What Sugar Does To Our Bodies

Each day we see more and more information on the effects of sugar in and on our bodies. Recently I saw several ads claiming that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS, a source of sugar) and table sugar were both safe. However, recently a study was published by a Pediatrician colleague of mine from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. He and his team reported that in 43 children they tested, after only 10 days without sugar, their triglyceride levels (a form of fat) decreased by an average of 33 points. Their LDL-Cholesterols (the bad cholesterol) also dropped 5 points as did their diastolic blood pressure (the lower number). Dr. Robert Lustig and his team also determined that all of the children in their study reduced their risk of diabetes because their sugar and insulin levels normalized. Even though this study was done in children, there is no reason to believe it wouldn’t happen in adults. That this was after only 10 days without sugar is amazing!

Not All Calories Are Equal

Most diets are just concerned with calories. If you consume less calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. But this isn’t always the case because not all calories are created equal. Some calories are worse than others. Sugar as we know it is at the top of the list. We all have table sugar or sucrose in our homes. This is the most common sugar available in the US. It is made up of equal parts of glucose and fructose (fruit sugar). HFCS is also, basically, half glucose and half fructose. It is a common sweetener in beverages and processed foods. But fructose is the bad part of sugar in terms of what it does to our bodies. Our bodies use glucose as the preferred energy source. It is easily burned for energy and the extra is stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen, which can quickly be converted back into glucose if our bodies need additional energy. But this isn’t the case with fructose. Fructose is only metabolized in the liver and because the liver can only handle so much fructose at a time, the excess fructose gets stored as fat. Once the storage capability is reached, the excess fat spills into the blood increasing the risk of heart disease and strokes.

What Happened in Ancient Times?

In ancient times, we only obtained fructose in small amounts. Cane sugar (sucrose) and HFCS were not readily available as they are now. Today, we consume approximately 130 pounds of sugar each year or about 1/3 of a pound every day (there’s HFCS in pasta sauce, ketchup, processed foods, mustard, etc.). A sweetened drink hits the liver like a tsunami wave according to Dr. Lustig. Fructose, unlike other sources of calories, doesn’t turn off the hunger hormone ghrelin. This means that you can eat a lot sugar and not feel full. The consequence is that you keep eating. In addition, fructose stimulates an area in the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area is also known as the reward center of the brain. This results in us feeling rewarded, good and euphoric, resulting in us wanting to eat even more.

What You Need To Know

Several years ago, food companies began replacing the HFCS sweeteners with cane sugar – going back to when cane sugar (sucrose) was the only sweetener. They advertise that it’s even safer. Remember, cane sugar and HFCS are both 50% sucrose and 50% fructose. And the extra fructose is bad for long-term health. The children in Dr. Lustig’s study reduced their dietary sugar intake from 28% to 10% to isolate the effect of sugar on the body. The sugar was replaced with complex carbohydrates. The results were dramatic. When sugar is reduced in our diet, expect our bodies to thank us in as little as 10 days.
Lustig, RH, Mulligan, K, Noworolski, S, et. al. Isocaloric fructose restriction and metabolic improvement in children with obesity and metabolic syndrome. DOI: 10.1002/oby.21371. Article first published online: 26 OCT 2015.