what sugar really does to the body

Image via Favim.com

Image via Favim.com

Contributed by Kate Troup

What’s better for you – a can of Coke or a glass of apple juice? Did you answer apple juice? Then you’d better read on.

Everyone knows that fruit is good for them, and some might even know that the government recommends that we have at least two pieces a day. We munch on it morning, noon and night, and what parent would sleep well at night if their kids hadn’t at least had some juice?

But how many of us would turn to juice as a healthy alternative to soft drinks, and fruit to lollies and cakes, if we knew that, in fact, we might be better off eating all those forbidden foods?

The difference between the typical sweet products that we all know we should avoid, and fruit, lies in the type of sugar found in them.

What we think of as sugar – the white stuff we add to coffee and use in cooking – is actually sucrose. When we eat sucrose our digestive system splits it into two molecules, fructose and glucose, before it can be absorbed.

Glucose is then taken up by body tissues such as the brain, muscles and heart, and quickly converted into energy to keep us running. Only then is any excess glucose converted into fat, our long-term energy supply.

Fructose, however, is completely different. The cells of our body don’t have the right receptors to take up fructose and turn it into energy, so it bypasses these and is instead taken by the blood directly to our liver. Once there, it’s converted into two new substances: triglycerides and uric acid. Triglycerides probably already sound familiar, but you might know it better as fat. That’s right, fructose the sugar that makes fruit taste so delicious, is turned into fat, not energy!

This fat spills over into our blood, and might show up in your blood test, or it stays in the liver itself causing the development of a fatty liver, an independent risk factor for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Look around you, up to one third of the people you see have a liver filled with fat, putting them at serious risk of developing a life threatening disease. If you look down and see a bulge of belly fat, then you too are one of them.

Most people know that uric acid has a liking for big toes where it settles in and causes the excruciating pain of gout. But few realise that it also causes insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, the common precursors to diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Incidentally, do you want to know the only other compound that our body turns into fat and uric acid? Alcohol. The only difference between consuming fructose and alcohol is that fructose doesn’t cross our blood brain barrier (the protective layer surrounding brain tissue) and make us think we’re better dancers than we are.

When researchers want to make their test animals overweight, they feed them fructose. If they give them glucose, they stay lean. Of course we’re no different, if you feed us fructose, we get fat, and very possibly, very sick too.

So why is Coke better than apple juice? If we drink an equal amount of sugar from each, half of the sugar from the Coke will breakdown into glucose, some of which will be converted into energy, leaving only half as fructose to play havoc with our liver. The sugar in apple juice is nearly all fructose, which you now know ends up as fat in our liver, blood vessels and belly, and uric acid which puts us at serious risk of disease. Apple juice, anyone?

If you are trying to lose weight or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or joint pain and stiffness, then fructose could be your problem.

kate-troup

Kate Troup is a nutritionist and naturopath who runs the holistic health program W8less, helping people achieve their optimal health and weight loss goals. She also has over 17 years experience in the CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) industry. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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