The Sugar Secret
By Tyler Woodward
Psst, wanna know a secret? Sugar isn’t the enemy, in fact, it’s actually good for you and probably the thing in your diet that is most lacking. Let me explain…
- What Really Is Sugar?
- The Sugar Secret - How Sugar Can Drastically Improve Your Health & Heal Your Metabolism
- The Reasons You Think Sugar Makes You Feel Worse
- The Diet Solution
What Is Sugar?:
When someone says sugar, they likely aren’t aware that there are actually a number of molecules that are classified as “sugars”. The scientific word for sugar is saccharide and there are three types of saccharides.
- Monosaccharide - Mono (one) = One sugar
- Disaccharide - Di (Two) = Two Sugars
- Polysaccharides - Poly (Many) = Many Sugars
When we refer to sugars, most people think of mono and disaccharides. Polysaccharides on the other hand are usually referred to as “complex carbs”. There are six types of simple sugars:
The disaccharides are all a combination of two monosaccharides:
1 Glucose + 1 Fructose = 1 Sucrose (Table Sugar)
1 Glucose + 1 Galactose = 1 Lactose (Found in milk/dairy products)
1 Glucose + 1 Glucose = 1 Maltose (Found in grains, fruits and syrups)
Polysaccharides are all long chains of glucose and are generally used for sugar storage or to form structures.
(found mainly in animals shells)
All “complex carbs” or polysaccharides will be broken down back into glucose if they are digestible. Unlike many animals,humans do not have the ability to digest or break down cellulose, so it just sits in our digestive tract until it is eventually excreted out of the body. Most animals cannot digest chitin, as it is primarily found in the exoskeletons of animals like shellfish and insects. It is also found in some forms of fungi. Chitin and cellulose are known as insoluble fibers, as they do not break down in water and generally just pass through our digestive system.
Glucose & Fructose, The King & Queen Of Sugars
Glucose is really the king of sugars in the body. All sugars in the body will eventually get converted into glucose with one exception, fructose. If glucose is the king of the body, then fructose is the queen. Fructose has the unique ability that it can be directly absorbed in the liver where it will be stored as glycogen (stored energy) and it does not stimulate the release of insulin, meaning it's insulin-independent.
Sugar and Insulin are often viewed as “the bad guys” of the body, but for no good reason. When you eat sugar or starches (except fructose), these sugars are converted into glucose and end up being absorbed into the bloodstream as blood sugar/glucose. If your blood sugar levels get too high, your body begins to secrete insulin. Insulin signals to our cells to absorb sugar and amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). This allows our cells to use the glucose as fuel, use the amino acids to build proteins, and store excess energy as glycogen or fat. Your cells cannot absorb glucose without insulin and without glucose, your cells cannot function properly.
This is why glucose is king. And it’s not just me that thinks this, but your body knows this too. When you run out of sugar, your body will use whatever it has available to create it. When your blood sugar drops too low, your body secretes hormones to break down the liver’s glycogen stores to maintain its sugar levels. Once your liver runs out of glycogen, your body begins to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to signal to your cells to release fatty acids (from fat) and amino acids from muscle tissue. The fatty acids can be used directly as fuel by the cells, although inefficiently, but amino acids must first be converted into glucose.
Certain organs like the thyroid and brain rely primarily on glucose as fuel. In times of starvation or ketosis, ketone bodies will be made from fatty acids to provide fuel for the brain, but thyroid function decreases. Considering that the thyroid is responsible for regulating metabolism (energy burn/use), it would make sense that in times of starvation the body would want to conserve as much energy as possible.
Metabolism & Carbon Dioxide
Carbohydrate metabolism directly increases your metabolic rate. This is because oxidative metabolism (the burning of glucose/sugars in the presence of oxygen) uses oxygen at the same rate that it releases carbon dioxide.
Respiratory quotient (RQ) is a ratio that measures the amount of carbon dioxide produced relative to the amount of oxygen burned. It is used to estimate your metabolic rate. The higher your respiratory quotient the higher your metabolism. Oxidative metabolism (glucose + oxygen) has a RQ of 1, amino acids have an estimated RQ of about .8 and fatty acids have an RQ of about .7. This means there is an energy “leak” in fatty acid and amino acid metabolism as less carbon dioxide is produced relative to oxygen consumed.
What’s So Important About Carbon Dioxide?
Well, I’m glad you asked, carbon dioxide is so undervalued in the body it’s unreal. In order for your red blood cells to release oxygen into your cells, they must come into contact with carbon dioxide. The increased concentration of carbon dioxide in peripheral tissue (basically areas outside the lung) literally changes the shape of hemoglobin, the “functional” protein of red blood cells, to allow it to release oxygen and pick up carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide in these areas, the more oxygen the red blood cells can release into our cells. The more oxygen our cells absorb, the more glucose they can burn for energy, resulting in a feedback loop of increased energy burn or metabolic rate.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that the optimal metabolism for a long, healthy life is a balanced diet. What I mean by this is that we want to consume as many calories as our body burns. If we consume more calories than we burn, we’ll store it as fat. If we consume less calories than we burn, our metabolism will “slow down” over time to adapt to this restriction in calories.
Obviously, there are times when we want to eat in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight/fat that we have accumulated, but as we discussed previously, burning fat as fuel is stressful to the body. I’m not saying don’t try to lose weight, I’m just saying that it’s stressful and for optimal health and longevity we should aim to get to a healthy weight and maintain it. Also, there are times when we want to eat in a surplus, either to restore our metabolism back to its optimal rate or to give our body some extra fuel for muscle gain.
To consume a balanced diet, we need to consume calories (measure of energy), macronutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins), and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and amino acids) at the rate as you consume them. For the purpose of this article I”m just going to focus on the macronutrient portion of the equation.
As we saw before, the higher your Respiratory Quotient (RQ) the higher your metabolism. In order to maximize your metabolism/RQ, you must burn predominantly carbohydrates as fuel. Your body is capable of producing fat from sugar, so you technically do not need to consume fat.
What about the essential fatty acids?
They’re only essential if you’re looking to downgrade your health and metabolism, but that’s a topic for another article.
Technically, you could make the same argument that you don't need carbs/sugars because your body is able to produce them from protein, but as you now know this is extremely stressful and inefficient, resulting in a lowered metabolic rate. Also, unless you’re in a lab or only eating protein powder, it’s nearly impossible to only consume protein without consuming fat. And I’m not advocating for a no fat diet, although your body can produce fat on its own it likely will not produce enough fat as is necessary to thrive. I'll get to my recommendations on how to eat to maximize your metabolism later on...
This brings us to another point…
If Sugars Are So Healthy For You, Why Do I Feel Bad After Eating Them?
There are a few possible reasons for this:
- You’re Deficient - There are certain vitamins (mostly the B vitamins) that are necessary in order to be able to metabolize sugars, fats, and amino acids into energy. If we’re deficient in these vitamins, then we can’t effectively use them as energy.
- Get more B vitamins by either taking a B-vitamin complex supplement or by consuming more egg yolks, liver, and dairy products.
- It’s Not The Sugar - In many of the foods that we demonize, it’s not actually the sugar that’s making us feel like crap. Foods like donuts, cookies, cake, and candy bars all contain tons of additives which detract from our health. Fried foods like donuts are fried in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which are extremely unstable in our body and are likely to be oxidized, resulting in the release of free radicals in the body. Phytic acid, which can inhibit digestion, is also found in large quantities in many grains (also nuts and seeds) like wheat. Lastly, high fructose corn syrup isn’t at all natural and is not digested as other sugars are in the body, so I recommend avoiding this.
- You’re Stuck In Glycolysis - If you recall before I kept mentioning oxidative metabolism ,which is the breakdown of glucose in the presence of oxygen. If there is no oxygen present or it is under stressful conditions, the cell will use anaerobic glycolysis. Anaerobic glycolysis produces much less energy and CO2, resulting in a lowered metabolism and also the production of lactic acid. Lactic acid reduces the cell’s ability to perform oxidative metabolism and also increases the release of free fatty acids. We can get stuck in this glycolytic state from years of not consuming enough sugar on top of the many life and environmental stresses we face today.
- You’re Insulin Resistant - According to this study, about 50% of Americans are diabetic, undiagnosed diabetic, or pre-diabetic. Type II diabetes (formerly known as adult onset diabetes) occurs when your cells become insulin resistant, where insulin no longer “works”. If you're insulin resistant, when your body secretes insulin, it’s like your cells basically don’t hear the message. They absorb less glucose and amino acids from the blood relative to the amount of insulin. The more insulin resistant you are, the less glucose and amino acids your cells will absorb. This effect is called the Randle cycle and occurs when there are large amounts of free fatty acids in your blood that compete with glucose and amino acids to get into your cells. This is yet another reason we do not recommend the keto diet because it directly correlates to insulin resistance due to the increase in free fatty acids circulating in your blood.
How Do I Get Out Of This “Glycolytic” Or “Insulin-Resistant” State?
Basically, it comes down to increasing our CO2 levels in our peripheral tissue, so that our cells can absorb more oxygen. There are a few ways we can do this:
- Lower Stress - Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline increase fatty acid and amino acid mobilization (release into the bloodstream). This results in a loop of more stress hormones being produced and less CO2 being released.
- Get In Enough Sodium And Potassium - The negatively charged lactic acid can react with the positively charged electrons in sodium and potassium, creating a lactic salt and thereby neutralizing the negative charge.
- Supplement With Baking Soda - Baking soda acts as a buffer in our bloodstream, which can counteract the acidity of lactic acid and allow more CO2 to enter our tissue/cells
- Eat Enough Sugar - Over time, sugar will increase the amount of CO2 in our bloodstream through a variety of methods, while also decreasing the amount of stress hormones we produce.
Aren't Sugars “Empty” Calories?
It depends on the type of sugar you’re eating. Refined sugar is pure sucrose, aka pure sugar, meaning it does not contain any of the vitamins or minerals you get from consuming other foods. The sugars found in fruits, roots, and juices come along with lots of essential nutrients. Even very pure, natural sugar sources like maple syrup, honey and raw cane sugar contain lots of beneficial vitamins. Also, remember that refined sugar consumption still has the potential to increase your metabolism, if it’s not already maximized. Plus, the fructose found in table sugar is very beneficial for maintaining insulin sensitivity, especially when eaten with starches. If you’re really worried about your calorie intake, I wouldn’t go overboard with the refined sugar and instead substitute it for raw cane sugar. Also try to consume more fruits, roots, and juices.
The Diet Solution:
- Protein (~30%) - Consume as much protein as you need. For most people the minimum amount of protein is about .5 grams per pound of body weight. If you’re attempting to gain muscle the maximum effective dose for protein has been shown to be about .82 grams per pound of bodyweight, after which more protein doesn’t help. For the majority of people, per Christopher Walker’s recommendation, I’d go for about .7 grams per pound of bodyweight.
- Fats (~20) - In order for our body to thrive, you do need some fat, so again make sure to consume as much fat as you need. Just make sure to get the fat primarily from saturated fat sources with some monounsaturated fats mixed in.
- Saturated Fats - Animals fats, coconut oil (preferably hydrogenated), ghee, pure butter, dairy products
- Monounsaturated Fats - Avocado oil & olive oil
- Carbs (~50) - Fill the rest of your diet up with carbs from sugars and starches. Because glucose stimulates the release of insulin, it is best to consume starches with some fructose so you don’t release too much insulin. This can come in the form of fruits, fruit juices, or table sugar (half fructose, half glucose).
- Starches - Sourdough bread (breaks down most of the gluten normally found in wheat), white rice, well-cooked potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
- Sugars - All kinds of fruits, roots, juices, or even dare I say it, candy!
These recommendations come straight out of our Thermo Diet Program on UMZUfiti! The Thermo Diet Programs is designed to teach you how to eat for optimal health, increased metabolism and all-day energy. The Thermo Diet program views health through the bioenergetic lens which aims to maximize energy at the cell which will maximize energy at every level above it. The Thermo Diet Program teaches you everything you need to know to thrive!
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good
B.S. Physiology and Neurobiology