Sugar Is Good For You | The Power Of Sugar For The Metabolism
By Christopher Walker
While many nutritional ideas of UMZU fly in the face of mainstream nutrition, this is probably the most controversial.
And that is because, in truth, sugar, specifically fructose, is one of the most beneficial macronutrients you can consume.
You heard that right. Dr. Lustig be damned.
Table Of Contents:
- The Sweet Basics Of Sugar
- Increased CO2 From Fructose
- Bypassing InsulinAnd Increasing Sensitivity
- Improved Mineral Retention
- Increased Liver Glycogen And Function
- But What About Fatty Liver Disease?
- Oxidative Stress?
- Weight Gain?
- Sugar Recommendations
I am sure that you are skeptical right now; After all, doesn’t “everybody know” that sugar is bad for you?
However, there are many benefits about sugar that have been conveniently left out of the conversation, and the negatives are only negatives when taken out of context and misunderstood. It actually amazes me how some misguided researchers (who likely had an agenda) have so clearly overlooked the truth about sugar.
There have even been papers challenging the conventional view of fructose, especially given that sucrose intakes have dropped 40% since 1970, HFCS* has risen and fallen without any change in the state of obesity or disease, and fructose intakes have barely risen at all.
*I do not recommend HFCS, because it has other complications unrelated to its fructose content, that we will come back to shortly.
On top of that, added sugars have barely risen since 1970 (and have actually decreased from 2000), while added fats and flour/cereal products have risen dramatically (and many of these fats coming from the harmful PUFAs, like soybean oil, which we will discuss in the next module).
Before we get to that however, let’s briefly go into what “sugar” actually is.
The Sweet Basics Of Sugar:
Whenever someone refers to “sugar”, there are a couple different things they can be talking about, which can make things a bit confusing.
“Sugar” simply means carbohydrates that are not in long chains like starches.
It can be pure glucose, it can be pure fructose, it can be pure galactose. These are the three “monosaccharides”, which just means that each molecule of glucose/fructose/galactose is by itself, not bound to other monosaccharides.
But “sugar” can also mean sucrose, lactose and maltose, the common “disaccharides”.
These are molecules that have 2 monosaccharides bound together.
1 Sucrose = 1 Glucose + 1 Fructose
1 Lactose = 1 Glucose + 1 Galactose
1 Maltose = 1 Glucose + 1 Glucose
See how that works?
For the most part, all of these molecules are considered sugar, but that doesn’t mean they are all the same.
For starters, all disaccharides get broken down into the individual monosaccharides.
Hell, in proper digestion, ALL carbs get broken down into these monosaccharides, meaning that any starches you eat enter your bloodstream as single molecules of glucose.
So the real question becomes, since all carbs get broken down into glucose, fructose and/or galactose in digestion, what is the difference between these?
Glucose and galactose are pretty similar, especially since galactose gets converted to glucose pretty quickly in the body. They are both “6-carbon rings”.
The real difference lies with fructose, which is a “5-carbon ring”.
This is where the heart of the benefit lies.
The monosaccharide fructose, which has been demonized in the mainstream nutrition culture, is actually the hero of your health.
Think of it like the Batman of your metabolism.
So when I talk about the health benefits of sugar, I am really talking about the health benefits of any sugar that contains fructose, be it pure fructose or sucrose.
Yes, fructose is actually very good for you, and it is a big reason why fruit is so beneficial to your health and metabolism.
Like I said, pretty controversial stuff.
For what it is worth, I used to be stuck in the mainstream way of thinking about health and nutrition myself. It is part of what led to my quickly declining health and confusion surrounding how food interacted with the body.
But rest assured, the physiology and science behind fructose is solid, and its effects in the body are profoundly metabolic.
Let’s look at the main pro-metabolic features of fructose.
Increased CO2 From Fructose:
The benefits of higher CO2 production are wide ranging, and these are benefits that people living at high altitudes experience from the decreased pressure of oxygen in the air (better oxygen efficiency, less cancer, lower mortality rate all around, etc.).
In healthy metabolism, glucose will go through oxidative metabolism, producing more energy and more CO2.
But when you are in the stress metabolism, it will only go through glycolysis, which produces less energy and creates lactic acid instead of CO2.
Is it any surprise that lactic acid from the stress metabolism is inflammatory, while the CO2 from the healthy metabolism is anti-inflammatory?
But more importantly, fructose is producing more CO2, showing a clear sign that the cell is creating energy through the oxidative phosphorylation pathway. Otherwise, we would see more lactic acid, since these are the only two outcomes of carbohydrate in energy production.
NOTE: Carbs can also be converted to fats, which creates even more CO2. While some seem to view this as a bad thing, the increased CO2 helps control inflammation and promote metabolism, and the fats created are no different than fat you would eat. All of this points to increased energy production in the cells from fructose.
Now keep in mind that when I am saying that fructose increases CO2 more than any other macronutrient, this includes pure glucose when any degree of insulin resistance is in effect.
Put another way, fructose causes your cells to create energy using the oxidative metabolism even when glucose cannot, because of insulin resistance or diabetes.
Why would fructose have this effect?
It has to do with the next benefit of fructose: bypassing and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Bypassing Insulin And Increasing Sensitivity:
Whenever you eat carbs, your body absorbs the monosaccharides into the blood, and then releases insulin to signal the cells to take in glucose to be burned or stored.
This has two effects:
1) It helps the cells get the glucose they need.
2) It prevents the blood glucose levels from getting too high, which can have harmful effects.
The release of fatty acids into the blood from activation of the stress metabolism causes reduced insulin sensitivity and decreased glucose uptake into the cell via the Randle Cycle (the fatty acids in the bloodstream compete with glucose to get into the cell to be used for energy.)
This of course means less glucose is available to be burned.
Translation: Less CO2 production, less oxidative metabolism.
Fructose, on the other hand, shows higher CO2 production, and greater thermogenesis, even in people with diabetes. Fructose (and glucose) intakes are actually negatively correlated with diabetes.
Regardless of insulin, fructose is still getting into the cell and going through the oxidative metabolism.
What is happening here?
As it turns out, fructose does not need insulin in order to be absorbed into the cell.
When it is digested, it gets absorbed to the liver first, supplying it with the energy it needs to function, which results in increasing energy production through oxidative phosphorylation.
Because fructose goes through this pathway in the liver, lots of CO2 is created, triggering increased oxygen uptake and improved insulin sensitivity and glucose burning.
This is supported in nature, as bears coming out of hibernation reverse their full-blown diabetic state by eating honey, which is a rich source of fructose.
Besides the evidence that fructose creates more CO2, it also has been shown to lower the insulin response whenever added to glucose.
Remember, insulin raises when blood glucose gets high. If the cells are quickly and easily absorbing glucose out of the blood, then insulin will not need to rise much.
Essentially, fructose is helping insulin work better, so neither insulin or glucose in the blood needs to go up very much. Over time, fructose consumption leads to overall better insulin sensitivity.
So this means that foods that contain fructose should cause a smaller increase in blood glucose and insulin, and have a lower reading on the Glycemic Index.
And guess what? That is exactly what happens.
All foods that contain fructose are lower on the Glycemic Index, meaning they cause your blood glucose to raise less (since your cells absorb the glucose faster) and your insulin to stay lower (since your cells are responding so strongly to it).
Given that fructose is digested rather quickly, this means the only reason for the lower score is increased insulin sensitivity. Fructose is kicking off a higher metabolic burn of glucose.
On the other hand, carbs that contain pure glucose molecules, like starches, all rank higher than fructose-containing foods. The only factor that changes their score is the fiber or fat content, which slows digestion.
“The special value of fructose is that it can be oxidized even by diabetics, lacking insulin, and that it increases the metabolic rate, causing calories to be burned at a higher rate.”
- Ray Peat, PhD
Improved Mineral Retention:
Fructose has also been shown to improve balance of the primary minerals that are lost during stress and important for metabolism.
These minerals, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, are crucial for proper metabolic functioning and cellular ion balance.
We will come back to this in another article, but for now, the take-home point is that fructose helps with these metabolic minerals.
Increased Liver Glycogen And Function:
Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrate in the body, primarily in the muscles and liver, but also in other organs.
Muscle glycogen fuels muscles during high intensity activity, but this glycogen cannot be broken down to supply the blood with glucose - once it is in the muscle, only the muscle can use it.
However, in the organs, primarily the liver, the glycogen can be used for that organ, but can also be released into the blood. That means liver glycogen is imperative to maintaining blood glucose when you are not absorbing food (ie. the “post-prandial state”, where your body is using energy from internal stores rather than from incoming food).
Once liver glycogen runs out, your body must activate the stress response to turn protein into glucose for the blood, and switch to fat burning to reduce glucose use (again, by inhibiting glucose uptake into the cell via the Randle Cycle).
Since fructose goes to the liver first to be processed, this means that fructose preferentially fills liver glycogen stores (and glycogen storage in the other organs, to a lesser extent).
Basically, this means that fructose is helping to prevent the stress response from needing to be activated when you go without food for a little while.
On top of that, increased glycogen and increased energy production allows the liver to work more efficiently, since it has plenty of fuel. This is incredibly important for metabolism since the liver converts most of the inactive thyroid, T4, into the active T3. Thyroid is the primary hormone responsible for triggering increased oxidative metabolism in cells, so this is absolutely crucial.
Finally, the liver also disposes of estrogen (one of the stress-associated hormones), so increased liver function should help lower estrogen levels in the body.
But What About Fatty Liver Disease?:
Now, you have heard the claim that eating more fructose actually hurts liver function, based on the idea that the liver can convert fructose into fat, which it can then store.
Having high levels of liver fat impairs the function of the liver, so if you view fructose with a limited, single-track perspective, you could argue that fructose impairs liver function and causes a disease called “fatty liver disease”.
However, it turns out that the real problem is not your liver creating this fat, but it’s limited ability to export that fat out into the blood in the form of cholesterol.
If the liver is functioning the way it should, increased fructose will increase the creation of cholesterol, which will then be used to form the steroid hormones (assuming adequate thyroid and vitamin A) and the bile acids for digestion.
So what does the liver need in order to export this fat into cholesterol?
Primarily, the nutrient choline, which is found in animal liver and eggs (your body can also create choline using the amino acid methionine) is needed for optimal liver function.
Out in nature, humans would have eaten lots of fruit and sugar during plentiful times. Whenever they caught an animal, they would have eaten all the parts of the animal, including the liver (which was often viewed as a prized organ to eat).
This would’ve supplied enough choline to prevent the accumulation of fat in the liver from the higher fructose intake.
And sure enough, it has been shown that if you get enough choline, the liver does not accumulate fat, and fructose has no negative impact.
Furthermore, by eating more fructose with adequate choline, you actually create more cholesterol, which is an antioxidant and is incredibly important for repairing cells.
This is a good thing because cholesterol is used to create the steroid hormones when combined with thyroid and vitamin A in the blood.
Since your fructose helps your liver convert more T4 in T3, the active thyroid hormone, this means more of the youth-associated steroid hormones like pregnenolone, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone will be created if there is adequate cholesterol and vitamin A combined with a high fructose diet (which also means that blood cholesterol levels should not rise, because the cholesterol your liver is making will be used up for steroid creation).
This means that if choline intake is adequate, fructose can actually help your body produce more of those beneficial steroid hormones, including testosterone.
The only potential confounder to the beneficial effects of fructose are the polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, which falsely make sugar look like the bad guy.
Essentially, PUFAs prevent the liver from exporting fat (which is how they lower cholesterol levels, and why it is not a good thing at all).
We will be talking a lot more about PUFA in the next section, but the big take-home point is that whenever negative liver effects from fructose are seen, the diet was either deficient in choline and/or paired with high amounts of PUFA, which have also been shown to increase things like glycation of proteins (the harmful addition of sugar to a protein molecule) 24 times more than sugar alone.
When fructose is not paired with a high PUFA diet, this increase in liver fat does not happen.
And on top of all of that, fructose is actually protective of liver cells and even speeds up the metabolism of ethanol and prevents the metabolic changes that happen during a hangover from drinking too much.
But What About Oxidative Stress?:
Oxidative stress is, essentially, an overproduction of free radicals in the body, beyond what your body can handle.
We will get to free radicals more in the next module, but it is very important to note that fructose, as it is sometimes commonly claimed, does not cause an oxidative or inflammatory response.
In fact, it is actually the opposite. Sugar acts as an antioxidant and increases the antioxidant capacity of tissues, preventing the damage that can be caused by inflammation and oxidative stress.
But What About Weight Gain?:
It is commonly assumed that sugar causes you to gain fat, but again, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
I have mentioned how fructose stimulates the metabolism and increases thyroid hormone and CO2 in the body, so these alone partly explain why fructose does not cause weight gain.
But in reality, fructose actually helps with weight loss, preserving your metabolic rate during calorie deficits and sparing protein to prevent muscle loss.
Other Benefits Of Fructose:
In addition to all the benefits that we have already discussed, fructose has many other benefits as well.
Probably, there are more benefits than I can even list in this article.
Fructose improves the duration of carb oxidation during exercise, preventing time to fatigue (which is why rehydration beverages/gels include fructose).
Fructose increases production of the lactase enzyme more than glucose, possibly allowing better digestion of dairy products.
On top of this, the crucial fluids for reproduction (like seminal and fetal fluids) are rich in fructose. The reproduction system is turned "off" in times of famine, when food is scarce. But in plentiful times, when you would be eating much more fructose, your body will turn “on” the reproductive system since there are plenty of nutrients coming in.
If fructose was harmful, why would it be used so strongly during the creation and development of new life?
Seriously, what is not to love about sugar?
Since sugar, specifically sugar from fructose, is so important for metabolism, I recommend that the majority of your carbohydrates come from sugar.
Now, after reading that sentence, and despite all the reasons I just laid out, you probably felt a kick of resistance to this idea. Keep in mind that just because mainstream nutrition has conditioned you to believe sugar is bad for you does not mean that it is true. The resistance you feel is from this conditioning.
When I first found this research and made these connections, I had some initial resistance as well.But since experiencing the benefits of switching over to an primarily sugar diet, I can assuredly say that sugar is your friend.
And if you consider that chimps and bonobos, who share 99.9% of the same DNA, all eat a high fructose diet from primarily fruit, it would make sense that humans are not that different.
Another point here is that most people associate “sugar” with “junk food”, which is not what I’m recommending. The sugar in junk food is NOT inherently harmful, but it does lack many of the important micronutrients that fruit and other natural sources of sugar contain. The same goes for white table sugar and other processed sources.
In certain situations, these sugars can be helpful since they are great at shutting down stress and stimulating the metabolism, but I prefer the majority of your sugar sources to be more nutrient dense, from a large variety of fruits, raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, and molasses.
Make the basis of your diet revolve around fruit and other good sources of sugar, with a little added “processed sugars” thrown into the mix. I like to view it as a “supplement”.
One important caveat here is that high fructose corn syrup should generally be avoided. HFCS has been shown to have large starch-like molecules that have negative effects in the body, and often can have up to 4-5x the number of calories stated, which is pretty insane. It is not the fructose causing the issues, but the other compounds in it.
It is much better to stick to actual sugar instead.
Now, what about other carbs like starches, dairy sugars, and straight glucose - basically the carbs that do not contain fructose?
As a whole, carbs are the most metabolic macronutrient and are important for thyroid production, so do not feel the need to limit them.
However, I prefer to use these sources after intense workouts, when your muscles are more receptive to the bigger hit of glucose into your bloodstream.
The GLUT-4 receptor allows you to eat and absorb more straight glucose into your muscles without needing to spike insulin, making post-workout a good time to eat these foods since GLUT-4 expression is said to be higher after exercise.
However, we live in the modern world and I do not expect you to completely cut out all starches at other times. We can limit them in general though, which will go a long way.
On top of this, if we can pair any starches or pure glucose foods with a good bit of fructose, we can mimic the same internal situation that occurs from eating sugar.
Remember that all carbs get broken down into the monosaccharides, glucose, galactose, and fructose before getting absorbed, so adding a fructose will help prevent a bigger rise in insulin.However, be warned that while your body can absorb a small bit of fructose by itself, the majority of fructose is absorbed by transport proteins that require glucose or galactose.
In other words, you should eat glucose with fructose to optimally absorb it, which is how most sources of fructose exist in nature (fruit, honey, etc. have both glucose and fructose).
If you eat lots of fructose by itself, your gut will not absorb it and you can experience some pretty bad gastrointestinal distress.
If you are eating natural sources of fructose, this should not be a problem.
Once switching over to a higher fructose diet, you will want to make sure that you are getting enough choline, which as we talked about, is crucial for keeping the liver lean and working optimally.
The best sources are beef liver, veal liver, and egg yolks.
I recommend either eating 1-2 eggs per day or eating liver 1-2x per week to get enough choline, (along with a ton of other nutrients these foods contain).
Another option, if you want to be safe, is to supplement with choline bitartrate. Aim for 500-1000 mg per day.
If you would like a step by step plan on exactly how to properly implement sugar and carbohydrates in general into your diet then make sure to check out The Thermo Diet!
- Fructose increases oxidative metabolism and is the most metabolic macronutrient there is, increasing CO2, insulin sensitivity, mineral balance, and liver glycogen, among many other benefits
- Fructose does not impair liver function, and actually protects it while increasing production of cholesterol, bile acids and steroid hormones, as long as you get adequate choline and avoid PUFAs
- A diet based around sugar from a wide variety of fruits, honey, coconut sugar, cane sugar, and molasses will drastically improve metabolic functioning and overall health
- While added sugar like plain, white sugar lack important vitamins and minerals, it can be used as a “supplement” to increase metabolism and shut down stress when needed
- HFCS should be generally avoided, since it often has harmful compounds in it
- Get enough choline (500-1000 mg) by eating 1-2 eggs per day, eating beef or veal liver 1-2x per week, or supplementing with it
For a step by step guide on exactly how to eat in a way that supports metabolic function, make sure to check out The Thermo Diet.
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