In today’s blog, you’re going to learn how sugar is processed in the body and the implications that consuming too much of it can have on your health. To enable you to make better decisions about your diet and lifestyle, it’s vital to understand the effects of what you eat.
After all, food is fuel, but in the right doses…
It’s everywhere and it’s getting harder and harder to avoid. And no I’m not talking about the Kardashians. I’m talking about Sugar. The tiny white molecules that make everything taste so sweet and delicious and that a lot of the time we just cannot resist. As a whole, our consumption of sugar is at an all time high, and steadily increasing. This is having an incredibly negative effect on our health. How?
What happens when we consume sugar?
Sugar is made up of 100% carbohydrates, which are the main source of our body’s energy. After carbohydrates are consumed they are broken down into smaller units of sugar (glucose), which enters the bloodstream and are transported into cells, with the help of insulin, to be used as energy.
Insulin, the key to unlock the sugar
Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas, and whose main function is to help regulate how the body uses and stores glucose by lowering blood sugar levels when they get too high (hyperglycaemia). Insulin works in conjunction with another hormone called Glucagon, which works to bring the blood sugar levels up when they get too low (hypoglycaemia).
Insulin works by acting like a key to unlock cells to allow glucose into various tissues and organs including muscles and the brain, where it will be used for energy. If the body doesn’t require all of the glucose that is consumed, it stores it as glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscles (the muscles attached to your bones). The body has limited storage capacity for glycogen, and if the glycogen stores are full, glucose is then stored as fat.
Many of the sugars in the modern diet are refined sugars, which are simple carbohydrates. What this means is that they are made up of only one or two sugar molecules stuck together making them easy to be pulled apart for digestion. This means quick energy release, a high spike in blood sugar levels, and a pancreas working in overdrive to produce enough insulin to manage the influx of glucose levels. This is opposed to complex carbohydrates, which are found in whole grains, legumes and many vegetables. Complex Carbohydrates are a longer chain of molecules, which takes the digestive system longer to break down, meaning a slower release of energy and not such an immediate need for insulin production.
So why is sugar so bad if it’s so cleverly regulated and used in the body?
Well there are a few reasons.
1. The poison is in the dose. Sugar itself isn’t necessarily bad, but the amount of it that we are eating is. We are eating far too much of it. The body is designed to eat and process a small amount of sugar. However, the refined sugars we more often than not consume, give us a larger and faster rush than our bodies are designed to accommodate and cope with. So an excess of sugar in the bloodstream has a barrage of effects including:
- Weight Gain
- Impaired Immune System
- Kidney, liver and brain damage.
A lot of the time people don’t even realise the amount of sugar they are consuming. We’re eating too much packaged food and there are tonnes of hidden sugars that people aren’t even realizing that they’re getting. How many of you are aware of the amount of sugar contained in a slice of white bread?
2. An excess amount of glucose in the blood stream puts the blood sugar management process (outlined above) into overdrive. Think about it, everything in the body wears with use, including insulin receptors. These receptors are the ‘locks’ that the ‘key’ insulin unlocks to get the energy (glucose) into cells. When they start to wear, and insulin is unable to get out of the bloodstream and into the cells, that’s when the real trouble starts. This is called being insulin resistant and is paving the pathway to type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when you are resistant to or don’t respond well to insulin. It’s a progressive disease caused by bad diet and poor lifestyle choices and is a disease that you are in complete control of avoiding.
3. Sugar depletes essential nutrients within your body. Let’s take magnesium for example. Magnesium is required for over 350 biochemical process and reactions in the body. For every molecule of sugar we consume, our body’s use approximately 56 molecules of magnesium to metabolize it – that’s 56 molecules of magnesium that could instead be put towards an excess of 350 vital biochemical processes.
Avoid insulin resistance to improve body composition.
Take the time to learn about the foods that you are putting into your body. To avoid insulin resistance, eat foods low in sugar and high in fibre, magnesium and potassium. Eat whole foods that are nutrient dense and that don’t need a label. As mentioned above, insulin resistance is a condition that you have the power to avoid. Make the right choices and make informed choices. Your health is in your hands.