“Naturally fat free”–that’s a common advertisement for sugar. But sugar in our diet may lead to more fat in our body. In fact, sugar may play a larger role than dietary fat in causing obesity and high cholesterol. Sugar has also been blamed for diabetes, food addictions, cavities, fueling some cancers, and inflammation.
In short, it’s not fat in our food that’s most harmful, it’s excess fat in our body that causes problems, and excess body fat can be the result of excess sugar in our diet.
How does sugar lead to obesity? Sugar spikes blood glucose levels, triggering the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin then shuttles sugar to fat cells. This storage of excess sugar leads to excess fat.
Sugar comes in many forms, all of which impact blood glucose levels. High fructose corn syrup is one form of sugar, and it may be worse than regular table sugar. A 2010 study out of Princeton University found that lab rats fed high fructose corn syrup had more abdominal fat and gained 48% more weight than other rats fed the same amount of table sugar. Their diets were otherwise equal. Could high fructose corn syrup be altering human’s metabolism too? What about children’s?
Given the amount of sugary drinks consumed in this country, it’s no surprise that childhood and teen obesity are on the rise. But even normal weight teens and young adults are now showing signs of metabolic syndrome. A study in the February 2012 issue of The Journal of Nutrition found that teens consuming the most high fructose corn syrup were more likely to have excess visceral (abdominal) fat, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose levels, insulin resistance, and lower levels of HDL cholesterol–all signs of metabolic syndrome. In addition, these teens also had lower levels of adiponectin (fat burning hormone) and higher levels of C-reactive protein (inflammation marker). Low adiponectin is also a predictor of future insulin resistance; insulin resistance is a predictor of future diabetes.
Given the research and recent studies–we should all watch and limit our intake of added sugars. While sugar may be “naturally fat free,” added sugars un-naturally add fat to our body. In reality, it’s sometimes hard to avoid all sugars.
When you do consume foods with added sugars, juices, or refined carbohydrates, consume them with fat, protein, and/or fiber. Fat, protein, and fiber slows down digestion, which in turn slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Without fat to slow down digestion, “fat free” desserts can quickly spike blood glucose levels, leading to more fat storage than the “low fat” or “fat free” versions.
Additionally, exercise, any time of day. Moderate activity–such as short walks or doing dishes after a meal–can help the body burn recently consumed sugar. Your muscles will utilize some of the carbohydrates before insulin can store them as fat. And whatever you do, try to avoid sleeping or plopping down right after eating or drinking sugar.