How Does Sugar Make You Fat? Facts You Should Not Ignore
General public has been blinded since a long time by the notion that it’s fat that makes us fat. However, with the evolution of nutrition science over the past few decades, it has become increasingly clear that dietary fat isn’t necessarily the main evil. In fact, if consumed in the right amounts, good fats can actually prove vital for the human body. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear now that consuming excess sugar is often the primary reason behind people gaining excess weight. So, let’s delve a little deeper and answer the very important question - does sugar make you fat?
How does sugar make you fat?
Different food items have different kinds of impact on the human body, and sugar, in particular, is highly fattening. If we talk about the regular sugar (sucrose), it comprises of two main molecules – fructose and glucose.
Glucose is extremely important for human body and plays an important role in our metabolism. Our body produces it naturally and maintains a reservoir of it in our bloodstream. Each one of our body cells can take up glucose for its energy needs. Anytime we don’t get ample glucose through our diet, our body produces the desired quantity from the fats and proteins.
Fructose, on the other hand, is a molecule that isn’t a natural part of our metabolism, meaning that it doesn’t get produced naturally in our body. In fact, unlike glucose, very few body cells can take up fructose for energy needs, except for the liver cells.
That’s why anytime we eat plenty of sugar, the majority of its fructose content gets metabolized by our liver, where it converts into fat, and then is secreted into our blood.
Let’s now understand some important ways in which sugar consumption can make us fat.
1. Excessive fructose consumption raises insulin levels, which in turn causes fat gain
Insulin is a key human hormone that regulates metabolism and energy usage in the body. It’s secreted by the pancreas, and once secreted it finds its way to the peripheral cells such as muscle cells, via blood. Insulin actively sends signals to all the cells that they must put glucose transporters on their surfaces, facilitating easy passage and usage of glucose in them.
Our glucose levels spike up whenever we eat high carb meals. As excessive glucose is toxic in nature, the insulin levels in our body also rapidly go up to eliminate that glucose via the bloodstream, and then through the body cells (as explained above).
Hence, the blood glucose level in our bodies can reach toxic levels in the absence of insulin, or if insulin doesn’t function properly. However, insulin works very well in healthy bodies, enabling us to enjoy high carb meals, without worrying about dangerously high blood glucose levels.
But, over a period of time, our body cells become resistant to insulin, forcing our pancreas to secrete more of it, so as to push glucose into the cells. As a result, once our body becomes insulin resistant, we tend to have more and more insulin in our blood at all times, until we’re eventually taken down by type II diabetes.
Regardless, insulin has other bodily functions as well; and one of them is sending the right signals to the fat cells. Insulin makes fat cells pick up fat content in the bloodstream, and then store it. It also makes these fat cells avoid burning fat deposits they already hold.
Hence, any chronic elevation of the insulin levels leads to selective deposition of energy in our bloodstream, into the fat cells, leading to fat stores over a period of time.
In a nutshell, excessive fructose consumption (via sugar) can lead to a spike in insulin levels and cause insulin resistance in the body. Whenever this occurs, our body finds it difficult to access the stored fat deposits and our brain starts sending the signal is that we’re hungry. Resultantly, we overeat and put on more weight.
2. Sugar makes our brain leptin-resistant, causing us to eat more and put on more weight
Leptin is a hormone secreted by the fat cells in our body. As the fat cells get bigger, they secrete more leptin. Our brain uses the leptin levels as a signal to determine our fat content and whether we need to eat more or not. If the leptin levels are high, our brain automatically senses we’ve enough fat deposits and don’t need more.
This is the nature’s way of preventing us from eating more than what’s needed and becoming overweight. Increased leptin levels also force the body to release more fats from its fat stores, thereby increasing the metabolic rate.
That’s how things should ideally work, but this regulatory process can go for a toss if our brain becomes leptin-resistant, meaning that it can’t correctly gauge the high leptin levels in our bodies. If the brain doesn’t recognize high leptin levels, it won’t see our excessive fat deposits and no signals will be sent to the brain that we must stop eating.
In that case, we’ll continue eating and become obese. This is how leptin resistance contributes to obesity.
A high sugar/fructose diet can lead to leptin resistance. How? Fructose spikes up the triglyceride levels in the blood, thereby blocking transportation of leptin from bloodstream to the brain. This has been proven by many studies. As a result, the brain thinks our body is low on leptin levels and should get more food.
3. Fructose doesn’t make you feel full enough, thus making you eat more
It’s pretty complex how our brain and body regulates food intake – there are various neural circuits and hormones involved. Brain has a specific area known as hypothalamus, where all such signals, for instance, leptin-levels get interpreted.
A 2013 study revealed the impact of glucose and fructose on our food intake and satiety. It was found that glucose makes us feel fuller and satiated compared to fructose. It means that consuming fructose-sweetened drinks cannot make us as satisfied as glucose-based drinks, despite having the same number of calories.
Another study found that fructose doesn’t reduce the hunger hormone ‘ghrelin’ the same way (in the blood) as done by glucose.
All these studies suggest that sugar or fructose sweetened drinks leave us hungry despite putting lots of calories into our body, making us eat more, and gain more weight.
4. Sugar is addictive
Many medical experts are now calling sugar the ‘new nicotine!’ In fact, sugar causes the same kind of dopamine and opiate activity in the brain’s reward centers, as is done by cocaine.
Journal of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews featured a paper in the year 2008 which examines the addictive potential of sugar. It was found that sugar is downright addictive and impacts the same neural pathways that are impacted by the drugs of abuse.
Regular intake of sugar releases dopamine and opiate in our brain, just like cocaine and nicotine. This kind of effect can cause full-blown addiction in some people. And constant sugar cravings, leading to its excessive intake, can have many negative consequences, including weight gain.
We hope the above points are good enough to explain how does sugar make you fat! Let’s now understand how you can reduce your daily sugar intake.
How to reduce sugar intake:
Following are some points you must keep in mind to gradually reduce your daily sugar intake:
1. Eat enough during your meal times
Snack foods are by far the biggest sources of sugar in our daily food intake. Hence, you must try to do away with the need of snacking by eating enough during your main meals. Although a salad may sound good as a healthy option for lunch/dinner, it may not be the best if it doesn’t satiate your hunger and makes you indulge in unhealthy foods later.
2. Drink water whenever you feel like snacking
Our bodies often send a signal that we’re dehydrated by making us crave for sugar. Hence, whenever you feel like having a sweet, try a glass of water first. Ideally, you should aim to consume water equal to half of your body weight, each day.
3. Prepare your own food whenever possible
The best way to control what you eat, in terms of quantity and quality, is by cooking at home. As with anything, it’s always about moderation and mindfulness. There’s nothing wrong with desserts and cookies, as long as they are prepared at home, with the right ingredients and plenty of love!
Anytime you feel you’re indulging in too many sweets via juices, desserts, fruits or other things, you must put in a conscious effort to replace them with other foods. You’ll experience a major positive difference in your sleep quality, energy levels, mood, skin glow, body aches and other aspects as a direct result.
4. Use natural sweeteners
Whenever you feel like eating something sweet, it’s best to go with natural sweeteners that have essential minerals and vitamins in them, for instance, maple syrup, honey etc. Artificial sweeteners must be avoided as much as possible.
5. Eat fiber-rich foods, healthy fats, and protein for breakfast
It’s always better to consume whole foods such as quinoa, seeds, nuts, beans etc. that are full of nutrients and which can make you feel fuller, leaving no room for any sugar cravings. Target anywhere from 15 gm of 20 gm of protein in every meal, and complement it with some fiber and healthy fat.
6. Always go through the label
Although it’s obvious that foods like chocolate cakes, muffins, brownies etc. will contain sugar, you’ll be amazed by how many other foods are full of sugar and no one knows about them! Hence, it’s always better to go through the food labels and compare products (for their sugar levels) before buying any of them.
Food sources of high sugar:
As per WHO (World Health Organisation) your daily sugar intake must not exceed 25 gms. Having said that, a soda can has around 40 gms sugar, while a regular granola bar has around 20 gms of it! Therefore, it is highly likely that you are putting far more sugar into your body than what’s recommended by experts.
Furthermore, apart from the sweet treats, sugar can hide in mysterious other places, even in the food items that are savory. Let’s take you through some commonly known food sources of high sugar:
To conclude, we’d like to state that sugar we consume on a daily basis isn’t something that’s necessarily needed by our bodies. We hope that through this article we have answered most of your questions related to sugar and body weight.
So, does sugar make you fat? Yes. Does sugar cause weight gain? Yes. Coming to, “How much weight can I lose by cutting out sugar,” it depends entirely on you, as it’s eventually about creating enough calorie deficit.