Hi, Conscious Readers!
Halloween is right around the corner and, very soon, our homes will be filled with the “evil”: SUGAR. Candy bars such as Butterfinger, Milky Way, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kat, 3 Musketeers, etc will invade our homes. Other candy like Twizzlers, Jelly Beans, Starburst, Tootsie Pops, Lollypops will pop up like crazy…
I wish those types of candy had only sugar in common. But no, on the contrary of what people think, sugar is not what makes candy evil. Different preservatives, artificial flavors, and artificial colors are what should make you stay away from candy for good, not sugar.
What your body can’t assimilate and process either makes you sick or is stored as fat. Your body can definitely break down and digest the sugar – really well, as a matter of fact.
But then you think: “But wait, what about insulin? Insulin will make me fat!”
Well, not really.
Just a little disclaimer, I’m not saying that you can eat all the sugar you want and look and feel great. That isn’t true. But as you’ll see, eating sugar, especially when part of a proper diet, just isn’t nearly as problematic as many people think.
FIRST, UNDERSTAND SUGAR
Some people make distinctions between “natural” sugars, such as those found in fruit and raw maple syrup; and “processed” sugars, such as table sugar, candy, and high-fructose corn syrup.
Truth is, all sugars are forms of carbohydrate, and their primary role in the body is to promote energy (the body uses them to produce cellular energy).
There are three forms of sugars:
- Monosaccharides: often called simple sugars because they have 1 simple structure.
- Glucose: type of sugar also known as blood sugar, which is found in our blood and produced from the foods that we eat.
- Fructose: type of sugar naturally found in fruit, and also found in processed products like sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup. Both of which are about 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Fructose is converted into glucose by the liver and then released into the blood for use.
- Galactose: type of sugar found in dairy products and it’s metabolized similarly to fructose.
- Oligosaccharides: are molecules that contain several monosaccharides linked together in chain-like structures. These sugars are one of the components of fiber found in plants, which our bodies are able to partially break down into glucose (leaving the fibrous, indigestible parts behind for the health of our guts). Another common form of an oligosaccharide that we eat is raffinose, which is comprised of a chain of galactose, glucose, and fructose (called a trisaccharide), and which can be found in beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains.
- Polysaccharides: they are long chains of monosaccharides, usually containing ten or more monosaccharide units. Starch (the energy stores of plants) and cellulose (a natural fiber found in many plants) are two examples of polysaccharides we often eat. Our bodies are able to easily break starches down into glucose, but not cellulose–it passes through our digestive system intact (thus, a source of dietary fiber).
THERE’S A PATTERN
All forms of carbohydrate we eat are either metabolized into glucose to be used as energy; or are left indigested, serving as dietary fiber.
Our body can’t distinguish between the natural sugar found in fruit, honey or milk, and the processed sugar found in a Snickers bar. They’re all digested in the same way: they’re broken down into monosaccharides, which are then turned into glucose, which is then shipped off to the brain, muscles, and organs for use.
Yes, in the end, the candy bar turns into glucose just like the cup of sliced carrots. Sure, the candy bar turns into glucose faster, but that’s the only difference. The candy bar has a bunch of monosaccharides that are quickly metabolized whereas carrots have a bunch of oligosaccharides that take longer.
Now, I’m not saying carrots = candy bars, so dump the veggies and bring on the Snickers. There’s more to this story, so let’s continue.
HOW SUGAR MAKES YOU FAT
Well, it doesn’t. Overeating does. That is, feeding your body more energy than it needs every day, regardless of what foods are providing the excess energy.
While it’s true that some people’s bodies do better with carbohydrate (all forms) than others, it’s simply not true that sucrose or even HFCS are especially fattening. As you now know, these two molecules just aren’t that special. They are just a source of glucose for the body like any other carbohydrate.
And in fact, carbohydrates (in all forms) aren’t stored as body fat as efficiently as dietary fats are. Yes, strictly speaking, olive oil is more fattening than table sugar.
Don’t believe me? Let me show you something:
In this study, researchers from The Sugar Bureau in the UK set out to determine if there should be a guideline for daily sugar consumption. They found that increased sugar intake was associated with leanness, not obesity, and concluded that there simply wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a quantitative guideline for sugar consumption.
This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Hawaii, is an extensive review of sugar-related literature. Here’s a quote from the paper:
“It is important to state at the outset that there is no direct connection between added sugars intake and obesity unless excessive consumption of sugar-containing beverages and foods leads to energy imbalance and the resultant weight gain.”
Overconsumption and energy imbalance are the keys here.
You see, it’s a known fact that over the past couple of decades Americans have been increasing the number of calories they eat every day, and much of this increase is in the form of carbohydrates, primarily from soft drinks.
The more carbohydrates you eat, the more energy (calories) you put into your body. The more energy you give your body, the more energy you have to burn to prevent fat storage.
You see, if you give your body a lot more energy than it needs every day, whether from excess amounts of protein, carbohydrate, or dietary fat, you’ll get fatter. This has been conclusively proven in clinical research. There is no debating this fact.
And this is where we get to the actual problem with sugar intake and getting/staying fat: the more you eat foods with added sugars, the easier it is to overeat.
This is especially true of liquid carbohydrates, including beverages with added sugar. If you love caloric beverages, you’ll probably stay fat forever. You can drink 1,000 calories and be hungry an hour later, whereas eating 1,000 calories of food, including a good portion of protein and fiber, will probably keep you full for 5 to 6 hours.
SUGARS DON’T MAKE YOU FAT… UNLESS YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO IT OR YOU DON’T CARE
High, long-term intake of simple sugars (disaccharides like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup) has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Many “experts” will use a factoid like that as definitive evidence that simple sugars ruin our health. But that’s misleading. There are other factors to consider.
One is the fact that the effects of these simple sugars vary greatly among individuals depending on how fat and active they are. Overweight, sedentary bodies don’t deal with simple sugars nearly as well as lean, physically active ones do.
Furthermore, when you mix carbohydrates (all forms) with other forms, the insulin response is mitigated. That is, eating a couple tablespoons of sucrose on an empty stomach causes a larger insulin reaction in the body than eating a couple tablespoons of sucrose as a part of a mixed meal (contained in a dessert, for example).
That said, even as part of a mixed meal, simple sugars still do elevate insulin levels higher than more complex forms of carbohydrate, such as the polysaccharides found in vegetables.
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Here is a sensible recommendation: if you’re overweight and don’t exercise, you shouldn’t be eating a bunch of simple sugars every day. If you do so, you will be harming your health.
On the other hand, if you exercise regularly and aren’t overweight, your body can deal with simple sugars just fine. You’re not going to get diabetes or ruin your heart by eating a bit more sugar than necessary every day.
One other health-related concern is the fact that eating a lot of foods with added sugars can reduce the number of micronutrients your body gets and thus cause deficiencies. Many foods with added sugars just don’t have much in the way of essential vitamins and minerals.
The solution here is obvious: get the majority of your daily calories from healthy (nutrient-dense) foods and you’ll be fine.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP… MORE OF THE SAME
HFCS is chemically similar to sucrose. Yes, it has a bit more fructose, but this doesn’t make it particularly fattening like many people claim.
Here are ad couple of quotes. The first comes from an extensive review of HFCS literature published in 2008:
“Sucrose, HFCS, invert sugar, honey an many fruits and juices deliver the same sugars in the same ratios to the same tissues within the same time frame to the same metabolic pathways. Thus…it makes essentially no metabolic difference which one is used.”
Here’s one from an HFCS literature review published in 2007:
“Based on the currently available evidence, the expert panel concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute to overweight and obesity any differently than do other energy sources.”
And yet another from yet another literature review published in 2008:
“The data presented indicated that HFCS is very similar to sucrose, being about 55% fructose and 45% glucose, and thus, not surprisingly, few metabolic differences were found comparing HFCS and sucrose. That said, HFCS does contribute to added sugars and calories, and those concerned with managing their weight should be concerned about calories from beverages and other foods, regardless of HFCS content.”
The bottom line is HFCS is just another simple sugar, and as far as we can currently tell, it can only harm us when over-consumed.
BUT… ISN’T SUGAR ADDICTIVE?
Chemically speaking, sugar doesn’t cause physical addiction like drugs do. Yes, it can make you feel good, making your brain release feel-good hormones, such as endorphins and norepinephrine, thus making us addicted to that feeling: always looking to feel good. But we can also get there by doing other things other than eating, like sailing a boat, or winning a prize, or spending quality time with a loved one. Our pursuit of pleasure is not equal to physical addiction.
WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS POST
- When it comes to sugar, be smart about it. Since there are a lot of calories in simple sugars, control it if you are overweight.
- Sugar doesn’t make you fat, overeating does.
- Our bodies need sugar to work properly.
- Be aware of what’s added to the sugar you are eating. High fructose corn syrup, for example, may be made from GMO corn, especially if it’s in form of candy bars (mass production).
- Make sure you are not sensitive to sugar or predisposed to health conditions that thrive on sugar.
- Always put your health first. The same way that it isn’t healthy to not eat sugar, it is also unhealthy to eat too much of it.
Balance is key, everyone. Always keep that in mind.
Keep yourself and your family healthy through Halloween and this coming Holiday Season by CHOOSING TO BE HEALTHY every day!
Many Hershey Kisses being sent your way,
Disease Prevention Advocate, Blogger, Author, Speaker, Certified Holistic Health and Wellness Coach by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Board Certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and Licensed Medical Massage Practitioner by the Virginia Board of Nursing