children and behavior:

I did not find any conclusive report on whether added sugar directly affects a child's behavior.  

In this study at Yale it was found that children experience a much higher level of adrenaline as a result of consuming adding sugar (10 times higher than adults).  An adrenaline rush can result in anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness.  

This article at medicinenet.com suggests that added sugar has nothing to do with a child's behavior.  If there are behavioral issues with your child they are associated with something deeper...discipline, ADHD, lack of sleep, etc.

I was hoping to uncover that added sugar had been proven to 100% without a doubt alter our children's behavior.  I plan to keep digging into this one because my core belief is that it does.

Added Sugar Is Addictive

Sugar meets the 3 elements of addiction criteria:

  • A behavioral pattern of increased intake
  • Signs of Withdrawal
  • Cravings and Relapse

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter found in the brain.  We experience a "feel good" feeling when there is an increase of dopamine.

WebMD states that there are the same kinds of changes in brain dopamine, in animals given intermittent access to sugar, as in drug addicts."  

Princeton.edu has recently published findings that added sugar IS INDEED ADDICTIVE and meets all 3 criteria for addiction (behavioral pattern of increased intake, signs of withdrawal, cravings and relapse)!  Read the full article here.  

Here's the highlights of the studies:  

"The researchers conducted the studies by restricting rats of their food while the rats slept and for four hours after waking. "It's a little bit like missing breakfast," Hoebel said. "As a result, they quickly eat some chow and drink a lot of sugar water." And, he added, "That's what is called binge eating -- when you eat a lot all at once -- in this case they are bingeing on a 10 percent sucrose solution, which is like a soft drink.""

Addiction Element 1 - Behavioral pattern of increased intake:  "Hungry rats that binge on sugar provoke a surge of dopamine in their brains. After a month, the structure of the brains of these rats adapts to increased dopamine levels, showing fewer of a certain type of dopamine receptor than they used to have and more opioid receptors. These dopamine and opioid systems are involved in motivation and reward, systems that control wanting and liking something. Similar changes also are seen in the brains of rats on cocaine and heroin.

Addiction Element 2 - Signs of Withdrawal:  "In experiments, the researchers have been able to induce signs of withdrawal in the lab animals by taking away their sugar supply. The rats' brain levels of dopamine dropped and, as a result, they exhibited anxiety as a sign of withdrawal. The rats' teeth chattered, and the creatures were unwilling to venture forth into the open arm of their maze, preferring to stay in a tunnel area. Normally rats like to explore their environment, but the rats in sugar withdrawal were too anxious to explore."

Addiction Element 3 - Cravings and Relapse:  "Lab animals, in Hoebel's experiments, that were denied sugar for a prolonged period after learning to binge worked harder to get it when it was reintroduced to them. They consumed more sugar than they ever had before, suggesting craving and relapse behavior. Their motivation for sugar had grown. "In this case, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder," Hoebel said."

Summary - Added Sugar is BAD!

Added sugar is bad!  We don't need it.  We get plenty of sugar from natural sources such as wheat, fruit, and milk.  

  • Added sugar causes tooth decay.
  • Too much sugar has to be stored somewhere so it ends up as fat.  
  • Added sugar depletes the body of vitamins and nutrients.  
  • Added sugar can lead to diabetes.
  • Added sugar can negatively affect our children's ability to learn.
  • Added sugar causes increases in adrenaline levels in the blood which can lead to anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness.  
  • And the biggest issue with sugar - it is addictive!!!!


What do you think?  Are we going to far with our added sugar concerns?  Will you continue to feed added sugar to your children?  Will you continue to eat added sugar?

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