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-Sugar – Today’s War Drug

Mission22 October 25, 2021

Key takeaway:

Sugar fuels stress responses in your body and brings instant comfort, while ultimately draining your longevity. Biochemically speaking, it produces many of the same psychological effects and byproducts as hard drugs and alcohol consumption.


During World War II, forces from both the opposing sides were on the hunt for a substance that would keep their troops marching further, fighting harder, and have a higher pain tolerance on a smaller amount of food and sleep. The Nazis’ solution was an amphetamine-class drug called Pervitin and the Allies used another one called Benzedrine.

How do these drugs work?

They operate on the central nervous system by blunting the body’s calming neurotransmitters and sharpening the stimulating neurotransmitters, preventing us from sleeping. Or, in the words of World War II historian James Holland, ”It stops you from sleeping, but it doesn’t stop you from feeling fatigued. Your body has no chance to recover from the fatigue it’s suffering, so there comes a point where you come off the drug and you just collapse, you can’t function.”

When using the drug, the brain’s reward center is switched into overdrive so it feels like everything we’re doing is exhilarating and interesting, it makes us hyper-curious and extremely excited. We’re overwhelmed by temporary positive emotions and our normal inhibitions are blunted. We’re having trouble with advanced tasks and memory formation, because our brains are now engaging in more instinctual and primal activities like fighting in a war. The brain’s internal pain-killing system escalates, and the levels of dopamine heighten. With long-term use, our teeth will rot and decay, and the risk of developing mental health disorders increases.

If you read only the last two paragraphs, it’s not obvious whether I’m writing about refined sugar or the drugs that fueled the bloodiest conflict in human history (1234).

That may sound dramatic, but it’s closer to the truth than we may realize. Because it can take years before we see the negative effects of sugar consumption, we’re willfully blind to sugar’s harm. Children crave second and third servings of birthday cake and ice cream and have no concept of possible future consequences of consuming toxic levels of the drug-like powder. They don’t have a developed framework of sacrifice and are far more impulse-driven than adults who have experienced what it’s like to give up a small pleasure now for something better later.

To paraphrase international evangelist Ravi Zacharias: quick-fix pleasures will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. It’s the same thing with sugar.

The military has pumped sugar into its troops to achieve higher performance with lower food costs. During World War II, the amount of sugar distributed through the system of the K-rations (daily individual combat food rations) and the D-ration chocolate bars, along with sugary options at mess halls, led the service members to consume twice as much sugar as they would have in prewar times. The Army alone bought over one hundred million pounds of candy per year for its soldiers. And even though the harmful effects of both amphetamine drugs and sugar are well researched and better understood today, only the former has become a controlled substance. (Please spare a thought for the rising amphetamine overdose epidemic largely driven by powerful drug manufacturers’ own interests.)

The system will always want to sell you a quick-fix method to avoid the pain of discipline because the system is a reflection of the individual. We demand quick fixes like sugar and the industry is happy to comply. But in doing so, we are giving the control of our health to someone else. The addictive nature of sugar is a great example of this.

With all the recent research on the toxic effects of sugar, how much has changed in how we feed our troops today?

My most recent Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) experience contained, aside from the main entrée of beef goulash, four different sides full of refined sugar: patriotic sugar cookies (literally nothing but refined flour with added sugar); carb-enhanced applesauce (meaning added sugar); strawberry jam (refined fruit with added corn syrup); white wheat snack bread (essentially sugar bound in flour with added industrial seed oil); and a chocolate-flavored cocoa beverage powder (you’ll never guess what the first ingredient is).

If I had eaten those four sides, I would have consumed 157 grams of simple carbohydrates, which is essentially equivalent to 157 grams of pure sugar.

Some members of one of my platoons were making fun of a soldier for filling up his CamelBak with Rip It energy drinks to get him through the day. 64 ounces of Rip It, four cans worth, contain “just” 100 grams of sugar, while one MRE contains at least 50% more than that. And you’re expected to eat three of those meals per day during field training exercises and other operational environments.

So, we are still feeding our military a substance that primes us for type 2 diabetes. As of 2016, one in four military members admitted to VA hospitals had type 2 diabetes.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, it’s just an extension of our culture to begin with. A parent may not allow their child to have chocolate cake for breakfast, but they’d turn right around and whip up some refined flour-based waffles with Country Crock margarine (nothing more than industrial seed oil made to resemble real butter) and maple-flavored high-fructose corn syrup. Oh, and let’s not forget to wash that down with some orange-flavored sugar juice to make it a complete breakfast.

We’re always looking for legitimate ways to minimize sacrifice and maximize immediate return. To march further, fight harder, with a higher pain tolerance on less and less food and sleep. But by doing that, we’re increasing the time we spend in the stressed state and decreasing the time we recover in-between.

Okay, pause. I’m not saying that going to a family birthday party and indulging in a slice of cake once in a while is the same as taking amphetamine drugs. The dose makes the poison, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t indulge in a sweet treat once every few months. But we need to understand the realities of what sugar is doing to us and the rate this occurs at.

It’s not too hard to understand alcohol as a toxin if you’ve ever experienced a hangover. No one feels energized the morning after a night of alcoholic indulgence. That’s because the liver is working hard to clear out what is categorically a toxin.

Refined sugar also falls into this category and we need to be aware of that. For today’s assignment, I’m going to post a video that goes more in depth about why sugar is such a nemesis to our health.

In the meantime, check the labels of foods you’d otherwise consider healthy, and keep an eye out for sugar by other names – just about anything with “syrup,” a word ending in “-ose,” anything with “cane” in the name, and so on. You might be surprised by what you find.


Take heart,

– Marcus

Today’s Assignment – Video Time

Today’s Exercise

This is the first yoga video we’ve posted. This sequence is half an hour long and suitable for any level. Yoga is good for activating muscle groups in new ways and is a great practice to get comfortable with your own body. Click here to stretch and flow with Alo Yoga!

I’ve found Alo Yoga’s videos to be extremely dynamic, with challenging but accessible poses in every class. So if you want to, check out their other videos, too!