Sugar: Sweet, Addictive and Deadly

~ By Cate Reade ~

About 30 years ago the nutrition policy in this country dictated that fat needed to be reduced to help prevent our number one killer, heart disease. We replaced fat with carbohydrates, mostly processed, refined carbohydrates. Remember the Snackwell cookie phenomenon? We were told that as long as you stayed away from fat, we could eat virtually unlimited amounts of bread, pasta, rice and low-fat baked goods and desserts all in the name of good health. We listened. After 30 years of the low-fat high carbohydrate experiment, we have not reduced heart disease. Quite the opposite. We are sicker and fatter today than ever before in human history. The rates of heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, cancer and obesity have risen right along with the increased consumption of sugar. Less than 100 years ago, we ate about 4 pounds of sugar per person per year. Today, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that we consume about 150 pounds per person per year!

The study that the US government based its low-fat recommendations on came from the Seven Countries research by Ancel Keys, which was a flawed study. At the same time, there were plenty of researchers that were saying that sugar was the cause of disease, not fat. We made a wrong turn and it’s time to make it right.

First, “a calorie is a calorie” is a huge myth. Calories do not have an equal effect on our body. Table sugar, or sucrose, is made up of two molecules, 50% is glucose and 50% is fructose. High fructose corn syrup is a concentrated form of sugar and is quite similar with 45% glucose and 55% fructose. Fructose is the sugar that makes fruit taste sweet. When you eat an apple, in addition to the fructose, you are eating lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber that slows down digestion and is good for us. The problem is that today manufacturers extract and concentrate fructose from corn, sugar beets and sugar cane, removing the fiber and nutrients in the process. Of the 600,000 processed foods, 80% have added sugars. Sugar is lurking everywhere and with 56 different names for sugar, it’s hard to figure out how much added sugar each food product contains.

Sugar Metabolism
Sugar spikes our blood glucose levels and causes the pancreas to pump insulin into your blood stream. Insulin attaches to and signals cells to absorb sugar. With the overconsumption of sugar, body cells become resistant to insulin’s effects. This causes the pancreas to work harder and release more insulin to try to get an effect. When the cells don’t respond well to insulin, it is called “insulin resistance” and the sugar is stored away as belly fat. The fructose part of sugar can only be metabolized in the liver. When the liver is bombarded by fructose, it packages it up as fat and can cause fatty liver disease.

According to Dr. Robert Lustig and the American Heart Association, you can safely metabolize about 6 – 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day, women and men respectively. On average Americans consume 22 – 60 teaspoons a day! The excess sugar consumed is stored as fat and leads to chronic disease including:

  • Heart and kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Fatty liver

Eight Times More Addictive than Cocaine
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of “The Blood Sugar Solution 10-day Detox Diet”, rat studies have found that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. Sugar lights up all the reward systems in the brain just like opiates! Obesity also makes dopamine receptors less sensitive so that more food is needed to be consumed to get the same reward or “feel-good feeling.”

Breaking the Addiction
The best first step to breaking this addiction is to toss out the liquid sugar drinks like soda, sports drinks and juice and drink water. Next, eat real food, a mostly plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, high quality protein and fat. Try consuming protein and fat at each meal since they do not raise blood sugar levels like processed carbohydrates. Try eating this way for 10 days and focus on how you feel. You may notice your sugar and carbohydrate cravings fade away relatively easily. When you feel better, you want to continue eating these healthier foods.

Cate Reade

Cate Reade

In addition to being an ACE-certified Senior Fitness Specialist, Cate Reade, MS, RD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Physical Fitness from NYU. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. She is delighted to be helping seniors regain strength and mobility as the CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMorª Lower Body Trainer. Contact Cate at or visit

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