Archive for August, 2009

Sugar Intake and Weight Gain

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Americans are now consuming 3000 more calories a day than they did 30 years ago – most of these calories coming from sweetened soda and sugary snacks.  Childhood obesity rates have tripled since the early 1980s – coincidentally that was the time when food manufacturers aggressively began to introduce High Fructose Corn Syrup into the mainstream food supply.  

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is produced from corn and is easier to blend into foods and beverages than sucrose.  It is now the most common sweetener used by food and drink manufacturers because it is 20 times sweeter than sucrose and cheaper to make.

The bottom line – too much sugar in a diet, whether it’s HFCS or sucrose (table sugar), causes weight gain and the increased storage of fatty tissue.   This may surprise some of you since many people think a high fat diet or large serving sizes or fast foods causes a person to put on weight.  But how often do you go to McDonalds?  Fast food on a regular basis is expensive – but sugar is cheap and it’s everywhere – for $1.50 you can have a 20 ounce bottle of Hawaiian Punch – or approximately 18 teaspoons of sugar. 

A lot happens within the body when a person consumes 18 teaspoons of sugar!  Once sugar (or any carbohydrate) enters the blood stream via the small intestines, it becomes blood sugar or “blood glucose.”  Once your body senses any blood glucose, the pancreas immediately secrets insulin in order to regulate and redirect this onslaught of blood glucose. Blood glucose can’t haphazardly swim around inside your body. 

Insulin’s job is to transport this blood glucose to the cells in your body – brain cells, heart cells, muscle cells, etc.   Blood glucose is normally a good thing; it’s energy for your body just like gasoline is fuel for your car.  Your cells need this glucose energy in order to function properly.  The problem: cells only need a little glucose to keep them healthy and working. 

So what happens to the extra glucose that the cells don’t need?  You might be afraid to ask, but you need to know.  When a person consumes 18 teaspoons of sugar which is more sugar than the body can use for energy, the excess blood glucose is sent to the liver and stored as glycogen.

Glycogen is a good thing; it’s a larger and more stable molecule.  The liver’s ability to store glycogen acts, in essence, like a back-up fuel tank in case you need energy from glucose later.  In other words, if you (or your child) skipped breakfast and didn’t consume any food for hours yet you needed to keep moving mentally and physically throughout your day, your liver would release some of the glycogen as glucose back into your blood stream so your body would have the energy it needs to function properly.  This all happens with the help of insulin.

It’s a perfect scenario: 

–         carbohydrates enters the body and becomes blood glucose

–         insulin is released from the pancreas in order to regulate the blood glucose level and provide needed energy to the cells in the body

–         the extra, unused, not-needed blood glucose is sent to the liver and stored as glycogen

–         if you haven’t eaten or if you need energy to keep exercising, your liver will release glucose from the stored glycogen so you’ll have the energy you need to function

It’s perfect, right?  Well, not exactly – the liver only has a limited number of storage sites for glycogen – only some of the excess blood glucose from the Hawaiian Punch 18 teaspoons of sugar can be stored there.  When these storage sites are full (and they become full very quickly), the body will then convert the remaining excess blood glucose into fatty tissue – the fat that shapes the body.  The results from large amounts of glucose being stored as fat is obvious;  pudgy stomachs and wide hips/buttocks that characterize the apple or pear shaped body.

An apple-shaped person carries fatty tissue around the stomach and waist area, while a pear-shaped person will store fatty tissue around their hips and thighs.  HFCS will convert to fat tissue quicker than any other type of consumable sugar.  Soda, juice drinks and sports drinks are the main sources of HFCS calories in a child’s diet!