How Does Sugar Affect The Body?
We all know that sugar has a big effect on human body. It fuels us for exercise and gives brain quick energy so that we can complete cognitive tasks.
Now, there are different types of sugar which I have touched upon in my article “Why sugar is not the problem, but you are?” (link opens in the new tab if you fancy checking it out).
I will dedicate this article to simple sugars because complex Oligosaccharides are classed as fibre and they affect your body in an entirely different way.
By simple sugars I mean Monosaccharides and Disaccharides, these are the most abundant in everything we eat and these are probably the ones that we all eat plenty of. On the other hand, complex sugars are lacking in most people’s diets these days.
SUGAR AND THE BODY
Some sources out there even claim that our body and brain perk up the second carbohydrates enter the mouth, however studies conducted on endurance athletes (mainly cyclists) have not proven any significant improvement in performance after using a carbohydrate mouth rinse.
After actually swallowing the sugars, they obviously travel to the stomach to be broken down into simple glucose. Stomach acid and enzymes aid this process. The mass then travels to the small intestine where glucose gets absorbed into the blood through the intestine wall, at this point we call it blood sugar or blood glucose.
Blood then takes glucose to the rest of the body, whenever it’s needed at the time. In order for the body to do this task efficiently, we need Insulin which is a hormone that acts like a key opening up a cell up for glucose to enter. Under normal circumstances where the body is healthy, blood glucose is kept in check by an organ called pancreas which is responsible for insulin secretion. When the receptors in pancreas detect high blood sugar, they instruct the organ to release insulin which then travels with the sugar to the cells that need it and opens the cell up for the sugar to enter.
If there is any blood sugar left after the body used what it needed, it travels to the liver or muscles and gets stored in the form of glycogen. Muscles can store up to 400g of glycogen, liver around 100g. In calories, this means that the body can hold between 1700 and 2200 of glycogen for us to use depending on our size, gender and fitness level – the more active and fit we are, the more glycogen can be stored.
WHAT IF WE HAVE TOO MUCH SUGAR?
If we consume more sugar than our body can utilise, we can face some serious health issues over time. Unfortunately these usually take years to show and when they do, they are not easy to fix.
The most common complication of body being over saturated by sugars is probably Type 2 Diabetes. According to Diabetes.org.uk, there was as many as 4.7 million people living with Diabetes in 2019 in the UK. Yes, there are two types, Type 1 being a genetic disorder having nothing to do with diet, but only 10% of people with Diabetes have the Type 1.
90% suffers from basically self-inflicted disease caused by consuming way more sugar than their body needs and not exercising enough which, in the end, leads to being overweight, even obese and insulin resistance, eventually resulting in Type 2 (three in 5 adults in the UK are overweight or obese).
If it keeps going at the same rate, the number of people living with Diabetes in the UK can be as much as 5.5 million by 2030.
One in ten people over 40 now has been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and many others don’t even know they have it because they haven’t been officially diagnosed.
Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that one is born with or can develop at any age. This individual’s pancreas is unable to produce insulin at all because the body destroyed the cells responsible for producing it, therefore a Type 1 patient has to limit sugary foods and carry an insulin pen on them in case of blood sugar raises too high.
Type 2 Diabetes is an insulin resistance. Pancreas usually produces it just fine, the body is just ignoring it and blood sugar is not decreasing.
Both cause blood sugar to be abnormally high but they have an entirely different cause and this has to be addressed. Most Type 2 Diabetes patient don’t need an insulin pen because the lack of insulin in blood is not the problem. The problem is that the body ignores it and became resistant to it over time. Some patients, however, do require Insulin treatment because their body’s ability to produce the hormone naturally decreases but it differs case to case and going into this is not the point of this article.
Typical Type 2 treatment will probably include limiting sugar intake and increased exercise accompanied with medication,
which should effectively lead to a weight loss and the condition being manageable.
Diabetics usually follow something called GI Index (Glycaemic Index) which basically groups food into classes acording to how badly they spike blood sugar levels. It has nothing to do with how processed the food is, however the more processed usually means higher GI, but it’s not a rule. For example, corn, potatoes, white bread or watermelon have a very high GI. There is a lot of GI lists out there so if you are interested, you can find one that you visually like, print it and put it up on a fridge. The lower the number the “kinder” is the sugar in that product to your blood.
According to NHS, 67% of men and 60% of women is overweight or obese, as of 2020.
There is an increase of 23% in hospital admissions where obesity was a factor.
20% of kids between the age of 10 and 11 are classified as obese! That’s one in five.
The most widely used method to determine obesity is BMI (Body Mass Index) which basically is just a ratio between weight and height. It doesn’t take into account how active you are so if you are very athletic and muscular, the chances are that BMI will show you as overweight or obese because it doesn’t know whether the weight you carry is muscle or fat. It is, however, a good enough indicator for the general population. You can check your and your child’s BMI on NHS site HERE, it’s very easy.
To be diagnosed as obese, you will need a little more than just an online tool so if you are concerned, or if your numbers are higher than you expected, I recommend seeing your general practitioner.
Another good way of measuring fat tissue is a waist measurement because, as we all know, adipose tissue tends to gather around our abdomen. Fat stored in this region is also very different to fat stored in other parts of the body such as legs, hips and arms. Abdominal adipose tissue is metabolically active and seems to have a link to CHD (coronary heart disease) and, above already mentioned, Type 2 Diabetes.
Waist measurements should be taken as you breathe out and is supposed to be done around the biggest part of your belly which would probably be around the belly button. I know it’s called a waist circumference and waist is a little higher (just under the last ribs) but for this purpose, we need to note the numbers from the widest part of the abdomen in order to determine the true obesity issue.
Taken from the table by NHS:
- Men under 94cm – low risk
- Men over 102cm – high risk
- Women under 80cm – low risk
- Women over 88cm – high risk
The numbers do differ slightly with ethnicity, Asian people have the limit set to 90cm instead of 94 because they are statistically shorter. But again, if you unsure, please consult with your GP. My role here is to spark your interest in this topic, not self – diagnose yourself.
So, what is obesity?
Simple. It’s an abnormal increase in weight caused by consuming more calories than the body is able to burn. So if the body is unable to burn those calories (mainly because it’s inactive), it’s going to store them as fat. There is no way of saying how many calories you need daily, this is incredibly individual and it depends on many factors:
- Fitness level (the more active you are, the more you burn)
- Age (the older you are, the slower the metabolism, hence the less you burn)
- Lifestyle (active or sedentary?)
- Nutrition (foods high in calories and low in nutrients are quickly stored as fat if the body is unable to burn the energy)
- Gender (men generally burn more than women because their bodies are larger and they have more muscle tissue)
Public Health England suggested that in order for adults (aged 19 – 64) to stay healthy, they should exercise daily and aim for at least:
- 150 minutes of moderate activity a week OR
- 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week
There are some health conditions that can potentially cause weight gain, such as Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland), although, according to NHS, these conditions do not cause obesity if properly controlled by medication.
WHICH FOOD IS TO BLAME?
(Without pointing any fingers)
I think we all know this, at least subconsciously.
If not, I suggest you start reading labels. And I have to warn you, you will be surprised with the amount of simple sugars you consume.
This list is just to mention some that we’re all guilty of:
- white rice
- white bread and white flour
- table sugar, honey, maple syrup
- breakfast cereal (check your label, they are all incredibly different and I recommend choosing whole meal version with no added sugar – or very little)
- basically the whole confectionery aisle in the supermarket
- ready meals
- processed products (pasta sauces, yoghurts, fruit juice, jelly, jam)
- fizzy drinks (can of coke gives you 39g which takes you over the recommended intake by 9g, in just one can!)
- alcohol (beer and wine – and no it doesn’t really matter which one) – spirits are not high in sugar but they are calories without any nutritional value
How about an experiment for a week?
The recommended sugar intake for an adult is 30g. How about trying to stick to it for 7 days? It would be a great family challenge. If you want to include children, try not to go over 24g (7 – 10 years old) or 19g (4 – 6 years old). Just be prepared for some grumpiness 🙂
You will notice two indicators on the label. “Carbohydrates, of which sugars”. Carbohydrates are all the sugars, even the previously mentioned complex sugars classed as fibre which are beneficial for our bodies and gut health. You will notice that the number next to “Sugars” will be the majority anyway. You’ll usually see something like Carbohydrates – 30g, of which Sugars – 27g. This means the 27g are the simple sugars that you should concentrate on.
I Hope you learned something new and if not, I hope I inspired you to think about what you put in your bodies. Be honest with yourself. Write a food journal if it helps. But if you do that, you have to include everything, every single nibble and takeaway coffee you’ve picked up during the day. And, I have said this in every article, READ THE LABELS!