The sugar additive that’s fueling dangerous superbugs

Sugary, processed foods are the worst for your health…

They’re the ones that really amp up your risk for serious diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

They also cause your energy levels to crash, send you on a blood sugar roller coaster ride and make you gain weight.

So if you want to do one good thing for yourself this year, cut out the store-bought pastries, boxed cake mixes, mass-produced muffins, sugar-coated cereals and the rest of that sickeningly sweet stuff that’s so tempting, addictive and dangerous.

If you stop eating these pre-packaged sweets, you’ll be surprised how much better you look and feel — almost immediately. Once you get through the sugar withdrawals, you’ll have more energy, a better mood, balanced blood sugar and you’ll probably start slimming down too.

In my book, that’s reason enough to give up (or at least cut back on) sugary, processed foods. But it turns out that slashing these foods from your diet does more than protect your personal health. It could protect humankind from dangerous superbugs too…

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The not-so-sweet side effect of trehalose

For years, hospitals have been dealing with two nasty strains of a superbug called Clostridium difficile. C. difficile is one of the most common infections people get while staying in the hospital, and it causes extreme diarrhea and even death. In fact, it killed about 30,000 people in 2015.

But do you want to know the worst part about C. difficile?

Recent research suggests that for all these years, a sugar additive used in processed food was allowing this superbug to grow and thrive.

The sugar additive is called trehalose. It’s found in all sorts of processed foods, including those that aren’t obviously sweet, like dried foods, frozen foods and instant noodles and rice.

According to research from Baylor University, two particularly powerful strains of C. difficile— known as RT027 and RT078 — can use trehalose as their sole carbon source. Since carbon provides bacteria with energy, trehalose allows these bacteria to keep eating… and spreading.

In fact, these two dangerous strains of C. difficile evolved specific mechanisms to feed off low levels trehalose. Most C. difficile strains can’t do this. They have a much harder time using trehalose as an energy source. But after years of evolution, trehalose has become the bread and butter of RT027 and RT078. And Baylor University researchers demonstrated this fact in a recent mouse study…

In the study, they infected mice with a strain of RT027 Clostridium difficile. Then they fed these mice a diet that either contained no trehalose or low levels of trehalose. And guess what?

The mice who received diets with low levels of trehalose developed more severe infections and more of them died.

Now, these uber-dangerous C. difficile superbugs started to become a major health risk around the year 2000 or so, and researchers say this timing is not a coincidence.

“In 2000, trehalose was approved as a food additive in the United States for a number of foods from sushi and vegetables to ice cream, and about three years later the reports of outbreaks with these lineages started to increase,” said the study’s corresponding author Dr. Robert Britton, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor University. “Other factors may also contribute, but we think that trehalose is a key trigger.”

Stop eating trehalose to stop feeding superbugs

So if you want to do your part for your health and the human race this year, you know what you need to do…

Stop eating foods that contain trehalose. It’s most commonly found in:

  • Nutrition bars
  • Fruit fillings and jams
  • Instant noodles and rice
  • White chocolate
  • Sugar coating
  • Bakery cream
  • Processed seafood
  • Fruit juices
  • Sushi
  • Frozen foods
  • Processed desserts and baked goods
  • Fast food (including the meat at Taco Bell)

Now, you could try to avoid trehalose-filled foods specifically. But rather than inspect every label for trehalose, it’s easier and safer to cut out most processed foods from your diet. Even if a processed food doesn’t contain trehalose, it probably contains other unhealthy chemicals and food additives. And who knows which of these additives are fueling major public health crises as we speak? Better play it safe.

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  1. Nine ways that processed foods are harming people — Medical News Today. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  2. Dietary sugar linked to increasing bacterial epidemics — MedicalXpress. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  3. Collins, et al. “Dietary trehalose enhances virulence of epidemic Clostridium difficile.” — Nature, 2018.
  4. A popular sugar additive may have fueled the spread of not one but two superbugs — Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  5. Trehalose: Revolutionizing the Food Industry — Mutual Trading Company. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  6. Trehalose — Retrieved January 4, 2017.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and