Rather than waiting as I deliberate for many more months to perfectly word a polished article (or entire book) on such a huge topic, here’s a rough collection of research notes and links, insights, basic explanations in biology, and clinically-founded conclusions, concerning the importance of sugar. And when I say sugar, I’m referring to the simpler carbohydrate comprising glucose and fructose; a.k.a. sucrose. In nature, this is the carbohydrate found in ripened fruits, beetroots and certain other well-cooked root vegetables, pure honey, and dare I say it, cane sugar. *For clarity, I’ve added a quickie summary of the categories of carbs at the end of this post.
Confusion and ignorance surrounding “carbs”, that the complex ones are “healthy” while simpler ones are “unhealthy”, or that we should exclude this macronutrient entirely, has gotten us into serious metabolic strife. We’ve been so ill informed that it’s come to the point where even fruits, those nourishing, restorative, pro-metabolic, digestible (and delicious) jewels of nature, are damned. We’re told carbs are carbs, sugars are sugars, ignoring the fundamental biochemistry of all the very different carbohydrate forms. Whole grains are so wrongly glorified while orange juice is put on par with Pepsi. And where has this got us? Fat, diabetic, hypothyroid, inflamed, adrenalised and reproductively-challenged.
When clients come to me complaining of incessant “carb-cravings” as if it’s indicative of an emotional weakness on their part, I suggest to them that maybe their body is an intelligent machine that sends out signals for a reason and maybe, just maybe, their cells are screaming out for fuel: glucose. Their metabolic needs are not being met. L I S T E N T O Y O U R B O D Y. Understand the differences and intricacies of carbohydrates, and the basics of physiology. Understand what healthy “sugars” are, don’t cut carbs (only the inefficient ones), don’t “quit” real sugar, and certainly don’t fear fruits.
Consider the collection of information below, and come to your own conclusion…
glucose: our cells’ primary and preferred energy source and is essential for thyroid hormone conversion (T4 to T3)
fruit: why glucose works better in the presence of fructose
- Don’t slander fructose. That so-called “poison” has desirable effects on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar.
- “Fructose inhibits the stimulation of insulin by glucose, so this means that eating sucrose (a disaccharide, consisting of glucose and fructose), in place of starch, will reduce the tendency to store fat. Eating “complex carbohydrates,” rather than sugars, is a reasonable way to promote obesity.” Ray Peat PhD
- Dietary fructose is preferable to starch for mineral balance in the body – Research link here. Fructose actually assists the body in retaining minerals such as Mg, Cu and Ca.
- “The addition of fructose to glucose can markedly reduce hyperglycemia during intraportal glucose infusion by increasing net hepatic glucose uptake even when insulin secretion is compromised.” – Shiota, et al., 2005
- Fruits and fruit juices help modulate blood sugar and calm down the adrenal glands. If you add about 1/4 tsp of sea salt to your fruit juice, this will raise your blood sugar to normal and lower damaging stress hormones. Salty fruit juice helps stimulate the conversion of T4 (inactive thyroid) to T3 (active thyroid hormone).
- Fruits and their juices are high in salicylates, which are powerfully anti-inflammatory. Exceptions: apple juice and grapefruit juice. The former contains pectin which feeds bowel bacteria. The latter is estrogenic.
- Certain fruits are better than others; this is generally person-specific.
- Fructose has a protective role in the metabolism and also increases the metabolic rate – Research links here and here
- Honey (when raw and unprocessed) is a mix of free fructose and free glucose, and is therefore beneficial and pro-metabolic. (Although caution if personally intolerant).
- Note, when referring to fructose, this is not the same as High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which has very different, negative properties … a completely different beast. For one thing it contains 4-5 times as many calories as regular sucrose, containing up to 80% unidentified additional ingredients – Research link here
- Orange juice (fresh; not from a concentrate) contains and ideal ratio of glucose to fructose, a hefty amount of potassium and magnesium, and is of course rich in vitamin C. Orange juice is pro-thyroid (the high magnesium works with the thyroid to moderate stress) and like sucrose increases glucuronic acid.
- “Caloric intake in the form of orange juice or fructose does not induce either oxidative or inflammatory stress, possibly due to its flavonoids content and might, therefore, represent a potentially safe energy source.” – Ghanim, et al. (2007), and another research link here
- The natural sugar makeup of fresh orange juice (glucose + fructose) can significantly reduce the stress hormones responsible for poor glucose tolerance. In conjunction with nutrient-dense foods (shellfish, eggs, dairy, liver on occasion) these kinds of sugars help rehabilitate the metabolism and suppress degenerative stress hormones.
- “Orange juice contains the antiinflammatory chemicals naringin and naringenin, which protect against endotoxin by suppressing the formation of nitric oxide and prostaglandins.” (Shiratori, et al., 2005).
- More research links regarding the protective effects of the citrus flavanoid naringenin here
complex carbs are NOT the bees’ knees
- Starch (a complex carb / polysaccharide) breaks down into glucose exclusively. Main dietary sources of starch are grains and legumes. Root vegetables are also mostly starch, but these contain some fructose, high mineral levels, and none of the anti-nutrients or polyunsaturated fatty acids that grains do.
- Glucose on its own can cause an over production of insulin; Starches (being all glucose) are more likely to be sent to convert to fat rather than where we want it, in the cells. Fruits on the other hand, contain fructose with glucose, as well as high concentrations of potassium that helps to metabolise the glucose in a safe way so that you don’t turn it into fat
- Sugars DON’T raise blood sugar more quickly than starches do. Starch efficiently stimulates insulin secretion, and that accelerates the disposition of glucose, activating its conversion to glycogen and fat, as well as its oxidation.
- Some carbohydrates are very hard for us to digest (cellulotic green vegetables) while others (grains, legumes, starchy veggies) will raise blood sugar so quickly that they will cause blood sugar regulation issues leading to the perpetuation of the affects of high cortisol and adrenaline.
- And excellent write up on the issues with starches by Rob Turner here.
diabetes and insulin-resistance: don’t blame sugar
- Diabetes should be correctly viewed as an inability to manage blood sugar, NOT as a disease caused by sugar. Eating carbohydrates does not raise blood sugar significantly in a healthy person; all the focus should be on restoring insulin sensitivity, not avoiding glucose.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids block the cell’s ability to take sugar in, therefore keeping the blood glucose levels high (“diabetic”). Insulin resistance is clearly the result of PUFA. Sucrose, because of its fructose component disposes of glucose nicely – it even increases insulin sensitivity.
- The conversion of T4 into the active T3 requires glucose, and in diabetes, cells are deprived of glucose.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids BLOCK glucose from getting into the cells, while fructose bypasses fatty acid inhibition: anti-diabetic effects. Eat more fruits!
- Estrogen dominance creates glucose intolerance. – Research links here and here and here
- Note that estrogen blocks energy production, pulls albumin out of our blood through vascular leakiness, stimulates the release of destructive free fatty acids, exhausts and reduces the beta cells of the pancreas, and is elevated further by low blood sugar … it’s too simplistic to blame sugar alone as the cause of diabetes without addressing estrogen and PUFAs.
- Orange juice and other fruits, with their high potassium, magnesium and fructose content, reduces the amount of insulin you have to secrete; why they’re more smoothly handled than a similar amount of calories in the form of starch.
- Fructose improves glucose tolerance in adults with Type 2 Diabetes (research link here) and decreased the glycemic response in normal adults – Research link here.
- The starch in beans is rapidly absorbed as glucose, causing an insulin spike in normal people, or abnormally raised blood-sugar in diabetics. Furthermore, the indigestible components of beans raise endotoxin in the gut, affecting liver function. Not good for diabetics, or anyone for that matter.
- “The dietetic obsession with sugar in relation to diabetes has been a dangerous diversion that has retarded the understanding of degenerative metabolic diseases.” Ray Peat PhD
- Ironically (and frustratingly) Diabetics are still recommended to emphasise starch (glucose) as their carbohydrate source: grains and legumes.
- Experiments by Nobel laureate Bernardo Houssay in 1947 proved sugar and coconut oil protected against diabetes as they actually heal the beta cells – while polyunsaturated fats caused the insulin resistance and pancreatic damage.
it’s about knowing your fats
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in our diet inhibit cellular respiration, pushing our cells toward lipid oxidation and inhibiting glucose oxidation, disrupting how our bodies use sugar, damaging the beta cells of the pancreas, leading to insulin insensitivity and high blood-sugar. The problem isn’t sugar; the problem is that people are eating the wrong types of sugar in foods with unsaturated fats.
- Sources of PUFAs: Vegetable oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, flax, almond etc), nuts, seeds, grains, poultry, fish oil, eggs from factory-farmed chickens … And I still see so many Diabetics diligently avoiding fruits while nibbling on nuts, taking their fish oil supplements and scoffing canned tuna … ?
- Sugar, in the form of sucrose (di) or fructose (mono), is not an issue when Polyunsaturated fatty acids are eliminated
- If starch or pure glucose is eaten at the same time as PUFAs, which inhibit glucose’s oxidation, fat production will occur.
- The effects of fructose and glucose are directly affected by the type of fat in the diet. The maligning of sugar is a smoke screen so the public doesn’t realize the toxicity of PUFAs. First the science community demonized saturated fats, now they’re slandering “sugar” and people are STILL fat and sick. Question what we are lead to perceive as “healthy”.
low blood sugar = stress and hormone havoc
- There are numerous factors in blood sugar mishandling. Adrenaline, estrogen, free fatty acids, and cortisol are all factors in the inability of the cell to properly utilize sugar.
- Sucrose will reduce cortisol and adrenalin (stress hormones), sparing protein and protecting muscle and glands (particularly the thymus which rules our immune system).
- “Sustained high estrogen concentrations increase both insulin requirements and insulin secretion.” – Constance R. Martin
- “A daily diet that includes milk and orange juice provides fructose and other sugars for general resistance to stress, but larger amounts of fruit juice, honey, or other (appropriate) sugars can protect against increased stress, and can reverse some of the established degenerative conditions.” – Ray Peat PhD
- “It is only in the face of excess PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids), estrogen, serotonin, cortisol, and adrenaline that sugar is misused by the body.” – Danny Roddy
- “Having a constant flow of glucose is an important part of supporting the glucuronidation pathway, which needs to be in working order to inactivate “used up” estrogen in the liver and brain. The simple sugar boosts the patients glucuronic acid levels enabling them to clear out their “old” hormones.” – Dr Datis Kharrazian
- When blood sugar runs low, adrenaline is released to mobilize additional glucose from the liver and muscle tissue (glycogen). If glycogen is low or has been depleted, fuel requirements will be met by releasing free fatty acids instead, and as a result, back-up glucose will be provided by cortisol breaking down our own tissue (degenerative catabolic state) … and this breakdown leads to further elevation of estrogen.
- John Yudkin’s research revealed that sugar consumption increased cholesterol (a desirable hormone building block and antioxidant). In Yudkin’s time (and now) people were under the wrong impression; that heart disease was caused by an excess of cholesterol.Cholesterol is beneficial. So long as our thyroid is functioning well, our bodies will convert cholesterol into desirable sex hormones. Sex hormones and cholesterol promote the ability of the organism to be resilient in the face of stress.
- Hypoglycemia (lowered blood sugar) exacerbates inflammation in the body leading to increased inflammatory mediators such as CRP, homocysteine, triglycerides and cholesterol. Regulate blood sugar to reduce inflammation
AGEs and anti-ageing
- The bulk of the age-related tissue damage classified as “glycation end-products” (or “advanced glycation end-products,” AGEs), referred to as ‘age spots’ on the skin, are produced by decomposition of the polyunsaturated fats, rather than by sugars, and this would be minimized by the protective oxidation of glucose to carbon dioxide.
- “Sugars, in the presence of polyunsaturated fats, cause glycation and AGEs” – Dr Catherine Shanahan
- The term “glycation” indicates the addition of sugar groups to proteins, such as occurs in diabetes and old age, but when tested in a controlled experiment, lipid peroxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids produces the protein damage about 23 times faster than the simple sugars do (Fu, et al., 1996).
- “Sugars (fruits etc) are far more effective than protein in preventing protein degradation in the muscle.” – Ivy & Portman PhD
sweeten up and revive your thyroid
- High sugar consumption increases conversion of T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (active thyroid hormone) in the liver, causing the hormonal cascade from cholesterol to pregnenolone, etc
- In the liver you NEED glucose to convert T4 into T3. Ketogenic (low / no carb) diets down-regulate thyroid hormone conversion
- “Remember that prolonged low-carb dieting (including ‘this one’) tends to shut down thyroid function. This is usually not a problem with the thyroid gland but with the liver, which fails to convert T4 into the more active thyroid principle, T3. The diagnosis is made on clinical grounds with the presence of fatigue, sluggishness, dry skin, coarse or falling hair, an elevation in cholesterol, or a low body temperature.” Robert Atkins
- “It has been clearly established that a high protein diet lowers the metabolic rate, (therefore) symptoms of hypothyroidism will be aggravated… Hypoglycemia may be controlled on the high protein diet, but the other symptoms of thyroid deficiency which usually accompany hypoglycemia are aggravated.” Broda Barnes
- “Lack of glucose in the cell is the most important factor in decreasing Type 1 de-iodinase, thus decreasing T3 production.” – Dr. Young
the Glycemic Index: pointless
- Glycemic index is a poor way to determine what carbohydrates you should eat. Even if a given food spikes our insulin really high and really fast, it is our insulin sensitivity that determines whether this is problematic. If a person is insulin-resistant, they don’t get the benefits of insulin like ability to shuttle energy into our cells or to blunt our appetites. Avoiding the issue and avoiding insulin elevation does not address the problem; we’re better off improving our insulin sensitivity and repairing our capacity to manage blood-sugar. Ironically, it is often the foods with the “highest glycemic index”, like well-boiled potatoes, that help us improve that sensitivity more than “lower glycemic index” foods like chips fried in vegetable oil.
- “When the idea of “glycemic index” was being popularized by dietitians, it was already known that starch, consisting of chains of glucose molecules, had a much higher index than fructose and sucrose.” – Ray Peat PhD
- “Starch is more ‘glycemic’ than sucrose.” – confession from Dr David Jenkins (creator of GI Index concept), but still we tell Diabetics to eat starch …
candida confusion and myths
- The benefits of sugars on gut bacteria is that it is digested high in the tract and doesn’t feed bacteria. Also, Fructose is not fermentable. Bacterial overgrowth is exacerbated by cellulose, PUFAs and estrogen.
- “Sugars should be absorbed in the upper intestine and bacteria should only reside in the lower intestine; if bacteria live far enough up to get the sugar, the worst they can do is make ethanol (gas).” – Renay Dubot
- “Eating sugar and fruit is helpful, rather than harmful as the cultists say, because well nourished yeasts aren’t harmful in the intestine. But starved yeasts need sugar and so they project invasive filaments into the intestinal wall, and can get into the blood stream, at which point – if they aren’t quickly destroyed by white blood cells – they can grow and quickly kill the person. In a typical year, a few people in the world get invasive candida and quickly die, but millions of Americans will insist that they ‘have candida in the bloodstream.’ Eating sugar (fruits, fruit juices) lowers cortisol, keeping the white cells working, helps to increase thyroid, and keeps the yeast from becoming invasive. PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids or omega-3 and -6 oils) are yeast stimulants, unlike saturated fats.” – Lita Lee PhD
- … and regarding cancer: “Cancer cells don’t “live on glucose”, since they are highly adapted to survive on protein and fats.” – Ray Peat PhD
don’t go low / no carb, go with the right carbs, eaten the right way
- The irony of the low carb approach is that the very thing dieters try to avoid in order to “lose weight” actually supports thyroid (metabolic) function and their long-term success.
- The ketogenic, low / no carb diet sacrifices long term health by altering cell metabolism. Forcing the body to use protein and fat for fuel is an adaptive response our body uses when glucose is insufficient and increases catabolic hormones. Cortisol will raise blood sugar (when you don’t feed the cells sugar), but at the expense of your lean tissue – breaking muscles, bones and glands down to find glucose to maintain life. And the mere presence of ketone bodies from going low-carb is known to exacerbate insulin resistance
- Carbohydrates from ripe fruits, below ground vegetables, honey, dairy products, and pure maple syrup can provide the right sugars to fuel your cells efficiently, lower adrenaline and cortisol, digest easily, spare our protein containing tissues, and support the production of the active thyroid hormone (T3). Restriction of these fuel sources leads to chronically high stress states
- “… the problem is that they (ketones) are produced as a result of metabolic stress. If the liver is extremely good, it can store enough glycogen for a day, but chronic, frequent, stress usually damages the liver’s ability to store glycogen.” - Ray Peat
- People on a high protein, low carb diet will experience symptoms of hypoglycaemia: anti-metabolic. The chronic cumulative effects hyperstimulate the endocrine system, overburden the liver, down-regulate T3, degenerates and wastes muscle, ages brain cells and weakens the immune system.
- One easy rule is to not eat carbohydrates or protein alone as that tends to cause hypoglycemia either way. Eg. Eat cheese with fruits, eggs with OJ, milk with honey, broth with beetroot, ricotta with stewed apple, gelatin in fruity smoothies, etc. And the amount of carbs should always outweigh proteins
- If sugars (fruits etc) are used at the right time, with the right ratio to proteins and fats, sugar and protein will blunt cortisol, will assist sugar into the cell, increase cellular metabolism etc ….so through decreasing catabolism, we are indirectly pushing ourselves to an anabolic state. It all comes back to balancing the macronutrients (specific to the individual).
- A high protein diet is as insulin-stimulating as a high starch diet. – Research link here
“paleo” mistakes – aspiring to being a “fat-burner”
- The cells prefer glucose for fuel. When fat is used for fuel (lipid peroxidation) it is inflammatory, catabolic and anti-metabolic. Paleo / ketogenic / Atkins diets encourage “losing weight” at the expense of damaging your metabolism (becoming hyperadrenaline and hypercortisol). We can use fat for short term fuel, this is an adaptive, survival mechanism in the body, however it’s not supposed to happen continually. This puts the body in a catabolic (degenerative) state. A healthier approach to reducing body size that will also promote longevity, fertility and a youthful appearance: lose fat, not weight by repairing the metabolism.
- (On being a “fat-burner”) Being biased toward using fats to make energy represents the metabolism of the aged, the overweight, and the diabetic. In the effort to speed up weight-loss, people are destroying their ability to make energy from glucose because fatty acids block glucose oxidation (efficient metabolic function). Monitor the temperature and pulse of a “fat burner” and it will indicate they are hypometabolic and highly stressed.
- “The oxidation of fats rather than glucose means that the proteins won’t have as much protective carbon dioxide combined with their reactive nitrogen atoms.” – Ray Peat PhD
- It’s been proven there’s an antagonism between unsaturated fats and glucose assimilation, meaning that any time we’re stressed (or deprived of glucose), and forced to use fat for energy, we have free fatty acids released into the blood; we are basically breaking our own tissue down. These fatty acids block glucose oxidation (cellular respiration) so we end up producing lactic acid rather than carbon dioxide – PJ Randle in the 1940s
- Caution the use of Gymnema Sylvestre: A popular herbal extract used to “fight” and suppress sugar cravings … Don’t use it: it can actually cause hypoglycemia leading to elevated adrenalin.
- A great little summary here: “Ketosis, or : How to Induce Metabolic Stress” by Danny Roddy.
protect and energise the liver
- Fructose prevents hypoxic cell death in the liver. – Research link here
- “When glycogen stores are not full in the liver and we eat glucose with a little bit of fructose, the liver glycogen stores are replenished and carbs are burned for energy in the Krebs Cycle. This small amount of fructose improves the livers ability to phosphorylate glucose, which enhances liver glycogen stores.” – Josh Rubin
- Without sufficient glucose stores, the liver cannot detoxoify excess estrogen or convert cholesterol into progesterone.
the right sugars won’t make you fat, but rather will improve metabolism
- Eating ripe fruits in place of starches and complex carbohydrates reduces the tendency to store fat.
- Fructose and sucrose consumption enhances energy without increased weight gain or impairing insulin action. – Research links here and here
- Fructose increases overall metabolism – Research links here and here
- Shift your thinking on weight loss: Support your metabolic rate rather than break your body down.Carbohydrates are an important aspect of restoring and supporting a healthy metabolic state.
- Sugar is not fattening – good read here
- Robert Lustig (author of ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth’) debunked here.
making healthy babies: fetal and childhood development
- A developing embryo THRIVES on fructose.
- “Fructose is the main sugar involved in reproduction, in the seminal fluid and intrauterine fluid, and in the developing fetus. After these crucial stages of life are past, glucose becomes the primary molecular energy source, except when the system is under stress. … The placenta turns glucose from the mother’s blood into fructose, and the fructose in the mother’s blood can pass through into the fetus.” Ray Peat PhD referencing Jauniaux, et al., 2005
- The effects of sucrose vs. starch on calcium metabolism in the young. – Research link here
- Fructose benefits over glucose in parental nutrition. Research link here
avoid alternate “healthy” sweeteners
- Rice syrup: pure glucose – detrimental to blood sugar and encourages fat storage
- Agave syrup / nectar: high in fructose however it is produced enzymatically and is a waste product of tequila production.
- Stevia: increases appetite and elevates adrenalin in that it “tastes” sweet but does not provide glucose to the cell when it’s needing it (perpetuating hypoglycemia).
- I see so many struggling over-weight and diabetic clients opting for “healthy treats” such as ‘sugar-free’ balls and bars of PUFA-rich nuttiness (almond meal, tahini etc), sweetened with rice syrup or stevia …
Article: Glycemia, Starch and Sugar in Context – by Ray Peat PhD
Article: Sugar Issues – by Ray Peat PhD
Book: (cover pictured) The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession – by Adam Leith Gollner. Not a nutritional or scientific text book by any means, just a delightful read! Deliciously and colourfully descriptive, written by a fellow totally obsessed by fruit.
quick basic science lesson
Carbohydrates can be divided into these main chemical groupings:
First the “smaller” ones molecularly, commonly referred to as “sugars” or “simple carbohydrates”:
1. MONOSACCHARIDES (single sugars) – eg. Glucose (aka blood-sugar), fructose, galactose
2. DISACCHARIDES (contain two sugars bonded) – eg. Sucrose (= glucose + fructose), Lactose (= glucose + galactose)
And the larger ones molecularly, commonly referred to as “complex carbohydrates”:
3. POLYSACCHARIDES (contain many sugars bonded) – eg. Starch (= pretty much just lots of glucose molecules bonded), Cellulose (an insoluble fiber; lots of glucose bonded).
Note that any carb bigger than a simple singular monosaccharide cannot be directly utilized by the body and must therefore be broken down into monosaccharides. We secrete enzymes for this: lactase to breakdown (digest) lactose, sucrase to breakdown sucrose, amylase to break down starch, etc … Keep in mind that unlike cows and other ruminants, we humans do not have the capacity to break down cellulose.
Cane sugar is comprised of the disaccharide sucrose (fructose and glucose bonded together), while fruits contain both individual glucose and fructose (singular monosaccharides) as well as the disaccharide sucrose.
When digestion is complete, it’s the balance of the types of monosaccharides that we’re left with that determines that food’s effect on cellular respiration and the resulting benefit or damage to our metabolism.
To fine-tune your eating, specific to you, your particular health struggles and metabolic needs, contact me directly to enquire about a private consultation; locally in Sydney or long-distance via Skype.
Disclaimer: My posts are not meant to be individualized treatment plans, protocols, etc. I share what I research and use, and that is it. They are meant to spark thought based on the normal anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc of the body. The information contained in this Blog should not be used to treat or diagnose disease or health problems and is provided for your information only.