Trick or Treat: The Really Scary Sugar To Fear This Halloween

Reading Time: 5 minutes

For many, the overwhelming access to sugar is a scary fact about Halloween and all the upcoming holidays. Added sugar is often thought of as the cause of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.

“Added sugar” is actually what you need to be concerned about. 

Added sugars account for about 17 percent of the total calorie intake of adults and up to 14 percent for children, according to a recent study.  Many people are confused about whether added sugar is the same as sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream. The answer is NO, it is not. The sugar added to many products such as candies and baked goods is usually made from high-fructose corn syrup, which is made from cornstarch.

There is also “natural sugar,” which is found in fruit, berries, sugar cane, sugar beets, and other crops. Natural sugar is also NOT the same as sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream.

The confusion between added and natural sugar versus glucose in your bloodstream is understandable because doctors and health personnel always refer to the problem of having high blood “sugar” when they talk about diabetes. The same word ‘sugar’ appears to be referring to the same item, so there is a tendency to think that eating natural sugar or added sugar from high-fructose corn syrup causes the elevation of blood sugar. This video explains why they are not the same. 

What you need to understand is that natural sugars are sucrose molecules.

Upon digestion in the intestine, sucrose breaks down into both fructose and glucose molecules. Although both are absorbed into your blood, only the glucose increases your blood sugar level almost immediately. The fructose is absorbed into the body more slowly and it is eventually modified in the liver into glucose when it begins to elevate your blood sugar level. 


The really scary sugar is found in complex carbohydrates, such as grains.

The sugar in wheat, oats, rice, and corn is maltose, which breaks down in the intestine solely into glucose molecules. This means eating mashed potatoes or bread elevates your blood glucose level faster than eating an equal amount of fruit. Effectively, the grains and grain-flour products you consume are composed of thousands of molecules of carbohydrate.  Each of those molecules can have break down into 200,000 molecules of glucose. When you eat a bowl of cereal, you are literally eating a bowl of glucose.

Grain-based foods—breads, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, rice, muffins, snack foods — take people down a slippery slope, feeling they need to eat until their stomach feels heavy. The average diet of an American adult often consists of 50% of calories from grains. Each 4 grams of grain-based carbohydrate is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar. Eating a sandwich is like eating 6 teaspoons of sugar; a pizza is like 10 teaspoons of sugar; a cup of rice equals 12 teaspoons of sugar. The daily consumption of grains and grain flour products for many people far surpasses the 50 grams they may consume in added sugars.

Within 2 to 3 hours after a meal, your blood glucose levels could actually fall below fasting levels for a time. Yale Research Psychologist Judith Rodin described this peak and valley effect of eating meals heavy in carbohydrates. The rapid drop in blood sugar causes you to feel unpleasant symptoms associated with low blood sugar and your subconscious brain often prompts you to reach out for a snack.

Your brain, fearing starvation, directs you to eat again even though you just finished a meal a few hours earlier. This is what leads many people to overeat and gain weight. It also often leads to constant high blood sugar and diabetes.

Humans were not intended to consume so much grain as we do now in our modern diet. The human body does not need complex carbohydrates as we can manufacture glucose from other sources. Our ancestors survived on diets of fruits, vegetables, meats, legumes, and sometimes dairy, but very little grain. It is only in the last 100 years or so that modern farming techniques made grains easier and cheaper to grow, mill, and transform into products. (see The Green Revolution)

An hour after a meal heavy in grains or grain-flour products, such as a sandwich or a dinner with rice or mashed potatoes, the level of glucose in your blood elevates very steeply. In response, your pancreas releases a large amount of insulin. As the insulin rises sharply, there is an intense and rapid response from insulin-sensitive cells in the body – especially muscle cells – to absorb the glucose. If you are not active during the next few hours, any unused glucose stays in your bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar. If it remains unused longer, your body converts the glucose molecules to fatty acids to be stored in your fat cells, leading to weight gain. 

The moral of the story: Candy may be the treat, but grain-based foods are the real trick to watch out for if you want to avoid weight gain and high blood sugar. 



John Poothullill practiced medicine as a pediatrician and allergist for more than 30 years, with 27 of those years in the state of Texas. He received his medical degree from the University of Kerala, India in 1968, after which he did two years of medical residency in Washington, DC and Phoenix, AZ and two years of fellowship, one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the other in Ontario, Canada. He began his practice in 1974 and retired in 2008. He holds certifications from the American Board of Pediatrics, The American Board of Allergy & Immunology, and the Canadian Board of Pediatrics.During his medical practice, John became interested in understanding the causes of and interconnections between hunger, satiation, and weight gain. His interest turned into a passion and a multi-decade personal study and research project that led him to read many medical journal articles, medical textbooks, and other scholarly works in biology, biochemistry, physiology, endocrinology, and cellular metabolic functions. This eventually guided Dr. Poothullil to investigate the theory of insulin resistance as it relates to diabetes. Recognizing that this theory was illogical, he spent a few years rethinking the biology behind high blood sugar and finally developed the fatty acid burn switch as the real cause of diabetes.Dr. Poothullil has written articles on hunger and satiation, weight loss, diabetes, and the senses of taste and smell. His articles have been published in medical journals such as Physiology and Behavior, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Journal of Women’s Health, Journal of Applied Research, Nutrition, and Nutritional Neuroscience. His work has been quoted in Woman’s Day, Fitness, Red Book and Woman’s World.Dr. Poothullil resides in Portland, OR and is available for phone and live interviews.

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