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Why Sugar Makes Us Fat

Updated on November 4, 2012

When you hear that sugar causes weight gain, you probably were thinking that that's obvious since sugar is calorie.

However it is much more than that. The body has to his own built in negative feedback mechanism to prevent weight gain. When this mechanism is working, the body maintains normal weight for the body size. However when that mechanism is not working, the body gains weight in excess of its normal set point.

What causes this mechanism to fail and not regulate our weight properly? It is sugar in drinks and high fructose corn syrup in our foods. American consume over 150 pounds of sugar a year -- that's nearly over 0.4 pounds a day. About 10% of the total added sugars we consume are from sweetened fruit drinks.[5]

The liver can store a certain amount of sugar in the form of glycogen. But its capacity is limited. When it reach this capacity, the liver expels glycogen in the form of fatty acids. In the book, "This Is Why You're Fat", it says on page 27, "The biggest reason people get fat is sugar."

In addition, the book says that sugar grows cancer, gives you wrinkles, makes you stupid and kills your immune system -- all in chapter 2.

Fructose Keeps you Eating

Sugar is sucrose which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. High fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose, and 45% glucose. Fructose is particularly bad because it does not signal to the body that it's full.

Leptin hormone tells the body it is full. Ghrelin hormone tells the body it is hungry. When glucose is consumed, the body releases insulin to move the sugar into the cells. Insulin also triggers the release of leptin to tell the body it is full.

However, fructose is metabolized directly in the liver. It does not trigger insulin to be released. And therefore it does not trigger the release of leptin which tells the body it is full. So we keep eating.

Reference is from the book Suicide by Sugar that explains why sugar is the cause of the obesity epidemic.

Problems with Fructose

A high-fructose diet causes ...

  • raised levels of unhealthy blood fats
  • liver cells to produce triglycerides
  • lower "good" HDL cholesterol
  • insulin resistance
  • production of uric acid
  • and kidney disease
  • interferes with appetite signaling

Quoting from the book The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout That is Making You Fat and Sick, it says ...

"Eating a high-fructose diet causes rapid weight gain." [page 7]

This is true in humans as well as other animals.

Don't Add Sugar to Coffee or Tea

Don't Drink Sugar

When we consume calories in the form of food, your body knows when you have enough and will turn off your hunger. However, this is not true when you consume sugary drinks. When you drink beverages that are high in sugar and with a lot of calories, your body does not sense those calories, and you may still continue to feel hungry encouraging you to consume more.

A study as reported on National Public Radio mentions that obese teenagers who replaced soda and juices with calorie-free beverages (such as bottled water and diet soda) lost the equivalent of a pound a month over the course of the six-month trial. And the only thing they change was the beverages they drink.[1]

In at talk at Google (YouTube video here), Dr. Mark Hyman says ...

"And the thing about liquid calories is that you don't compensate by decreasing your solid food intake. ... If you have one way to lose weight and gain health ... don't drink your calories." [about 40:00 into video]

Book by Gary Taubes on "Why We Get Fat"

Gary Taubes New York Times Article

In 2011, Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat, writes in New York Times article that ...

"if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). ...if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity."[4]

In the article, it mentions Dr. Robert Lustig, an expert in childhood obesity at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine by saying ...

"If Lustig is right, then our excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years."[4]

Dr. Robert Lustig Talks about Sugar

Dr. Lustig was on the Australian radio show, The Health Report, where he said ...

"Fructose actually is a hepato-toxin; now fructose is fruit sugar but we were never designed to take in so much fructose."[2]

It is true that fructose is in fruits, berries, melons, and some root vegetables. However the fructose in fruits are packaged with a lot of fiber that ameliorates the effects of fructose, which Dr. Lustig talked about in his talk "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" available on YouTube.

In the video, he again mentions that fructose is a "toxin" and a "poison". At 20 minutes into the video. He says ...

"High fructose corn syrup and sucrose are the same. They are both equally bad. They're both dangerous. They're both poison. There I said it. Poison. My charge before the end of tonight is to demonstrate that fructose is a poison"[3]

Lustig does later admit that fructose is not "acute toxins" of the type that we normally think of as toxin. But they are "chronic hepatotoxin" (hepato meaning liver) where become toxic after say 1000 meals of the stuff.

High fructose corn syrup and sugar behave the same biochemically; they are equally bad. His main point is that "Chronic fructose exposure promotes the Metabolic Syndrome", which is obesity, type 2 diabetes, etc. [slide at 44 minutes into video]

Carbohydrates Make Us Fat

It is carbohydrates that make us fat When farmers want to fatten their livestock, they feed them grains -- essentially carbohydrates.

There are good carbohydrates and bad carbohydrates. The complex carbohydrates in certain vegetables are good. And one should continue to eat vegetables. But sugar and other similar simple carbohydrates is the worst form of carbohydrates.

Dr. Bernstein in his book Diabetes Solution writes ...

"The primary source of body fat for most Americans is not dietary fat but carbohydrate, which is converted to blood sugar and then, with the aid of insulin, to fat by fat cells." [page 128]

When Dr. Andrew Weil came on to the Dr. Oz Show (video here), he said that the fastest way to loose weight is to avoid sugar and flour. Because these raise our blood sugar levels and promote weight gain. He grants us that high quality pasta cooked al dente style without a lot of cream and in small portions is okay. Al dente means that the pasta is just barely cooked and never mushy. In that form, the pasta is not digested so fast.

He also mentions that whole grains if fine if it is in the form that the nature gave them to us -- that is when we can see the whole chunk of grains. Whole grain bread is still processed and still is not as healthy as its label leads us to believe.

Our Body's Feedback Mechanism

Let's see how that mechanism is supposed to work and why fructose does not trigger the biofeedback mechanism that is supposed to stop us from eating.

When we eat food our pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin is central to regulating carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Insulin's job is to move sugar into the cells for energy. It is also its job to put sugar into fat cells for energy storage. So, the more insulin, the more fat.

The negative feedback mechanism is that when insulin is high, your fat cells produce another hormone called leptin. Leptin's job is to turn off hunger and to stop you from eating. In fact, leptin binds to receptors in the hypothalamus of your brain. It triggers the sympathetic nervous system to increase the burning of energy.

The problem with fructose is that it does not trigger the production of insulin and therefore does not trigger leptin (which turns off hunger). In addition, fructose does not suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin.

Pharmacist Suzy Cohen Says to Check Your Insulin Levels

Insulin and Diabetes

When insulin levels are mis-regulated, diabetes occur. Type I diabetes is when the body is not able to produce insulin.

Type II diabetes is when the cells no longer responds to insulin's influence (known as insulin resistant).Type 2 diabetes is the adult-onset diabetes that most people are talking about these days due to increased incidences of diabetes in the modern world.

When insulin goes up in response to food and then comes back down, that is fine (it is supposed to). However, when insulin levels is chronically high, we have a problem and it may be the stage of pre-diabetes, even though your doctor says that your glucose levels are normal. Your glucose level may be normal even though your insulin level is too high. That is why you should have your insulin levels checked as well. The ratio of glucose to insulin should be 10:1. Insulin resistance can precede clinical diabetes for years.

Chronically high insulin makes us fat. Type II diabetes is often associated with obesity. Why does the cells not respond to insulin's influence in the first place? Insulin resistance is associated with accumulation of fat in the liver.

Then why cause the accumulation of fat in the liver? The New York Times article suggests that "there's also the very real possibility that it is caused by sugar."[4]

One can make an lab animal insulin resistant by feeding it a diet high in fructose. The fortunate thing is that if you stop feeding the animal sugar all fructose, the liver fat goes away as well as the insulin resistance.

In short, sugar causes insulin resistance and diabetes. And the condition of obesity comes along with that.

Preventing Insulin Resistance

So one way to prevent insulin resistance is to stop eating sugar. Another way is to exercise, particularly resistance exercise, as in building up your muscles. Lustig say "in fact exercise is the best treatment"[2]

You may think that's obvious because exercise burns calorie. But that is not the primary reason why. You can not burn enough calories though exercise. Exercise help prevent insulin resistance by ...

  • Exercise especially resistance training increases insulin sensitivity.
  • Exercise reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that creates the bad visceral fat that's been linked to metabolic syndrome.
  • Exercise also help detoxify fructose.


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    • Huntgoddess profile image

      Huntgoddess 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Thanks for telling me about this. I'll definitely check out that hub. Looks good.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      Not only is most soy genetically modified. But it can be an hormone disruptor which I wrote about here ...

      I don't eat soy either, unless it is fermented.

    • Huntgoddess profile image

      Huntgoddess 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      I think it's more about the process, not the ingredients.

      Mostly, though, I really don't want to eat anything made from corn or soy. Those are the two most genetically - modified crops.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      You are correct. HFCS is slightly worst than table sugar. But not by much. HFCS is typically 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Whereas regular table sugar (also known as sucrose) is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Glucose is not so bad and can be used as fuel for the body. It is fructose that is the bad part.

    • Huntgoddess profile image

      Huntgoddess 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      High fructorse corn syrup is much more dangerous, and it's replacing real sugar in most popular items, like pop --- which I'm not recommending anyway, but some folks drink a lot of it, and are better off drinking the kind with real sugar, rather than HFCS. It's very difficult to find products with real sugar anymore.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      Our sugar intake has skyrocketed over the decades. To get a sense of how much sugar American are now eating compared to the past, read my other Hub:

    • lovebuglena profile image

      Lena Kovadlo 5 years ago from Staten Island, NY

      We all need sugar in our body because it helps us focus and think... but we have to limit the amount of sugar intake on a daily basis. Certainly not good to have too much sugar at once. Very interesting and informative hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Very informative hub. Scary to see what sugar can do to us! Thank you for sharing, voted up and useful.

    • donabhatt profile image

      donabhatt 5 years ago from Hyderabad

      Very interesting and informative hub. I myself have a sweet tooth and everyday struggle to stay away from sugar.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      Thanks for voting up.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      This hub is filled with interesting and useful information. Your use of the videos was extremely helpful. I also felt that offering an explanation about the books advertised here was a plus.

      I was recently remembering a thesis a friend of mine wrote a long time ago about addiction to sugar. I find that your information here helps to clarify the process of adding fat to the body through sugar.

      Thanks ... rated Up/U/I and am sharing.