Look at how many grams of sugar are in what you’re eating (on the nutritional label). Now divide that number by 4. That’s how many teaspoons of pure sugar you’re consuming. Kinda scary, huh? Sugar makes you fat and fatfree food isn’t really free of fat. I’ve said it before in multiple articles, but occasionally, I’ve had someone lean over my desk and say “How in the heck does sugar make you fat if there’s no fat in it?”. This article will answer that puzzler, and provide you with some helpful suggestions to achieve not only weight loss success, but improved body health.
First, let’s make some qualifications. Sugar isn’t inherently evil. Your body uses sugar to survive, and burns sugar to provide you with the energy necessary for life. Many truly healthy foods are actually broken down to sugar in the body – through the conversion of long and complex sugars called polysaccharides into short and simple sugars called monosaccharides, such as glucose. In additions to the breakdown products of fat and protein, glucose is a great energy source for your body.
However, there are two ways that sugar can sabotage your body and cause fat storage. Excess glucose is the first problem, and it involves a very simple concept. Anytime you have filled your body with more fuel than it actually needs (and this is very easy to do when eating foods with high sugar content), your liver’s sugar storage capacity is exceeded. When the liver is maximally full, the excess sugar is converted by the liver into fatty acids (that’s right – fat!) and returned to the bloodstream, where is taken throughout your body and stored (that’s right – as fat!) wherever you tend to store adipose fat cells, including, but not limited to, the popular regions of the stomach, hips, butt, and breasts.
As an unfortunate bonus, once these regions are full of adipose tissue, the fatty acids begin to spill over into your organs, like the heart, liver, and kidneys. This reduces organ ability, raises blood pressure, decreases metabolism, and weakens the immune system.
Excess insulin is the second problem. Insulin is a major hormone in the body, and is released in high levels anytime you ingest what would be considered a “simple” carbohydrate, which would include, but not be limited to: fruit juice, white bread, most “wheat” bread (basically white bread with a little extra fiber), white rice, baked white potato, bagels, croissants, pretzels, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, waffles, corn chips, cornflakes, cake, jelly beans, sugary drinks, Gatorade, beer, and anything that has high fructose corn syrup on the nutritional label. Two actions occur when the insulin levels are spiked. First, the body’s fat burning process is shut down so that the sugar that has just been ingested can be immediately used for energy. Then, insulin takes all that sugar and puts it into your muscles. Well, not quite! Actually, most of us, except those random Ironman triathletes and 8000- calories-per-day exercisers, walk around with fairly full energy stores in the muscles. As soon as the muscles energy stores are full, the excess sugars are converted to fat and, just like the fatty acids released from the liver, stored as adipose tissue on our waistline.
But that’s not all. After the blood sugar has been reduced by going into the muscles or being converted to fat in the liver, the feedback mechanism that tells the body to stop producing insulin is slightly delayed, so blood sugar levels fall even lower, below normal measurements. This causes 1) an immediate increase in appetite, which is usually remedied by eating more food; 2) the production of a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol triggers the release of stored sugar from the liver to bring blood sugar levels back up, which, combined with the meal you eat from your appetite increase, begins the entire “fat storage, metabolic decrease” process over again.
This process of destabilizing blood sugar levels and sending your body on a roller coaster ride can occur throughout an entire day, week, or month. The excessive cortisol that accumulates in the body eventually distresses your hormonal system and results in other problems, including a further decrease in metabolism, obesity, depression, allergies, immune weakness, chronic fatigue syndrome and other serious side effects.
So what kind of carbohydrates can you eat to avoid de-stabilizing blood sugar levels, constantly sabotaging your weight loss, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care as you get older? Here is a list of carbohydrates do not trigger such a strong insulin response and instead provide long-term, stabilized energy: apples, oranges, pears, plums, grapes, bananas (not overly ripened), grapefruit, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat spaghetti and egg fettuccine, whole-wheat pasta, bran cereal, barley, bulgur, basmati, Kashi and other whole grains, beans, peas (especially chick and black-eyed), lentils, whole corn, sweet potatoes, yams, milk, yogurt (preferably low-fat or fat-free) and soy. Stay away from processed and packaged foods as much as possible, because they are highly likely to include artificial sweeteners (which basically have a similar effect as sugar), as well as simple and refined sugars. Keep your eye out for ingredients that include sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, arabinose, ribose, xylose, deoxyribose, lactose, and other fake names for sugars. Even “healthy” juice and many health food products will need to be avoided if they contain high levels of sugar.
If you need more help with your diet, just let me know. Feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll give you some suggestions on how a personal trainer can help you with your nutrition. My book, Shape21, includes 21 days of nutritional intake that completely stabilizes blood sugar levels, which, when combined with the perfect exercise program that I’ve detailed in the book, leaves you with a lean, athletic body. You can check it out at my website, http://www.pacificfit.net, or at a gym near you.
If you’d like my FREE newsletter and weekly audio podcast, simply visit http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com. For a more personalized online fitness coaching, fat loss, human performance or nutrition consulting, you can also visit http://www.pacificfit.net.
Until then, train smart!
M.S. PE, NSCA-CPT, CSCS