The story behind sugar

‘Refined'. Of a higher quality. The result of conscious improvement. Not so with sugar. Refined sugar has been depleted of its vitamins and minerals. What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates.

‘Refined'. Of a higher quality. The result of conscious improvement. Not so with sugar. Refined sugar has been depleted of its vitamins and minerals. What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates. Lacking the natural minerals present in sugar beet or cane, it drains and leaches the body of precious vitamins and minerals because of the demand its digestion, detoxification and elimination make upon one's entire system.

No wonder, then, that in the 1950s Dr William Coda Martin called sugar a poison. The sudden shock of a heavy intake of sugar disrupts the delicate balance that is essential to our bodies' healthy functioning. The body then mobilises neutral acids and minerals such as sodium (from salt), potassium and magnesium (from vegetables) and calcium (from the bones) in an attempt to return the acid-alkaline balance factor of the blood to a more normal state.

Eating sugar every day exacerbates the problem – producing a continuously over-acid condition, which means that more and more minerals are required from deep in the body to rectify the imbalance. Ultimately, so much calcium is taken from the bones and teeth that decay and general weakening begin. Excess sugar eventually affects every organ in the body. Initially, it is stored in the liver in the form of glucose (glycogen). Since the liver's capacity is limited, a daily intake of refined sugar (above the required amount of natural sugar) soon makes the liver expand like a balloon. When the liver is filled to its maximum capacity, the excess glycogen is returned to the blood in the form of fatty acids.

These are taken to every part of the body and stored in the most inactive areas: the belly, the buttocks, the breasts and the thighs. When these comparatively harmless places are completely filled, fatty acids are then distributed among active organs, such as the heart and kidneys. These begin to slow down; finally their tissues degenerate and turn to fat. The whole body is affected by their reduced ability, and abnormal blood pressure is created. The parasympathetic nervous system is affected; and organs governed by it, such as the small brain, become inactive or paralysed. (Normal brain function is rarely thought of as being as biologic as digestion.)

The circulatory and lymphatic systems are invaded, and the quality of the red corpuscles starts to change. An overabundance of white cells occurs, and the creation of tissue becomes slower. Our body's tolerance and immunising power becomes more limited, so we cannot respond properly to extreme attacks, whether they be cold, heat, mosquitoes or microbes. Excessive sugar has a strong mal-effect on the functioning of the brain. The key to orderly brain function is glutamic acid, a vital compound found in many vegetables. The B vitamins play a major role in dividing glutamic acid into antagonistic-complementary compounds which produce a ‘proceed’ or ‘control’ response in the brain. B vitamins are also manufactured by symbiotic bacteria which live in our intestines.

When refined sugar is taken daily, these bacteria wither and die, and our stock of B vitamins gets very low. Too much sugar makes one sleepy; our ability to calculate and remember is lost. The ‘quick’ energy we feel after eating sugar is based on the fact that refined sucrose is not digested in the mouth or the stomach but passes directly to the lower intestines and thence to the bloodstream. The extra speed with which sucrose enters the bloodstream does more harm than good. Sugars of all kinds tend to arrest the secretion of gastric juices and have an inhibiting effect on the stomach's natural ability to move. When taken alone, they pass quickly through the stomach into the small intestine.

When sugars are eaten with other foods – perhaps meat and bread in a sandwich – they are held up in the stomach for a while. The sugar in the bread and the Coke sit there with the hamburger and the bun waiting for them to be digested. While the stomach is working on the animal protein and the refined starch in the bread, the addition of the sugar practically guarantees rapid acid fermentation under the conditions of warmth and moisture existing in the stomach. When starches and complex sugars (like those in honey and fruits) are digested, they are broken down into simple sugars called ‘monosaccharides’, which are usable substances-nutriments.

When starches and sugars are taken together and undergo fermentation, they are broken down into carbon dioxide, acetic acid, alcohol and water. With the exception of the water, all these are unusable substances – poisons. When proteins are digested, they are broken down into amino acids, which are usable substances – nutriments. When proteins are taken with sugar, they putrefy; they are broken down into a variety of ptomaines and leucomaines, which are nonusable substances - poisons. Enzymic digestion of foods prepares them for use by our body. Bacterial decomposition makes them unfit for use by our body. The first process gives us nutriments; the second gives us poisons.

William Duffy is the author of Sugar Blues, from which this article has been adapted

This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2003