My objective in this article is to convince each of you of the toxicity of sweets in your diet.

Dr. Scott Saunders

Dr. Scott Saunders

As the late Jack LaLanne, who was fit and active into his late 90s and hadn’t eaten processed sugar in more than 80 years, said, “If it tastes good, spit it out!”

We are told about “moderation in all things,” but what if something is damaging to your cells and causes aging and disease? How much cyanide should we take in every day? How about arsenic, lead or mercury? What is the limit? What if they tasted really good, or made us feel good? Would we then consume these toxins until they caused disease or death? Yet, this is exactly how we view sweet things.

The reason I take this position is because I deal every day with the toxic effects of sweeteners in the diet. People who eat sweets come to me for treatment of preventable diseases. As the consumption increases, so does disease.

“Addict” is how many of my patients describe themselves — in one study, rats preferred sugar and saccharine to cocaine (Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 May 27. 2013). Perhaps the description fits!


In 1970, the average person ate around 30 pounds of sugar per year. However, today the average American eats his weight in sugar every year. This is because sugar is now added to everything. There are no longer sweet foods and salty foods — now even the “salty” foods are filled with sugar. The taste of sweet gets people coming back for more. Sugar sells! But it isn’t healthy, even in small amounts.

The toxicity of sugar is similar to alcohol. When a person drinks alcohol, it goes to the liver and always causes damage. Any chemical that causes damage to cells in the body is called a toxin, or poison. There is no lower limit; every drop is toxic. People continue to drink and don’t notice the toxic effects because the liver regenerates rather quickly. Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, happens only when the amount of alcohol consumed exceeds the ability for the liver to detoxify it.

It’s easy for us to understand that alcohol is a toxin because we all know alcoholics, and know the damage it can cause. What is less-understood is that sugar is in the same position. It’s just as addictive, and every little bit of sugar is toxic to the body. We don’t notice small amounts because the damage is minute; nevertheless, it is damaging. When the body uses sugar for energy, it causes free-radicals that bring inflammation.

As we continue to eat sugar, or eat more of it, we may begin to notice some of the toxic effects:

» Inflammation
» Pain
» Hypertension
» Elevated cholesterol
» Gout
» Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
» Aging
» Diabetes
» Neuropathy (nerve damage)
» Metabolic syndrome
» Obesity
» Yeast (Candida)
» Caries
» Arthritis
» Nephropathy (kidney failure)
» Retinopathy (blindness)

If we start thinking about it, we may know people who have had amputations of feet, have gone blind or are on dialysis because of eating sugar. These diseases were considered by the ancients to be the diseases of kings — only royalty could get enough sugar to cause gout or diabetes; peasants didn’t have enough money to buy such things. Now, just the opposite is true. Everyone can afford sweets — in fact, they are cheaper than real food — so those who have less money are more likely to be stricken with disease.

In using the word “sugar,” it should be clear that I mean all natural sweeteners, including but not limited to:

» Sucrose, or white sugar, table sugar, brown sugar, and all cane and beet sugar derivatives
» Honey
» Molasses
» Maple syrup
» Corn syrup, including high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or corn sweetener
» Fructose
» Glucose
» Brown rice syrup
» Tapioca syrup

There are so many, I won’t name them all, but you get the idea. In spite of being “natural,” these still cause problems in the body for the reasons I’ll discuss later.

Artificial Sweeteners

Because people started worrying about calories, we were told that we could imbibe non-caloric sweeteners with impunity and not get the ill effects of all those calories from the sugars above. They were wrong!

An eight-year study by Sharon Fowler, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio showed, again, that diet drinks cause more weight gain than sugar.

“What didn’t surprise us was that total soft drink use was linked to overweight and obesity,” Fowler tells WebMD. “What was surprising was when we looked at people only drinking diet soft drinks, their risk of obesity was even higher.”

For regular soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was:

» 26 percent for up to a half-can each day
» 30.4 percent for a half-can to one can each day
» 32.8 percent for one to two cans each day
» 47.2 percent for more than two cans each day

For diet soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was:

» 36.5 percent for up to a half-can each day
» 37.5 percent for a half-can to one can each day
» 54.5 percent for one to two cans each day
» 57.1 percent for more than two cans each day

For each can of diet soft drink consumed each day, a person’s risk of obesity went up 41 percent.

We will discuss why this is below. It’s not a mystery. Cattle ranchers know this well. Just prior to slaughter, they fatten-up their cattle with neotame (a more potent form of aspartame). Though it has no calories, it causes the cattle to put on much more fat, bringing in a higher price.

Natural Sweets

We think we may get off of the processed sugar and chemical sweeteners, but still have natural sweets such as fruit or juice. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but all sweet things increase the blood sugar and have effects on insulin, adrenal hormones and weight gain.

I am suggesting that everything you’ve been told about “natural” sweeteners isn’t true. We are told that Stevia, for example, is good for you. Yes, it’s natural. Yes, it’s a plant extract. Yes, it doesn’t have calories. In spite of all this, however, it still has the ill effects of all things sweet. Even fruit and juice cause obesity. Let me explain:

A 22-year-old woman who had a hormone abnormality came in because she was gaining weight on a 1,000-calorie-per-day diet. I didn’t believe it, so I had her write down everything she ate for two weeks. When she returned, her record showed she was absolutely correct — she had both gained weight and was eating only 1,000 calories per day. However, we found that she was eating lots of fruit between her small meals, which was keeping her insulin levels high and making her hold on to fat. Once she gave up the fruit, she started losing weight.

Even natural sweets will make you put on fat. This happens because the hormone insulin tells your cells to burn only sugar, not fat. Those people who are “insulin resistant” often need to give up anything that tastes sweet. The reason for this is because there are taste buds in your intestines that detect sweetness and release insulin into your blood.

Hormones Make You Fat!

Your metabolism is controlled by hormones. This is why you could have two people eating exactly the same things and one gets fatter while the other gets thinner. How could that be if “counting calories” worked? Well, take a look around. Obesity is rampant, and I would like to tell you why. It’s the hormones — primarily insulin and cortisol.

In other words, all these years we have been counting calories and getting fatter for a reason. We were told that fat has nine calories per gram, and sugar only four, so it would make sense that we should eat more sugar and less fat. So, as people listened to this and applied it, they became fatter and fatter. All the doctors and nutrition experts are scratching their heads and wondering, “Why?” Now we know. It’s not the calories, it’s the hormones!

Let’s look at the effects of insulin:

» It tells all the cells in your body to use sugar for energy.

» It stops your cells from using fat for energy.

» It tells the fat cells to bring in fat.

» It stops the fat cells from letting go of fat

Now, let’s look at cortisol, the stress hormone:

» It makes you more resistant to insulin.

» It raises your insulin levels, causing all of the problems above.

» It makes you resistant to leptin so you don’t feel satiated.

» It stimulates more ghrelin so you feel hungry and crave starch, sugar and sweets.

If you understand this, and know that artificial sweeteners are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than sugar, you will understand why they stimulate more insulin to be produced, causing more weight gain. This is why diet drinks with no calories cause more weight gain than sugary drinks. It’s the hormones!

Home Cures That Work!

OK, now that you know why everything that tastes sweet causes metabolic problems, including obesity, you should stop counting calories and start changing your hormones.


There are several preparations designed to keep the cortisol levels down. Most of these are herbs that are called “adaptagens” because they help the adrenal glands “adapt” to stress. A few of these include:

» Ginseng
» Ashwaganda
» Licorice root
» Eluthero
» Phosphatidyl serine (PS)

Lowering stress is important for keeping the cortisol down. I’m not going to go into a long diatribe about stress-reduction. However, I will say that any stimulants increase stress hormones and may, in some people, contribute to increased cortisol:

» Caffeine
» Energy drinks
» Sugar


I have found that the easiest way for a person to get off the obesity merry-go-round is to cut out all things sweet. The principles of insulin secretion are approximated by the following formula:

» Every time you eat, even a little snack, you release insulin.

» If you eat carbohydrates (starch) you release about twice as much insulin.

» If you include something sweet-tasting you release three times as much insulin.

Now, this isn’t exact. Those who are insulin-resistant may release many times more, but this is a guide to help you understand why you should avoid sweets.

So, based on these principles, we could make a plan:

» Eat fewer meals, avoid snacks — fast periodically
» Eat less starch, don’t eat any processed grains or prepared cereals
» Avoid the taste of sweet

Are you convinced? Did I pop all the bubbles? Do you understand why our nation is getting more obese and having more health problems? If you want to have a healthy body and avoid all the diseases of aging and obesity, you must avoid sugar and, especially, avoid all artificial sweeteners.

The simple way to look at this, and the way I personally do it, is to cut out all processed sugars, starches and artificial sweeteners (including Stevia). This is what LaLanne did as well. Drink only water. If you crave something sweet, eat fruit that is in season, which also has lots of nutrients and fiber. Avoid juice that you don’t make yourself. But be careful: Too much fruit can make you as fat as any other sweet thing.

I found that getting off of sweet things has increased my enjoyment of foods. Things that I didn’t expect, such as being able to taste the sweetness of a raw almond, or a carrot. I get a good cherry and find it better than candy. Every cherry has a slightly different flavor — try getting that from Skittles or M&Ms!

Scott Saunders, M.D., is medical director of The Integrative Medicine Center of Santa Barbara. For more information, click here or contact the Santa Barbara location at 601 E. Arrellaga St., Suite 101, or 805.963.1824, or the Lompoc location at 806 E. Ocean Ave. or 805.740.9700.