The sugar fat connection
We have been talking about fats and cholesterol and we have pointed to the detrimental effects of sugar consumption. Sugar and fats might not appear to be connected but according to nutrition expert Udo Erasmus, “refined dietary sugars and starches almost always turn into fats in the body.” In this fat and cholesterol phobia driven world we live in, we don’t seem to be as scared about the effects of sugar in our health. In what follows, we will see how sugar can be more of a cardiovascular risk than the dreaded cholesterol.
When we talk about sugars, we are referring to all refined sugars and syrups. These are:
- Simple sugars: glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose (also known as levulose) and galactose (found in milk).
- Double sugars: sucrose (table sugar), maltose (in beer) and lactose (in milk).
- Dextrins and dextrans.
- Syrups made from sugarcane, sugar beets, sorghum and maple.
- Honey. The problem with all of these sugars is that our body digests and absorbs them rapidly and turns them into saturated fatty acids.
- Starches. Starches are sugar molecules bonded together. Enzymes in our body must break the bonds between the glucose molecules, gradually turning starches into glucose via digestion. Glucose is the primary fuel for the cells in our body (from vegetables rather than from simple sugars). Starches are preferable to sugars because they are digested and absorbed more slowly. Refined starchy foods (white flour, rice, paste, enriched flours, corn starch, tapioca, breakfast cereals, etc) are more likely to turn into fats than starches from whole grains, which contain more fiber and are digested even more slowly.
Sugar in your kitchen
Products that contain a lot of sugar are ketchup, canned fruits, juices, ice creams, jams, jellies, soft drinks, pies, candies, etc. Many meat and sausage products are extended with refined starch and protein. Starch mixtures are more difficult to digest than either protein or starch by itself. When poorly or incompletely digested, such mixtures can lead to bloating, intestinal pain and gas. Potatoes and yams contain starch that is quickly broken down and can increase blood sugar levels rapidly.
Carbohydrates and health problems
Complex carbohydrates (vegetables) are the best source of slowly released glucose, which is the best fuel for providing the energy we need. Complex carbs contain fiber and other things that are digested slowly. The glucose released is burned/used up by body functions at the same rate that it is produced therefore they don’t provide extra energy that turns into fat. Complex carbs also contain vitamins and minerals (cofactors) that enable our body to burn them cleanly into carbon dioxide, water and energy. On the other hand, diets high in refined carbs will lead to cardio vascular disease (CVD) or diabetes as early as 30 years of age. Refined sugars need no digestion and are absorbed rapidly, they lack the cofactors and our body cannot burn them properly. When this happens glucose then floods our blood and cells. This is a dangerous situation that can lead to diabetic sugar shock, coma and death.
Our body deals with excess glucose in two ways:
- Stores it as fat.
- It excretes excess glucose through urine (common in diabetes). This only happens when the first fails as is the case of overload or failure of sugar regulating mechanisms.
Our body is not equipped to deal with continued excess, so this is something we need to avoid. When we eat excess glucose what happens is the pancreas releases insulin, which in turn moves glucose into our cells. In our cells glucose is fed into the energy producing cycle (krebs cycle) of the mitochondria in our cells. This stimulates the production of fatty acids, which get turned into a triglyceride, which then is stored in our cells and organs. This is why high sugar consumption leads to high triglycerides in the blood and to cardiovascular disease: stroke, heart attack, clogged arteries and diabetes. What is more significant is that these fats are ‘sticky’ saturated fatty acids. Our body makes enzymes that change saturated fatty acids (SaFas) into a liquid oil, so the sticky and prone to form flow impending clots in blood vessels are changed into a liquid oil that doesn’t have such dangerous effects in our body. This ability is limited though, so over consumption of these sticky SaFas combined with lack of essential minerals and vitamins can lead to blood vessel degeneration, clots, heart attacks and stroke, pulmonary embolism, circulatory problems of the extremities and blindness in diabetics.
In addition, fatty acids made from sugars interfere with the essential fatty acids functions and increase the likelihood of diseases of fatty geneneration. An excess of refined sugars can also increase cholesterol levels. Most of our organs can use fat for energy, but not our brain, which requires glucose (from complex carbohydrates), glutamic acid or ketones from protein.
Refined sugars are absorbed very quickly into the blood stream. Insulin then has to remove this excess glucose, which causes the levels of glucose to fall too low (hypoglycemia). When this happens, the adrenal glands kick in to mobilize the body’s stores of glycogen to make more glucose. This kind of diet overworks our pancreas and adrenal glands. If the pancreas slows down it will produce less insulin so excess glucose remains in the blood resulting in cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Also, if the adrenals are too burdened, the result is an inability of our body to deal with stress. Stress caused diseases is the end result. Overworked adrenals also cause the body to be unable to raise glucose levels necessary for energy requirements of the body. This will result in low blood sugar which will cause sugar cravings. When we consume sugar in this manner, we go from high sugar to low sugar, all of which is very taxing to the body and adds a load of stress to our heart.
When the body is unable to use the extra fats and cholesterol that come from a high sugar diet, it will deposit it in the cells of our liver, heart, arteries, fat tissues, kidneys, muscles and other organs. This means atherosclerosis, fatty liver, kidney disease, tumors, obesity, etc.
If all this was not bad enough, we can add that sugar shuts down the immune system. It also increases the body’s production of adrenaline by four, which activates the fight or flight response and increases the cortisol levels in the body, which also shuts down the immune system. Sugar lacks the vitamins and minerals required for its own metabolism so the body uses its own stores of these precious nutrients. Sugar feeds candida, fungi, and cancer cells. Sugar interferes with the transport of vitamin C because they both share the same transport system. High blood sugar inhibits the release of linoleic acid from storage in fat tissues and contributes to essential fatty acid deficiency.
Sugar and triglycerides
Our body can convert a toxic excess of sugar into less harmful triglycerides (TGs). In this way, TGs provide a safety mechanism for our body. The more sugar we consume obviously, the higher the triglycerides levels will be in our blood. TGs are then carried around in our blood stream which is known as high blood triglycerides.
Triglycerides and disease
Excess TGs can cause problems. High blood TGs levels increase our risk of heart disease. They are produced by high intake of cholesterol, overeating and by high intake of refined sugars, sticky saturated fats and too few antioxidants. Under these conditions, TG fatty acids oxidize and damage the insides of our arteries. High blood TG levels may also increase the tendency of blood cells to clump together (blood clots).
Excess stored triglyceride fats correlate with high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. All increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart and kidney failure and other degenerative diseases. Diets high in fats but also rich in minerals and vitamins lessen the danger of degeneration. The antioxidant vitamins C and E, carotene, sulphur, selenium, zinc and manganese are important for preventing fatty acids from oxidizing too. Vitamin B 6 should be increased on a high fat diet as it is necessary for metabolizing the fatty acids.
A diet high in omega 3 fatty acids from flax, or EPA and DHA from fish and marine animal oils can lower triglycerides levels by up to 65%. Exercise also lowers blood TGs levels by burning up excess fats to produce energy. Normal blood TG levels are about 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).
Functions of triglycerides
Despite this dark side of triglycerides, in the right amount, they are important for health.
Chemists call fats and oils triglycerides because they consist of three (tri) fatty acids molecules joined to a glycerol (glyceride) molecule.
Triglycerides are the main kind of fat we carry in our body. All oils and fats are mixtures of triglycerides and make up 95% of the fats we eat.
TGs are the main form in which living organisms store energy for future use. Edible oils from seeds, egg yolk and fat deposits of animals are also mainly TGs. TGs serve as our body’s reserve of the vital essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha linoleic acid (LNA).
TGs are excellent insulation material, forming a layer around our body under our skin that conserves heat. Without this layer, more food consumption, more digestion, more absorption and increased metabolism would be required to keep body temperature constant.
Body fat is an effective shock absorber. It protects internal organs from shock and injury every time we take a step, walk or run.
Fat tissues store energy reserves on which our body can draw between meals, increased physical exertion, while we sleep, during pregnancy or during a famine.
TGs are fuel for all organs, except the brain. TGs store our body’s reserves of EFA’s.
To sum up, excess sugar consumption can have detrimental effects in our health. A balanced diet high in essential fatty acids is the best way to wean ourselves from sugar. Thank you for reading.