Those little white granules! You can't pick up a paper or health magazine without the words sugar cropping up! Again we get conflicting reports "the only way to lose fat is to remove all sugar" "sugar is necessary for brain function and muscle growth". It was last week that the daily mail posted two articles on consecutive days about fruit smoothies. One saying they will make you fat and you're teeth fall out, and on the VERY next day the same drink is the BEST thing for your health! No wonder the nation is confused? So what is the truth? Here at Inferno Fit we talk you through the facts you need to know when it comes to sugar.
Ten years ago, fat was the evil! Everything was 'low fat' this and 'fat free' that. Saturated fat will give you a heart attack, despite the fact we have eaten red meat for centuries, now all of a sudden it was harmful (some people still believe this, including some 'professionals') But now fat is ok, now we should be cutting out sugar! This scaremongering has caused people to stop eating fruit due to it's sugar content, therefore missing out on all the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fibre in them that keep us healthy! Surely fruit is healthy? Even though it has sugar?
Let's dispell myth number one: natural sugar is better than refined sugar!
Warning: science alert!
This is simply not true! ALL sugar is broken down to glucose in the body. Glucose is then stored as glycogen in the liver or muscles, or used as energy. It simply does not matter where that sugar has come from!
The problem lies with the AMOUNT of sugar we consume!
Sugar is everywhere! In huge amounts in things like Coca Cola, in fruit, in cereal, in vegetables, sweet potatoes, even in water! There is drink called Vitamin Water that has 23% of your DAILY recommended sugar intake! Four of these 'waters' a day and that's it for sugar!
That is the problem we are faced with. Sugar is added to just about everything. Have too much and you are faced with problems. On the flip side have too little and that's not good either!
Why is cutting out all sugar bad?
NB: For the purposes of this blog I will class low sugar and low carb diets as the same. For the general public there is no difference.
The most famous example of a low carb diet is Atkins. Essentially a diet fueled on protein and fat. For some people it worked really well for others it was awful. Eliminating carbs can have the following problems:
1. We need glucose for our brain to function properly: Our brain 99% of the time needs glucose for energy, and unlike the muscles and liver, it cannot store glucose. Therefore we need a constant supply of glucose from the diet. Removing sugar and/or carbohydrates can inhibit brain function. You all know those times on diets when you can't concentrate, think clearly or even talk properly, that's a sign your sugar is too low
2. Sugar is needed for fat burning: Time to geek out a bit! If you don't want the technical stuff ignore the brackets! When we break down fats to use as energy (fatty acids into acetylCoA) we need a by product of the breakdown of glucose (oxaloacetate) to start the process of energy conversion (in Krebs cycle) So let's say you wanted to burn fat but remove all carbs and sugar! You will potentially inhibit your body's ability to burn fat.
3. Sugar helps fuel the metabolism: When we eat sugar we help support a gland called the Thyroid. The thyroid controls our metabolism, and when we restrict our sugar too much, the Thyroid may begin to slow and decrease the amount of calories we burn each day. Ever heard someone blame a slow metabolism for their weight gain? But then hear they are on a diet that restricts their carbs too much? Now you know why!
4. Sugar helps recovery from weights and interval training: When we train hard we use sugar as a fuel. We use up all of our stores of stored sugar (muscle glycogen) and this need to be replaced. Being on a low sugar diet will cause you to feel tired, have no energy and inhibit the recovery of the muscles.
5. Sugar helps reduce our stress levels: When sugar levels are too low, our body becomes stressed. Our adrenal glands, that produce the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, and needs to upregulate during times of low sugar. If these conditions are present over an extended time you can reach adrenal fatigue, which will then have a knock on effect on health, libido, energy and body composition!
6. Trigger uncontrollable hunger and cravings: When you restrict a certain food group too much, your body has a natural way to overcome that! It will make you WANT that food more. Hormones and chemicals called neurotransmitters will drive you wild with hunger and cravings until you eventually give in! And your body usually wins!
7. Low carb diets typically lack fruit: Fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytonutrients. All of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Cutting out fruit can leave us prone to illness, low in energy, cause digestive problems such as constipation amongst other problems!
Low sugar can stop fat burning, cause excessive fatigue, adrenal and thyroid problems, prevent muscle recovery, and make you stupid (well not quite but will impair your ability to think clearly!)
So let's just have loads of sugar. Oh wait, that's not great either!
Why is too much sugar bad?
A lot of people consume too much sugar, and sometimes not through their own fault. Sugar is added to a heap of food, most processed food is full of sugar. Food companies are sneaky too as they disguise sugar with over 50 names for it! Look at the picture below for a list of names, i would also include agave nectar too!
Consuming too much sugar:
1. Leads to obesity: If you eat more calories than you burn you will store fat. Sugar only has 4 calories per gram, which compared to fat at 9 calories/gram isn't much. But when you consider the amount of additional added sugar we consume, it adds a shedload of calories. That vitamin water we mentioned earlier has 100 calories in. Now while 100 calories isn't a lot, bear in mind this came from WATER! Then there is sugar in cereal, alcohol, cakes, sweets, biscuits, fizzy drinks, chocolate, pasta, bread, rice, fruit, milk, vegetables, processed foods, energy drinks and ready meals.
2. May not fill you up: When you eat food, signals in your stomach and intestine tell you you are full. This doesn't happen when you consume too many calories from 'liquid sugar'. Fruit juice, energy and fizzy drinks, and alcohol such as beer and wine add to your calorie intake but do't do anything to suppress your appetite. This leads to you overeating and exacerbates point number 1! The picture below shows how easy it is to drink nearly 1400 calories! If your daily intake is 2000, it doesn't leave much room for food!
3. Will cause Type II Diabetes: When you eat sugary food, blood sugar surges to DANGEROUS levels. Luckily our body has a natural defence to bring the sugar back down to safe levels, insulin. Insulin is so powerful though is causes blood sugar to drop too low. This results in more sugar cravings!
Let's look at a real example of this, you have something sugary in the morning like cornflakes or toast or a croissant. Insulin is released and your blood sugar comes hurtling down so by mid morning you are craving something sugary, you have a coffee and add sugar, with a couple of biscuits. Blood sugar and insulin surge again. By mid afternoon you have the same craving so have a can of coke and then in the evening you want a sweet dessert.
Insulin has risen to high levels 4 or 5 times a day. If you repeat this day in, day out, the cells become resistant to the insulin. Imagine being in a party, with load music and lots of people shouting, you have to shout really loud just to be heard. That is what insulin has to do, the cells stop listening to all the 'noise'. Your blood sugar stays chronically high and leads to a condition known as Type II diabetes. (Type I Diabetes is caused by genetics and not behaviour)
Long term risks of Type !! Diabetes are:
visit the NHS page for more information on any of these conditions
And don't think this is a disease that just affects adults now, it is becoming a more frequent condition for teenagers and now even affects children AS YOUNG AS 5!!!
4. Muscle wastage: If you are unable to get a sugary snack after insulin has left you with low blood sugar, a couple of hormones will turn to muscle tissue to provide the additional energy. Protein in the muscle is broken down, transferred to the liver and turned into sugar. Now the fact the muscle is responsible for the majority of calories burned each day, having less muscle will contribute to fat gain!
Eating sugary food not only packs fat on you, it reduces your ability to burn fat too!
5. Leads to sugar addictions: There is a lot of research out their that shows eating sugary food lights up the addiction areas of the brain (dopamine receptors for my geeky friends) And some research shows that sugar can cause stronger addictions than cocaine and heroin!
6. Will rot your teeth: We all remember the tales when we are younger from our parents not to eat too many sweets as it will make our teeth fall out. Well that is one tale they told that was true! But it isn't just sweets, it is all SUGAR! I spoke to a friend recently after a disastrous trip to the dentist. She couldn't understand as her child had no sweets or fizzy drinks. A quick look at the diet and the problem was clear, 3-4 large glasses of orange juice a day!
Orange juice has the same amount of sugar in as THIRTEEN hobnobs, 51g of sugar in a 500ml serving
7. Feeds Cancer: A lot of the research shows that cancer uses sugar to grow! God forbid any of you get cancer, but if you do, please consult a specialists and look at ways to reduce sugar intake in your diet!
How much sugar is right for me?
Too little is bad, too much is probably worse! What is the right level for me?
It all comes down to your natural body type! Naturally slimmer people need more sugar than those naturally bigger! You can identify your body type using a simple questionnaire and then get your personal recommendations to eat the RIGHT amount of sugar to stay healthy!
For example, even though a pineapple is healthy for some people it is too sugary.
Dark chocolate is a health food containing a lot of magnesium and helps control cravings BUT only for certain body types.
It can get very confusing, am I eating the 'wrong' healthy food for my body type? Am I eating the too much of the right food?
If you are interested in finding our your body type and receiving your unique recommendations, visit our nutrition page and take the questionnaire!
Hope you enjoyed the read
Resident health expert and owner, Dean Zweck.