If there is one thing I really hate, it’s misinformation portrayed through over simplification.
Unfortunately one of the biggest over simplifications is sugar, there are more myths around sugar than religion nowadays.
From being more addictive than cocaine to the root cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Poor old sugar really has an endless list of deadly functions.
However, how true is this? If I start putting a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee today, will I be putting in two tomorrow and maxing out my overdraft and credit card next month to fuel my addiction?
Obviously no. In this post I want to explain why the view of sugar has been grossly over simplified and is in-fact causing many people unneeded frustration and anxiety around food.
It’s been said sugar is extremely addictive, even more so than cocaine, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes processed food like chocolate and ice cream are very addictive, but that’s not just from sugar as i’ll explain.
What is Sugar?
So what even is sugar? It is often portrayed as some sort of unique and evil substance. Yet it’s actually a generic name for sweet soluble carbohydrates. There are actually many forms of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Table sugar is a mixture of these three sugars in varying quantities.
Our bodies normally contain about 400-600 grams of the glucose(sugar) as glycogen within the muscles and liver. Sugar in the form of glucose is actually the primary fuel for our brain and many other organs within the body.
Even when we cut out all carbohydrates from our diet the body goes through a process called gluconeogenesis. This is when it turns protein back into glucose to fuel the brain.
Glucose really is so important our bodies will make it from protein even if we don’t eat it. Hopefully you are starting to see sugar is not some unique and deadly poison created in an underground laboratory.
It is just a simple carbohydrate we utilise and consume for energy everyday. It is no more the cause of all obesity, diabetes and many other diseases than protein or fat are.
You are probably asking then, why is it so blamed for obesity and constantly in the news for its adverse effects?
Well it’s pretty much a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. In that many foods containing sugar are a large contributing factor in obesity. But i’ll explain why it’s an over simplification.
When was the last time you started uncontrollably eating spoon after spoon of table sugar?
I’m guessing never. That’s because although the sweet taste of sugar is pleasant, on its own sugar really isn’t that tasty.
It’s Fat & Sugar together
Sugar on its own is a lot like fat on its own. Think about it, when was the last time you either ate spoon after spoon of olive oil, butter or coconut oil? Probably not recently.
The point here is, neither pure fat or pure sugar are actually that tasty, nobody stays at home eating bowls of sugar or butter.
What people do stay at home eating though is stuff like ice cream, chocolate, crisps, pizza and takeaways. Many people find it extremely hard to resist the last slice of pizza or leaving half a tub of ben & jerry’s.
Yet although most ice cream and chocolate are high in sugar, most crisps, pizza, and many other savoury junk foods are not, yet they are very hard for most of us to resist.
The reason is, it’s not fat or sugar that make us overeat and causes addictive like feelings to food. It’s the combination of both along with enhanced flavourings.
In-fact when scientists first tried to recreate obesity in mice they tried a high sugar diet, but it just didn’t create the obesity seen in humans. Next they tried a high fat diet, but this also didn’t work.
In the end a frustrated scientist brought lots of junk food such as crisps, biscuits, chocolate and gave it to the mice. Suddenly the mice started to overeat uncontrollably and soon became very obese, this became know as the cafeteria diet.
This key piece of information only added to a new scientific theory of weight-gain. This theory was centred around the idea we overeat not because of sugar or fat, but the combination.
High fat, high sugar, high flavouring
Foods high in sugar, salt, fat and artificial flavourings are highly moorish and extremely difficult to resist. The completely unnatural combination of high fat, high carbohydrate processed foods raise our appetite and trick our brains into overeating again and again.
Compared to 50 years ago, our food has changed monumentally. It is now highly moorish(palatable) and addictive thanks to extremely clever food manufacturing.
As pointed out by David Kessler in his book ‘the end of overeating‘. Food manufactures actually have systems designed to create foods that are highly palatable.
They purposely use excessive amounts of fat, sugar, salt and free glutamate(artificial flavourings) in combination creating strong addictive like effects to the foods we eat.
Kessler explains food manufactures focus on the three point compass of fat, carbohydrate(sugar) and salt. I would add artificial flavours as a forth.
Next foods are focused around adding more fat, flavourings and carbohydrate to the food, depending on where it starts.
Deep fried tortilla chips are an example of loading, as the fat is contained within the chip itself once it’s fried. When a potato is layered in cheese, sour cream and sauce, that’s layering another way to combine fat and carbohydrates.
Finger Lickin Good
My favourite example of creating more palatable and rewarding foods is the description of KFC’s approach. Fundamentally boiled chicken is clearly not something people overeat.
However as the book explains KFC’s approach to battering and frying food results in “an optimised, fat pick up system”. With its flour, salt, MSG(artificial flavouring), maltodextrin, sugar, and spice, the fried coating imparts flavour that touches all three of the compass points while giving the consumer perception of a bargain-a big plate of food sold at a good price.
The final breakthrough for KFC was popcorn chicken. Now, gram for gram you can add even more batter and fat and use less chicken per serving making a cheaper and even higher palatability food.
KFC is an example of food reward at its finest. If you want to make a food more palatable and easier to overeat, add more fat, carbohydrate(sugar) and artificial flavourings.
As you can hopefully see now obesity and weight-gain is about more than just sugar.
The truth is although table sugar isn’t a nutritious food and particularly good for us. It certainly isn’t the root cause of weight-gain.
Don’t just cut sugar
People like to make rules such as ‘just cut out sugar’ or ‘just eat paleo’. But it isn’t always that simple.
The truth is basic phrases aren’t always helpful. It is often more complicated, but that doesn’t sell, simple sexy solutions get popular, like the 9 day sugar detox.
Sugar is no better or worse for you that fat. It’s all about context. Many foods naturally high in sugar such as fruit are great us for, but foods with added sugar such as ice cream are not.
Sugar is just a simple carbohydrate found within the human body like protein and fat. When you add it to food and make it extremely moorish like chocolate it’s easy to over consume. Just like when you add fat to a food, like deep fried battered chicken (actually low in sugar).
Forget the war on sugar, if you want to lose weight eat more unprocessed foods. Focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, legumes, dairy products, nuts and seeds.
What is your view on sugar? I’d love to hear it in the comments section.