Sugar: A Survival Guide

“Sugar, ah honey, honey; You are my candy girl.” -The Archies


The call goes out and we respond with Pavlovian ardor.

As we are genetically wired to desire and crave sweet substances, it is no wonder that such descriptive adjectives are the lexicon we use to describe those closest to us. And these are the monikers that please our ears and tickle our fancy most, when likewise turned upon us

But when it comes to diet, those terms of affection can become terms of affliction.

In 1822, the average American consumed just over 6 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes over 100 pounds of added sugars per year, or roughly a ¼ pounder every single day that is composed completely of sugar. Within a month, we eat more sugar than our recent forebears did in a year. In less than 200 years, the average person in the US (and in most Western nations), has increased their consumption of added sugars by roughly 1,700%!

Copyright Stephen Guyenet (2012)

However, this is not new news. Prof. John Yudkin was warning us of the dangers of the overconsumption highly refined carbohydrates like sugar over fifty years ago. Yet, we bit the saturated fat switch and bait. Thus, we find ourselves fretting and fressing with the languor of a post sugar high; all the while promising ourselves improved dietary discretion sine die.

The current modern Western diet with its high sugar content has been documented to increases the risk of weight gain, excess body weight, obesity; type 2 diabetes mellitus, higher serum triglycerides, high blood cholesterol, higher blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, cancer, and dental caries.

In simpler terms, our current peptic pathway leaves us overfed, but undernourished; addicted and tasteless. This is because of the use of processed and ultra-processed foods. It is not from categories of real foods like grass-fed pastured beef, fermented cheeses, ancient grains freshly baked breads, and the like. Chefs crafting foods and home cooks sourcing real ingredients simply do not construct meals this way. Over 75% of all the sugar and high fructose corn syrup produced in 2014 was used by the food industry.

Ultra-processed foods can be roughly defined as “formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavours, colours, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product. The most common ultra-processed foods (are) breads; soft drinks, fruit drinks and milk-based drinks; cakes, cookies and pies; salty snacks; frozen and shelf-stable plates; pizza and breakfast cereals.”

The antidote to such hidden dangers is meticulous sourcing:

  • Read the labels. Look for added sugars and oils. Don’t be fooled by the listing of added sugars individually to place them further down the ingredient list. For example, you may see the sugars listed as “sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose.” The more individual types of sugar listed, the higher the added sugars, no matter where they are on the ingredient list.

Always ask yourself these three questions:

  • How is it bred? (Is it natural, GMO, farm raised, wild harvested, etc.)
  • How was it fed? (Is it naturally grown, organically produced, a product of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), etc.)
  • Where was it led? (If it was processed, how was it processed, etc.)

An ounce of prevention in this scenario is infinitely more delicious and may literally save your arse!



Martínez Steele, E., Baraldi, L. G., da Costa Louzada, M. L., Moubarac, J.-C., Mozaffarian, D., & Monteiro, C. A. (2016). Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ OPen, 6:3 e009892. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009892.

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