‘For all but the last few hundred years (a heartbeat on the genetic evolution time scale), really sweet foods have been difficult to find.’ – David Gillespie
Sugar… It’s a delicate topic. Unless you’ve been living in a cave lately, you will know that sugar has been copping a lot of flack from the media over recent times (and rightly so I feel). But even with all this media attention, it still washes over many people’s heads and gets thrown into the all too hard basket, with my mate included.
I’ve been guiding my mate now for quite some time with the misconceptions of weight loss and his health kick. He felt that eating fruit salad would help his weight loss plan, counting calories and drinking diet sodas was a healthy choice, following the food pyramid was beneficial and hours and hours of running a week was going to improve his health. Then I challenged him and his way of thinking and asked him to reconsider his approach, and thankfully he has so far.
We caught up for a cuppa and a chat recently, and as he puts a great big spoonful of honey in his tea, he looks at me and says “this is ok isn’t it? I mean, it’s natural right?”
He then tells me he’s stirring lots of agave syrup into his porridge in the morning too. O’ dear…
In my head I’m thinking ‘mate, if it’s sweet it usually means there’s sugar in there, natural or not.’
But I did not want to deflate his efforts as he was making great progress overall. His intentions where honorable, but he was a little off the mark.
I felt it was now time to delve into a little more about sugar… I just hoped he was ready to hear what I had to say…
Some technical stuff on sugar
You could write a book on this stuff, in fact someone has and it is called Sweet Poison by David Gillespie (a must read if you care about your health). So bear with me here as I try and condense masses of information into a paragraph in this blog post.
From my experience, when you think of sugar, most people will think of table sugar. So white, brown, caster, or raw sugar is pretty much all the same.
Now table sugars technical name is ‘sucrose’. Sucrose is actually made up of two simple sugars – glucose and fructose – at molecular level. When you eat sucrose, your body actually digests it as half fructose and half glucose. Make sense?
- All types of table sugar = Sucrose
- Sucrose = 50% Glucose + 50% Fructose
So if you ate 10g of table sugar (sucrose), your body is actually seeing and digesting 5g of glucose and 5g of fructose.
To throw a little more into the mix, there are only three important simple sugars: glucose, fructose and galactose. All sugars you are likely to come across in food are going to be some form or combination of these three.
For instance, fruit will contain sucrose, fructose and glucose. But our body see’s this simply as fructose and glucose because we now know sucrose is a combination of both.
Another good example is milk, which contains the sugar lactose. Lactose is a combination of glucose and galactose.
These three sugars make up the majority of food we call carbohydrates along with fibre (cellulose). Fibre we don’t use for energy.
Now contrary to popular belief, sugar is quit rare in nature. It’s just that us humans have made it insidious and put it in all our food and beverage products. A lot of manufactured foods are basically bland as bat shit so they load them up with sugar so they taste all sweet and yummy.
Now we certainly know sugar impacts our health from stressing the body by effecting blood sugar levels and increasing insulin production. These things alone effect longevity of life (I’ve covered all these things on many posts with more to come). But what seems to slip under the radar a little is fructose.
Fructose has minimal effects on impacting insulin and blood sugar, hence it’s low GI. The problem is that fructose is much more damaging than glucose or galactose. It’s actually 20-30 times more glycating (damaging) than glucose. Why?
In wikipedias own words:
“The medical profession thinks fructose is better for diabetics than sugar,” says Meira Field, PhD, a research chemist at United States Department of Agriculture, “but every cell in the body can metabolize glucose. However, all fructose must be metabolized in the liver. The livers of the rats on the high-fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic.” While a few other tissues (e.g., sperm cells and some intestinal cells) do use fructose directly, fructose is almost entirely metabolized in the liver.
“When fructose reaches the liver,” says Dr. William J. Whelan, a biochemist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, “the liver goes bananas and stops everything else to metabolize the fructose.” – Wikipedia
In other words, when we eat glucose we have controlling mechanisms. We can use the glucose for energy and/or produce insulin to convert the glucose into fat and save it as stored energy. Fructose on the other hand bypasses the controlling mechanisms and is directly converted to fatty acids. So all the fructose we eat is converted to fat.
Now if you consider an apple is approximately 8% fructose (2 teaspoons), throw in the fibre, skin, flesh and all the other nutrients and an apple a day isn’t going to knock you sideways… But the moment you start to process these things (like 10 apples to make a juice) and it’s a different story!
Fructose is even found as one of the main ingredients in many health/weight loss products. It’s used as a cheap source of carbohydrate. The mind boggles…
If companies started listing their ingredients transparently with pictures next to them like we do here, I think things would be a little different.
And to top it off some bright spark came up with high fructose corn syrup – HFCS – (it’s in lots of processed foods), which is extremely damaging. Think of it as an industrial strength sweetener. I read recently that this is the number one source of dietary calories in the USA, amazing!
Do you have these foods in your daily diet?
These are some of the foods sweetened with HFCS: Sodas, cookies, soups, salad dressing, sauces, bread, peanut butter, mustard… To name but a few but you get the picture. Read the labels first. Fortunately HFCS doesn’t get used as much here in Australia as it does in the US, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that changes in time. It’s cheap to produce, transport and store. As always just follow the money.
As mentioned by the Wikipedia quote above, there have been numerous studies undertaken where animals (usually rats) have been fed a high-fructose diet, and they developed livers of an ageing seasoned alcoholic.
Then if you look at the rest of your food and how they are affecting your insulin and blood sugar levels, you could be digging an early grave with your fork. A good example of unsuspecting food is breakfast cereal. Did you know that there are breakfast cereals on the market that effect your blood sugar levels more than glucose? Incredible.
Personally, if I was a diabetic or suffering high cholesterol/ high blood pressure etc. The first things I would cut out of my diet are fructose and breakfast cereal. But that’s just me…
Agave syrup & honey
So back to honey in my mate’s cup of tea and agave syrup in his porridge. We now know if you want to have a fatty liver like a raging alcoholic and get fat, consuming lots of fructose daily will greaten your cause. If you don’t want that, cutting back on your fructose intake is a smart move over the long term.
You know what’s coming next right? Honey is on average 38% fructose. Agave syrup is anywhere from 70% fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.
Agave is touted as this wonderful natural sweetener. The only thing wonderful about it is the marketing. Agave nectar and high-fructose corn syrup are made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes.
Quit the sweet stuff
Should my mate quit the honey and agave syrup? It’s entirely up to him. But I would suggest to taking a close look at his diet and seeing how much processed foods, breakfast cereals, processed fruits, dried fruits etc make up his daily diet. I try and keep my fructose intake to a minimum. I’ll get it through a little bit of fruit each day. Personally I don’t sweeten things, as I don’t have a sweet tooth as I don’t have much sugar in my diet.