We have become a nation that is addicted to sugar – whether it’s a biscuit with our tea/coffee, a little dessert after a meal or a huge pic ‘n’ mix selection. People often crave something sweet after a meal… we all know how we have an extra stomach for a dessert even if we are too full to finish our mains. Like it or lump it, we are obsessed. But could this obsession be more serious than you think?
We have been told for years how fat is the enemy in our diet – people said fat is the cause of obesity and heart problems and so on. However, it’s finally coming to light that fat isn’t the real problem… sugar is. In order to understand why, I need to explain a bit about how our body works.
Our main source of energy in the body comes from glucose – this is a primary component of sugar and it is what carbohydrates break down into. Sugar (aka sucrose) is made up equally of the molecules glucose and fructose. When we eat sugar, a hormone called insulin is produced by the body. Insulin allows glucose to travel in our bloodstream in order for it to diffuse into the cells, where the mitochondria converts the glucose into energy. Any excess glucose is then turned into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles and used as an energy resource when we need it, hence why glucose is important. However, once our glycogen stores are full, we have a big problem if excess glucose is added to our body – it can’t be used by our cells, and it can’t be stored as glycogen, therefore it is stored in our body fat.
For example, if you go into Starbucks in the morning and order a bagel and a caramel latte, you have probably already filled your glycogen stores (example used by Doug McGuff) – the liver can store 70g of glycogen, and our muscles can store 200g. Once we go over this amount, any more glucose we put into our body will be stored as body fat. So, it is important to get the correct amount of glucose – too little or too much can be problematic.
However, the real problem with sugar lies within fructose. Our body does not use fructose in the same way. Unlike glucose, excess fructose cannot be converted into energy by the mitochondria. This means that any fructose is stored as body fat straight away. This, in turn, can lead to insulin resistance, which can cause diabetes, and also obesity, which has a whole host of its own problems that come along with it.
So, what foods contain this sweet poison? As the name suggests, yes, fructose is found in fruit. However, fruit doesn’t contain very much fructose (unless you eat tonnes of sweet fruits e.g. grapes) and it has other important vitamins and nutrients that our body needs, so it is still fine to eat in moderation.
The foods that are the real problem are those containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This includes foods such as ready-meals, fruit juices, and of course the obvious ones – snacks, soft drinks, cereals, sauces, low-fat foods (sugar is used to maintain the taste when fat is removed) and any processed foods.
I know this post has been a little scientific, but it is important to understand the science behind how our body works in order to understand why something is bad for you. In my opinion, the best way to get rid of (or at least significantly reduce) our fructose intake is to cook healthy meals from scratch – it may take a little longer, but what is time compared to type-2 diabetes? And what’s more… it’ll taste much nicer!