The biology of sugar is fascinating because, historically, we only consumed about 22 teaspoons a year. If we were lucky and found some honey, or we had a lot of berries, we’d get a little rush of sugar.  Or maybe, like the Nepalese honey hunters, where they had to literally climb a tree a hundred feet high with a smoking bush to get the honey out of the tree. Imagine if you had to climb a tree with a smoking bush to get a biscuit!

But now we are living in an ocean of sugar! The average South African eats about eight thousand teaspoons of sugar per year (40kg). Why should we care about consuming this much sugar? Well because we tend to store belly fat.

Why is belly fat bad?  Belly fat is the fat around your organs. It’s the visceral fat, it’s the fat that coats your liver, your kidneys, your intestines. It’s not the subcutaneous fat or the fat on your butt or your thighs, it’s belly fat. And that fat is so active, it’s not just there holding up your pants. It produces all kinds of molecules.

One of the inflammatory types is cytokines. The term cytokine storm became known during Covid.  High blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, dementia, kidney disease. All these chronic illnesses are the result of this belly fat, which is producing hormones, neurotransmitters and inflammatory molecules. And literally, because of the way the body works with high insulin levels, the insulin lets the sugar and the fuel into the fat cells, but it doesn’t let them out. So, it’s like a one-way turnstile at the sports stadium. All the calories get in, but they don’t get out. This means that you shut down fat burning. So, by eating sugar, you literally shut down your ability to burn the fat off your body. The second is that it slows your metabolism. Third, it actually creates inflammation.  Fourth, it drives horrible hormonal changes in men and women that make basically men into women and women into men. You get men with men boobs and you get women with facial hair and hair loss on their head, because of the changes of the hormones that happened from the visceral fat. And then you get shrinkage of your brain, and the hippocampus reduces, so the memory centre reduces. That’s why Alzheimer’s is now called Type 3 diabetes. And if that were not enough, it also fuels cancer cells. Cancer loves sugar.

Sugar is also highly addictive, most processed foods including things like prego tomato sauce has more per serving of sugar than two Oreo biscuits. Your glass of orange juice, which is supposed to be healthy, is like basically drinking a can of coke (8 teaspoons of sugar). The more we eat/drink, the more we want.

When it comes to sugar and all the different kinds of sugar, think about them in much the same way. Unlike fat, there is trans fats, saturated fat, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, all have profoundly different effects on your biology. Sugar is sugar is sugar. Whether it’s from honey or maple syrup, or whether it’s from brown sugar or from refined sugar or coconut sugar or whatever. All kinds of raw cane sugar, whatever, whatever, whatever, whatever. It’s all pretty much the same. Probably the worst thing to consume is high fructose corn syrup.

Just because a type of sugar is deemed natural, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Arsenic is natural, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Be very conscious about what you are consuming.

There are a lot of artificial sweeteners available these days including non-caloric sweeteners. Aspartame and saccharin and sucralose, and many others. All have been shown to, one, alter the microbiome, which is the bacteria in your gut, in a way that causes you to gain weight apart from the negative impact on your immune system. And two, large studies have been shown to be associated with obesity and diabetes.

There’s something called the cephalic phase insulin response. What that means is that when you are thinking about sugar, you release insulin. True!! Have you heard of Pavlov’s dogs. He trained them to salivate when they heard his bell, because they knew they were going to get food.  Then he’d ring the bell without food, and they still salivated. That also happens to us. When we taste an artificial sweetener, it acts like a bell and sends a message to our brain; “Sugars on the way.” What does our body do? It kicks up unnecessary insulin. Insulin is the fat storage hormone, insulin makes you hungry, insulin causes your body to put on that visceral fat, create inflammation, cause hormonal chaos and make you hungry.

The take home message is that it’s not your fault. Two, we’re living in a sea of starch and sugar. Three, it’s the cause of almost all known chronic disease and aging. Four, artificial sweeteners aren’t much better. And five, if you’re going to use sugar, use stuff that you put in your food yourself, whether it’s a spoonful of honey or maple syrup or whatever. Don’t let corporations feed you sugar unwittingly. Check the labels of all processed foods.

Be smart about it, clean up your diet, and feel the energy kick in!

Reference: Dr Mark Hyman