January 8

Is sugar the root of all evils?

Filed under Vegetarian & Vegan Nutrition by Frederic Patenaude

It might surprise you to hear me say that, but I believe that white sugar is not the root of all evils, as it’s often portrayed to be.

Sure, it’s very refined. It’s unhealthy. And you shouldn’t really eat it if you want optimal health. If you eat too much of it, all hell will start to break loose in your body.

But… and here’s the big “but”: if you have a little bit once in a while it’s not going to hurt you.

Nowadays it’s fashionable in the health and fitness industry to condemn sugar and carbohydrates in general as being responsible for the obesity epidemic. You also hear all kinds of statements about sugar.

The other day I was in a health food store and two employees were chatting together. One of them said that “after you eat sugar, your immune system shuts down for four hours.”

I laughed to myself when I heard that! Not only is it not true, but it’s not even physiologically possible.

Let’s talk about one of the biggest claims about sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, namely that it’s turned into fat by your body after you consume it.

Sugar turns into fat, right?

Some animals, such as cows, have a physiology that makes it very easy for them to convert carbohydrates into fat for long-term storage. For example, cows eat grass, which is a carbohydrate that’s indigestible for humans (but they have the ability to use the energy in it), and cows can store an incredible amount of fat from this food source.

Humans are very inefficient at converting sugar into fat.

In a lecture on Fructose, Sucrose and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Dr. James M. Rippe presented the current research on the subject. A few highlights:

– Americans consume between 100 and 150 grams of fat a day. How much body fat do they store each day from sugar intake? About one gram!

– In one study, they gave young healthy males up to 50% added carbohydrates. That’s 1500 calories above their regular diet! How much fat was produced by their bodies on this excess? 3.3 grams on average. That’s on a diet containing over 700 grams of carbohydrates.

– To put it in perspective, one pound of fat is 450 grams.

So, when you feed people an extra 1500 calories from sugar or carbohydrates, and about 3 grams of extra fat are generated by the body, where is the rest going?

It’s stored in the muscles as glycogen, and the rest is burned off as heat and energy.

You can make somebody fat by feeding them extra sugar and carbohydrates, but it’s NOT because most of that sugar is turned into fat.

It’s because it’s preventing the fat in the diet to be turned into energy.

In other words, here’s what happens:

1) People eat sugar.

2) They eat other forms of carbohydrates.

3) The average American eats between 100 and 150 grams of fat in their daily diet.

4) The carbohydrates they eat are turned into energy. Only one gram on average is turned into fat.

5) The body STORES the extra calories coming from fat into body fat, instead of burning them off as energy.

Whenever there’s an imbalance in energy (too many calories in, not enough calories out), the body will store excess calories as fat. But those calories essentially come from the fat in your diet, not the carbohydrates!

That’s why high-carbohydrates, low-fat (less than 10% of calories) programs are very effective ways of burning fat.

I saw it with my own eyes when I put my own mother on such a diet, and she lost over 60 pounds without ever gaining it back.

If you eat a healthy low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, you can get away with eating some refined sugar once in a while.

It’s not going to kill you, it’s not going to turn into fat, and it’s certainly not going to shut down your immune system.

Of course I’m not suggesting making white sugar a part of your diet. But if once in a while you have a teaspoon or two of sugar, it’s no big deal, and it’s certainly better than the same amount in oil.

I recommend satisfying your sugar cravings with fresh fruit. Once you eat enough fruit, you’ll never have a craving for refined sugar.

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2 Responses to “Is sugar the root of all evils?”

  1. Carol Willis says:

    How fructose can contribute to fatty liver has been in the medical journals a lot in the last couple of years. Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) is mostly a problem among persons who are obese and/or over 50 yrs old, but the percentage of the population so affected today is substantial, some estimates range upwards of 40-50%. I view fatty liver as a question of degree in those cases. Higher cortisol at least some times of the day is also common in this group, as is related higher glucose and insulin resistance.

    I often wonder whether slender, athletic, raw foodies under 50 years old (many of the most prominent online are under 40 years old) are still riding on the strength of their youth, so cannot get a sense yet of how high fructose or high carb acts as we get older, after menopause/andropause hormones changes, or if we become obese as weight creeps up slowly over the decades and during long-term life stresses. Higher cortisol and insulin resistance are common even among slender over-50s, and both tend to increase as we get older. When I see under-40 year olds online downing quarts of fresh orange juice, I have to wonder what their bodies and biomarkers are going to be like when they’re 60 or 70.

    [free registration may be required, also serves for future Medscape articles]

    I’d like to see studies compare the commonly tested HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) to whole fruits with their fiber, and to fresh homemade fruit juices (which are more concentrated in fructose). We would tend to eat less of the whole fruit than the amount of fruit needed to make a juice, and the fiber might mitigate how fructose contained in whole fruits affects the liver and glucose short term and long term, but I’m speculating on that.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Really good post. I believe that “balance” is the answer not avoiding things or going on crazy diets. Most things have a place in moderation.

    I agree with the last comment about fruit. I eat fruit for snacks rather than junk like I used to.

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