Sugar is not Just sugar

Welcome to an article about the sweet life and the bitter sweet side of sugar.

In a future article I wrote about how we throughout the last 20 – 30 years have been told time and time again how dangerous fat is. Well now its sugars turn. Personally I believe that sugar is the biggest villain as regarding our health.

I know you already know that too much sugar is bad for you, but do you really know what sugar is composed of, how it is used, which sugar is poisonous for the body and creates fatty liver and how much is too much?

So let us start there.

I might get a bit technical every now and then, so read it through in small bites. The information is very important for your health and your figure, and there are a couple of tips for you athletes.

Colloquially we use the word sugar as a collective name for a group of simple carbohydrates called mono (one) Saccharide and di (two) Saccharides where the word Saccharide comes from the Greek word for sugar molecule.

I.e. the word sugar is really a synonym word for carbohydrate, where the word simple means that the carbohydrate is easily digested by the body.

Monosaccharides are the sugar molecules the body absorbs and they go by the names glucose, fructose and galaktose.

So far so good... 

What does the body use these sugar molecules for?

Glucose is the quickest, cleanest way the body makes energy. Glucose is called ”the energy of life” because all life forms from humans to bacteria use  glucose to create energy.

Galaktose is among other things involved in immune defense, cell communication and blood type classification.

Fructose is the sweetest of all the sugars but otherwise not used by the body for anything. Science shows that large amounts of fructose are very dangerous for the body (I’ll get back to this).  

I nature, i.e. in natural foods, these 3 sugar molecules are combined in various combinations e.g.:

Glucose and galaktose together create lactose, which is the sugar in milk.   

Glucose and fructose together create the fruit sugar, named sucrose which is found in fruit, vegetables, sugar beet and sugar cane.

Two or more glucose molecules create maltose and what we call starch or complex carbohydrate, found in grains and, which in their unprocessed state are not easily digested and thereby not well absorbed by the body.

As well as these sugars natural foods also contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc, all of which have important functions in the body.

What most people call sugar, is the end product of sugar cane and sugar beet processing, namely table sugar, which is a 50:50 combination of glucose and fructose, i.e. sucrose.

The root of the bitter sweet abundance

Man originally chewed sugar cane to suck out it’s sweetness.

Around 350 BC Indians discovered the method to transform sugar cane juice to sugar crystals, which made transport easier.

Sugar came to Europe around1099 BC and in 1493 Columbus took sugar cane plants with him to the Caribbean, where the sugar industry was quickly established. In 1750 there were 120 sugar factories in the UK, together producing 30,000 tons sugar per year. At that point of time sugar was a luxury item which only the rich could afford and was named “the white gold”.

In Germany in 1747 sugar beet a root vegetable that resemble a large parsnip was identified as a sugar source, though first became popular from around 1813, when Napoleon – cut off from sugar from the Caribbean, was forced to produce sugar in another way. Today, sugar beet supplies approx. 30 % of the world’s sugar production, which is approx. 120 million tons, and increases, with approx. 2 tons per year.

Brits eat approx. 40 – 60 kilo sugar (sucrose) per person per year in comparison to the approx. 2 kilo per person in 1750. Children consume a minimum of 1.5 kilo sweets and ice cream on average each month.

Let me be “crystal” clear - refining sugar cane and beet produces a sweetener 50 % of which is a potential poison for the body and the availability of it means that we can (and do) add sucrose to everything – and therein lies the root of obesity, diabetes, sugar dependency and much more.

Sweetness is like no other taste, right up our alley, we like it immediately we enter this world. Maybe because breast milk is so sweet, or maybe it’s our  ’ pre-historic instinct’, that subconsciously prefers food that taste sweet – food we know can be stored in the body and thereby help us through times where food is scarce. Never the less mans taste buds perceive sugar as sweet.

As long as the sweet taste originates from nature’s lavish buffet will the quality, combination and amount of glucose and fructose always be suitable. Challenges begin when refined sugar – sucrose is added to our foods.

Let me repeat that – ”challenges begin when refined sugar – sucrose is added to our foods”.

Sugar biochemistry

A calorie is not just a calorie – especially when we’re talking about sugar.

A calorie of glucose is not the same as a calorie of fructose, they are metabolized (broken down) very differently in the body and produce to very different results.

All cells break down and burn glucose, which results in the production of energy (ATP) and smaller amounts are converted to fat.

On the other hand only the liver can breakdown fructose and it is metabolized in the same way the liver metabolizes alcohol and fat, though alcohol can be metabolized in the brain, which creates the desired ”buzz”. Both, fructose and alcohol breakdown, results in the making of large amounts of fat and other waste products.  

Alcoholics suffer from fatty liver and get beer bellies. The intake of large amounts of fructose also creates fatty liver and ”soda bellies”.

Sucrose is not the only source of fructose

The sugar industry have created a ”designer fructose” from corn called ”high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)”. From natures hand corn syrup is pure glucose but back in 1965 the sugar industry discovered the enzyme recipe to convert glucose to fructose.

You might ask - why? Because fructose is extremely sweet.

The food industry can therefore use much less syrup to sweeten the thousands of products where HFCS is added. HFCS is often 55 % fructose, 45 % glucose, which means more fat can be created.    

If, as in your ancestors time, your intake of fructose came from fruits and vegetables alone your daily intake would probably be around15gm per day. 73gm is today quite usual, especially among the youth who consume sodas, juices, energy drinks, etc.

Remember, fruit and vegetables contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc, all of which curb the effects of fructose.

Fructose friend or foe?

Fructose doesn’t affect blood sugar levels, which is advantageous related to diabetes. The downside is that fructose doesn’t increase the production of the hormones insulin and leptin, which decrease appetite. Nor does it decrease the production of the hormone gherlin, the job of which is to increase the appetite. This means that fructose plays a role in the increased intake of food and thereby weight gain. It even creates a craving and addiction for the overly sweet taste.

Fructose converts to liver glycogen (sugar storage molecule) quicker than glucose. After training athletes can gain by energy drinks containing HFCS to reestablish the emptied glycogen depots, though high glucose drinks are best during training.

Us other mortals are best served by keeping far away from these drinks – if our glycogen depots are not empty we will end up making fat.

Summing up:

  • Sugar is not just sugar
  • Glucose is life energy
  • Fructose is dangerous for the body
  • Intake of 120 calories of glucose creates one calorie of fat, 120 calories of fructose creates 40 calories of fat.   
  • The intake of fructose is the same as taking in fat
  • Fructose metabolism occurs 100 % in the liver and metabolism of large amounts creates a long list of waste products, such as uric acid which raises blood pressure and creates oxidative stress in the small power plants of the cells called mitochondria. Ups, maybe thats why you’re tired.    
  • Large amounts of fructose creates ”non alcoholic” fatty liver and ”soda belly”.

Tips:

  • Eat natural, fresh foods
  • Avoid foods with all forms of added sugar and HFCS. Check the food labels for among other words, words that end in ”ose” they are all sugar, and any other word that qualifies as sugar. The food industry is very creative and has many names for sugar – you are in for a surprise.
  • Avoid sodas, juice and fruit syrups. Homemade juices should preferably be made with vegetables and only fruits low in fructose with their fiber.
  • Avoid too much honey and agave syrup they both contain high amounts of fructose

Check my book Goodlife Nutrition if you want to know more.

 

Ref:

Robert H. Lustig, MD Sugar, The Bitter Truth and Fat Chance

Bill Misner, Ph.D.

Joseph Mercola, MD

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