The Problem with Sugar – The Devil is in the Refinement

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The Problem with Sugar – The Devil is in the Refinement

Eating too much sugar is only part of the problem.

The average American is consuming about 150 lbs of refined sugar each year, plus an additional estimated 20 lbs a year in corn syrup. Virtually every health article you read tells of the danger of over-consumption of sugar. “Too much sugar”, they warn, leads to diabetes, heart disease, cancer. We have spent so much collective energy debating the issue of over consumption that we may have missed part of the real issue. So I am just going to say it, eating too much sugar is only part of the problem. The other part of the store is how the refining process makes any amount of refined sugar toxic to the body.

You are not eating sugar because you want nutrients, so if it isn’t adding vitamins and minerals who cares, right?…you eat your veggies. There is a lot of talk of refined foods being bad, but why is it such a problem? The problem lies in what the sugar refining process does and how our body reacts to the refined byproduct. Refined foods are worse than “empty calories”.

sugar mill

Sugar Refining Process

I think of my childhood and the C&H Sugar commercials with their sweeping landscape shots and lovely Hawaiian lady singing about “Pure can sugar from Hawaii”. The picturesque scene of fields of sugar cane, gently swaying in the breeze leads you to think of sugar as wholesome and natural. Really, that was all just good advertising. What you are being sold occurs nowhere in nature. The sugar on your grocery store shelf is the product of a lab and comes from a factory, not a field.

The sugar refinement process involves super-heating the cane juice. Chemicals and agents are introduced and by the time the process is complete all nutrients and natural enzymes have been destroyed. Our bodies are designed to eat organic “living food”. As foods are exposed to high heat and chemicals their organic components, the enzymes and nutrients required to digest the food, are killed off.

“During refinement, the sugarcane juice is pressed from the sugar cane and boiled at high temperatures. The boiling destroys the enzymes and many of the nutrients. The juice is then separated into a sugar stream and a molasses stream.  Most of the minerals from the sugar cane go into the molasses, leaving the sugar stream virtually void of nutrients. To further refine it (removing any remaining nutrients), the sugar stream is then crystallized through evaporation.  White sugar is usually further processed with phosphoric acid, formic acid, sulphur dioxide, preservatives, flocculants, surfactants (lard is frequently used as a defoamer), bleaching agents, and viscosity modifiers.” 1

Refined foods are not just rendered devoid of nutritional value, they become un-digestible. That which you consume and cannot digest becomes toxic to the body. This is the crux of the problem with all highly refined food products, including sugar, they are dead foods and they harm your body. Even worse, they imbalance the bodies ability to digest any other foods, leaving half digested foods to rot in your system. In my mind I sort of think of this as trying to eat plastic. If it is not living, it is not food and our body cannot digest it.


Health Impact of Refined Sugar

Foods found in nature come stock with the necessary minerals and enzymes to enable the body to digest them. When foods are refined, the natural components are broken down, sterilized and decomposed. Instead of consuming something that nature intended, we have created a frankensteined product that the body is not equipped to digest.

Mineral depletion

Sugar is worse than nothing because it drains and leaches the body of precious vitamins and minerals through the demand its digestion, detoxification and elimination makes upon one’s entire system. 2William Dufty, “Sugar Blues”

Refined sugar leaches the body of calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc as your body attempts to metabolize a compound that has been robbed of the nutrients. In fact, it is the leaching of calcium from the body that has linked sugar to tooth decay. Consider though, that it is not just your teeth that we being leached, the process of degeneration occurs throughout the entire body.

B vitamins, removed during the refining process of sugars and carbohydrates, are needed for the metabolism of these foods.  When you eat refined or processed foods, your body must use reserve vitamins, or vitamins from other foods, to digest these processed foods. 3

Enzyme Disruption

Refined sugar actually changes the shape of our digestive enzymes, rendering them incapable of functioning normally. The result is that the body is unable to digest the other foods consumed. Undigested food rots in our bodies4×1253.pdf. This fermentation of undigested foods in our bodies is toxic and leads to weight gain, aging, disease and  health degeneration on a wide scale.

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”.[…] What good is it if the body is fed protein, only to have it putrefy in the gastrointestinal canal? Carbohydrates that ferment in the digestive tract are converted into alcohol and acetic acid, not digestible monosaccharides.

Refined sugar thickens the blood, starving the body of circulation. Umanaged glucose levels have also been found to cause a thickening of vessel walls, further leaching the blood supply to the fine capillaries5 Sugar kills the intestinal bacteria which produces critical Vitamin B, disrupting glutamic acid production critical to brain function6 result is brain dysfunction  sleepiness, slow thinking, short-term memory impairment. Studies now implicate refined sugar in immune system suppression, making us more vulnerable to disease and illness. 7

Carbohydrates need to contain vitamins and minerals to aid in their proper digestion and metabolism.  Refined sugar is stripped of these valuable nutrients. Incomplete carbohydrate metabolism results in the formation of ‘toxic metabolite’ such as pyruvic acid and abnormal sugars containing five carbon atoms. Pyruvic acid accumulates in the brain and nervous system and the abnormal sugars in the red blood cells. 8William Dufty, “Sugar Blues”

Drug-Like and Addictive

We all know that Sugar acts like a drug in the body, which is why we all like it so much! Refined sugar is super-concentrated, thus, has an even more powerful drug-like effect. With Sucrose levels that are way above what nature intended, refined sugar becomes a hyper-addictive product. Studies have shown refined sugar to be as addictive as a narcotic. 9 10

Sugars are refined by taking a natural food, which contains a high percentage of sugar, and then removing all elements of that food until only the sugar remains. 11

Moreover, Sugar being a stimulant means that it stimulates everything, including harmful things in the body, yeast, Candida, bad bacteria and there is evidence to show that it even stimulates cancer growth. 12 13 When you are sick, consumption of sugar is going to strengthen the very thing that is harming you.



Sugar Beets

Adding to the problems with refined sugar is that Granulated white sugar is not “pure” Cane Sugar. More than 50% of of what is labelled as “Sugar” is derived from sugar beets. More than 90% of sugar beet crops grown in the United States are genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Sugar cane and beets are subjected to the same refining processes and produce identical products. In the repeated processes of washing, boiling, centrifuging, filtering and drying, nearly all of the plant’s nutritional elements are lost. What remains in the raw sugar product is 95% sucrose along with nutritionally insignificant minerals. 14

I will not go into detail about GMOs in this article, but I will say that GMO’s are foods that do not occur in nature. Making GMOs is not selective breeding, it is not hybridizing, it is not growing a bigger, tastier plant. GMOs are created in a lab by randomly splicing genetic materials into the plant’s DNA. This modification typically serves two purposes, 1) Include pesticides in the plant to kill the bugs that feed upon it, or  2) To make the plant resistant to pesticide sprays which should kill them. Read that again, they are putting PESTICIDE INTO THE PLANTS. Yes, you are eating pesticide.

GMOs do not improve the food, they do not make it healthier, they do not increase productivity, they do not increase yield. They serve only to help chemical companies sell more product. The scariest part is that there is no government oversight on the safety of these foods.The government’s stance is that the manufacturers need to ensure the safety of their own products, while the GMO manufacturers maintain that it is the government’s job to ensure public safety. Thus, no one is ensuring the safety of these products.

We do not know the risks of such fundamental tampering with a plant’s genetic structure. There is no long term evidence to tell us what will be the result to the environment or to public health. We do know that there are host of known risks to add to the mysterious list of unknown risks.

The risks of GM crops are not limited just to its DNA or the protein produced by the inserted gene. The process of creating a GM plant causes massive collateral damage in the DNA—approximately 2-4% of the DNA is different (mutated) compared to its parent. This can result in increased or new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and anti-nutrients.15

GMOs hit the market shelves with only a few weeks or months of testing. The pharmaceutical industry has to undergo years of testing before a new drug can come on the market, yet even with more rigorous oversight the pharmaceutical industry saw over 1700 drugs recalled in 2009 alone.16

We have seen an unprecedented rise in illness and decline in health in the past 15 years, the same period that GMOs began wide-scale distribution. It is difficult to point to a single factor as the blame for this, there is simply not enough evidence, which is the problem. Certainly a new, untested product warrants additional scrutiny. If we demand it for pharmaceuticals it stands to reason that we should demand the same oversight in our food system.

Refined sugar is one of the most heavily refined and genetically modified products on the market. If you have any concerns about the safety of GMOs, refined sugar is the very first product you should consider cutting out.

If you would like to read a little more about the risks and concerns of GMO foods, here are a couple of articles on the topic:

The Truth about Genetically Modified Foods and it’s Not Pretty

Decade-Long Feeding Study Reveals Significant Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods

Data trends show correlation between increase in organ disease and GMOs


Sugarcane field on fire

Environmental Concerns

Another problem with granulated white eugar is the sugar cane production methods. Sugar cane is not grown using environmentally sounds growing practices. A large amount of chemicals are used in the growth of the cane, which absorbs into the crop and contaminates the local water supplies. The fields are burned at the end of each season. The fumes contaminate the local air quality and the burned matter is dumped into the local water supply. Living in Hawaii, this is a particular concern.


For Vegans, granulated white sugar is an issue because the use of bone char (burned animal bones) and lard in the manufacturing process.

If you thought that brown sugar, “Raw” sugar or “evaporated cane juice” healthier options, I am sorry to have to disappoint you. All of these products are processed in the same way and start with a base of refined white sugar with varying amounts of the molasses added back in. “Evaporated Cane Juice” that you will often see on nutrition labels is really just refined sugar with a different name. The exception to this is Sucanat or Rapadura, which has minimal processing.


Disregard everything I have just written, let’s pretend I never wrote any of this. Even if you did not care at all about the health consequences, you should ditch your Granulated White Sugar because it doesn’t taste as good. Refined sugar provides sweetness, but so do a lot of better tasting products, healthier products. So why not kick refined sugar to the curb for a tastier alternative?

The Alternative – Raw, Natural Sugars

Okay, now let’s talk about how Sugar, natural sugar, is not the devil. Natural sweeteners can be a great tasting way to enjoy some of the sweetness that nature has proffered without causing harming your body. The key is to consume sugars in their natural, unrefined form. Natural sugars contain the vitamins and minerals that were built into the package naturally to aid in its digestion.

Refined sugar has lost its minerals and will pick up minerals right out of the tooth…you can take a freshly extracted tooth and soak it in raw sugar solution, and it will have no effect. You soak it in the refined sugar and you will eat it full of holes. Royal Lee 17

Measurement of “healthiness” of sugars is hard to do. One indicator we have is the Glycemic Index. Natural sugars typically have a lower Glycemic Index and lower Glycemic Load. Glycemic Index 18 is a measure of how quickly the sugar is processed by the body by measuring how quickly the blood sugar level rises after the food is consumed. The higher the GI, the greater the spike in blood sugar. You will notice that overall, natural, unprocessed sugars tend to be lower in GI than their refined counterparts. The GI index is not the only factor, but it does provide some comparative insight.

Glycemic Index
Sugar Glycemic Index
Refined White Sugar 80
Sugar Cane Juice 43
Processed Honey 75
Raw Honey 30
High Fructose Corn Syrup 87
Fructose: Natural, found in fruit 20
Coconut Sugar 40
Maple Syrup 54












Granulated Sugar Alternatives

You can read more about sugar alternatives in my Overview of Alternative Sweeteners.

Coconut Sugar/Palm Sugar

Raw Honey

Sucanat/Rapadura/Organic Whole Cane Sugar


Maple Syrup

Related links to Granulated Cane Sugar

Are you ready to read more on the exciting topic of Sugar? Here are some articles that I felt were helpful and informative.

Sugar Facts and Myths: Why Sugar is Bad for You – Mother Earth News

This article is a good read on the important distinctions of Evaporated Cane Juice.

I really like this article  extracted from William Duffy’s book, “Sugar Blues” for a nice overview of the problems with refined sugar and their interactions in the body.

This article has a good breakdown of natural sweeteners.

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