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How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

podcast cover art: How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

Season 2 of the Science of Self-Healing Podcast has a NEW host! Please welcome Dr. James Odell, the Medical and Executive Director for BRMI, as well as a practicing naturopathic doctor for over 35 years.

 In this important episode, Dr. James Odell delves into the metabolic havoc that sugar wreaks on our bodies. 

You'll learn how sugar is concealed in many of today's processed foods, and how it directly contributes to modern health issues. Dr. Odell will explain the harmful effects of sugar on our physiology, advise on how much sugar consumption is too much, and provide tips for reducing your sugar intake. 

This is an episode you won't want to miss, as Dr. Odell shares critical insights into sugar's role in our health and wellbeing.

Transcript: How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Science of Self-Healing podcast. For health and wellness knowledge from a different perspective. Produced by the Bioregulatory Medicine Institute, also known as BRMI. We are your source for unparalleled information about how you can naturally support your body's ability to regulate, adapt, regenerate, and self-heal. I'm your host, Dr. James Odell, the medical and executive director for BRMI, as well as a practicing naturopathic doctor for over 35 years. And remember, this podcast is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the direct care of a qualified health professional who oversees and provides unique and individual care. The information here is to broaden our different perspectives and should not be construed as medical advice or treatment. Let's get started.

In today's podcast, I'll discuss the history of sugar and its infiltration into the modern diet, which coincides with an epidemic rise in modern diseases. I'll also discuss the truth about sugar's toxic effects and offer some guidance and practical steps to limit sugar intake so that you can reclaim your health and potentially add years to your life. 

The modern diseases implicated by excess sugar intake I'm referring to include obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, dental cavities, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, cognitive decline – that's including dementia, hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, systemic inflammation, and even cancer. You may have heard how sugar feeds cancer cells. 

Our focus today will concentrate on added sugars, sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared, such as cane and especially high fructose corn syrup. For simplicity, I will use the terms sugars and added sugars interchangeably. 

So to understand sugar's role in these modern diseases requires actually a look back at how it became so prevalent in our diet. 

Therefore, let's begin with the history of sugar's introduction worldwide. 

In the last podcast, I introduced honey and other honeybee products and explained the benefits of small consumption of honey daily for most individuals, honey being the oldest source of sugar. 

The use of sugar from sugarcane in diets originated about 10,000 years ago in places like New Guinea, where it was cultivated alongside bananas and yams. 

From there, it spread to China and India and Europe and the European colonization of the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s increased sugar production. 

By the 1700s, sugar had become a major international commodity, but it was still largely reserved for the wealthy due to its high cost. 

That changed in the 1800s and sugar became abundant and thus more affordable and accessible to the lower and middle classes. During the 1800s, sugarcane plantations expanded in the Caribbean and Brazil, and consumption of it increased as sugar was added to a variety of foods and beverages. 

Technological advancements in the 1900s made processed foods and sugary snacks affordable and easily available. Combined with the fact that processed foods have a much longer shelf life, sugar intake across all demographics increased. 

Now let's look at the connection between sugar's availability and the epidemic of disease that has followed. 

As sugar consumption surged in the late 1800s and 1900s, physicians began observing significant increases in diabetes, obesity, and other previously uncommon health issues. Diabetes, once a rarity only seen in large cities during the mid 1800s, started to become more common when more sugar was in the food. In addition, doctors worldwide began linking sugar to weight gain and diabetes. By the mid 1920s, diabetes was in epidemic proportions. 

But then in the 1930s, nutritionists started blaming fat, not sugar on obesity, perpetuating the sugars industry's promotion of consumption. I think the sugar industry probably paid them off. 

Furthering this idea, by the 1960s, the sugar research foundation sponsored research that suggested that fat, not sugar, was a contributor to heart disease. However, the tides began to change again in the mid 1970s when Time magazine published an article titled, The Bitter Truth About Sugar, linking sugar to obesity and diabetes and promoting a decline in sugar consumption. This was the first time many people had heard it was sugar and not fat. But I remember the low fat propaganda back in the seventies, sixties and seventies. 

In 1985, the United States Department of Agriculture supported the fact that sugar could indeed cause diabetes and heart disease in some individuals, even with modest consumption. 

A consensus flip flop again occurred in 1986, when the FDA countered by stating that there was no conclusive evidence or harm from sugar consumption levels, leading to a resurgence in sugar intake. To add to the confusion, it stopped short of deeming this evidence definitive. Thus, there was a lack of consensus on recommending intake of sugar for a healthy diet. 

These findings, along with the report by the FDA in 1986, gave many health conscious individuals a pass to consume sugar and low fat treats such as cookies and such. 

Guidelines during the 1980s and 1990s stated that fat was the thing to avoid, and popular women's magazines touted sugar as a low fat candy or a safe diet food. 

No wonder there's been so much confusion about whether sugar is a harmless additive or whether it is at the root of many lifestyle diseases. 

Today, we're finally realizing the potential detrimental effects of consuming too much sugar is even far wider than physicians had realized. This includes gout, heart disease, cognitive decline, systemic inflammation, and even cancer. 

In 2004, researchers from the World Health Organization on Cancer highlighted the association between obesity, diabetes, and cancer throughout extensive population studies. The connection was widely acknowledged and is not considered to be controversial. Individuals with obesity or diabetes have a higher likelihood of developing cancer compared to those without these conditions. Individuals with metabolic syndrome are at a greater risk for cancer than those without it. 

So reducing or eliminating sugar may be one of the most important lifestyle choices for improving your physical and mental health, both physical and mental

So let's briefly talk about the confusion around sugar, and I'll try to work to convince you to reduce your sugar intake. 

This confusion occurs because we don't always know when we're consuming sugar. It's hidden. It's often hidden in foods. Many restaurants and grocery stores prepare seafood, meat, soups, and vegetables with ingredients that contain hidden sugars. Most of us expect sodas, cookies, and candy to have a lot of sugar, but we don't necessarily expect it to be in soup and salad dressings and condiments. And we don't always realize just how much sugar we're consuming. 

Studying the effects of sugar is complex. Individuals who consume less sugar often lead healthier lifestyles overall, engaging in more exercise and consuming better quality foods. 

Genes also play a role in diabetes and obesity, of course, which means that some people will respond differently to sugar consumption. 

Hormones also play a role in how fat is metabolized from fat cells as well as carbohydrates. So age and gender may come into play, and it may affect people differently. 

Sugar and fat are often found together in food. It's not always easy to tell whether the fat or the sugar, or the combination of the two in some cake or candy is causing the health issue. But in general, when they advocated low fat diets, this caused a problem, just like they advocated margarine over butter. This caused a problem because a lot of people developed fatty acid deficiencies when it was really sugar that was the culprit. 

So what evidence is there that sugar hurts our health? 

Well, type II diabetes was almost non-existent before the consumption of sugar. 

A study “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage and Incident Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis” published in the Diabetes Care Journal in 2010 analyzed data from multiple studies and found a significant association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The study “Added Sugar Intake and cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults” published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 suggested that higher consumption of added sugars increased the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among adults in the United States. 

Studies of cultures that transition from the natural diet to western diets high in sugar, not saturated fats, paint a clear picture of the detrimental effects of sugar. Groups of people, such as some of the Native American tribes who had quickly assimilated into the western culture, quickly went from lean to overweight and obese as soon as they adopted the American diet high in sugar. 

Laboratory animals don't fare well with refined sugar. They experience high blood sugar levels and triglycerides and become diabetic and die at an early age. 

So now that we're aware of that, current research indicates that excess intake of sugar is not healthy. Let's talk about what sugar physiologically does to our health. 

First off, sugar has no nutritional value. Calories from sugar are empty calories. You need vitamins to process it, and this consumes your vital nutrients. It consumes your vitamins and minerals. This is why it's called junk food, because it doesn't add any nutritional value to your diet. If a normal weight person consumes a lot of their caloric intake through sugar laden foods, they most likely consume empty calories and likely are not getting the nutrients that they need. 

Sugar also is highly addictive. It induces the same reward center response in the brain as does cocaine, heroin, alcohol, and nicotine. Studies on rats and monkeys indicate that it is even more addictive than cocaine and possibly heroin. 

Next, sugar is inflammatory and increases uric acid levels, which can cause arthritis and gout. When uric acid is abundant in the bloodstream, it can form crystals in the joints, leading to inflammation and severe pain characteristic of gout. 

Its consumption has widely been known to cause tooth decay and cavities. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar producing acids that could erode the tooth enamel and lead to dental decay. This causes the oral microbiome to become imbalanced. 

Some of the bigger issues with sugar include, of course, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, and type II diabetes. Cane sugar is made up of a 50 50 blend of glucose and fructose. Even high fructose corn syrup is close to this ratio, while the glucose portion is absorbed into the bloodstream and metabolized by every cell in the body for energy with the help of insulin, the fructose is metabolized by the liver and does not rely on insulin. Fructose interferes with hormone levels related to insulin and causes inflammation. It creates harmful compounds that promote inflammation and metabolic stresses in the body. Sugar is being implicated in heart disease as well. In animal studies feeding animals, excessive amounts of fructose or sugar leads to the conversion of fructose to fat.

Other potential effects of sugar include the suppression of the hormone ghrelin, which communicates hunger signals to the brain, disrupting the typical transportation and signaling of the hormone leptin, which also contributes to the sensation of fullness, diminishing dopamine, signaling in the brain reward center, reducing the enjoyment derived from food and prompting individuals to consume more. All this negatively impacts hormones. 

Lastly, but not least, sugar promotes cancer and tumor growth. 

However, when sugar is reduced, beneficial effects have been observed. 

So you're probably wondering how much added sugar is okay to consume. Of course, this is an individual thing. Some people can tolerate more sugar, some people can tolerate less. The truth is that scientists really don't know how much added sugar is too much. But it's safe to say that least is best, the least is best, or the less is best. However, reducing sugar below 5%, roughly about 25 grams, that's about six teaspoons per day, would be a good start. But if you can get by without sugar, I mean, that's, that's also a really good thing to do here. 

So this is what I recommend. 

  • Start small by limiting processed foods. 

  • Know the names of the ingredients that often mean added sugar. Be sure to read labels carefully because sugar is hidden in everything. 

  • Beware of the following: high fructose corn syrup dextrose maltose sucrose, fructose glucose, agave nectar, cane juice, rye syrup, fruit juice concentrates, barley malt, evaporated cane juice and maltodextrin. 

  • Also, you may want to experiment and make your own nut butters or nut milks and choose deli meats that are free of sugars and additives. 

  • Substitute small amounts of raw honey may be used in tea or beverages. 

  • Reduce your sugar intake much more seriously, if you have signs of insulin resistance and or metabolic syndrome. These can include elevated blood sugar, increased insulin levels, increased hunger, fatigue, increased weight gain, especially around the middle, difficulty losing weight, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides or low HDL cholesterol levels, inflammation, increased uric acid levels, darkened skin patches, skin tags under the armpits, and numerous other symptoms of metabolic chaos. 

  • Read labels for beverages, yogurt, cereal, and other condiments for added sugar and try not to exceed that 25 grams a day. 

  • Know that foods labeled naturally and organically may still have added sugar and that fat and fat free products often have added sugar. 

  • Understand that sugar is addictive, so substituting non sweet foods may work best for you and your family. 

  • Most people can enjoy, usually their favorite foods or treats that contain some sugar if they do it in moderation and notice how they feel both when they have sugar, and when they don't. 

  • Don't stop eating fruit. Fruit is good for you, and it's quite different from sugar since it has valuable nutrients, enzymes and the like. But don't overdo this either. 

  • If you're worried that you have metabolic issues, you can check your health with a hemoglobin A1C test. This is a valuable tool for assessing your overall health and managing conditions like diabetes. This test measures average levels of your sugar in your blood over the past two to three months. When you consume too much sugar, it can cause your red blood cells to become sticky or aggregate, and they become coated with excess sugar. The A1C test provides a snapshot of this long term blood sugar control. An A1C of 6.5% or higher usually indicates diabetes. 

So here are a few supplements that may help reduce sugar cravings and support overall health. 

  • We have gymnema sylvestre. It's an herb traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to support healthy blood sugar levels. Research shows or suggests that this may help reduce sugar cravings by blocking the taste of sweetness in the mouth. 

  • Also very important are B vitamins, especially B1 or thiamine. It's important for glucose metabolism and the transport of glucose into the central nervous system that is the brain. 

  • Chromium is also a mineral that plays a role in regulating blood glucose levels. Some studies suggest that chromium supplementation may help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce sugar cravings. 

  • Magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased sugar cravings and insulin resistance, so supplementing with magnesium can also help reduce sugar cravings and support overall metabolic health.

  • L-carnitine is an amino acid that plays a role in energy metabolism. Some studies suggest that L-carnitine supplementation may help reduce sugar cravings and improve insulin sensitivity. 

  • Also, fiber can help slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and promote feelings of fullness, which may help to reduce sugar cravings. Adding a fiber supplement like chia seeds to your diet to support satiety and digestive health is a good idea. 

So here are some concluding thoughts. 

You want to, of course, limit added sugar and focus on whole foods, and this is overall supportive for your well being in so many ways which are too numerous really to count. 

Know what you eat contributes to how you look, how you feel and how you function and your overall health. The bottom line is what you consume really matters to your health, and it is generally in your control.

Cutting back on added sugar and opting for whole foods can do wonders for your overall health. 

While it is best to avoid sugar as much as possible. It's okay to enjoy treats occasionally, for example, having a small piece of birthday cake every once in a while, or some barbecue sauce at a cookout. It's not going to cause most people problems. 

Simply just be aware how much total sugar you're consuming, and remember, it's in many surprising hidden places.

Well, this about wraps it up for this podcast. I trust this knowledge will empower you on your journey towards a healthier lifestyle filled with vitality and well-being, avoiding the pitfalls of modern disease. Until next time, be well.

Thank you for your time today, and remember that this podcast is made possible by the Bioregulatory Medicine Institute, also known as BRMI, a nonprofit, global, non political, non commercial institute to promote the science and art of bioregulatory medicine. We extend our gratitude to each and every one of you for listening today, and if you haven't already, make sure to visit us at A treasure trove of invaluable information awaits you there. Connect with us across various social media platforms as well. Come and become a member of our thriving tribe. If you've enjoyed today's episode, we invite you to show your support by rating us, leaving us a review, or sharing the podcast within your circle. Our podcast and mission flourish through sharing, and your participation means the world to us. Our organization is sustained by donations, each of which is tax deductible and fuels projects like this. Visit our website,, to contribute or simply to explore the wealth of uncensored and impartial information we offer. No contribution is too small. In just two weeks, we'll be back delving into another captivating topic. Until then, we thank you once again for listening. May wellness and wisdom be your path. Be well.


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