The last article I wrote was about the non-digestible sugars found in fiber, so today let’s discuss what happens to the digestible sugars. There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media lately about public enemy #1 – added sugars.
As I discussed last time, sugars come in many forms including long branched polymers such as cellulose or starch or small single units such as glucose. Plants store their energy in the form of starch, and we are able to break down this molecule to generate energy. Plants also contain many smaller sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose. Glucose and fructose are single units while sucrose consists of glucose bonded to fructose. The sweetness found in fruits and vegetables is attributed to the presence of these smaller sugars, and the human body perceives some sugars to be sweeter than others. For example, fructose is considered sweeter than sucrose which is why many food manufacturers add it to their products. The product high fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose and 45% glucose.
Scientists are trying to further decipher why diets high in sugar are correlated with poor health outcomes. Clinical studies have shown that diets high in sugar are correlated with increased plasma triacylglyceride amounts and higher levels of LDL, also known as bad cholesterol. How do sugars regulate the production of fats and cholesterol? When glucose enters the bloodstream it finds its way to the pancreas, signaling the pancreas that blood sugar levels are high and that blood insulin levels need to increase. The pancreatic cells secrete insulin in response to glucose and the insulin then signals other cells to bring in the glucose that is circulating in the blood. The glucose enters cells found in the heart and muscle for example, and it is broken down through a series of chemical reactions to generate the energy molecule, ATP. Many unfortunate high school students need to memorize the many steps involved in generating ATP from glucose. What is interesting in the context of obesity is that one of the intermediates of the glucose breakdown process can be used as the starting material for the synthesis of fats and cholesterol. Thus, sugar can be made into fat. In addition, insulin not only tells cells to take up glucose but it also tells cells to make fat.
Both glucose and fructose are natural substances, so why has sugar become public enemy #1? The amount of sugar that humans consume has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Before humans started eating food that comes in packages, their sugar came from honey, fruits and vegetables. Today, food manufacturers seem to add extra sugar to almost everything. Sugar is an important component of our diet, but we seemed to do just fine only getting our dose of sugar from foods that retain their identity, such as oranges, apples or cherries. The sugar industry adds extra sugar to foods to sweeten them and make you crave their products. These extra sugars are unnecessary and appear to be a major contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. We get enough sugar from fruits and vegetables.
How does a person practically reduce their sugar intake? Personally, I think that in order to eat healthier you need to become a food snob. This does not happen overnight and requires many changes to your daily habits. The most important aspect of becoming prissy about your food is learning and loving to cook. Having the ability and willpower to prepare delicious yet healthy meals significantly reduces the amount of quick, packaged foods full of extra sugar that you’ll buy and eat. Being able to cook well takes a lot of time and practice but once you get good you’ll start snubbing the packaged foods, most restaurants and the crap served at bridal showers and other events. Anyone who has the time and willpower will learn that what is cooked at home is better than any of the packaged garbage sold at the grocery store or the food served at many restaurants. Another key step to becoming a healthier and snobbier you is satisfying your sugar cravings with fruits and small amounts of expensive chocolate. My refrigerator is consistently stocked with piles of fruit, and when I crave chocolate I try to only eat the most expensive brands, limiting the amount I am able to purchase. Your journey to becoming a snob will take time, but it will undoubtedly be worth it. The sugar industry will miss your business but they could afford to lose some revenue. In fact, one client of Monroe Real Training accepted the challenge to reduce added sugars. Laura M celebrated her 3-year “sobriety” date from Mountain Dew on Tuesday August 5th, and she has lost 90 pounds in the last three years, to this date, as well!! Congratulations Laura M!!