Sugar: What is it? What it does to you? Why it must go?
It’s the perfect storm. Attacks Mind, Body, and Soul.
The most trustworthy source of food and
fitness journalism in the country.
If you’ve been reading our blogs, you must have heard us insult sugar.
In fact, if you’ve read any fitness writers worth their salt, you’d have heard them too diss sugar (sometimes salt as well).
And if you’ve been on the fitness circuit for a bit, then you’d also know that this is a relatively new phenomenon. Till less than a decade ago, Fats were the culprit. You were being asked to “stop having butter” and switch to “lean meats”.
Suddenly now, the same experts are pinning all the blame on Sugar. Many have, in fact, started praising the several benefits of Fats. And many famous weight-loss diets, like Keto, rely on them heavily!
So what happened in a decade?
How did the tables turn on Sugar?!
After all, it isn’t anything new. Our diets have had sugar for ages! The very first mentions of Sugar can be found in 8th century BC Chinese texts. And especially in the Indian sub-continent, where sugar originated, its use has been all-prevalent for eons.
If it is SO disastrous, how did we not notice for about 2000 years! How did it go from near-insignificance to main-culprit in the obesity drama? And what, if all this is really true, are you to do about it?
We’ll answer all of that today. But first, a bit of science.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate. NOT a Fat.
It makes you fat, but it isn’t a Fat. Perhaps the biggest reason why it goes undetected in most foods.
To elaborate a bit: the basic, refined, white table sugar that we all think of when we think ‘sugar’, is a Disaccharide called Sucrose.
Disaccharide = combination of 2 kinds of sugar: Glucose + Fructose. 50:50.
Fun Fact: Anything that ends with ‘ose’, is a Sugar. So glucose, fructose, lactose (sugar from milk), maltose — all sugar.
Maybe they should include overdose in the list too.
When we consume sugar, the body breaks it down into its constituent glucose and fructose molecules.
And then the game begins.
Glucose, is a form of sugar that is easily absorbed by all our cells. It’s a sugar our body is capable of producing itself. Glucose, hence, is our body’s primary source of energy.
That makes Glucose important. We can’t really live and perform everyday functions without it.
Fructose, on the other hand, is NOT naturally occurring in our body. And it can only be metabolized in the liver… which is a problem. Because, chances that it’ll be stored as fat, and not used for energy, are much higher.
How Sugar is Processed
When we consume Sucrose, it passes through the pancreas, and Insulin is produced.
Insulin is the body’s sugar regulator. It tells the body to take control of the sudden sugar surge, manage it, and distribute the energy evenly across the bloodstream so it can be optimally utilized. (Eat too much sugar, over a very long period of time, and this system gets broken. That’s Diabetes.)
The problem with Fructose is that it bypasses the pancreas. So no Insulin, no blood sugar regulation, no metabolization.
Fructose goes straight to the liver. Consume a lot of Fructose and it’ll overload your liver. And when the liver gets overloaded, it stops processing the fructose to release energy. Because that’s too much work. Much easier to just store it as fat.
So Fructose, not Glucose, is the primary fattener. But that makes the murky sugar waters murkier! Because…
Q: Isn’t Fructose the sugar present in fruits?
Q: So now fruits are bad? And haven’t we been having fruits since Adam! How can they be the cause of obesity?
A: Yes, Fructose is a sugar found in fruits. But that’s not the only place it is found. Remember Sucrose = Glucose+Fructose!
In fact, the amount of fructose in fruits isn’t much at all. Consider this:
A 500ml bottle of Cola has about 55gm of HFCS (High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup).
HFCS is almost like sugar. It’s 55% Fructose and the rest Glucose. So that is 55*55% = ~30gm Fructose. And 25 fm Glucose.
Compare that to some of the most Fructose dense fruits like Bananas or Apples.
1 Apple = 10gm Fructose. 1 Banana = 8gm Fructose.
You’d need to have 3–4 of each to match just the fructose in a bottle of soda. To say nothing of the 25gm of glucose.
This takes us back to the question of serving sizes.
The serving size of Coke is 500ml. That of a banana or an apple is 1.
So comparing 500ml coke to 500gm of fruits is ridiculous. But this absurdity hasn’t stopped the processed food-industry from making the comparison.
The more important question though is –
Why are the serving sizes different?
If we can consume a half litre bottle of Coke in one go, why aren’t we able to eat 500gm of Apples? They’d roughly be the same calories!
We can’t because apples and bananas and all fruits are nutrient-dense foods. Unlike Coke, they aren’t empty calories. They are fiber and minerals and a lot of nutrients. They fill you up and give you a feeling of satiety.
Ok, so fruits are fine. But why is Sugar so bad? Rather:
Why is Sugar the Worst thing to have happened to the human diet?
If your fitness journey is like the videogame Contra (those born in the 80’s – gimme five), then sugar is that last level monster-machine that comes at you from all ends.
Sugar is scary because it attacks you on all fronts: Mind, Body and Soul.
We discussed this. Sugar converts into Glucose and Fructose. Too much Fructose and you get fat. Too much Glucose and you get diabetes. Talk about the devil and the deep sea.
But did you know, Sugar has now been identified as the leading cause for Cardiovascular diseases too? As if getting cavities and diabetes together wasn’t enough!
It just begins with the Body. The real game sugar plays is with the mind.
You see, our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have ready access to sweet carbs like sugar. The best they could do was get fruits. And that too rarely.
So when your carb-deprived ape-brain sees sugar, it gets VERY happy. Which, in science talk, is that it gets a Dopamine hit.
Yes. Sugar creates the same brain response as dope. In fact, studies have found Sugar to be as addictive as Cocaine (which is a slight exaggeration but directionally correct).
So next time you’re gifting someone a box of pastries, remember, you’re dealing.
Over time, anything that affects your mind and body so intensely starts seeping into your soul. Ever heard fit women (some men too) claim they have the ‘soul of a fat woman’?
What they’re essentially saying is that the idea of happiness is now so intrinsically linked with something sweet for them, that they’ve become like Pavlov’s dog. They used to eat ‘sweets’ to celebrate happiness → then it went to feeling happy just because they’re eating sweet → and now it’s so bad that the absence of ’sweet’ makes them sad.
The medicine has become the cause.
And there is science behind this craving too. One, that dopamine hit is addictive. Two, the Insulin response of your body, over prolonged sugar abuse, goes numb.
You become immune to a certain amount of sugar. Half a cake no longer cuts it. Now you need a full piece. Then you need two. Cocaine.
Ok. But why now?
Why this sudden realisation about Sugar?
Yes, sugar has been available for human consumption for centuries. But for 90% of this time, it was available in its natural form. Until the advent of the sugar mill and the creation of refined sugar.
But even with refined sugar, the problem wasn’t so severe. Because there was only one kind of sugar. Sugar.
So you knew when you were consuming it. You made a conscious choice to eat that cake or drink that lemonade. And because our body can process only so much sweet food (food that it recognizes as ‘sweet’, rather) at a time, it applied automatic controls on the portions. Things, hence, were manageable.
But then came the Great Depression. And wages plummeted. And the US government started incentivising its farmers to switch to ‘cash’ crops. Corn, being first amongst equals. And farmers did as told. Which led to a massive corn surplus with the government. But they had no use for it.
This is how it was born. To remedy corn accumulation.
HFCS is just like sugar. But cheap. Once they discovered corn could be converted to HFCS, they went crazy. And ended up with tons of HFCS. And again no use for it.
So they incentivized the food industry to replace sugar with HFCS.
But the food industry did them one better. They didn’t just replace, they introduced HFCS into everything. Bread, pasta, candy, yogurt, salad dressing, juice — you name it.
It was so cheap. And people loved it! Their brains didn’t recognise these foods to be ‘Sweets’, but their bodies knew they were getting glucose and fructose. And their mind was getting that dopamine hit.
The perfect cover-up
So Americans started consuming it by the tons. There’s a reason why average, per person sugar consumption in the US has tripled in the last 100 years! That’s over 200gm of sugar a day! That’s about 30–40% of their daily energy requirement coming from sugar alone.
That is INSANE.
And like it always does, the US didn’t keep it’s problems to itself. It made it into a business, advertised the hell out of it, and exported it to the world.
So now we are all eating sugary pasta and drinking canned juices and getting fat and diabetic and toothless.
Thanks, Uncle Sam. For not fucking us. But fucking us over. And no, we are not going to sugar-coat this.