Sugar, Body Calcium, and Vitamins

The use of generous quantities of sugar in human nutrition is generally accepted as harmful.

By H. F. HALENZ, Professor of Chemistry, Emmanuel Missionary College, Michigan

The use of generous quantities of sugar in human nutrition is generally accepted as harmful. In giving a reason for this fact it is commonly stated that sugar will rob the body of calcium. Some time ago I addressed the following question to the Council on Food and Nutrition of the American Medical Asso­ciation: "I should like to know whether sugar, particularly in liberal doses, is harmful because it (supposedly) removes calcium from the body. Does it do so, and if so, how?" I received the following answer under date of January 23:

"We know of no evidence whatever that sugar in small or larger doses removes calcium from the body, at least in the ordinary sense that the administration of sugar might adversely affect the calcium balance of the diet. It is true that there is some evidence that candy and sugar may adversely affect the teeth, but this subject is still debatable and is subject to fur­ther experimentation. The harmful effects of sugar are supposed to be derived in the follow­ing manner : the sugar remains in the mouth, where it favors the development of bacterial organisms, especially the acidophilus organism, which utilizes sugar to form lactic acid, and the acid in turn attacks the teeth. As already stated, this subject is still under investigation."

It is evident, therefore, that there is at present no scientific foundation for the frequently heard assertion that sugar is harmful because it robs the body of its calcium. There are, however, other bases upon which the free use of sugar may be unconditionally condemned. Recent biochemical investigation has shown that the vitamins thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin are "indispensable constituents of the major enzyme systems concerned with oxidation of carbo­hydrate (dextrose)."

I quote further: "When deficiency exists in the supply of thiamine, the oxidation of sugar is impeded to such a degree that products of its incomplete oxidation can readily be demon­strated in the blood. If the tissues possess am­ple reserves of vitamins, no harm is done by ingesting carbohydrate ; but since sugar makes no contribution to such reserves, the vitamins required must come from other foods. It follows that when the vitamin-poor constituents of a diet sufficiently outweigh the vitamin-providing constituents, a situation is created from which deficiency disease will logically re­sult."—"Some Nutritional Aspects of Sugar, Candy, and Sweetened Carbonated Beverages," Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 7, 1942, p. 763ff.

It appears from the above statements that certain B complex vitamins are indispensable, if the body is to make effective use of the carbo­hydrate portion of our food. Now, purified sugar does not supply any vitamin in any ap­preciable quantity. It cannot, therefore, be properly digested unless the vitamins needed in that process are supplied from another source. Other foods must, therefore, be robbed of their vitamins in order to take care of the digestion of sugar. If there are not enough vitamins to go around, a partial breakdown occurs in the complete digestion and oxidation of the starch and sugar content of the diet.

The recent restrictions placed upon sugar consumption can only serve to better the health of our nation.


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By H. F. HALENZ, Professor of Chemistry, Emmanuel Missionary College, Michigan

September 1943

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