SWEET TRUTH

Su­gar is widely ac­cepted as the cul­prit be­hind soar­ing obe­sity rates. But ex­actly how is the white stuff mak­ing us fat?

Men's Fitness - - Fuel | Sugar - Words Joe Warner

For decades eat­ing fat, specif­i­cally sat­u­rated fat found in meat and dairy, was blamed as the lead­ing cause of many con­di­tions and dis­eases rang­ing from obe­sity to can­cer to heart dis­ease. With the re­search be­hind those find­ings now widely dis­cred­ited, at­ten­tion has turned to find­ing the real cul­prit fu­elling rock­et­ing obe­sity rates in the West­ern world: su­gar.

To­day 67.1% of men are clas­si­fied as ei­ther over­weight or obese, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Health Sur­vey for Eng­land re­port, which is a four­fold in­crease since the 1970s. That’s the same decade in which the shaky ev­i­dence that eat­ing fat made you fat emerged, and in which the masses were told to avoid it in favour of in­creas­ing their con­sump­tion of car­bo­hy­drates – in­clud­ing su­gar, which was added by the buck­et­load to low-fat foods to make them palat­able.

The typ­i­cal Bri­tish adult now con­sumes 12.1% of their daily calo­rie in­take from su­gar, with 26% of that fig­ure com­ing from sweets and choco­late, 25% from ce­re­als, cakes and bis­cuits, 21% from soft drinks and 10% from al­co­hol, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Na­tional Diet and Nu­tri­tion Sur­vey. We ditched fat, a macronu­tri­ent we have eaten since climb­ing down from the trees, for su­gar – a far more re­cent di­etary ad­di­tion – and what hap­pened? We all piled on the pounds. This is es­pe­cially true in the UK, which in 2014 was the third fat­test coun­try in Europe, be­hind only Ice­land and Malta, ac­cord­ing to the Global Bur­den of Dis­ease study pub­lished in med­i­cal jour­nal The Lancet.

The war on obe­sity was be­ing lost – mainly be­cause it was be­ing fought against the wrong enemy. But now, af­ter years of mis­un­der­stand­ing, mis­in­for­ma­tion and mis­guid­ance, it’s su­gar that’s firmly in the crosshairs.

WAG­ING WAR

In 2015, a Bri­tish Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion re­port said that ev­ery year the ef­fects of poor diet cost the NHS £6 bil­lion and claim 70,000 lives, and called for the in­tro­duc­tion of a tax of 20% on all sug­ary drinks, in­clud­ing fruit juices. Pro­fes­sor Sheila Hollins, who led the team be­hind the re­port, said that the in­tro­duc­tion of the tax could re­duce the preva­lence of obe­sity in the UK by around 180,000 peo­ple. The fol­low­ing year the gov­ern­ment an­nounced it was plan­ning to adopt the tax, and in his March 2017 bud­get chan­cel­lor Philip Hammond con­firmed it would be im­ple­mented from April 2018.

A sep­a­rate 2015 re­port from the Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Nu­tri­tion (SACN), a body com­prised of highly-re­garded aca­demics, sug­gested af­ter a sev­enyear en­quiry into po­ten­tial so­lu­tions to the obe­sity cri­sis that sig­nif­i­cant changes be made to the nu­tri­tion ad­vice given to the pub­lic. The cen­tral pro­posal was halv­ing the max­i­mum daily limit of su­gar from 70g to 35g, which is the equiv­a­lent to one can of fizzy pop. The sug­ges­tions were sub­mit­ted to Pub­lic Health Eng­land, which ad­vises the Depart­ment of Health (DH) on pol­icy. How­ever, in a move con­demned by many health cam­paign­ing groups, the DH shelved the re­port and set no time­frame for its pub­li­ca­tion.

De­spite this set­back, the gov­ern­ment’s adop­tion of the sug­ary drink tax and the lack of pub­lic re­sis­tance to it shows a grow­ing recog­ni­tion of the se­vere im­pact su­gar has on our health.

But how ex­actly has su­gar made us fat?

BREAK IT DOWN

There are three types of sug­ars found nat­u­rally in whole foods and they are ben­e­fi­cial to your diet be­cause of the vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and other nu­tri­ents they also con­tain. Th­ese are polysac­cha­rides, such as starch and amy­lose, which are found in grains; monosac­cha­rides, such as glu­cose, fruc­tose and galac­tose, which are found in fruit; and dis­ac­cha­rides, such as su­crose, lac­tose and mal­tose, which are found in milk.

When you eat th­ese foods, the sug­ars are bro­ken down into glu­cose in the gas­troin­testi­nal tract. The glu­cose is then trans­ported via the blood to the or­gans and other tis­sues, in­clud­ing the brain, for use as en­ergy. If this en­ergy is not needed, it is stored as glyco­gen in the liver and mus­cles. If your glyco­gen stores are al­ready full then glu­cose is con­verted and stored in fat cells.

SU­GAR MOUN­TAIN

Since so many healthy foods are nat­u­ral sources of su­gar, why is it mak­ing us obese? The an­swer is sim­ple. It’s the sheer amount of the stuff we’re eat­ing. And, per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly, the amount we’re drink­ing.

“We ditched fat for sugat and what was the re­sullt? We piled on the pounds”

Be­cause su­gar is used as an ad­di­tive to in­crease sweet­ness and palata­bil­ity in so many prod­ucts – es­pe­cially fast food, con­fec­tionery and con­ve­nience meals – it’s all too easy to con­sume huge amounts of added su­gar with­out even re­al­is­ing it. When you fac­tor in a daily large cap­puc­cino (13.8g of su­gar) and glass of or­ange juice (25g), a lunchtime fizzy drink (37g) and a pint of cider af­ter work (20.5g), it’s not hard to see how it’s pos­si­ble to con­sume far more than your daily rec­om­mended in­take of su­gar from drinks alone.

VI­CIOUS CY­CLE

Most added sug­ars are in the form of su­crose. When it’s bro­ken down dur­ing di­ges­tion, the re­sult is a mol­e­cule of glu­cose and a mol­e­cule of fruc­tose. If your liver’s stor­age ca­pac­ity is full, the fruc­tose is con­verted and stored as fat. Added sug­ars pro­vide noth­ing but en­ergy in the form of carbs, with no other nu­tri­ents – and fruc­tose is even more dam­ag­ing be­cause it fails to ac­ti­vate sati­ety cen­tres of the brain and leaves peo­ple feel­ing hun­grier, ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished in the Jour­nal Of The Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

Over time this can re­sult in an in­creased calo­rie in­take, be­cause the calo­ries from su­crose no longer sat­isfy you, so you eat more of it. The re­sult is a vi­cious cy­cle of over­con­sump­tion and a lot of ex­cess calo­ries be­ing stored as body fat. Un­sur­pris­ingly, there is a strong sta­tis­ti­cal as­so­ci­a­tion between peo­ple who con­sume the high­est amounts of added su­gar and rates of obe­sity, for all age groups, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Jour­nal Of Clin­i­cal Nu­tri­tion.

LONG TERM DAM­AGE

One of the most dam­ag­ing ef­fects of ex­ces­sive su­gar con­sump­tion on health is the devel­op­ment of in­sulin re­sis­tance. In­sulin is a hor­mone which fa­cil­i­tates glu­cose’s en­try into mus­cle and fat cells from the blood­stream (imag­ine each cell has a locked door and glu­cose can’t get in un­til in­sulin ar­rives with the key).

The con­di­tion of in­sulin re­sis­tance oc­curs when the body pro­duces in­sulin but can’t use it ef­fec­tively, so glu­cose re­mains in the blood­stream in­stead of be­ing ab­sorbed by the cells. Over time the in­sulin­pro­duc­ing cells of the pan­creas cease to func­tion, so blood glu­cose lev­els stay above nor­mal ranges. This re­sults in type 2 di­a­betes, and also dam­ages nerves and blood ves­sels, lead­ing to se­ri­ous health is­sues such as heart dis­ease and kid­ney fail­ure.

The sim­ple truth is that if you want to get a lean and healthy body then you need to keep a closer eye on your daily su­gar in­take. Stick­ing to nat­u­ral sources with their added fi­bre and other nu­tri­ents will keep you on the right track – so long as you make fizzy drinks, con­ve­nience foods and take-aways an oc­ca­sional treat and not a daily oc­cur­rence.

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