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Be cautious about sugar consumption

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Recently, CBC’s the fifth estate investigated the dangers of consuming too much sugar. What it found was disturbing: Sugar, in all its forms, can be toxic to human health.

While it is well-established that over-consumption of refined sugar has been linked to chronic health problems, such as obesity and diabetes, some researchers are now suggesting that sugar may also be the toxic trigger for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

While Canadians have often been warned against the dangers of consuming too much saturated fat, calories and salt, there have been few recommendations made for sugar. In fact, our consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar may be the biggest nutritional detriment to Canadians’ health.

The average person will consume 26 teaspoons of sugar each day. Most will be in the form of non-sweet substances and package foods. This works out to approximately 40 kilograms of sugar per person, per year.

"The fat’s going down, the sugar’s going up and we’re all getting sick," Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatrician, medical professor and one of the leaders of the anti-sugar campaign, told the fifth estate.

"This is not a hyperbole, this is the real deal. Everyone thinks that the bad effects of sugar are because sugar has empty calories. What I’m saying is no, actually there are lots of things that do have empty calories that are not necessarily poisonous."

According to Dr. Lustig, the toxic effects of dietary sugar now put it on par with MSG, food additives and other chemical preservatives.

In fact, upon further investigation, the food industry (particularly the sugar industry) may have purposely withheld information about the dangerous effects of sugar over the years. This has lead some to accuse the sugar industry of utilizing the same unethical tactics in the past as the tobacco industry.

So why is sugar so dangerous? Whether it is table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, organic cane sugar, or other sugar derivatives, sugar has a toxic effect on the cells of the body.

Insulin resistance, the method by which sugar causes an individual to gain weight and eventually become diabetic, has been observed to damage every organ in the body, including the brain.

It is believed that insulin resistance may be the initiating factor behind many diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The overconsumption of sugar, and subsequent changes in the way sugar is absorbed and utilized by the body, can cause hormonal changes over time making it difficult to bounce back.

Unfortunately, because of the food industry’s reluctance to provide clear labelling information about the hidden sugar content of packaged foods, it is up to the consumer to educate themselves on how to identify the different sugars and sugar derivatives found in packaged foods.

The words: Syrup, ingredients ending in "ose," such as maltose and dextrose, and corn derivatives are the most common hidden sources of sugar. Also, don’t be fooled by "organic" sugars such as cane, agave and molasses: They are still considered a refined sugar.

It will be a long time before the true impact of sugar’s toxicity is fully understood. In the meantime, it is easy for Canadians to begin reducing their sugar intake by carefully choosing the right products to buy.

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