Last week, I sent a video in the 7 Things I Learned of Dr. Robert Lustig…
In the video, called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” he reveals some of the science behind how some sugars can cause havoc on the body – under certain conditions.
That last phrase, “under certain conditions,” I think may be the most important rule when you are dealing with sugar or your health in general.
I’m not going to review the entire video here, since Dr. Lustig does a much better job in the lecture than I ever could.
Here’s where you can watch the video if you like (but it’s not the main point of this article and it’s 90 minutes long, so I suggest watching after you read!):
Dr. Lustig’s main point is this…
Sugar – namely fructose – is not good for us without fiber. (The phrase “without fiber” is essential to note here as well.)
I’ve seen many health experts take his lecture out of context to mix it around to whatever their agenda is. Some use it to explain that all sugar is bad and other use it to explain why all carbohydrates are bad – others knock him because they think he’s saying not to eat fruit. (Unfortunately, this last group of people seriously misunderstood him – or didn’t bother to watch the whole video to the end.)
What has happened here is that experts have taken Dr. Lustig’s very specific (and well done) research and molded it into whatever they felt was appropriate to further their agendas.
Now look, everyone has an agenda. When we ask friends over for dinner, we make sure that it’s appealing to them and maybe even leave out the fact they may hit traffic on the way or that the house may not be as clean as you’d like it to be.
But when it comes to health, the stakes are greater. The individual could be harmed when you use only bits and pieces of information to further a commercial or ego goal.
(Just to be clear, I have an agenda too… mine is to get you to eat a lot of plants (not necessarily all), think clearly, be informed and be super-healthy. So any bit of information that I give you will be run through those filters and you should know that too.)
Getting back to sugar, what’s always shocked me about the back and forth about sugar (including the rise that Dr. Lustig’s lecture has created) is that both sides – sugar or no sugar – base their arguments on scientific fact and describe two different metabolic processes of the body that are both happening (usually) within a 24 hour period.
Today, I want to share these two separate (and opposite) opinions and scientific processes around sugar and metabolism then let you decide which side of the fence you’re on (or maybe there’s really no fence at all.) These both – as far as the general consensus goes – are scientifically correct, so they’re both not theory.
How can the body be so confusing? LOL, let me show you here…
(Please keep in mind when I talk about sugar here, I am talking about natural sugars from foods in complex or simple form. I am not talking about processed sugars which should be avoided completely.)
The Brain and Muscles on Glucose
First up, to argue for the inclusion of sugar (mainly with fiber) in our diet is the fact that our brains run very efficiently on glucose.
Glucose is the main fuel used by your brain to keep your neurons functioning properly. Because neurons can’t store glucose, they must have a regular supply of it – which is where complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates can be helpful to give you a proper amount of glucose for a sharp brain.
Sugar with fiber releases sugar into the blood slowly (which makes them a better long term choice), while simple sugars can be absorbed through the stomach lining almost immediately.
If you have too much sugar in your blood and your blood sugar rises, your pancreas will release insulin which then stores the sugar away as fat. This is a natural regulation process and should be expected to happen less than more often, but if you have too many blood sugar spikes over a lifetime can lead to insulin resistance and – worse – type-2 diabetes.
On a positive note, glucose is also used to help you get energy to your muscles. It is present in anaerobic and aerobic metabolism.
So clearly, sugar or glucose in the right forms and right amounts has value in your diet. You don’t want your brain or muscles to shut down, right?
Well, they actually won’t shut down – even if you don’t eat sugar.
This is the other side of the coin…
Ketones and Brain / Muscle Function
Your body (and brain) can run on ketones which are created by a conversion of fat and amino acids in the liver. Basically, you could eat a very low sugar / carbohydrate diet and your brain could burn ketones as fuel while your muscles can use fatty acids.
This process, while it takes more time and energy to convert, allows the body to run fairly efficiently without the intake of excessive sugars. Some will argue that ketones don’t burn as well as glucose in the brain, but evidence shows that humans can live this way effectively and thrive.
On the negative side, if you have too many ketones, you could create too much acid in the blood which strips minerals to help buffer the acidic condition – causing inflammation and disease.
So which type of metabolism is best for you? Do you eat sugar or not?
Well, if you look at both forms of metabolism above, there’s not a straight answer.
If you eat sugar, but not too much, your body and brain should function well.
If you don’t eat sugar, but not too little, and focus on protein and fat then your brain and body should function well.
If you eat too much sugar (under certain circumstances), you could eventually cause insulin resistance or type-2 diabetes.
If you eat too much protein and fat, you could eventually cause lower blood pH.
Once again our science has put us into a bind. Both sides apparently work – and ARE working in your body every day.
These processes don’t exactly switch on and off like a light switch – they work in harmony. Your body produces ketones when you sleep since there is no source of blood glucose and then once you eat sugar – say in the morning – slows the production of them ketones and uses the glucose you eat to fuel the brain. During fasting, which definitely happened much more in our human past than now, your body also runs on ketones.
So those who demonize either glucose metabolism or ketone metabolism are half-right. The body does both – so it’s really not a question of which one it functions best on, it’s a question of which combination works best for you based on your metabolism, thyroid / endocrine function, blood test results and energy levels.
If you’re sending out too many ketones in your urine (can easily be tested) you may not be getting enough calories from glucose (or enough calories at all). If you’re serum glucose is too high, you may be either overdoing it on the sugar or on the fat (or both).
As you can tell, there’s no black or white explanation to any of this, but luckily there are ways to test how YOU react to different fuels – in this case the lack or abundance of sugar. These – like I mentioned above – are urine and blood tests that measure metabolic markers like ketones and serum levels of glucose. When I was eating a no-sugar diet, my ketone levels were up, my blood sugar levels were down. When I was eating more carbohydrates my serum blood levels went up, but my ketones went down. I think you may see where I’m getting here.
Our decision to eat sugar is not based on what we read in a book. It’s based on what we read from our own body chemistry.
So before you wholeheartedly believe the next expert who tells you that sugar is the devil or that protein will kill you, remember that each metabolic process has a place and it’s up to you (not them) to decide what works best for you (as long as you use testing to back it up!)
(PS. I’ll talk about sugar and cancer tomorrow.)
I want to know your thoughts: Do you run better on low sugar, moderate or high?
The Best Sugar is Natural!
Discover red banana sugar – one of the best tasting natural sugars on the market today. It’s one that not only Annmarie and I love, our whole office goes crazy about it too!
Here’s where you can read more now…