These days conventional wisdom says that the healthiest diet is plant-based (think The China Study), removes all red meat, and minimizes animal products.

I disagree.

According to Westin Price (a dentist who researched traditional diets around the world in the 1930s), the real culprits for Western diseases are white flour, sugar, and processed vegetable fats.  Traditional diets ranging from almost entirely plant based to almost entirely animal based all produced healthy populations; it was not until the Western processed foods listed above infiltrated those societies that their health began to decline.

What Counts as Sugar?

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a particular food turns to sugar in the body.  (Glucose is assigned a glycemic index of 100, and everything else is assigned a number relative to that.)  At the top of the glycemic index list are all things white, especially processed white flour (including white bread, pancakes, and pastries), most processed white grains (including white rice, instant oatmeal, popcorn, and most cereals), and white potatoes, especially potato products (including french fries, potato chips, and instant mashed potatoes).

Why is Sugar so Bad?

Think of sugar as quick energy. It can get converted into the currency your body uses for energy very quickly. But your blood can only accommodate a few tablespoons of sugar at a time.  Here’s why.

Picture table sugar – it’s granular and it has relatively rough edges.  If you have too much sugar in your bloodstream over a period of time, those rough edges nick the walls of your blood vessels and cause damage.  When that happens, your body has to patch up the damage with a “band-aid,” so that it can heal.  The “band-aid” is called LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol).  The more extensive the damage, the more cholesterol you need to form an adequate band-aid.  But with continued high intake of sugar, over time that LDL plug gets bigger and bigger.  Eventually it may impede blood flow, or the plug can become unstable and break off, traveling to some other part of the body until it encounters a blood vessel too small to accommodate it.  (This is cardiovascular disease – and it can lead to heart attacks and strokes.)  That’s problem #1 with too much sugar.  (Note that the LDL isn’t the cause of the problem.  Sugar is the real culprit.)

So your body tries to get rid of excess sugar from the bloodstream in order to minimize this process.  Sugar has to get inside the cells in order to get out of the blood.

Sugar can’t just rush into the cells though – it has to have the “key “to get in.  The key is insulin, and it gets produced from the pancreas in response to high sugar in the bloodstream.  This works great for awhile… but problems come in when this cycle is repeated too often, too long.  Like a drug addict needing a bigger dose to achieve the same high, the body will start to require more and more insulin to keep up with your sugar intake. Eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand. This leads to Insulin Resistance and Diabetes.  That’s problem #2 with too much sugar.

Once the sugar gets inside the cells, it can’t be stored in its present form – it has to be converted from “quick” energy into “potential” energy — fat (or more precisely, triglycerides.)  So sugar also leads to obesity.  That’s problem #3 with too much sugar.

Other prevalent Western diseases include cancer (and cancer cells consume sugar as energy before the rest of the body, so eating sugar will feed cancer cells), dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (the link between these and sugar is becoming clearer), IBS (sugar feeds several of the dysbiotic flora contributing to gas, bloating, and constipation), and many more.

Why do we eat so much sugar?

Sugar is an addiction, just like alcohol, smoking, and drugs.  This study found that sugar produces a chemical in the brain called enkephalins, which work much like opiates (including heroin, morphine, and oxycontin) – that is, they stimulate the release of dopamine.  Most other addictions do the same thing: dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the brain linked to pleasure and reward.

Are you addicted?

Here’s a few questions to ask yourself in order to find out.

  • Do you use sugar and foods that act like sugar (with a high glycemic index) to make you feel better after a bad day?
  • Do you crave sugar or high glycemic index foods?
  • Do you think lower glycemic index foods taste bland, and feel the need to add sweetener?
  • Have you ever tried to avoid sugar and found that either you couldn’t, or once you tasted something sweet you felt compelled to consume all of it?
  • Do you use sugar, and foods that act like sugar, as a reward for yourself?

If you answered yes to several of the questions above, you are far from alone!  Although it is not an easy habit to break (they never are), it is one of the very best choices that you can make for your health.