Disease Proof

Slaying the Sugary Beast

Dr. KlaperAs a continuation of the Six Week Holiday Challenge series, Michael Klaper, M.D., will be sharing helpful and eye-opening insights into the health damaging effects of sweets on our bodies. Dr. Klaper assists in answering questions on the Ask the Doctor forum of DrFuhrman.com, and is currently on the staff at the nutritionally-based True North Health Clinic in Santa Rosa, California. Welcome to Disease Proof, Dr. Klaper. 


There you are, having waded into the Holiday Eating Scene and finding yourself knee deep in Temptation City. Platters of chocolate chip cookies, lovingly-baked and fresh from the oven, coyly call to you. Servings of sherbet shimmer seductively. The creamy pie looks especially good tonight. How do you fortify yourself against these pitfalls? 

Now, I wish that I could say that if you eat a clove of raw garlic in the morning and wear a rutabaga around your neck all day, you will never be tempted by sugary desserts. (Come to think of it, if you eat garlic in the morning and wear a rutabaga around your neck, you probably won’t be getting many party invitations, anyway, so it might not be such a bad strategy after all!)

But, seriously, I have been cursed with one of the most voracious sweet tooths (is the plural of “sweet tooth” really “sweet teeth?”) in history. Until my nutritional understanding grew to a point when most sugary treats just no longer seem as appetizing to me, any dark chocolate bar or vegan cookie within arm’s reach of me was in mortal danger. Yet, they are safe in my presence now. What has armed me with such fortitude? Why don’t I eat the cookies and the devil’s food cake this year? Because I know what they are!

To arm oneself with this sword of knowledge, a little sweet chemistry understanding is called for. Sugars do taste good, and there is no problem in enjoying the naturally occurring fructose in whole, fresh fruits. The problem is in eating sugar as a food! When you are holding a cookie in your hand, a piece of cake, a candy bar, you are holding a chunk of sugar in your hand. You would not consider going over to the sugar bowl and shoveling tablespoons of the white stuff into your mouth, but here you are, actually considering eating this large chunk of sugar as a food.

If you do eat it, within minutes, your bloodstream is flooded with sugar. Soon, the structural proteins in all your tissues – the elastic fibers of your skin, the hemoglobin in your blood, the filter membranes in your kidneys, the inner lining of your blood vessels, the lenses of your eyes – all get “sticky” with sugar (the chemists say they become “glycosylated.”) In the 98.6 F metabolic “oven” of our body, the sugars and proteins melt together and oxidize, like the browning of bread crust (called the “Maillard reaction.”) These oxidized, damaged, and congealed proteins, officially called “Advanced Glycation End Products” do not function normally – the gummed-up, oxidized protein fibers break, skin cracks in the sunlight, eyes become less permeable to light, muscle proteins do not contract as vigorously, brain function dwindles – sound familiar? The aging process perhaps? EATING SUGAR AGES US!  (Remember, the acronym for "Advanced Glycation End Products" is AGE's!)


So, as my eyes fall upon the plate of cookies or candy, I actually flash the image in my mind of myself eating it, and simultaneously think, “This is a chunk of sugar in my hand. This stuff ages me. It makes my skin crack, my arteries stiff, and it leads me towards frailty and Alzheimer’s disease. Do I really want to eat it? Is it really worth it?”

I also know, after having indulged far too many times in the same, sugary seduction, that I am always physically sorry after I eat it. That is, it is guaranteed that within 15 minutes of eating the cake or candy, I will have that sickly, light-headed, slightly nauseated “I can’t believe I just ate all that sugar” feeling coursing through my body.

Nope. Not this time.

“Been there. Done that. Got the tissue aging. Don’t need to do that no more…”

It is said, “The truth shall set you free” - and the truth is, whether mixed with fat, as in ice cream, or baked into pies, candies and cakes, or dissolved in soft drinks, refined sugars are sweet poison. Like the poisoned apple in Sleeping Beauty, sugary treats taste good upon the tongue, but silently and relentlessly, they damage us.

Fortunately, if you look around, there is usually a safer, more wholesome way to appease your sweet tooth. There is most always fruit available at festive gatherings - but to make sure, bring some grapes or melon chunks in a discrete plastic container to munch on instead of the sugary seducers. (Of course, eating a hearty, ETL-style meal at home before you go out to party will make you less likely to nibble on handy but unhealthy treats while you are there.)

It also helps to remember that temptation is usually place-specific; that is, while the visual cue is right in front of you. I know that if I move away from the site of temptation and actively do something else for 5 minutes, my mind lets the sugary treat go to focus on the current conversation or task in front of me. I know that if I keep walking past the bakery or the sweets table at the party, the sights, smells and temptations will fade away in a few minutes. So, at the festivities, move to a different part of the room, have some of the food or trail mix you brought with you, strike up a conversation with an interesting person, and let your mind move on to something less detrimental to your health.

An especially powerful strategy that worked for me recently was to understand the power of commitment and abstinence. (I know what you are thinking, “Uh-oh, here comes the dreary part.” But read on; this turns out to be a joyful, empowering strategy.)

It began at the end of a talk given by Rory Freedman, author of Skinny Bitch. She said, “If you can do without a seductive food for a month, you will seriously reduce, or eliminate altogether, your desire for that substance. So, turn to the person next to you, lock pinky fingers with him or her, and both of you vow to help the other overcome their next food stumbling block over the next month.” The person to my left was Ann Wheat, co-owner of the Millennium restaurant in San Francisco, and without hesitation, we both locked pinkies and said, “Let’s both stop eating sugar!”

From that point on, we were “pinky buddies” - and whenever I would be tempted by a chocolate treat or piece of vegan devil’s food cake, I would think of Ann’s smiling face and earnest effort and say, “No, I’m going to stay strong because I know I will be talking to Ann soon, and I don’t want to let her – or me – down."

So, the month went by with this simple commitment steeling me through each moment of temptation. As the weeks sped by, my viewing of chocolate – and my desire for it – significantly changed. I saw it for the fatty chunk of congealed sugar that it is, and I lost my desire to eat it. Tastes certainly do change! So, another way to make your “sword” even more powerful is to make it through a month without eating your “problem” food, and see if you don’t feel less driven to eat it after that time.

Finally, if you do find yourself absolutely unable to resist tasting a given treat, and you do have a bite or a whole cookie, don’t panic, don’t regard yourself as a failure – and above all, don’t say, “Well, I’ve blown it now, so I might as well eat every bad thing in sight.” Rather, make it a reinforcing learning experience. Yes, you put it in your mouth and are eating it. So, taste it for what it is – congealed sugar on your tongue. Then say, “Yep, that tastes like the chunk of sugar I knew it was and I don’t want to eat any more of it.” It is OK not to finish the piece of cake or eat the entire gooey chocolate caramel. No penalty for that confirmatory bite – just fully taste it, decide you got the taste sensation you came for, and that you don’t need to eat any more of it. Put it down, find a healthier ETL alternative, and rejoice in your inner fortitude.

As you demonstrate this power to yourself over and over, you will find yourself to be like the mighty lion or lioness, who, as they stride through the forest, are not distracted by the frogs of temptation that croak at them from under the leaves.

Happy, healthy holidays!





Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Comments (40) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Tamara - December 1, 2010 9:45 AM

HOW TRUE!!!! This is a subject that no one wants to talk about, whether they know this or not. We need to get the word out just how terrible Sugar is! Thanks so much for this! I'm passing this along to everyone I know!


Amy - December 1, 2010 10:32 AM

Thanks! I will try to keep this in mind especially during the holidays. I don't like the way I feel after eating sugar. Fruit seems to be ok though. :)

Carol1one - December 1, 2010 10:45 AM

Excellent article, Dr. Klaper! Sweets are my biggest challenge, and I wondered if you could say anything that would really help me...

Well, you did! DH and I both "pinkie swore" that we won't eat sugar for December.

"Congealed sugar" sounds really icky. And I don't want to be frail and damaging my body! Thanks for an excellent article. This is definitely going to help me make informed decisions.

I put too much effort, daily, into good health; now I see eating sweets as sabotaging all those positive efforts.

Diana - December 1, 2010 10:49 AM

I really like these articles which offer anticipatory guidance. Bravo!

Kacy - December 1, 2010 10:49 AM

GREAT {and funny} article! Very enjoyable and informative :)

Martin - December 1, 2010 11:36 AM

Delay, deep breathe, distract, drink water and substitute healthy behavior for craving-driven non-nutritive eating. Embrace awareness of cravings as evidence that you have at that moment of awareness an opportunity to change and grow. See cravings and temptation as a blessing because they signal a turning point in your life.

Peggy - December 1, 2010 12:07 PM

Great article! The photos are triggering-- might be better to have healthy, attractive options to sweets rather than the devilishly addictive items shown!

gerry - December 1, 2010 12:28 PM

Excellent article!!!

The truth really does set free, and sink in, when presented and I especially appreciated the truth of the scientific, chemical description of what sugar does to the physical/chemical apparatus of the body.

Is there a book, or other source that would give more of this information, in a readable form, such as you have done so well here?

As a scientist myself, I find that the problem with most scientific or technical presentations is that they do not "translate" the technical terms into functional, usable information for the reader, as you have done so well here.

Giving the technical terms has value, because it tells us this is a well recognized and catagorzied physiological phenomenon in the community that studies such things, but this is only helpful when it is accompanied with the real world meaning, and results, of those phyiological, biochemical changes.

Thank you Dr Klaper for doing this with respect to sugar. If I've ever read it before, I forgot it, and needed to hear it again, but I don't think I've ever read a more succinct and revealing piece on sugar. I'm also so dense, and addicted, that I need to hear the truth severa times, and in more detail, if possible, and thus the request for more info.

I too have sweet teeth like the good Dr. so this really struck home with me.

Thanks again.

Karen Harris - December 1, 2010 12:33 PM

Very helpful article! I need to have those detailed facts of what sugar does at a cellular level. I would like to hear more about its connection with Alzheimer's. I have a serious sugar addiction - it is my biggest stumbling block to remaining a nutritarian - but my problem is finding someone who will be a committed, serious "pinky buddy" or accountability partner. I've tried, but can't find anyone to hang in there over the long term and maintain complete honesty. Maybe I need to start a thread on the member boards and try again?

Neeta - December 1, 2010 12:52 PM

Thank you so much for this article, it's brilliant!!! Just shared it on my facebook page :-)

Melody - December 1, 2010 1:28 PM

Thanks for mentioning vegan treats, too. I tend to let myself think they are healthier because they are vegan.

perelandra - December 1, 2010 1:39 PM

Is there any way to set the print choice to a no-picture option. I do not want to have to use a ton of ink to print out all the pics when I print the blog entry. Thanks!

chris - December 1, 2010 1:43 PM

The six week challenge has helped prompt me to start juicing for one or two meals a day. I have very achy joints this time of year and a parent with cancer. I want the focus to be on wholesome foods even more this season and this is a great way to jump start it. I like getting the new recipes sent each day to spark creativity and variety. What an encouragement. Thanks.

Michele Blatt - December 1, 2010 2:16 PM

I have recently tasted "vitaminWater-ZERO" it is flavored with Truvia. Can you tell me your thoughts about this product---TRUVIA and this VitaminWater???

I have just finished reading the article on eating (or not) sugar - so my question flowed from that....

Mai ly Israel - December 1, 2010 2:37 PM

Great article! Reading the down & dirty description of what's happening in my body in response to refined sweets is very helpful & motivating to me. Would one of y'all write a technical post on why it's beneficial to fast between meals & what's happening inside the body when we snack? Thanks, Mai ly

Bookworm Bev - December 1, 2010 3:00 PM

I LOVE your description of the effects of sugar. It will be a mighty weapon in my "healthy arsenal." Thank you so much for taking the time to translate science-speak into clear and terrifying (!) English.

A saying I really like is, "You can never get enough of a substitute." So the question I will start to ask myself is, "What do I REALLY want?" - and, believe me, it is not sugar, or any kind of food for that matter.

Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) - December 1, 2010 3:12 PM

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! for this awesome article about sugar. It totally helps me to have a negative association in my mind of toxic food. And I really needed the reinforcement right now with all of the holiday sugar staring me in the face at work. You guys really hit this one out of the ballpark!

j. m. - December 1, 2010 3:14 PM

Can you also speak about the alternative (natural) Stevia...I have recently read bad things about it-- I thought it was my "answer"! I have stopped using it for now. & the use of it in children.
I believe I have read bad press about it from LiveStrong.com.

Jackie Trainer - December 1, 2010 5:07 PM

Great article Emily!! Thanks:))

Richard Bates - December 1, 2010 6:48 PM

The Frogs of Temptation. I think you hit upon a great name for an alternative rock band. I'm getting buttons made up soon. Seriously, though, this was a great encouragement. Thanks for the insight.

Johanna - December 1, 2010 7:20 PM

This is a WONDERFUL article! I think of sugar as a double robber. Not only does it not give me any nutrients when imbibing it, it gives me calories so I am no longer hungry for food that *gives* me nutrients.

Stephanie - December 1, 2010 9:02 PM

Great article!! Can the effects of sugar, (namely wrinkles) be reversed with superior nutrition?

CACC - December 1, 2010 9:35 PM

Thank you, Dr. Klaper! Sugar has been my demon for as long as I can remember, so this article was just perfect for me.

MIke Rubino - December 1, 2010 11:14 PM

Good stuff to know this coming season. Im sort of tired of being tempted by fools in the name of holiday feasts and will cut my time at coming Christmas parties drastically. Personally I have thought the hoidays overdone for awhile now with their true meaning forgotten and worse, ignored. They have become obsene in their glutony of excess food and presents while the needy still need for sure.

Annette - December 1, 2010 11:31 PM

This is very inspiring to think of a chunk of sugar as we face temptations. I choose to think of unhealthy choices as just chunks of sugar...things I can live without.
Thank you so much for this article. It is motivational!

Greg Kaler - December 2, 2010 8:04 AM

Great article Emily and Dr. Klaper. For the small % of us in this world who are becoming educated and are actively seeking a healthy diet, it may be easier to refrain from sugar/unhealthy substances. But for the general unhealthy population you're "messing with their drugs." Sugar is an addictive substance being compared to cocaine addiction- it's so hard to stop. The same is true for animal foods- all have addictive chemicals. It is difficult to talk to unhealthy eaters about suggesting change. Even those who are made aware how unhealthy certain substances are either refuse to make changes, don't have the willpower to change, or don't believe the info/think it's not for them. They are addicted to their unhealthy drugs. Seemingly "healthy" people who eat unhealthy have the "if it's not broke don't fix it mentality." Unbeknownst to them are diseases brewing in their bodies. The sad part is most people don't start to make changes until after they get sick. And then most rely on prescription drugs to go along with their unhealthy food and drink drugs. It's a viscous cycle that is leading them to an earlier demise than need be. Another sad thing is the economy is holding its head above water aided by astronomical health care costs- so many sick people. So what happens when everyone starts eating healthy? I don't think that will happen anytime soon, as much as I'd like it to.
We are all facing an uphill battle folks. I am happy to be a part of Dr. Fuhrman's wonderful cause, and appreciate the people on this blog. Even though we may feel like we are alone on the planet when we are at holiday gatherings making healthy choices, think of it as "planting seeds". It is being a great influence on others.

Emily Boller - December 2, 2010 8:36 AM


You can copy and paste the text only into Word Document and print.

Carrie (Love Healthy Living) - December 2, 2010 12:00 PM

Wow, what a great reminder for those of us breaking the addiction to sugar. I'm going to print this post and re-read it until I can get it through my thick skull that sugar is poison! Thanks a lot for a well-written article.

izzychic - December 2, 2010 10:10 PM

I loved reading your article. Sugar is my nemesis. Not only am I fighting this terrible addiction, I am teaching my two young children to eat healthy. I actually used the analogy of Snow White and the poison apple with my 4 year old and a light bulb went off in her head. Now when faced with junk food I always say it's like the poison apple.
Thank you for the strong visuals. That is exactly what I needed.

mrfreddy - December 3, 2010 9:24 AM

I am really curious as to how the blood sugar spike that occurs after eating a bunch of fruit (say, two or three bananas) differs from the blood sugar spike that occurs after eating something like two or three cookies?

Eileen - December 3, 2010 11:51 AM

I always enjoy the factual and well written articles on this website. They really do help me to convey the ETL philosophy to those I care about and hope to one day convince 100%. It is amazing how resistant people are to change, even if it is for the better.

I have found that people I talk to about ETL principles will challenge the ideas with such passion tha I, myself get frustrated to the point that I sometimes just shut down. It is hard to get people to be open minded.

Thank you again for a very well presented set of facts. It is one more weapon I will use to fight the old and unhealthy way of thinking among my loved ones.

Siena - December 3, 2010 9:03 PM

This was a fabulous article! Just what I needed to read around the Holidays. I've been using the excuse, "well, at least I'm baking VEGAN cookies!". So I appreciate how Dr. Klaper speaks of his temptations of vegan treats. I have experienced first hand how NOT eating sugar just allows the body to heal. I guess when I was eating all the sugar, I was just walking around, a big congealed clump! But after just a few weeks, my eyesight improved tremendously to where I spent a third of my day without my contacts in! I was walking around thinking I forgot something and I did! I forgot to put my contacts in because I could actually see without them. Normally, I cannot watch TV, see a movie or drive without them. Ive also had scars disappear and all the aches in my body that seem to be my familiar aches and pains were completely gone...completely! Thanks again for this article! I will definitely be forwarding it along, as well as, keeping it in my stash of emergency "go to articles" that really kick me in the behind!

cleangreen - December 12, 2010 12:38 AM

I second the question posed by 'mrfreddy' and wonder the same thing. Can anyone elaborate? Thank you!

Emily Boller - December 12, 2010 7:02 AM

I have a child with insulin dependant, type I diabetes and he can eat plenty of fresh fruit and his numbers don't spike. However, if he eats pizza, crackers, bread, noodles, pasta, cookies, etc . . . his numbers go off the charts.

Christy Piwowarczyk - December 12, 2010 9:29 PM

Thank-you Dr Klaper for an excellent post! I find it gets easier and easier to be vigilant when you are presented with the knowledge that you so eloquently shared with us. I think this is the best gift I will receive this holiday, in fact, I know it is!

Prakash - December 15, 2010 4:09 PM

Excellent article Dr K. Keep them coming!

Suzi Marquess Long - December 15, 2010 5:07 PM

LICK THE SUGAR HABIT by Nancy Appleton, PhD is very helpful in understanding the perils of sugar. Going GLUTEN-FREE is also helping me overcome weight and health issues. Thank you, Dr. Klaper, and Andy, for presenting this article at the right time to do the most good. Bravo!

Cindi Lee - December 15, 2010 7:19 PM

This article came just in time. I have been eating lots of cookies at various Holiday parties and I needed to be reminded that it's just sugar, and not worth the mental and physical damage.

mrfreddy - December 17, 2010 8:21 AM

what about you Emily, how do your numbers do after eating plenty of fresh fruit? And do you check the numbers (your's and your daughter's) one and two hours post fresh fruit eating?

I've always heard that sugar is sugar and that it doesn't really matter how it's packaged. I'd love to learn that isn't the case.

lynntofu - April 5, 2011 5:10 AM

I am trying to eat less sugary sweets. I have a big sweet tooth. So far I've been doing good for several weeks now. I treat myself every once in a while, but after reading this maybe I will get off sweets completely.

Dr. Fuhrman's Executive Offices
4 Walter E. Foran Blvd.
Suite 408
Flemington, NJ 08822