2015 found me at the beginning of my weight loss journey and some people seemed to take that as a personal challenge (yes ex work colleagues, I’m talking to you) to derail me from my plan, or at least offer many temptations. Despite being rather private about what I was doing, my shrinking frame was inviting attention, and the more steadfast I was, the more determined they were to see me break and eat a donut or have a slice of the birthday cake. But that’s a topic for another day.
It’s surprising how often I’ve heard the phrase – it’s natural sugar! The first time it appeared on my radar, was when a work colleague had just returned from a local pop up stand and purchased two jars of home-made strawberry jam. She asked if I would like one of the jars, despite knowing and closely following my weight loss journey. As politely as possible, I told her that I no longer ate things like jam, and her response was “but it’s natural sugar, so it’s healthy”. So many things to unpack in that statement, again for another day.
To someone like me at that time, and I’d wager for many of the average population, whatever form the sugar is presented to us, our body will still treat it in the same way, and I bet that some of us are in the early stages of compromised blood sugar regulation, if not already on the cusp of insulin resistance.
I was trying to fix my blood sugar regulation and I was knocking on the door of metabolic dysfunction and type 2 diabetes, so no thank you to the jar of naturally sweetened strawberry jam.
When approaching a change of diet, it’s important to identify what your goals are. Are you wanting to change for health or for weight reasons and how are you going to adjust your diet to help you meet those goals? We are all bio-individual and in different stages of our health journey, but it’s important to point out the affect that sugar has on our body, whether it’s from eating an apple or from sucking on a lolly pop.
The American population consumes an average of 160lb pounds/72.5kgs of sugar per person per year and I could safely assume the Australian and European population wouldn’t be too far behind, if not already on par with this staggering amount of sugar consumption.
But let’s get back to this notion of natural sugar = good and added sugar = bad, and understand what sugar is.
Glucose is the name given to blood sugar, simple sugars easily absorbed into bloodstream.
Fructose is fruit sugar, simple sugars easily absorbed into bloodstream, converts to glucose or stored as fat.
Sucrose known as refined table sugar, made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Sucrose must be broken down.
Lactose is found in dairy.
Glycogen is the stored form of excess glucose and it’s important to know that is can be converted back into glucose when needed to fuel the body.
Our blood sugar regulation is controlled by the central nervous system’s communication with our pancreas, adrenals, adipose tissue (fat), liver and skeletal tissue. Whether you eat an apple, a slice of white bread or a bag of fairy floss, a myriad of systems are engaged to process and metabolise the sugar. Our systems are working hard to keep us in homeostasis, to ensure that everything is balanced.
The pancreas releases the hormone insulin, and its main function is to shuttle glucose into the cells for energy production and it releases another hormone glucagon which takes the stored glucose out of the cells and brings it into the bloodstream to help raise blood sugar when needed.
When our blood sugar is out of whack – usually due to diet high in refined foods, or maybe when suffering stress, the adrenals will also start to play a major role with our blood sugar regulation, and it’s not an ideal role.
A consequence of taking in too much glucose means that our body can convert the glucose into triglycerides and store them in our adipose tissue (hello beer belly).
Our liver is fundamental for the process of gluconeogenesis – the production of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources, and glycogenolysis – where the stored form of glucose is released into the bloodstream.
Our skeletal muscles also act as a place of storage by storing glycogen (the stored form of glucose) for its own use.
In days long gone, we just weren’t consuming the equivalent of six oranges in minutes as we now do by drinking a couple of glasses of orange juice. The benefit of eating fruit, opposed to drinking fruit juice is that the orange in its whole form will be fibrous and bulky. You could easily drink a cup of juice, but most likely would struggle eating three oranges at once. You wouldn’t have the benefit feeling full from the fibre in the orange, and the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can be found in the whole fruit and juice is essentially an empty calorie bomb.
The combination of increased consumption of processed and refined foods, stress and environment toxicity has created this emergency need for us to lower our consumption of sugar. The good news is, through adjusting our macronutrients, fats, protein and carbohydrates we can create a more balanced hormonal release and use our macros more effectively in order to produce energy.
So what does all this mean in regard to the healthy strawberry jam? Well, whilst the strawberry jam; at one stage of its life was a whole strawberry, it did indeed contain naturally occurring fructose, “natural sugar”. I’m sure some sort of sweetener would have been added to that jam, as I couldn’t imagine the boiled/cooked strawberries on their own would taste very appealing.
In any case, the resulting jar of jam may have been labelled natural, it’s still a far cry from its once natural form.
2020 – Nutritional Therapy Association Inc – Blood Sugar Regulation Student Guide
A Spoonful of Sugar: Are All Sugars the Same? Medically Reviewed by UPMC Harrisburg March 18, 2019
Sucrose vs Glucose vs Fructose: What’s the Difference? Healthline – Written by Melissa Groves on June 8, 2018
Is fructose bad for you? Medical News Today Medically reviewed by Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D., specialty in nutrition — Written by Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA on November 28, 2018