Americans have become obsessed with sugar. It seems that during the last 30 or so years we have edged upward in our sugar consumption. Right now the average for an adult is approximately 20 teaspoons per day, which equals close to 150 pounds per year!
That’s a lot of damn sugar!
During the low-fat craze of the last few decades, manufacturers either lowered or removed fat in a lot of their products. This seems like a good thing on the outside, but I’ll be darned if the taste didn’t disappear with all that fat as well.
The food manufacturers (doesn’t’ that sound funny? Food has to be manufactured ) came up with a way to get some taste back into their products – just add sugar!
Of course this presents us with another problem, because our bodies are struggling to keep up with all that extra sugar consumption.
In fact, let’s take a look at just how your body processes sugar right now.
Okay, let’s dip our toes into scientific waters here. Not to get all nerdy on you or anything, but it’s necessary.
First, a few definitions.
Glucose. This substance is conveniently provided by Mother Nature in many types of fruits and vegetables. Our bodies burn glucose for energy; alternately it can be stored as glycogen for use later on.
Fructose. Sugar from fruit is called fructose. Makes sense, right? I love it when some of this stuff makes sense! It also makes an appearance in cane sugar, among other things.
These two players are what’s called simple sugars, or monosaccharides. Hang in there with me now.
As for complex sugars, or disaccharides, we have the following beauties at our disposal.
Lactose. This is milk sugar, and that’s pretty self-explanatory.
Sucrose. Also found in fruits and plants, living peacefully alongside its little cousin, fructose.
Ok, now that we know a little bit more about sugar, let’s see what actually happens when we eat some of the stuff.
First of all, bad things can happen right away. Don’t you remember hearing an adult screaming , “That crap will rot your teeth!” while you have a face full of cotton candy?
Well, they’re technically not right, but let me explain. The bacteria present in your mouth will feed off the sugar present in all types of food. This will in turn produce plaque, and it’s really the plaque that causes tooth decay, but let’s not pick nits here, I just wanted to be clear.
Phew! Back on track now.
When you ingest sugar, your body basically has two choices as to how to deal with it. You can either burn it immediately for energy, like an eight year old eating 3 candy bars at Halloween, or you can convert it into fat for use later on.
If you have my metabolism, fat always wins out, but if you’re lucky enough to have a fast metabolism you may just burn up most of the sugar you eat. A lot depends on your genetic makeup and activity level, age, etc. – but you get the idea.
When you eat something that contains sugar, your body has to break it down so it can use the nutrients and other goodies contained in the food. It breaks down fat and protein, and the complex sugars must be broken down into its simplest monosaccharide form for release into the bloodstream.
Well, when your pancreas detects a sugar spike in your blood, it releases a hormone called insulin, and the insulin has a way of dealing with excess sugar. The more sugar that’s present, the more insulin that gets released.
Except when things get out of whack. Too much sugar causes a release of more and more insulin. The insulin attempts to store glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue, but it can only hold so much, so it stores some in fatty tissue as well, for use later on. Maybe.
Or maybe not.
If you’ve gotten out of balance with how much sugar you’re consuming and how much insulin is released, your body will think it needs even more sugar, and the cycle starts all over again as cravings for sugar increase and you seek out another candy bar or snack.
What a mess!
Oh baby, I wish it was that easy. I truly wish I could supply you with a list of steps to go by so you don’t end up going down the wrong sugary trail instead of climbing toward your ultimate goal of optimum health.
The fact is that we all have different body types and metabolisms, and what works well for some folks may not work at all for others.
There are some general guidelines, however, that can be beneficial for everyone.
This first thing I’d say is to become an avid label reader whenever you’re considering packaged foods of any kind? Ideally, we’d all be buying fresh fruits and vegetables at a local farmer’s market and eating that stuff every single day, but that’s not a real world scenario.
Basically, anything that ends in “OSE” is some sort of sugar, and you can see this article to find out the many names that sugar goes by.
So making healthy choices needs to be a big part of every day, but as you learn more about sugar and what it does to your body, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with these choices.
Take one simple example, the difference between orange juice or a whole orange. Which one is healthier?
My feeling is this. I always opt for the one that offers me fiber along with sugar, because fiber makes me feel fuller along with slowing down the rate at which the fructose is getting to the liver.
You will find whole hoards of people that both agree and disagree with this position. I only know what works for me based on my research and also my personal preference and body type.
The key takeaway here is that sugar is not all bad, in fact we could not live without it. It’s the kind of sugar you’re consuming that’s the real problem.
If you’re having trouble losing weight and have tried all sorts of low fat diets and other tricks to shed pounds and it’s still not happening for you, I would urge you to look closely at your sugar consumption.
I don’t believe fat makes you fat.
But I firmly believe that sugar does!
Until next time…
Ted is a writer and avid researcher on the subject of nutrition and general wellness. He has recently published books on Sugar Detox as well as the inflammation epidemic, and continues to improve his knowledge by constantly remaining up to date with the latest news and trends in the nutrition world. When not busy writing, you can find him playing banjo and guitar, or outside fishing.