Sugar, do we need it?

Shaun Waso

How reliant are we on sugar to sustain a healthy body? Before we can answer this question, it’s important to note what nutrients our body needs and what role sugar plays in this regard.

Macronutrients (Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates)

Everything we eat is broken down into amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose. Whether you eat beefsteak, a breakfast cereal, a cucumber or drink a coke, it all ends up as one or a combination of those three elements that fuels and builds your body.

Amino acids come from PROTEIN and they are needed for vital processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. One of the 20 amino acids – leucine – can be converted to glucose.

Fatty acids are the basic elements of FAT.  Your body needs these different types of fatty acids as they provide energy, make up the cell membranes, help absorb certain vitamins and minerals, and even produce important hormones. Excess fatty acids form triglycerides and are stored as fat.

Glucose is the most basic element of CARBOHYDRATES. Carbohydrates come in three different forms. Sugars, starches, and fibre. Fibre is not converted to glucose but stays mostly in its original form as it passes through our intestinal tract.

Starches and sugars are broken down into its basic building block which is glucose.

Of these three elements, PROTEIN, FAT and CARBOHYDRATES, only protein and fat are essential nutrients. Essential nutrients are nutrients your body can not be without and you have to eat the nutrients as your body can not manufacture it. Your body can make the sugar it needs from protein and fat if no carbohydrates are fed to your system. Therefore sugar (glucose) is a non-essential nutrient.

Sources of glucose (sugar)

Complex carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread) and simple carbohydrates (fruit, honey, dairy, syrup)  of which simple carbohydrates are the easiest to be absorbed by your body.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is glucose derived from corn, some of which is converted to fructose via enzymes. The resulting mix of glucose and fructose is very sweet and preferred by the food industry as an additive to highly processed foods, as it is cheaper than cane sugar (Sucrose).

The vast majority of highly processed foods contain HFCS. It is hidden in everything we eat. Certainly, most packaged foods have HFCS added to enhance the flavor of the food. As most fat is stripped from highly processed food, sugar is added to enhance the taste.

How much glucose do we need?

It is estimated the average adult has five litres of blood in their body. Your body needs one teaspoonful of glucose circulating in the body and about 500g of stored glycogen in your liver and muscles combined. To delete the stores of glycogen in the muscles, one has to do very vigorous exercise and to deplete the stores of glycogen in the liver, one has to fast for about 24 hrs. So for the average person, these glycogen stores are quite safe from depletion.

The blood glucose level is regulated by the pancreas by secreting the hormones insulin and glucagon if the blood glucose is too high or secreting glucagon too low.

When our glycogen stores are full and we have our teaspoon of glucose in our bloodstream, we get rid of excess glucose by burning what we can and the rest get converted to triglycerides and stored as fat.

Sugar facts:

Sugar has no nutritional value, sugar is purely a form of energy.

Image of breakdown of calorie information, protein & amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, fats & fatty acids and minerals

Sugar is not your body’s preferred fuel

We have been told that sugar (glucose) is our body’s preferred fuel. This simply is not true. Your body burns fuel in the following order of preference. Alcohol, Glucose, Fat. Our modern diet is constantly feeding our bodies glucose, so we never get to burn our fat as a preferred source of fuel. Once we restrict our sugar intake our bodies will turn to burning the cleanest fuel source and that is fat. Glucose is useful to burn when we need bursts of energy and that is the reason why we store glycogen in our muscles and liver.

Sugar is addictive

Our brain responds to sugar the same way as it would respond to frowned-upon drugs like cocaine. We get addicted to the dopamine response and our brains and bodies crave this. We develop a need to consume sugar in bigger and bigger quantities outside of the normal hunger response causing us to consume more sugar than we actually need. The additional sugar is converted to glucose which is ultimately stored as fat.

Harms gut Health

Sugar promotes the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut and stunts the growth of the bacteria we rely on to be healthy. The imbalance of good vs bad bacteria is increasingly being recognized as being associated with our overconsumption of sugar.

Sugar causes chronic inflammation

A healthy inflammatory response is required as our bodies use this to mobilize its immune response and healing protocols for a variety of threatening conditions inside our bodies. When the body has an inflammatory response and the inflammation dies down because the threat has been neutralized, we have a healthy system.

When we are consistently injecting an oversupply of sugar into our bloodstream, the body defense mechanism goes into constant overdrive as our protective inflammatory response is continuously activated. This leads to many chronic ailments including autoimmune response, allergies, arterial disease, etc. as the overstimulation of our immunity systems start working against us.

Disrupts your appestat signalling

The system of signalling between your gut and brain is your appestat. When not confronted with addictive brain response and the lack of nutrients as experienced by a high sugar diet, your body regulates hunger precisely via your appestat. Just as you would regulate your body temperature, your brain will signal you when hungry. Introduce high energy low nutrient density food (highly processed sugary food) your body keeps telling you to eat more as it only signals you to stop eating when you have had enough essential nutrients. In the process, you are eating high levels of pure energy in an attempt to get some nutrients into your body.

Why eat SUGAR?

Sugar is shown to be inflammatory, without any nutritional value, not your preferred source of fuel, nurtures an addictive relationship with food, harms your gut health and interferes with your appestat. Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, auto-immune diseases, chronic inflammatory disease and many more are closely associated with the consumption of sugar.

It does all of this without giving you any benefit whatsoever, indeed, sugar is a non-essential nutrient. You can happily stop eating all forms of sugar today and you will adapt to burn fat and your liver will start making the little glucose you need for some metabolic functions.

The choice is yours…..

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