Sugar and Processed Food


Did you know that not all sugars are the same? This is because different types of sugar affect the body in different ways.  Of course, big business might lead you to believe otherwise.

What do soda, snacks, cereal, pasta, bread or other packaged foods have in common? The answer is that they all contribute to the health crisis in America. If you are one who consumes these types of foods, you may very well be one of those people that consume between 150 to 170 (or more) pounds of refined sugars in one year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Does that seem excessive? Eating 150-170 pounds of sugar in one year is equivalent to eating about a quarter to a half a pound of sugar each day. That is 30-60 teaspoons of sugar. To put this into perspective, you need to understand that it only takes four 12-ounce cans of sodas to equal 1/4 pound of sugar. Imagine a 32 ounce can of soda or an energy drink.

Now imagine how much sugar you consume if you eat convenience foods like cake, candy, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, barbecue sauce, bread, canned-fruit with syrup, crackers, frozen dinners, hot dogs, ketchup, peanut butter, salad dressing, and so on. It adds up fast, and I would imagine that many consume well over 1/4 pound a day.

According to Rachel K. Johnson, lead author of a paper published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation, too much sugar not only makes Americans fat, but also is a key culprit in diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke (Johnson, 2009).

But why? It is because sugar raises blood glucose, which triggers abnormal insulin surges. In an ironic twist, this actually makes you hungry. So you reach for more convenience food. The result is that you end up fat. This ultimately (and obviously) has a negative effect on your health.

More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese (Ogden, Carroll, Kit & Flegal, 2014), which results in some of the leading causes of preventable death. It is expensive too. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008. Something to note is that the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight (CDC, 2015) – before Obamacare, of course.

Other than having low self-esteem, feeling terrible, and simply not being happy, obesity at any level can affect the body in negative ways and actually contribute to chronic underlying conditions. Though just an example, obesity has a clear effect on the immune response, which means it is actually easier for infections to occur (Falagas & Kompoti, 2006). Speaking of which, keep in mind that according to Dr. Hyman, sugar is the greatest inflammatory substance we have in our diet (Hyman, 2006).

Now let’s talk about antibiotics and play out a scenario. Let us say that an obese person gets sick. Really sick. They consume tons of sugar, which feed bad bacteria. Then they go to the doctor. They are given antibiotics. They take the antibiotics… (hoping they finish their antibiotic course)… they may develop a secondary infection. These secondary infections can last for days or sometimes even years in some people. Even worse, some may not even know they have the infection in the first place. When you factor in the diet again, you can see how easy it is for this cycle to continue and get much worse, because guess what they will take when the infection is discovered. Another antibiotic, right? This has a very negative effect on gut flora, which is essential for proper digestion. When proper digestion is disrupted, it can exacerbate obesity.

It is a vicious cycle, but it gets worse. Are obese people known for eating a healthy diet? Not usually, right? Why is that? Sometimes it is as simple as not feeling well, so they reach for convenience food. The problem is that convenience food is usually highly processed and filled with the wrong kind of sugars. This will destroy beneficial bacteria while feeding bad bacteria and fungus. This can lead to even further illness.

More often than not, this will lead to even worse obesity because the body (now lacking essential nutrients) seeks out more and more food in an effort to retrieve the necessary nutrients. Some doctors call this addiction. In fact, a study from the University of Michigan and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai confirms that highly processed foods are the most addictive (Schulte, 2015). The cycle continues, and the results actually speak for themselves.

It is really kind of scary when you think about it. The cause and effect of this scenario is merely one element of a much bigger picture though. Many processed foods are filled with sugar while also devoid of essential nutrient. Sadly, these types of foods have become a staple in the American diet. Does it shock anyone then that so many people are so sick and fat?

This is not to say that all sugars are bad. That is not true at all. “Good” sugar can be found in whole foods like fruits and veggies. Why is this considered “good” sugar? Well, it is because these foods come with certain enzymes, fluid, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and the body is better equipped to handle them.

There are several different types of sugars, actually. These sugars come from different sources. There are simple sugars called monosaccharides, which include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose, and galactose. Then there are sugars called disaccharides, which include the granulated sugar most are familiar with called sucrose, and sugars like lactose found in dairy products that are derived from galactose and glucose.

I am not going to get entirely technical here, but I am going to share a simple rule to live by. If man is somehow involved in the creation of the sugar you are consuming, it might just be a bad idea to consume it in mass quantities. 

You have probably heard of high fructose corn syrup by now. This sugar is found in all kinds of processed foods, soda, juices, and sweet snacks. Quite a few are beginning to suspect that it is an underlying issue regarding the obesity epidemic.

It is true that even some medical journals disagree with this. In fact, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, John White says that “Although examples of pure fructose causing metabolic upset at high concentrations abound, especially when fed as the sole carbohydrate source, there is no evidence that the common fructose-glucose sweeteners do the same (White, 2008).” However, as I mentioned I have mentioned before in my writing; doctors and scientists are not perfect. White simply got it wrong. Let us think about this from a logical perspective.

A study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation has found that consuming large quantities of this sugar actually may induce metabolic changes that lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (Stanhope et al., 2009). Of course, it would. This makes logical sense. In fact, can you guess what they call the well-established model that demonstrates the development of insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion? They call it “Glucose toxicity”.

Anyway, the studies published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation demonstrates that sugar overload of any type is not a good thing and that it adversely affects both your waistline and your health. But it also suggests that certain sugars trigger more health problems than others. The study found that consuming large quantities of fructose is what may induce the metabolic changes that lead to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

High fructose corn syrup contains roughly 55% fructose and 45% glucose. So which is the culprit? Well, the study separated the two to find out which one. Every day, one group drank three bottles of fructose-sweetened drinks, and another group drank beverages sweetened with glucose. The results were intriguing.

At the end of the study, both groups had gained about the same amount of weight. However, those in the fructose group gained about twice as much visceral fat. Visceral fat is the kind of fat that builds up around the organs rather than under the skin. This type of fat increases the risk of getting heart disease and type 2 diabetes (Ballantyne, 2009). The other type of fat just makes you blob out. Both were bad, one was worse.

The point we need to understand is that BOTH types increased weight and both types are not good really good for you in large doses; some might go as far as saying in any dose outside of naturally occurring sources. Again, this is the type of sugar found in most sodas, snacks, and other convenience foods. What I find particularly interesting about this study is that it demonstrated that different sugars do in fact have different effects in the body. This makes logical sense but had been argued by researchers for a while.

So let us just try to make this as easy as possible. I think Claire Georgiou B.HSc ND said it best. “While fruits and vegetables are absolutely necessary for good health, added sugars are not and are highly implicated with many health problems. Refined sugar has been stripped of its nutrients and offers only empty calories. When refined sugars are consumed in excess, your cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar will increase, and this will promote inflammation and disease over a period of time. Consuming natural sugars in whole fruits, vegetables, and fresh juice will actually reduce these health concerns due to the dense nutrition and antioxidant content. Fruits and vegetables also contain many other compounds that delay the entrance of sugar into your bloodstream, these being plant nutrients, compounds, enzymes, water, and fiber (Georgiou, 2016).” Refined sugars and hidden sugars are a bad deal. I do my best to avoid anything refined.

Again, these are found in abundance in processed foods. If you want to improve your health, reducing or even eliminating such items from your diet is a great place to start. It will not be easy; because, as we have learned, these types of foods are addictive. However, as you replace these choices with more nutrient-dense foods, your cravings will begin subsiding.


This article was originally published as a chapter in the book Natural Health Made Easy: The Briobiotic Protocol (2016)

Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.