You bake it into pastries, cakes and cookies.
You even sprinkle it all over your breakfast cereal or your oatmeal for added flavor.
But that’s not all.
It’s also hidden in some beloved “treats” that people consume on a daily basis, such as sodas, fruit juices, candies and ice cream.
It also lurks in almost all processed foods, including breads, meats, and even your favorite condiments like Worcestershire sauce and ketchup.
This additive is none other than sugar. Most people view sugary foods as tasty, satisfying and irresistible treats.
But I believe that there are three words that can more accurately describe sugar: toxic, addictive and deadly.
Sugar is one of the most damaging substances that you can ingest – and what’s terrifying about it is that it’s very abundant in our everyday diet.
This intense addiction to sugar is becoming rampant, not just among adults, but in children as well. But how exactly does sugar work in your body, and what are the side effects can excess sugar have on your health?
Why Is Excessive Sugar Bad for Your Health?
Today, an average American consumes about 32 teaspoons of sugar per day.
The Washington Post, quoting a study by Euromonitor, showed that Americans are now consuming 126 grams (32 teaspoons), which would equal close to 26 pounds per year (Euromonitor’s study costs $1,200 to access, but the Washington Post interprets the study for free.).
This is definitely alarming, considering the average Englishman in the 1700s only consumed 4 pounds of sugar per year – and that’s most likely from healthful natural sources like fruits, and not from the processed foods you see in supermarket shelves today.
What’s even more disturbing is that people are consuming excessive sugar in the form of fructose or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
This highly processed form of sugar is cheaper to produce, yet 20 percent sweeter than regular table sugar, which is why many food and beverage manufacturers decided to use it in their products.
HFCS is found in almost all types of processed foods and drinks today. Just take a look at this infographic to see just how much fructose is hiding in some of the most common foods you eat.
The bad news is that the human body is not made to consume excessive amounts of sugar, especially in the form of fructose.
In fact, your body metabolizes fructose differently than sugar.
It is actually a hepatotoxin and is metabolized directly into fat – factors that can cause a whole host of problems that can have far-reaching effects on your health.
The industry has proposed an alternative … sweeteners
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates artificial sweeteners as food additives.
Before they can be marketed in the United States, the FDA must carefully review and approve each of these non-nutritive sweeteners before adding it to its list of food additives that are generally recognized as safe, the so-called GRAS list.
Currently approved for use by the FDA are acesulfame potassium, or ace-K, marketed under the trade names of Sunett, Sweet One and Swiss Sweet; aspartame, marketed as Nutrasweet and Equal; neotame, used in processed foods; saccharin, marketed as Sweet ‘N Low and Sugar Twin; sucralose, marketed as Splenda; and stevia, marketed as PureVia and Truvia
Limited Uses, Aftertaste
Not all artificial sweeteners are created equal and thus appropriate as a substitute for sugar in all applications.
Aspartame, for example, is not heat-stable and should not be used in cooking or baking.
While ace-K, aspartame, neotame and sucralose are considered safe for pregnant women if used in moderation, saccharin and stevia are not yet approved for use by pregnant or lactating women.
Aspartame carries a warning label cautioning against its use by people with PKU, a relatively rare metabolic disorder in which the body lacks the ability to properly break down the amino acid phenylalanine.
Despite some advertising claims to the contrary, many consumers find that sugar substitutes leave a bitter aftertaste, some more than others.
Evidence of Weight Gain
Concerned that the American obesity epidemic was occurring simultaneously with increased use of artificial sweeteners, Yale University neurobiologist Qing Yang conducted a review of the scientific literature on sugar substitutes and their effect on appetite and weight.
Summing up her findings in the June 2010 issue of “Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine,” she cited strong evidence from previous studies showing a link between a person’s customary intake of a flavor and the intensity of his preference for more of that flavor.
In other words, the sweet taste imparted by sugar substitutes tends to increase the yearning for more of that sweetness, which leads to overeating.
She concludes: “Unsweetening the world’s diet may be the key to reversing the obesity epidemic.”
May Disrupt Normal Metabolism
Behavioral neuroscientist Susan E. Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University, says that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners, particularly in beverages, not only leads to overeating but also appears to disrupt normal metabolism.
Writing in the July 2013 issue of “Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism,” Swithers says her review of relevant scientific literature shows that artificially sweetened foods and beverages interfere with a body’s learned responses that regulate energy and glucose homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the ability of an organism or system to maintain equilibrium in response to environmental changes.
Human metabolism covers literally thousands of the chemical reactions needed to sustain life, including the conversion of dietary nutrients into energy and the disposal of waste materials.
Any disruption in these many processes could conceivably cause a slowdown in metabolic rate, which would have the unintended consequence of making it even more difficult to lose weight.
The detrimental effects of artificial sweeteners and sugar are again topping world nutrition headlines as the latest studies point to toxic effects on digestive gut microbes and deceptively high levels of sugar hidden in “healthy” foodstuffs.
Sugar, and now artificial sweeteners, are “the” dietary gremlins, trumping fats, oils, and starches as most reviled additives.
Today, sugar kills more people than gunpowder.
Sugar is slow suicide,” Dr. Ilan Samish, founder and CEO of Amai Proteins.
His company is developing an innovative alternative to sugar and present-day artificial sweeteners.
Indeed, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, physicians and nutritionists the world over say that sweetened foods have caused a global health crisis.
Moreover, the United Nations dedicated a high-level meeting at the sidelines of the General Assembly in late September to nutrition and, among other topics, pointed to sugar as a culprit in the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, among other health-related issues.
The harmful effects of artificial sweeteners
In early October, an Israeli-Singaporean study shot to the top of health news everywhere with its data showing that six oft-used artificial sweeteners were found to be toxic to digestive gut bacteria.
The collaborative study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, published in the journal Molecules, shows that six common artificial sweeteners — approved by the Food and Drug Administration – and 10 sport supplements that contain them, could be extremely detrimental to our health.
It is not the first time the effects of artificial sweeteners have hit headlines. Indeed, the risks of artificial sweeteners have been studied and questioned for decades.
But this latest study shows how bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic when exposed to concentrations of only one mg./ml. of the artificial sweeteners — aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k.
“This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity which can cause a wide range of health issues,” said Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, John A. Ungar Chair in Biotechnology in the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering.
The rate of consuming artificial sweeteners is on the rise, according to a 2017 research study by George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, with 25 percent of children and more than 41 percent of adults in the United States believing these sweeteners are a healthy choice over sugar.
And that explains why recent results of the Israeli-Singaporean study garnered media attention across the globe:
With widespread calls for a cut in sugar intake, artificial sweeteners are being more aggressively marketed as better for your health.
Often people consume this ingredient without even knowing the artificial sweeteners are in the food products and drinks they’ve purchased.
“For decades, the food, beverages, and other industries have used artificial sweeteners as sugar substitutes for those who are diabetic and/or obese.
Industries highlight the beneficial aspects of artificial sweeteners’ use, such as tooth friendliness, increased quality of life for diabetics and weight control.
However, in addition to the environmental pollution issues, there has been much evidence about the possible negative impact sugar substitutes contribute to human health,” write the authors.
The study also cites that artificial sweeteners have “allegedly been linked to adverse effects such as cancer, weight gain, metabolic disorders, migraines, type-2 diabetes, vascular events, preterm delivery, kidney function disorders, liver antioxidant system, hepatotoxicity, immune system disruptions and alteration of gut microbiota activity.”
In other words, claims that artificial sweeteners are better for your health should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism.
“The results of this study might help in understanding the relative toxicity of artificial sweeteners and the potential of negative effects on the gut microbial community as well as the environment,” said Kushamaro.
Meanwhile, a UK study on hidden sugars and sweeteners in so-called “healthy” and “organic” food products, which was published late last month, has caused confusion in the supermarket.
The study warned consumers that foods designated as “healthy” may in fact be harmful. The authors used yogurt as an example, showing that most have deceptively high levels of sugar, with organic yogurts among the worst offenders.
According to that study, organic yogurts contained an average of 13.1 grams of sugar per 100 grams, children’s yogurts averaged 10.8 grams per 100 grams, and natural yogurts had an average of five grams per 100 grams.
“While yogurt may be less of a concern than soft drinks and fruit juices, the chief sources of free sugars in both children and adult’s diets, what is worrisome is that yogurt, as a perceived ‘healthy food’, may be an unrecognized source of free/added sugars,” the authors wrote.
Sugar VS Fat
The global sugar market is valued at some $90 billion.
Reports trace the adding of sweetness to foods in the Western world back to the 1960s.
According to numerous reports, the Sugar Association paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of $50,000 in the 1960s to help them convince Americans that sugar had no ill effect on our health.
The Harvard scientists published a review of research on sugar, fat, and heart disease in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine – and blamed fat alone for causing heart disease.
Over the years, consumption of sugary foods and added sugars – those not found naturally in fruits or vegetables — has soared and obesity rates along with them.
According to the WHO, the average person in the US consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day, twice the amount the world health body recommends for daily intake.
With our palates regulated to sweet tastes, alternatives to sugar are in high demand. Artificial sweeteners were the go-to for many years, but with studies like this month’s Israeli-Singaporean research showing that ingesting these substitutes may be harmful, other options are needed.
That’s where the likes of Amai Proteins comes in.
The Israeli biotech company is one of a growing number of food-technology firms seeking to develop sweet sugar substitutes.
“The goal of Amai is to make a global meaningful effect on sugar reduction by many different ways,” Samish tells NoCamels. “We’re producing a healthy sweetener.
Amai’s proteins get digested in the upper gastrointestinal tract with zero insulin resistance.”
Moreover, the company’s products don’t have the bitter aftertaste commonly associated with artificial sweeteners.
According to the company’s website, Amai is collaborating with leading food and beverage companies such as PepsiCo, Danone and SodaStream, among others.
Israel is home to some 750 active startups and companies in the food tech and agriculture tech industries, according to a May report by the Israeli non-profit Start-Up Nation Central.
Other local companies taking on the sugar and sweetener global space include DouxMatok, a startup that developed a patented sugar reduction solution.
In July, DouxMatok announced a partnership with German company Südzucker, the largest sugar producer in Europe.
Israeli startup Lampados International has developed a dissolving vegetable protein sweetener that looks like a meringue kiss to replace standard powder and tablets in the tabletop sweeteners market.
Unavoo, meanwhile, hopes the next time you want to sweeten your coffee, you’ll grab Heylo, a product that looks like a regular got-to sugar packet but instead is made of organic Stevia and natural dietary fibers.
And taking it one step further, A1C Foods is an Israeli outfit that has developed a patent-pending formula to lower the glycemic index of food products to make them low-carb, healthy and without artificial sweeteners.
“We are on a revolutionary journey to introduce a new approach to eating, by adjusting people’s pallets to lower levels of sweetness, while enjoying great-tasting food,” write endocrinologist Mariela Glandt and entrepreneur Ran Hirsch, co-founders of A1C Foods on their website.
“Through our products we provide an easy way to accomplish detoxification from the sickening dietary habits that we have adopted over the past 50 years. We believe this is the way to stop and reverse the obesity and diabetes pandemic,” they say.