If you want to know why sugar, which contains absolutely zero fat, can make so many of us fat, the answer is a little complex. If you look on any nutrition label on the back of any type of food packaging, you can see just how many grams of sugar you are going to consume (and remember, that’s per serving). Take that number and divide by the number 4, and that’s how many teaspoons of sugar you are going to ingest. Indeed, it is a bit frightening, and certainly a vexing puzzle.
The explanation begins with a few qualifications first. Sugar, on its own, is not necessarily a bad thing. Our bodies need it to not only survive, but burning it gives us the energy we need to live on a daily basis. Even the really healthy foods we manage to eat are also broken down by the digestive processes into the sugar the body requires. This is done by a complicated conversion process that turns complex sugars called polysaccharides into simple sugars called monosaccharides, and some of these are known as glucose. Along with the breaking down process of things like fats and proteins, glucose is one of the primary energy sources that our body requires.
The Role of Glucose
However, there are two ways in which these particular sugars can disrupt our body’s natural metabolism by causing that unwanted surplus fat storage. Excess amounts of glucose are where the problems begin, yet it encompasses a rather unsophisticated principle. Whenever we fill our bodies with more fuel or food than we really need, which is generally what happens when we consume foods with high sugar content, our liver’s sugar storage capacity goes far beyond what it can handle. Once the liver reaches this overloaded state, all the excess quantities of sugar are then converted into the dreaded fatty acids and delivered into the bloodstream.
From there, these fatty acids are transported through our body and ultimately stored as, you guessed it, fat. The proverbial storage lockers for these adipose fat cells include areas of the body we are certainly very familiar with, the stomach, the hips, the butt, the thighs, and so on. Another downside to this process is that once these storage areas reach full capacity, the fatty acid surpluses begin to take up residence in our other organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. This brings on other nasty consequences like raising our blood pressure, lowering our rate of metabolism, and weakening our vital immune system.
The Role of Insulin
The next culprit in this scenario is an excessive amount of insulin. As we all know, insulin is a significant hormone produced by the body, and whenever we eat any kind of simple carbohydrate, high levels of insulin are produced or released. These simple carbohydrates are found in very common dietary components like fruit juices, white or wheat breads, white rice, baked white potato, bagels, pretzels, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, waffles, corn chips, cornflakes, cake, and of course any sugared beverages, and even Gatorade and beer, and just about any products that contain high fructose corn syrup.
The Role of Muscle Groups
There are two specific consequences that take place as a result of ‘spiked’ insulin levels. On the one hand, the body’s ability to burn off the fat is effectively out of business. This means that the sugar we have just consumed can be directly utilized for energy, and the insulin moves all that sugar into our muscles. When the muscle’s energy storage lockers have reached their maximum capacity, the excess quantities of sugar are converted, once again, to fat. If you remember where those fatty acids given up by the liver are stored, these too all end up as adipose tissue, and deposited directly to our waistlines and all those other unsightly places.
And the story doesn’t stop there. The next consequence is that after all the blood sugar has been reduced and has either been moved to the muscle groups, or has been converted into fat as a result of the activity in the liver, our pre-programmed feedback functions in the brain that transmit messages back to our hormonal glands, telling our bodies to cease the production of insulin, is set on somewhat of a time delay. At this stage, our blood sugar levels start to fall even lower, and wind up far below our regular functional standards. This results in two subsequent events.
The Role of Cortisol
The first is an instantaneous spike in our appetite, and we all know how we remedy that particular situation – we head for the cookie jar. Following this, a stress hormone known as cortisol is put into production, which fires up the signal to our liver’s storage locker to release all that excess sugar to allow our blood sugar levels to elevate somewhere back to normal levels. Unfortunately, this process all takes place after we fulfilled our desire for more food after that spike in our appetite, and the whole process of storing the fat and decreasing the metabolism starts all over again.
Now, back to what started all this – the sugar. The metabolic processes initiated by our destabilization of our blood sugar levels are manifested by the daily, weekly, or monthly train wreck that out dietary irregularity forces our body to contend with. The overabundance of the cortisol builds up over time, and far beyond what our body can handle, and ultimately wreaks havoc with our entire hormonal process. This is eventually exhibited by supplemental decreases in metabolism, along with a higher likelihood of conditions such as obesity, depression, allergies, weaker immune systems, chronic fatigue syndrome and a whole spectrum of other severe and often life-threatening side effects.
The Importance of Dietary Vigilance
So, what can we do to combat what sugar is doing to our collective well-being? What can we eat to keep from throwing our metabolism into a tail-spin and de-stabilizing our blood sugar levels? How do we maintain proper nutritional habits without continually interfering with our attempts to lose weight? And how are we going to keep from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in future health care costs as a result of a lifetime of improper diet?
Part of the answer is certainly re-adjusting what constitutes our everyday menus, especially where sugar is concerned, which is usually in abundance in most processed foods. There is also quite a list of carbohydrates that do not set off elevated insulin responses, while providing a longer-lasting, and far more stabilized energy source. These good carbs can be found in apples, oranges, pears, plums, grapes, bananas, grapefruit, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, bran cereal, barley, and other whole grains, along with beans, peas, lentils, whole corn, sweet potatoes, yams, milk, yogurt and soy.
Sugar, by Any Other Name
As mentioned earlier, don’t go near any processed or pre-packaged foods whenever possible. These types of foods, more often than not, will contain artificial sweeteners, which will have the same metabolic effect as regular sugar, along with simple and refined sugars. Even juices branded as ‘healthy’, and certain health food products will contain high amounts of sugar. In addition, watch for foods containing ingredients like sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, arabinose, ribose, xylose, deoxyribose, and lactose, which are all just fancier names for that substance that jacks up the numbers on our bathroom scales – sugar.