Lowering Sugar Intake to Help Weight Lossby Dr. Laura Hieb, ND on October 12, 2020
So you thought talking about fasting (actually intermittent fasting) was a lot of fun, well, welcome to this blog!
So we all like, or should I say, love, sugar. What's not to love? It tastes great, gives us an energy boost (short-lived though it may be), and even can help us feel happier (in the short term anyway) by affecting brain chemistry.
So maybe you're seeing some of the downsides of sugar--its fickle nature. How it can give us a boost and then bring us down, make us feel happier and then depressed. And that's just the beginning.
Sugar is the most addictive substance known to humankind.
Read that line again.
And it's only been playing a large role in people's lives for 100-200 years, but especially in the past 4 decades. Today, sugar is in almost all the processed foods and beverages we buy. You can go to a health food store and buy organic (processed) food and it can still be loaded with sugar. Even food you don't expect to be loaded with sugar like pasta sauce or pickles can contain large amounts of sugar.
I used to ask my clients how much sugar they were eating and many would say none or almost none. I was so excited to have such an educated and proactive clientele. Then I realized, they meant that they were not adding sugar to their food. Sometimes I can be a little naive. Why add sugar to food that is already sweet enough because it is full of added sugar(s) already.
So why should we limit the amount of sugar in our diet?
- Sugar calories are empty calories in the sense that it takes vitamins and minerals from the body to process them. Most sugars (honey, molasses and real maple syrup are some exceptions) do not contain the vitamins and minerals necessary for the body to process them. So like the old saying, you're robbing Peter to pay Paul.
- Sugar makes us look older sooner. Sugar metabolism results in Advanced Glycation End Substances, or AGES, which deposit in our skin and promote wrinkles. So Sugar AGES us.
- Sugar causes inflammation. Inflammation causes pain and chronic diseases. High blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease is an example. The American Heart Association now considers sugar to be a cause of cardiovascular disease.
- Sugar makes us fat.
Now we are getting to the crux of this article!
When we eat sugar, or even something sweet, our body (our pancreas to be precise) secretes insulin. Insulin is necessary for life and its main role is to help balance our blood sugar levels. Our bodies, and especially our brains, require sugar, aka glucose, to function. Because of this, our body is very good at making sugar out of the foods we eat, even if we don't eat sugar. It can make glucose preferably from carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits and whole grains (sugar and white flour and white rice are known as refined carbohydrates). But our bodies can even make glucose from the protein and fats we eat. Pretty amazing!
Also, our body can store glucose in the form of starch, which can be converted back to glucose if our blood sugar levels start to drop. Please note, that the body can only store so much starch, so any excess sugar gets converted to fat! (Remember all those fat-free foods from the '80s and 90's to help prevent weight gain from fat?. Well there was no fat but a lot of sugar in those "foods" and so people gained weight anyway since that extra sugar got converted to fat.)
Our bodies need the right amount of glucose, which is where insulin comes in. When we eat anything sweet, such as a carrot, the pancreas secretes some insulin and the insulin leaves enough glucose in the bloodstream for the body to function, but not too much, which could lead to problems. For example, people with type 1 diabetes lack the ability to produce insulin, so they must take it in an injectable form. If they take too much insulin, their blood glucose will go to low, and if there isn't enough insulin their blood glucose too high, which can result in a loss of consciousness and even coma.
When we eat or drink high sugar products (sodas, fruit juices, candy, pastries, etc) over time, our cells become resistant to the amount of insulin secreted. This means the cells won't let insulin in, which results in higher levels of glucose in the bloodstream than there should be. And since the glucose can't get into our cells, eventually it gets turned into fat. But wait, it gets worse! Then, because of insulin resistance, we can't easily access our fat cells, so we tend to want to eat and drink (sugary) things to help our blood sugar levels, our insulin resistance increases and we gain more weight.
How do you know if you have insulin resistance? The first sign is weight gain, especially in the abdomen. And of course, blood tests can be an indicator, but usually, they can be negative until you are very insulin resistant. Other signs are skin tags, and a velvety darkness to areas of the skin, especially the lower neck, but again, these symptoms often show up later.
What can be done about insulin resistance? Well, it can be reversed, and in the process, body fat will be lost. Even if you don't have insulin resistance (yet) you can prevent it.