Real or fake, back away from sugar this holiday season

‘Tis the season for sweet treats to emerge from almost everywhere. Often, we are so caught up in the compulsion of tasting such sweet decadence that we may not consider what could be lurking in our treats.

Most of us are aware that sugar is not good for our teeth or our general health. However, few folks truly understand why sugar is not good for us.

Furthermore, the masterful deception provided by the food industry has left the public a confused mess when it comes to sugar substitutes. Sugar is bad, so sweeteners like Splenda, Equal, Truvia and Sweet’N Low are good, right? Wrong.

In my clinic, I explain to my patients why artificial sweeteners are harmful. With my soon-to-be-6-year-old twins, I much less diplomatically refer to them as poison. 

Before we take a hard look at the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners, let’s have a lesson on why sugar is not good for us. Sugar is highly addictive as it releases dopamine, stimulating the reward center of the brain.

Liking the feeling of being rewarded, we want MORE sugar. More sugar leads to something called insulin resistance, which means that the body’s ability to assimilate sugar appropriately leads to conditions like fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Evidence also indicates that excessive intake of sugar makes us more vulnerable to cancer. Sugar intake can also lead to an overgrowth of a naturally occurring fungus in our bodies called candida. Candida overgrowth leads to obscure symptoms like depression, fatigue, generalized pain, foggy thinking, acne and more.

Gosh. After that oversimplified description of why sugar is bad for us, it is hard believe that there could actually be something worse than sugar to ingest.

Not only are artificial sweeteners derived in a laboratory, rendering them unrecognizable by the human body as something that could be digested well, they prepare our bodies to be non-accepting of real food that does have digestible and critical nutrients to achieve strong mental, physical and emotional health.

Even more terrifying are the unknown long-term consequences of ingesting these relatively newly developed chemical compounds.

Furthermore, consumers are tricked into believing artificial sweeteners are healthier than sugar. That is simply false. Consumption of artificial sweeteners has been associated with the following findings in respectable research studies:

■ People who drink 21 diet drinks a week are TWICE as likely to become overweight or obese than those who do not drink diet sodas.

■ Daily consumption of diet drinks is associated with a 36 percent greater risk for metabolic syndrome (a combination of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity) and a 67 percent increased risk of Type 2 diabetes alone.

■ Artificial sweeteners are extremely addictive in their own right. Animal studies using rats demonstrate that given the choice between cocaine and the artificial sweetener saccharine, most rats chose saccharine. 

So what is the answer?

It may help to understand why nature provides the sweet flavor naturally in foods. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the sweet flavor is associated with the nourishing and nurturing qualities of the Earth element, which correlates with the digestive system.

When we are emotionally vulnerable, the sweet flavor helps us to feel nourished and comforted. When our digestive systems are compromised, the sweet flavor (when ingested in the right form) strengthens the digestive system. The sweet flavor, naturally found in foods like rice, sweet potato, oats and squashes, strengthens the digestive function.

When our digestion function is dampened by worrying, stress and unhealthy foods, the body craves sweets because it is starving from not assimilating nutrients properly. 

Unfortunately for many of us, we confuse our bodies’ request for sweet-natured foods provided by nature for harmful sugars or artificial sweeteners.

Before mindlessly gulping down a sweet treat, take a minute to assess what you may really be wanting. Your body may truly be asking for water, rest or something to help you fulfill other desires. Then, give your body what it wants and it will likely release the sugar craving. 

When you do choose to enjoy a sugary treat (I suggest avoiding artificial sweeteners altogether), ameliorate the side effects by combining it with a good source of protein and/or naturally occurring fats found in foods such as nuts, meat or eggs; also plan on getting more exercise before and after ingesting the sugar. 

Our bodies have the amazing ability to heal. Most health problems mentioned in this article can be reversed. It’s time to take back your health.

A century ago, the average person ingested 10 pounds of sugar a year. Now, the average person eats his or her body weight in sugar a year.

Read labels and become educated on multiple names for both sugar and artificial sweeteners and then avoid them like the plague.

Coming off sugar and its poisonous substitutes can induce withdrawal side effects similar to coming off other drug addictions.

It is important to seek professional guidance to support you physically and emotionally as you beat a possible sugar addiction and reverse the toll sugar has taken on you mentally, emotionally and physically.

Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and a licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine.

Learn more at, or call Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions at 256-8449.


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