Yep, you read that title correctly. This piece will be devoted to the benefits of sugar. So much of the health problems and degenerative conditions that are prevalent in the world today are blamed on sugar that sugar is has become a four-letter word these days. I feel this is misplaced and quite frankly, a bit silly. This is, in large part, due to the fact that there is little to no investigation into what is seen, heard, and read in the mainstream media as it pertains to health and wellness. As the old saying goes, there are millions of fish in the sea, but few are able to plunge the depths. Today, we will attempt to plunge the depths (slightly) where sugar is concerned.
A Basic Primer on Energy Production
Did you know that every single cell in your body actually breathes? True story. This cellular breathing (aka – cellular/mitochondrial respiration) is what is responsible for producing the energy that is used to run the life-sustaining processes of the body. The simple fact of the matter is that cellular respiration is designed to run most efficiently off of sugar (glucose). The short story is that sugar (glucose) enters the cells of the body and goes through several biochemical processes – glycolysis, the Kreb’s Cycle, and the Electron Transport Chain (also known as oxidative phosphorlyation) to produce carbon dioxide, water, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP = energy).
When functioning optimally, it is the production of carbon dioxide which allows hemoglobin to supply oxygen to the cells to continue the cellular respiratory cycle in the cells, organs, and tissues of the body. This is how the body is designed to work and the way it functions most efficiently.
When there is a respiratory “defect,” the production of carbon dioxide decreases in the favor of production of lactic acid. This is not optimal for many reasons. Not only is lactic acid inflammatory in its nature, but it must be converted back into glucose by the liver using stored glycogen (sugar). This represents a rather significant metabolic burden to the liver and to the overall physiology of the organism. It so happens that carbon dioxide and lactic acid have directly opposing effects on physiology. Lactic acid actually creates cellular hypoxia (decrease in oxygen) and decreases oxygen delivery to cells, tissues, and organs.
The Low Carb Conundrum
By the end of this article, post, whatever you want to call it, it should be obvious that sugar is not the devil it is reported to be. Now, this is not to say that people should run around with a bag of white sugar attached to their hip at all times. Remember, we are speaking about sugar in the form of food (fruits, root vegetables, etc.). These are foods that will contain beneficial sugars that also have favorable saturated to unsaturated fat ratios; further enhancing the utilization of contained sugars.
One if the issues surrounding sugar is the “low carb” craze that many people are hopped up on. According to the “low carb” followers, carbohydrates are the down fall of modern society – from a nutritional standpoint, of course. The argument made by the anti-carb fanatics is that the body can manufacture glucose (sugar) from fats and proteins via lipolysis (utilizing fats for energy) and gluconeogensis (the breakdown of proteins into amino acids to be converted to glucose). These are not untrue statements, however…..
One problem with that argument – and there are many – is that both of those pathways are ultimately inflammatory. Neither is the way the body was designed to work and both are incredibly energy inefficient. In other words, those energy pathways often require more energy to execute that they generate. As well, the lactic acid produced from the utilization of fats for fuel, as mentioned earlier, is a huge metabolic burden to the system. These represent energy production capabilities that the body has as an adaptation response to not having enough glucose (sugar) or not being able to properly utilize sugar for short periods of time. Having to rely on gluconeogenesis or lipolysis is simply a sign that you are not meeting the physiological and energy demands that you are placing on your body as a whole. They represent a stressed physiological state and the body is not meant to stay in this state for an extended period of time (days, weeks, months, years). Incidentally, this state also favors and will perpetuate the stress/inflammatory cycle in the body. This may produce some short term results, such as weight reduction, but long term, it spells disaster for your metabolism.
Context is Everything
When you bring it all down to “brass tax” not all sugar is created equal and different types of sugar have differing roles in human physiology. We must first define what is meant when the word “sugar” is used. Sugar’s bad rap accelerated over the last 30 years or so since the high fructose corn syrup production came about around 1981. This synthetic sugar has been linked to all sorts of health issues that have been pretty well chronicled throughout its lifetime. However, that is not what I would call REAL sugar. There are many types of sugar: glucose, fructose, sucrose (which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose), lactose, maltose, galactose, etc.
As mentioned above, your body actually prefers to use glucose as primary source. In fact, your red blood cells and you brain rely on glucose very heavily for optimal function. Another important role for glucose (sugar) is that it activates the type I deodinase enzyme in the liver which is instrumental in the conversion of thyroid hormones (T4 to T3). Sugar takes a beating in the media and things get very “spun around.” For example, statistics show that the average American consumes at least 120-150 pounds of sugar per year. Cool…what kinds of “sugar” are “they” talking about? Are “they” talking about high fructose corn syrup, or are “they” talking about fruits, root vegetables, honey, etc?
What Can Go Wrong?
Remember, the path of least resistance in terms of energy production at the cell level is the efficient use of glucose. There are MANY things that can interfere with optimal cellular respiration, and the efficient use of glucose at the cell level. According to Ray Peat, PhD, heavy metals, dioxins, estrogen, radiation, and fluoride all interfere significantly with optimal cellular respiration. Among the most prevalent issues disrupting this process is the overconsumption of the supposed “healthy” unsaturated fats, particularly poly-unsaturated fats (PUFAs). Overconsumption of PUFAs can have the following effects on energy production and blood sugar levels:
· Suppression of mitochondrial (cellular) respiration and decrease thyroid function
· Slows overall metabolism
· Decreases vitamin E in the body (vitamin E brings oxygen to cells, tissue, etc., and encourages optimal glucose oxidation)
· Increases the biological action of estrogen, which wastes glucose and pulls oxygen from cells, tissues, organs, favors lipid peroxidation, increases lactic acid production, etc.
· Encourages the metabolism of carbohydrates into fat
· Decreases glucose oxidation (optimal energy production) and increases lipid peroxidation (production of lactic acid)
· Inhibits the conversion of glucose into glycogen (a stored form of sugar), which also will increase lactic acid
Decreasing the consumption of PUFA in the diet, in favor of healthier, more saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, etc.), can indirectly up-regulate the body’s ability to use sugar (glucose) at the cell level. This improves energy production and decreases the inflammatory/stress response in the body. Incidentally, saturated fats actually help “detoxify” PUFA in the body.
The Many Benefits and Roles of Sugar
For my money, the best sources of REAL sugar are tropical fruits (contains sucrose which is a disaccharide consisting of glucose and fructose) and root vegetables. Tropical fruits in particular contain all of the necessary nutrients, secondary nutrients, enzymes, etc. necessary to help the body process the contained sugars in the most effective and efficient manner possible. For me, they (tropical fruits) represent probably the best form of “sugar” on can consume on a regular basis.
“Fructose can actually by-pass the fatty acids’ inhibition of glucose metabolism, to be oxidized when glucose cannot, leading to greater energy production at the cellular level.” “Besides being one of the forms of sugar involved in ordinary energy production, interchangeable with glucose, fructose has some special functions, that aren’t as well performed by glucose. It is the main sugar involved in reproduction, in the seminal fluid and intrauterine fluid, and in the developing fetus. After these crucial stages of life are past, glucose becomes the primary molecular source of energy, except when the system is under stress. The placenta turns glucose from the mother’s blood into fructose, and the fructose in the mother’s blood can pass through into the fetus, and although glucose can move back from the fetus into the mother’s blood, fructose is unable to move in that direction, so a high concentration is maintained in the fluids around the fetus.”
“Sucrose consumption lowers ACTH, the main pituitary stress hormone (Klement, et al., 2009; Ulrich-Lai, et al., 2007), and stress promotes increased sugar and fat consumption (Pecoraro, et al., 2004). If animals’ adrenal glands are removed, so that they lack the adrenal steroids, they choose to consume more sucrose (Laugero, et al., 2001). Stress seems to be perceived as a need for sugar. In the absence of sucrose, satisfying this need with starch and fat is more likely to lead to obesity.
Sugar is essential for brain development and maintenance.”
“Experimental evidence shows that polyunsaturated (omega-3) fats retard fetal brain development, and that sugar promotes it. These facts argue against some of the currently popular ideas of the evolution of the human brain based on ancestral diets of fish or meat, which only matters as far as those anthropological theories are used to argue against fruits and other sugars in the present diet.”
“Honey has been used therapeutically for thousands of years, and recently there has been some research documenting a variety of uses, including treatment of ulcers and colitis, and other inflammatory conditions. Obesity increases mediators of inflammation, including the C-reactive protein (CRP) and homocysteine. Honey, which contains free fructose and free glucose, lowers CRP and homocysteine, as well as triglycerides, glucose, and cholesterol, while it increased insulin more than sucrose did (Al-Waili, 2004). Hypoglycemia intensifies inflammatory reactions, and insulin can reduce inflammation if sugar is available. Obesity, like diabetes, seems to involve a cellular energy deficiency, resulting from the inability to metabolize sugar.”
“Sucrose (and sometimes honey) is increasingly being used to reduce pain in newborns, for minor things such as injections (Guala, et al., 2001; Okan, et al., 2007; Anand, et al., 2005; Schoen and Fischell, 1991). It’s also effective in adults. It acts by influencing a variety of nerve systems, and also reduces stress. Insulin is probably involved in sugar analgesia, as it is in inflammation, since it promotes entry of endorphins into the brain (Witt, et al., 2000).”
“An extracellular phosphorylated fructose metabolite, diphosphoglycerate, has an essential regulatory effect in the blood; another fructose metabolite, fructose diphosphate, can reduce mast cell histamine release and protect against oxidative and hypoxic injury and endotoxic shock, and it reduces the expression of the inflammation mediators TNF-alpha, IL-6, nitric oxide synthase, and the activation of NF-kappaB, among other protective effects, and its therapeutic value is known, but its relation to dietary sugars hasn’t been investigated.”
“Refined granulated sugar is extremely pure, but it lacks all of the essential nutrients, so it should be considered as a temporary therapeutic material, or as an occasional substitute when good fruit isn’t available, or when available honey is allergenic.”
“Endotoxin absorbed from the intestine is one of the ubiquitous stresses that tends to cause free radical damage. Fructose, probably more than glucose, is protective against damage from endotoxin.”
“Many stressors cause capillary leakage, allowing albumin and other blood components to enter extracellular spaces or to be lost in the urine, and this is a feature of diabetes, obesity, and a variety of inflammatory and degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (Szekanecz and Koch, 2008; Ujiie, et al., 2003). Although the mechanism isn’t understood, fructose supports capillary integrity; fructose feeding for 4 and 8 weeks caused a 56% and 51% reduction in capillary leakage, respectively (Chakir, et al., 1998; Plante, et al., 2003).”
For me, sugar is not a substance spawned from the Demon Food Gods; it is an amazing substance (honey was long considered the “nectar of the Gods.”) It is the body’s preferred fuel source and when consumed from the proper sources (tropical fruit, root vegetables, etc.) it tastes damn good! When combined with the appropriate sources of pro-metabolic protein and fats for an individual’s physiology, sugar can up-regulate your metabolism and actually help you regulate blood sugar throughout the day. If you come to understand human physiology and how the body is designed to work, it is relatively easy to distinguish that which supports health from that which does not – in spite of media and popular medical spin tactics. This is a completely different way of looking at sugar, and one that would benefit a great number of people in society suffering from misinformation overload.
Resources and Recommended Reading:
1. The Metabolic Blueprint Program by East West Healing &
2. Short Course in Biochemistry by Albert Lehninger
3. Generative Energy by Ray Peat, PhD
4. Textbook of Endocrine Physiology by Constance Martin, PhD.
6. “Glucose and Sucrose for Diabetes” by Ray Peat,
7. “Suitable Fats, Unsuitable Fats: Issues in Nutrition” by Ray Peat, PhD. http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsuitablefats.shtml