Glenn Ellis

*Well, I guess some of you out there are happy: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was defeated in his effort to levy a “Soda Tax.”

It didn’t matter that 33 states already have “Soda Taxes”; nor did it matter that we graciously accept taxes on alcohol and tobacco. Most importantly, it didn’t seem to matter that half of Philadelphia’s children and adults are overweight or obese. The only thing that seemed to be clear is that we love sugar!

Yes, I know Mayor Nutter proposed the tax primarily to generate revenue for a city budget that is at crisis level, but I still can’t believe that there was not more objective reasoning at play.

Maybe a little, “SUGAR 101” is in order.

There’s no doubt that Americans are addicted to sugar. We consume an average of 150 lbs. per person per year. For many of us, that means we eat our own weight in sugar every year! So it might be helpful to find out what that means – what sugar really is, what food value it has, and what problems it causes.

The sugar industry is big: $100 billion per year. As with any other billion dollar business, there’s bound to be a ton of information that will support such an empire anywhere you look – the media, bookstores, advertising, etc.

Boats like this don’t like to be rocked.

On the other side is a group claiming that white sugar is poison, a harmful drug, barely differing from cocaine, etc. Some claims are true; others are unreferenced opinion, often bordering on hysteria. For our purposes, we’ll focus on what we really can verify about sugar, and hopefully avoid the errors of disinformation on both sides of the fence.

The first question to be asked is, “What is sugar?”

That’s easy – it’s that white stuff in the sugar bowl. Refined white cane sugar is only one type, however. There’s also brown sugar, raw sugar, fruit sugar, corn sugar, milk sugar, beet sugar, alcohol, monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. All these are also sugar.

Start with white sugar. It is made by refining sugar cane, a process involving many chemicals. Or from beets, whose refinement also involves synthetic chemicals, and charcoal. The big problem is that the finished product contains none of the nutrients, vitamins, or minerals of the original plant. White sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which means a fractionated, artificial, devitalized by-product of the original plant. The original plant was a complex carbohydrate, which means it contained all the properties of a whole food: vitamins, minerals, enzymes.

Refined sugar from beets and cane is sucrose. Up to the mid 1970s, sucrose was the primary sugar consumed by Americans. That changed when manufacturers discovered a cheaper source of refined sugar: corn. A process was evolved that could change the natural fructose in corn to glucose, and then by adding synthetic chemicals, change the glucose back into an artificial, synthetic type of fructose called high fructose.  

High fructose became big real fast. In 1984, Coke and Pepsi changed from cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Today high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the preferred sweetener in most soft drinks and processed foods. Read the labels.

Remember, natural fructose is contained in most raw fruits and vegetables. It is a natural food. Moderate amounts of natural fructose can be easily digested by the body with no stress or depleting of mineral stores. Natural fructose does not cause rollercoaster blood sugar, unless the person overdoes it. Natural fructose is not addicting.

High fructose corn syrup, by contrast, cannot be well digested, actually inhibits digestion, is addicting, and causes a great number of biochemical errors. HFCS is artificial; a non-food.

White sugar requires enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and insulin from the body in order to act. All enzymes and nutrients have been purposely removed from white sugar by processing. The result is a synthetic manmade carbohydrate, occurring nowhere in nature. The body regards such as a foreign substance as a drug.

Another way to look at it is this: when complex carbohydrates are broken down, the result is a usable glucose molecule. When simple (refined) carbohydrates are allowed to ferment in the digestive tract because they can’t be broken down, the results are alcohol, acetic acid, water, and carbon dioxide.   

In addition to these by-products, simple carbohydrates do increase blood glucose. And this is the real problem with refined sugar: the quantity of pure glucose suddenly taken in.

So, how much sugar do we really “need”? White sugar, none.

But our modern needs are something created by business, by advertising, and by politics. How many people do you know who drink at least one 12 oz soft drink per day? If the sugar from each bottle could be crystallized out, it would amount to 10 teaspoons. Put 10 teaspoons of sugar in the bottom of an empty coke bottle and look at it. Is that a lot? In a normal bloodstream, which is about 5 liters, approximately 2 teaspoons of glucose should be circulating at any one time. That means that one coke raises the blood sugar to 5 times its normal level, for at least four hours.

Now stop here a minute. This is one soft drink. Do you know anyone who drinks more than one soft drink per day? How about per hour? Do the math.

To that, add the sugar in desserts, ice cream, jams, jello, artificial fruit drinks, and candy. This is not even mentioning hidden sugar found in ketchup, processed meats, baby food, condiments, cereals, and most other processed foods whose label you may chance to read.

And by the way, did you know that alcohol is a sugar? So add wine, beer, liquor. And even tobacco! Getting the picture here? Think you know anyone with only 2 teaspoons of glucose in the blood?

Got Diabetes?

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician.  It is neither intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

Glenn Ellis, author of “Which Doctor?,” is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.

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