Sugar has been vilified of late and not without good reason. The sweet temptation lures us in at every turn, is hidden in foods you wouldn’t even imagine and goes by so many aliases that it is almost impossible to keep track.
Let’s take a closer look at the deadly white stuff to determine why it is such a villain.
Table sugar (aka Sucrose) is composed of 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Both of these are considered monosaccharides (single/simple sugars) as they are the the most basic units of carbohydrates and can’t be broken down further during digestion.
Used as an energy source by cells in the body, including muscles, brain and intestinal cells. Stored for later use in the liver as glycogen.
The glycemic index uses glucose as its yardstick – it is awarded the highest GI of 100 and all other substances are measured against it.
Once absorbed into the blood stream, glucose raises blood sugar levels and the body releases insulin in response.
Insulin acts as the key in the cellular lock that allows uptake, utilization and storage of glucose.
Without this insulin release, high blood sugars would wreak havoc on our body, as glucose binds to other tissues, and the cells would be starved of energy.
Long term high glucose consumption, high blood sugars and chronic insulin response leads to insulin resistance of the cells – where the cells get bombarded with insulin so start to ignore the signal.
Insulin resistance drives high insulin levels (more insulin is produced to try and get the glucose in) which drives further insulin resistance and the vicious cycle continues. Insulin resistance and chronic high insulin levels are the #1 culprit in weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. (read more about insulin and insulin resistance in upcoming posts)
Glucose –> high blood sugars –> insulin production
Chronic high insulin production –> insulin resistance –> weight gain and increased likelihood of diabetes.
At first glance, fructose looks like the angel in comparison to glucose:
A low GI of 19.
Naturally found in fruit.
Once absorbed it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and it doesn’t envoke an insulin response as it can be taken up by the liver cells without the use of insulin.
Fructose is metabolized almost entirely by the liver, not any other cells in the body. In the liver it is stored as glycogen, just like glucose, or converted into triglycerides.
This is where things start to turn south for fructose.
The liver has limited capability to store glycogen, and studies find significant increases in triglycerides and LDL cholesterol after eating fructose. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2682989/)
Fructose can then be stored as fat within the liver causing fatty liver (a healthy liver should contain little or no fat). Fatty liver is associated with diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/)
Because the liver is also central to glucose control, fatty liver leads to poor insulin regulation, insulin resistance and weight gain or obesity.
RESIST THE TEMPTATION
So when considering table sugar, we have the evil double-headed snake of temptation. Its pure, white, sweet glory packs a double punch of immediate adverse effects from the glucose, as well as long term adverse effects from the fructose. Combined, it becomes a modern day serial killer contributing to obesity epidemics, Diabetes, and heart and liver disease. And I haven’t even touched on the effects in the brain – thats for another post!
Do your body a favour today and DITCH THE SUGAR!
P.S Don’t jump out of the frying pan and into the fire: Artificial sweeteners are just as bad, if not worse – stay tuned for another post on why!
Do you follow a sugar free lifestyle? Share your top tips and recipes in the comments below!