sweet tooth, sugar cravings, sweeteners, Amasake, barley malt, brown rice syrup, date sugar, dried cane juice, honey, maple syrup, molasses, slim sweet, sorghum, sucanat, xylitol, just like sugar, stevia

Refined Foods: The Whole Story

Refined Foods: The Whole Story

© 2006 Wellness Clubs of America.com


"I’m so frustrated,” the individual facing me confessed, "I know that if I need to cut back on my sugar intake, but I just can’t. Do you have a ‘stop craving sugar’ pill?”

Her story is a common one. I’ve heard similar statements from many people over the course of my career. I understand them well, for I spent much of my life craving foods high in refined sugars or flours.

When I say craving I don’t simply mean that I enjoyed desserts. I craved desserts. I needed them. I had to have them. I was addicted to them.

Addiction is defined as a compulsive physiologic need for a substance. An addiction is more than a habit. A habit is a manner of behavior resulting from repeated performance. In addiction, the body has developed an uncontrollable physical need for something. My behavior surrounding refined sugar was indistinguishable from the behavior of people addicted to substances such as alcohol, tobacco, or mood-altering drugs.

For example, once I took the first bite of a cookie, piece of cake, slice of pie, or ice cream I literally could not stop. Satiety became meaningless. It mattered not whether two or two-dozen fresh chocolate chip cookies were available. Given the opportunity I would eat them all.

I would "sneak” sweets – eat them when I felt no one was looking. At times I would attempt to rationalize my behavior and at others I would feel guilty and remorseful for failing to control my eating habits. Even waking up in a brain fog or finding that my allergies had flared as a result of eating sugary foods was not enough to stop me from consuming them. I myself had once been in need of a ‘stop craving sugar’ pill.

Judging by the volume consumed, many people in the United States are addicted to sugar today. A little over 100 years ago the average consumption of sugar was 5 pounds per person per year. Today that figure stands at 135 pounds of sugar per year - 26 pounds higher than it was in 1980. Much of the increase has come in the form of "hidden” sugars – sugars that are added to products such as tomato sauce, peanut butter, mayonnaise, sports drinks, and a wide array of packaged foods.

Obesity is the result of excess sugar consumption most commonly recognized, but its detrimental effects on health go much deeper. An appreciation of the refining process is helpful in understanding how the consumption of refined sugar affects health and why addiction to the substance is so common.

Sugar is a substance manufactured by plants to store energy. It is, in some respects, the plant equivalent of fat. Sucrose, or common table sugar, is most commonly derived from sugar beets or sugar cane.

In the initial phase of processing the juice is squeezed from the beet or the cane. The cane fiber, called bagasse, is generally used as a fuel for boilers later in the refining process. Beet pulp is formed into pellets and used as an ingredient in animal food. The raw sugar juice is then diluted and centrifuged to separate the liquid containing sugar crystals from the remainder of the syrup.

In the next stage of refining, carbonate or phosphate are mixed with the liquid to strip color and any remaining non-sugar materials. The liquid is then run through activated carbon or an ion exchange resin to remove much of the remaining color.

The resulting clear liquid is then evaporated and the sugar crystals collected. The washings are sent through the refining process a second, or even a third time to remove as many sugar crystals as economically possible.

The remaining liquid from the centrifuging and washing process is called Blackstrap Molasses. This is sold as an animal feed, soil enhancer, or for other industrial uses. Molasses is valued as an animal feed additive or supplement because it is rich in minerals, B vitamins and other nutrients that have been stripped from the sugar crystals.

A commercial for "Pure Cane Sugar From Hawaii” in years past showed a young Hawaiian boy beaming as he enjoyed the experience of chewing on a section of fresh cut sugar cane in the field. What the boy was ingesting and what the commercial was selling, however, were two very disparate entities.

We were designed to eat whole fruits and vegetables rather than extracts. Like the boy in the commercial, we do best when we consume whole foods. Sucrose accounts for only about 10% of the weight of sugar cane and 17% of the weight of sugar beets. Many of the constituents in the remaining 80 to 90 percent of the plant are essential for the human body to process the sugar efficiently.

B, C & D vitamins are required to metabolize sucrose & other sugars. Minerals such as chromium, vanadium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, selenium, zinc, tin, and boron are also needed. Since these have been removed in the refining process they must be provided from our body stores when we eat refined sugars. This depletes the body’s supply of those vitamins and minerals.

This is one of the reasons sugar cravings develop. The body knows that it needs the vitamins and minerals normally associated with sucrose and it therefore seeks foods that contain it. Eating foods containing refined sugar, however, further depletes those vitamins and minerals causing a greater need and craving for those foods. A vicious cycle develops, which can only be broken by providing the missing nutrients.

The loss of vitamins and minerals when bagasse, beet pulp, and molasses are removed in the process of producing pure sucrose has profound health implications. Many of these nutrients are needed for the metabolism of fat and cholesterol. As they become depleted, cholesterol and triglyceride levels rise and the levels of protective HDL cholesterol fall.

Because refined sugars are absorbed from the digestive track very quickly, blood sugar rises rapidly when they are ingested. This rapid rise in blood sugar often tricks the pancreas into releasing more insulin than is required. This causes blood sugar levels to fall too low, a condition known as hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia causes the adrenal glands to spring into action to release chemicals that tell the body to restore normal blood sugar levels. Eating refined sugar can elevate the levels of some adrenal hormones as much as fourfold. B vitamins are essential to proper adrenal function, and as they become depleted adrenal fatigue sets in. Adrenal fatigue is characterized by chronic fatigue, inability to respond to stress, an increase in allergy symptoms, and decreased resistance to infection.

The susceptibility to infection is also increased by refined sugar’s interference with vitamin C transport within the body. Refined sugars and vitamin C compete for the same transport system. When sugar wins out it feeds fungi, bacteria and cancer cells. The problem is compounded when vitamin C is unable to reach the sites and support the body’s efforts to eliminate the attackers.

Vitamins and minerals are not the only nutrients removed during the refining process. It is quite certain that we are unaware of the presence of many of them. Only recently has one nutrient, polycosanol, been isolated and its benefits recognized. Polycosanol is a substance found in sugar cane that helps the body control the conversion of fats to triglycerides. This results in a rise in the protective HDL component of cholesterol and a fall in the potentially damaging LDL fraction. In addition polycosanol protects LDL from oxidation – damage from free radicals – that converts harmless LDL into a plaque promoting substance.

It is difficult to find a disease that is not worsened by the ingestion of refined sugars. It would serve no purpose to list them. It is more important to understand how to effectively break sugar addiction and restore a more healthful pattern of eating.

The first step in breaking a sugar addiction is to supply the body with the nutrients it is seeking. A broad-spectrum multivitamin/mineral is needed to provide the foundation. Additional B vitamins in the form of a B-complex supplement may be necessary during the initial phases of sugar withdrawal.

Two minerals, chromium and vanadium, are particularly helpful. These nutrients are key to insulin utilization and sugar metabolism. Low levels of these minerals alone are enough to trigger intense sugar cravings. Chromium polynicotinate and vanadyl sulfate appear to be the most efficiently utilized forms of these minerals. These are often found in combination in supplements designed to support the body’s ability to handle sugar appropriately. 50 to 100 micrograms of chromium polynicotinate and 2.5 to 5 milligrams of vanadyl sulfate with each meal appear to be effective amounts.

The second step is to eliminate as many refined sugars and starches from the diet as possible. This is necessary to stop the drain of vitamins and minerals created by their consumption. This is not a simple task. It is virtually impossible if one does not begin preparing meals "from scratch” using whole foods rather than relying upon the convenience of packaged food items.

Thirdly, when a sweetener is needed seek an unrefined source whenever possible. Artificial sweeteners are not the answer, for they present their own challenges. Experiment with some of the sweeteners listed in the accompanying table. (When a recipe calls for 1 cup of dry sweetener 1 cup of a liquid sweetener may be used if another liquid is reduced by 1 / 4 or 1/3 cup or if 4 – 5 tablespoons of flour are added.)

Finally, make a commitment to consuming sugars in their natural, whole food state whenever possible. Choose a whole peach rather than peach cobbler, an apple rather than apple crisp, and fresh strawberries rather than sweetened strawberry sauce. This will become surprisingly easy when the taste buds rebound from the dullness created by regular exposure to refined sugars.

There is life beyond sugary treats. Contrary to detracting from the quality of life, eliminating the routine consumption of refined sugars brings a higher quality of life to most individuals. If you are addicted to sugar you probably do not realize the price you are paying. Only when you experience the enhanced level of wellness that results from breaking free will you appreciate the true cost of a "sweet tooth”.

Alternate Sweeteners
Amasake: A drink made from brown rice, which can be substituted for the combination of milk and sugar in recipes.

Barley Malt: A sweetener made roasting sprouted barley. Because it is comprised of 75% maltose, a complex sugar that digests and is absorbed more slowly, it does not cause the excess release of insulin and blood sugar swings associated with sucrose and other simple sugars.

Brown Rice Syrup: Made from brown rice, it is composed of 3 % glucose, 45 % maltose, and approximately 50% complex carbohydrates. It digests slowly and is not associated with swings in blood sugar.

Date Sugar: Date sugar consists of ground, dehydrated dates. It is high in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals. It does not dissolve in liquids, but can be substituted in equal quantity for sucrose in recipes.

Dried Cane Juice: Dried cane juice is less refined than cane sugar and contains trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, & other plant nutrients.

Honey: Unlike refined sugar, honey does not promote the growth of harmful organisms, but supports the growth of beneficial bacteria. It should not be given to infants under a year of age as it may contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes the food poisoning known as "botulism". It does not contain spores in great enough quantity to affect children and adults.

Just Like Sugar:  A blend of orange peel and chicory root that produces a sweetness similar to that of refined sugar, yet does not adversely affect blood sugar. 

Maple Syrup: While maple syrup is predominantly comprised of sucrose, it contains trace amounts of minerals, vitamins, & amino acids. The main minerals are calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium phosphorus, and iron. A number of B vitamins are present as are trace amounts of vitamin A. Maple syrup is graded according to color. Which grade to use is largely a matter of taste, as there is little nutritional difference between them.

Molasses: The liquid left behind by the sugar refining process, molasses is rich in minerals, B-vitamins, and other plant nutrients. It may be substituted for refined sugar in some recipes.

Slim Sweet:  Slim Sweet is a fruit sugar derived from Lo Han Kuo (Momordica grosvenorii), a plant grown in the mountains of southern China.  It is an all-natural, low-glycemic fruit concentrate that is 15 times sweeter than sugar with no chemical after taste.

Sorghum Syrup: Sorgum syrup is manufactured by boiling down the juice extracted from sweet sorghum, a variety of grain. It contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and riboflavin (B-2). It can be substituted for an equal volume of honey or molasses in recipes. If substituting for dry sugar increase the amount recommended by 1/3 and decrease another liquid by 1/3.

Sucanat: Sucanatâ (insert trademark symbol) is a blend of cane sugar and molasses – in essence putting the two refined end products back together again. Sucanatâ (trademark) may be substituted volume for volume with sugar, dissolves readily in liquids, provides a good consistency in baked goods, and blends well with other ingredients in recipes.

Stevia: Stevia has a long traditional use as a sweetener and has no known adverse effects.  Processing will determine the taste to some degree.  While the FDA has long refused to allow stevia to be openly marketed in the U.S. as a sweetener, they ironically approved a patented blend of stevia extract and erythritol crystals called Truvia as a sweetener. 

Xylitol:  A naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is found in many fruits and vegetables.  It is low-glycemic and has little effect on blood sugar.  When used as a sweetener in chewing gum it destroys plaque and helps prevent cavities.

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