In the first post, I provided the straight facts about sugar. Check out how much sugar Americans are eating before delving into what sugar is doing to our bodies.
First off, all carbohydrates break down to “sugar” in our bodies, and they can be made up of glucose (what our brain & muscles use as an energy source), fructose, sucrose (fructose + glucose), lactose, galactose, or longer molecules of different sugars (starches).
When I talk about sugar in this series, I am referring to sucrose (table sugar), which is made up of glucose and fructose. This includes white sugar, brown sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup. Natural sweeteners, including maple syrup, honey, or agave, are still sugar too.
So, when people say high-fructose corn syrup is worse than sugar, they really mean both are just health-debilitating empty calories. Except high-fructose samples have been found to be contaminated with mercury.
Although foods such as sweet potatoes and squash breakdown to glucose, a sugar, it is metabolized very differently than fructose. Our diets are full of fructose because sugar is found in soft drinks and processed foods. Fruit also contains fructose, which is often called “fruit sugar,” but in significantly smaller amounts than what we get in processed foods.
One of the main issues is sugar displaces nutrient-rich foods, depletes nutrients, and can lead to overconsumption of energy.
This is a huge problem for children. Unfortunately, food companies market their “healthy whole-grain” cereals that are still loaded with sugar to kids. Instead of eating eggs for breakfast that provides kids with numerous vitamins and minerals to support healthy growth and development, sugar just depletes their growing bodies of essential B-vitamins and magnesium.
The research regarding sugary beverages (soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc.) is compelling. One study showed a 60% increased risk of obesity in children for each additional 12-oz sugary drink. Another showed just weekly sugary beverage consumption doubled the risk of obesity in kindergarteners. Others show drinking 1-2 cans of sugar drinks per day increase weight gain, and lead to a significantly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, having a heart attack, and developing gout (75%!) compared to those who rarely drink sugary drinks. Americans, especially kids, may be chugging down a bottle of soda, Gatorade, and several glasses of juice per day!
Fructose is also metabolized very differently than glucose, which is found in healthy starches. Glucose from foods like sweet potatoes can be used by all cells in the body, but fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. When you drink a soda, your liver gets slammed with a large dose of fructose.
Your body does not just use that sugar for energy. Instead, the liver pumps out free fatty acids, VLDLs and triglycerides. In order words, fructose produces FAT. The LDL cholesterol transform to the small, dense form that increases heart disease risk. Some of the fatty acids stay in the liver as fat droplets, which over time can lead to fatty liver disease (similar to alcoholic liver disease), and some are exported to cause skeletal muscle insulin resistance. Your body ends up with excess fat in your liver, fat cells, blood, AND your blood sugars will rocket with insulin resistance because your muscles won’t be able to take up glucose as well.
The waste products of fructose metabolism include uric acid, which can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension). When the uric acid accumulates, it can deposit in joints, causing the very painful gout.
Fructose also causes leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that controls your body’s hunger and bodyweight. When you have leptin resistance, you may eat and eat and still feel hungry because there’s no signal to tell your body that you have enough energy. Over time, you’ll gain weight and losing weight will be a struggle because you’re hungry no matter how much you eat.
Fructose metabolism mirrors other toxins, especially alcohol. Both end up in the liver. Both lead to similar health outcomes – liver disease, hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, pancreatitis, obesity, and addiction.
Fructose is “alcohol without the buzz.” Instead, you get a lovely sugar high, that stimulates your opiate receptors in your brain. Over time, you need more and more stimulation for the same pleasure. This is why so many people can’t just stop after one cookie – the sweetness overpowers their brain, and in 20 minutes, the whole box is gone.
Just like other toxins, the dose makes the poison. One glass of alcohol is not harmful, and it may even be health-promoting. Fructose is not “bad,” but the high doses Americans consume deteriorate health.
In the next post, I’ll explain what you can do to cut back on the amount of sugar in your diet. There’s no need to eliminate all sweetness from your life (I love fruit!), but working to cut out refined sugar will greatly improve your health and make you appreciate the natural sweetness in fruit and life.
If you want a great explanation of sugar and health, watch this video (it’s long and scientific but very detailed).