Over the past few year, sugar has been a main focus of media outlets. There have been TV programmes dedicated to debating the positives and negatives of sugar. However, rather than shedding some light on the topic, they have added to the confusion.
So, how does sugar impact our overall health?
Unfortunately, the terms sugar and carbohydrates are often used interchangeably and thus create more confusion than needs be. To clarify, in food science, sugars can be either simple (examples such as glucose and fructose) or complex (such as lactose, starch & dietary fibre) carbohydrates.
Granulated sugar on the other hand, is made up of sucrose – a complex carbohydrate molecule consisting of glucose and fructose in a 1:1 ratio).
Carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth through salivary action, however, the majority of digestion happens in the intestine through the action of a series of enzymes. This degradation is needed as it allows for carbohydrates to be absorbed easily through the intestinal lining.
The main digestive difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is that simple carbohydrates do not need further digestion and thus are absorbed in their entirety.
Complex carbohydrates, however, require digestion into their simple carbohydrate components in order to be absorbed through the intestinal lining. Hence, whether the carbohydrate consumed was simple or complex, the end result is that it is the simple sugars that get absorbed. It is these simple sugars which in turn affect blood glucose levels as well as hormone stability.
So which sugar is which?
The confusion arises when individuals start referring to dietary carbohydrates as sugar, as this term is most often used to refer to white granulated sugar. To make things worse, sugar that comes from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables, is often portrayed as better, as if there is some mysterious reason that it will not be digested or picked up by the body the same way that granulated white sugar is.
This is completely misleading and shows a misunderstanding of human physiology. Sugar, whether it is from granulated white sugar or from other sources, will be dealt with in the same manner by the human metabolism.
Sugar & Disease
Studies continue to show the adverse health implications associated with consuming too much sugar – whether it be granulated or from other sources. Consuming too much sugar, in any shape or form, is toxic and this puts extra pressure on the liver to process it and minimise the damage it can cause.
Too much sugar in the blood stream will cause damage to organ tissues and effectively stop the liver’s ability to burn fat for energy. In turn, too much sugar in the diet will be stored as body fat which if a high sugar diet continues will cause this stored body fat never to be used. Our bodies have an unlimited storage capacity for body fat.
Hence, stored fat, which is brought about from consuming sugars will cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is an unwanted state as studies continually show that inflammation is a factor contributing to a variety of conditions such as metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type 2 diabetes as well as certain autoimmune conditions.
Neurological conditions risk
Studies are also shedding light on the issue that certain neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease may be caused by excessive sugars in the diet.
The bottom line is… Evidence is mounting about the detrimental health impact of consuming too much sugar. A low carbohydrate approach embraces those carbohydrates that are based on dietary fibre rather than simple and/or complex carbohydrates. By choosing vegetables and fruits low in sugar and starch, the essential micronutrient requirements are still met while ensuring no blood sugar spikes in the progress and therefore help bringing inflammation under control.
Ruth Buttigieg, BSC (Hons), MSc, ANutr is a qualified nutritionist who works at Natural Ketosis, where she helps people to better their health by changing their diet and lifestyle by following a low sugar low starch approach. Ruth read biochemistry for her undergraduate degree and she also has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from Queen Margaret University.
Sugar pic thanks to Free Stock Photos.
9 thoughts on “Sugar and Disease – Coincidence or Reality? By Ruth Buttigieg”
Reblogged this on Simple Living Over 50 and commented:
Excellent simple explanation of what sugar really is. Thumbs Up!
Great job on this post. Understanding sugar should be so easy, but the influence of the sugar dealers out there is just overwhelming.
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Thank you – and thanks for your continuing interest in our posts. Yes, sugar is everywhere isn’t it? I noticed it in my mouthwash this morning…
you do forget however that everything you eat breakdown to sugar inside the cell and is then made to energy.
What about dietary fat? I know that all carbohydrate and also protein to some extent can raise blood sugars, but I thought that fat had a different metabolic pathway.
well kaitisctoland whether fats or sugars such as glucose or complex ones such as raffinose all go through the TCA cycle. They have few different steps which are involved in their conversion to acetyl-coa which then goes to TCA cycle and then to atp synthesis. so everything you eat nsie yourcells ends up the same. Whoever weather your pancreatic beta cells could handle the insulin production and how much t3 does your body prouce is completley different story.
Acetyl‑CoA can come from carbohydrates and other
nutrients, fat (that is, fatty acids) and protein (amino acids). Glucose
is not required for acetyl‑CoA synthesis. Under conditions of
low‑carbohydrate or low total food, fatty acids become the major
source of acetyl‑CoA.
This is a quote from the metabolic specialist Prof Richard Feinman from his book The World Turned Upside Down. Although there are mechanisms to make acetyl co A from carbs, proteins and fats, this is not the only metabolic pathway and what happens where is controlled by many different factors including what you eat and what your hormones, including insulin, are doing. Since you are interested in the subject, have you considered reading Dr Feinman’s book?
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I am not interested in reading his book since my self i am cell scientist with few recent publications regarding cell metabolism. Regardin acetyl-coA i am not saying what is required for making it i am saying what carbohydrates (including sugars of all type) are converted to. Everything goes through the TCA cycle or as others maybe Prof Feinman knows it kreb’s cycle from which energy is produced (that will be how many molecule of ATP is produced. If you have any specific questions i am happy to answer.
The sugars specifically which is my area of expertise i can tell you that all sugars join the glucose metabolism pathway. Weather they join at the second step such as galactose or after they all go to produce energy which is essential for your voluntary and involuntary movements such as breathing etc. I would recomend if you are interested in the food metabolism and what happens after you eat something to read something with more scientific background such as science papers rather than a book.
At one point I ended up memorising Kreb’s cycle in case it came up in an exam! I never want to go there again. I know it’s keeping me alive but I don’t care. Cell metabolism is a a very complex area. Dr Wendy has a brief TED talk which you can access from a more recent post. She puts the metabolic issues into context regarding blood sugar control for diabetics.