SJH

Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.

September 3, 2023 | Max Jenkinson

Your Sweet Tooth Is Genuine: Sugar Is Not The Enemy

You’d be healthier if you swapped out all your carbohydrates for simple sugars.

That’s a bold statement.

Sugar (from fruit & honey) has been the primary source of carbohydrates during human evolution.

At least that is what hunter-gatherers today preferentially eat over starches.

If they have access to fruit and/or honey year-round that is what they eat.

Humans evolved in the African rift zone where the Hadza people still live.

They eat sugar year-round and are as healthy as humans come.

Then why do we all seem to “know” that sugar is bad for us?

And, what is the difference between white sugar and sugar in fruit and honey?

Not much according to the experts.

 

So, how did we get to this point?

Well, the once rare chronic diseases started to rise during the early 1900s.

We all had an intuition that the increase had something to do with diet.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that nutrition science made its way into existence.

There were two main competing hypotheses between the two pioneers of nutrition science.

After WWII, John Yudkin in England proposed sugar was the main culprit.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ancel Keys hypothesised saturated fat was to blame.

In the end, Ancel Keys won and sugar was put on the sidelines.

In 1980, the US government issued its first Dietary guidelines.

In 1983, the UK followed suit and soon the rest of the West.

After 1980 we see a drastic shift in the graphs looking at chronic disease.

The guidelines told people (for the first time in history) to limit a specific food group, namely saturated fat.

We replaced red meat and animal fats with poultry and seed oils.

Low fat became a fad.

But, what about sugar?

You’ve probably heard about how the sugar industry paid off scientists to put the blame on fat.

In the 2000s the vidication of saturated fats began.

Dietary cholesterol did not increase cholesterol in the blood.

A fact proven before the Second World War.

Despite this, in 2014, a survey found that 54% of American doctors still believed that dietary cholesterol increases blood cholesterol.

It’s not their fault, they get almost no training in nutrition and are not incentivised to study it on their own.

When blame is removed from one thing it usually needs to be moved to something else.

Yudkin’s ideas finally gained some traction, and it made sense.

When saturated fat became demonized something had to replace the calories coming from it.

And some of those calories came from sugar.

By now we understood that insulin played a role in fat gain and we also knew insulin resistance was driving many known diseases.

Insulin and carbohydrates went hand in hand.

Soon after sugar became the new target as the scapegoat for our deteriorating health.

The ketogenic diet made its resurgence.

A low-carb diet was the cure.

If we remove carbohydrates all our problems will fade away.

The main problems linked to diet are obesity and diabetes.

Both are known to be primary drivers of a host of chronic diseases.

The question is,

Is sugar a main driver of obesity and diabetes?

 

The Human Sweet Tooth

Why Sugar Is So Dangerous is an article posted in Psychology Today.

It is quite interesting because it lays out the argument for why sugar is detrimental to us today but was vital for us in the past.

The story goes something like this.

All humans have a sweet tooth because sugar has a key role in cellular metabolism.

The attraction to sweet foods comes from our long, positive, history of eating fruits and honey.

Our ancestors developed a preference for sweetness because it increased the chances of survival and reproduction.

This is also the reason we have an inherent preference for red meat.

Of course, they also favoured other high-energy foods, particularly meat, that not only offered concentrated energy but also contained many nutrients essential for child growth and development.

 

However, fruit and honey were relatively scarce for our ancestors.

Today sugars are in abundance, and this causes a problem.

Sugars drive over-eating, and insulin resistance which both cause obesity and diabetes.

We’ll come back to this but first, we need to understand a little more about why sugars are so bad.

 

Why Sugar Is So Bad

When you google why sugar is bad mainstream health sites pop up.

They tell us that increased sugar consumption is linked (emphasis on linked) with a host of chronic diseases.

They then go on to say that sugar affects the body negatively in three primary ways:

  1. It overloads the liver

  2. It affects insulin so that we overeat

  3. & it causes metabolic dysfunction

Simple sugars are different from complex carbohydrates.

In this case, we’ll simplify it to two categories,

  • Sucrose, aka table sugar (50% glucose, 50% fructose)

  • Starch (100% glucose)

All carbohydrates are broken down to their simplest sugar before entering the bloodstream.

Blood glucose is controlled by insulin whose job is to maintain a very narrow range of glucose in the blood.

Fructose is not controlled by insulin but instead gets (mainly) taken care of by the liver.

Let’s look at the glycemic index (a measure of insulin increase after eating carbs).

  • Glucose = 100

  • Cornflakes = 81

  • Instant oatmeal = 79

  • Potato (boiled) = 78

  • White bread = 75

  • Whole wheat bread = 74

  • White rice = 73

  • Brown rice = 68

  • Couscous = 65

  • Sucrose = 65

  • Soda = 59

  • Mango = 51

  • Banana = 51

  • Orange juice = 50

  • Oranges = 43

  • Dates = 42

  • Apples = 36

Pure white sugar has a lower glycemic index than pure starch, and fruits have much lower.

The increase in insulin is often blamed but looking at this the clever scientist had to come up with something else.

Because fructose does not increase insulin it does not allow insulin to have its supposed appetite-decreasing effects.

Fructose also has to be metabolised by the liver directly.

Sucrose should then create both a dysfunctional liver and a state of overeating.

Thus driving obesity, diabetes and metabolic dysfunction.

But is this true?

 

Sugar Scarcity In Ancestral Times

The main difference between starch and sucrose is the fructose component.

Fructose is metabolised in a different way.

Because of this, there has been a lot of theorises trying to prove that fructose causes metabolic dysfunction, obesity and diabetes.

If fructose does not fill that role, the demonization of sucrose over starches does not make a lot of sense.

One theory why fructose is bad is that it prepares us for periods of less food.

It does this by increasing appetite, lowering metabolism and increasing fat gain.

This would make sense if fruit and honey were available in abundance for short periods of time (& right before a period of scarcity).

As I said in the last post, we evolved on fruit and honey.

The Hadza is a hunter-gatherer population in the African rift zone, a place where the human lineage dates back at least 4 million years.

Literally, the place where humans evolved.

And it was only until 60,000 years ago when we moved out of Africa.

The Hadza have access to either fruit or honey (sugar) year-round and preferentially eat them over tubers (starches).

Despite this, the Hadza are as healthy as they come.

For something to signal that a low food availability period is coming, it needs to precede that period.

An abundance of nutrient-dense, energy-dense, and easy-to-digest foods, to me, seems like a signal for good times.

It is in good times we increase our metabolism so that we can do things such as procreate, fix internal issues, and move more.

And, sugar is known to increase metabolism while the lack of sugar (keto-diet) is known to decrease metabolism.

Fasting is a sign of food scarcity.

A ketogenic diet is also known as a fasting-mimicking diet because its metabolic state looks similar to that of starvation.

Foods that precede a period of scarcity should be foods that are available but not preferred.

Food that we’d only eat if the preferred options were not on the menu.

Fruit is not one of them, seeds, nuts and starches are.

Fructose may be one of the primary signals to the body that food is in abundance.

This may be why we metabolize it differently than glucose so that the body can differentiate survival food (starches) from thriving food (sugars).

 

Well, does insulin increase appetite or not?

A big part of the argument against sugar is that the lowered insulin drives appetite.

As you should know by now protein is the most important macronutrient for satiety.

I do not think the type of carbohydrate will have an impactful effect on appetite.

In any case, I want to create some doubt in this argument.

Insulin may or may not decrease appetite, the evidence is inconclusive.

Appetite regulation is a complex system.

A large part of appetite regulation comes from a cross-talk between the brain and the fat tissue.

This should make sense as fat tissue is the primary organ for fuel storage.

It is the organ that can tell the brain how much fuel is available at any given time.

Should we store fuel or should we burn it?

Insulin plays a role, but the inconclusive evidence suggests insulin has different effects on appetite depending on the state of the body.

In preparation for hibernation, mammals’ insulin levels continually rise alongside body weight until they reach their peak body mass.

Insulin is known to be a pro-fuel-storage hormone.

Again, fat cells need to respond to insulin to store fuel.

So, in a metabolic state that prioritizes fat gain, starches do not seem like a good idea.

Sugar, specifically the fructose component, might be the better alternative.

And as I have argued before, most people today are in a metabolic state that prioritizes fat gain.

 

The correlation tells a different story

The richer a country becomes, the worse their health and the more sugar they eat.

This makes it easy for us to assume sugar is a driver of negative health outcomes.

With this assumption in mind, looking at two similar countries, the country consuming the most sugar should be the fatter country.

Let’s take the neighbours Belgium and Luxemburg.

Belgium eats the most sugar in Europe and Luxembourg the least.

Belgium eats 48.3kg per person per year.

Luxembourg eats 10.8kg per person per year.

In Belgium, 50% of its population is either overweight or obese.

In Luxembourg, that number is 48%.

Almost five times the sugar consumption but only a 2% difference in overweight or obese population.

At 63.8% overweight or obese population the UK is one of Europe’s fattest countries.

Yet, sugar consumption in the UK is one of the lowest in Europe at 24.1 kg per person per year.

Correlation doesn’t prove anything.

However, it casts some doubt on the claim that sugar is the primary driver of weight gain.

Sugar can not explain this rise.

We need to figure out something else.

The biggest problem is ultra-processed foods.

If I were to show a graph correlating the consumption of ultra-processed foods and obesity you’d laugh at how bad the correlation to sugar is.

But for us who already cook most of our meals with whole foods, we are still facing health issues.

Cutting out sugar might not be a sufficient or even productive step to take.

Let’s summarize.

 

1) Sugar was abundant during our evolution

Our evolutionary past probably looked similar to that of the Hadza.

They have access to sugar from fruit and honey year-round.

They also preferentially eat fruit and honey as their main carbohydrate source.

This suggests sugars are the preferred carbohydrates for humans.

2) Fructose may be a healthy part of carbs

Fructose does not affect insulin, often giving sugars a lower glycemic load than starches.

The hypothesis that too much insulin creates insulin resistance via the overconsumption of sugar thus makes little sense.

The Hadza are perfectly insulin-sensitive.

3) Something else is to blame (at least correlatively)

In similar cultures with similar socio-economics sugar consumption is not a good predictor of fatness.

Since the 1980s sugar consumption has not risen a lot and has during the 2000s even dropped.

At the same time, obesity is on a rocket ship to the moon.

 

We are trying hard to make our populations healthier but we are (obviously) doing a terrible job.

We blamed, saturated fat, fat, red meat, salt, and now sugar.

None of them worked.

On the contrary, they probably did more damage than good.

Eating food that we evolved to digest and utilize, is not something that should drive disease.

Otherwise, hunter-gatherers should be unhealthy, and they are not.

They have almost none of the chronic diseases we have.

It is time to look at what we eat that they do not.

It is time to stop feeding ourselves and our children with things that make us depressed, overweight and unmotivated.

Take your responsibility and lead as an example of what humans could be.

Let’s be the change.

And until next Sunday, do what makes your future selves proud.

Why Life Has To Be Hard

Has anything worthwhile ever been easy? If not, why are we constantly searching for the easy way...

The Final Diet Boss: Intuitive Eating

Here's how you eat what you want, when you want, to get and maintain the body you want...

Eating More Protein Could Fix It All

Eating more quality protein could fix most of your health issues. Is it really that simple? Let's...

Grow Up & Eat Real Food

Let's gain a firm grip on why eating real food matters. To do so we need to, of all things, turn to...

Why You Might Want To Quit Social Media For Good

There is a reason why social media is messing with our minds and it's not what you think...

Turning The Food Pyramid Upside Down

Eat the opposite of what you've been told and you'll become a super human...

How To Be Healthy

The Minimal Effective Dose For Health...

Making Food Make Sense

Our bodies are not perfect, but, they're trying their very best at keeping us healthy. Eating a diet...

Your Body Is Confused By What You’re Eating

Food is information. If your body cannot understand what the food coming in is it will make...

You Are Doing Cardio Wrong

Most people doing cardio are shooting themselves in the foot. There are way more time efficient ways...

4 Harsh Truths To Make You Healthy

4 uncomfortable truths that will force you to reshape your view on health. The world wants you to be...

How To Lose Weight (And Keep It Off)

The train more, eat less is for most people is terrible advice. All we need to do is help our body...

The Only Reason You Need to Get Into The Cold

Is cold water immersion healthy or not? After reading this it won't matter. A short post on why it...

Expand Your Time Frame: Success Will Come

This is a post about the forever elusive question: What determines success? I think it's an...

Beyond the Rat Race: The Art of Problem-Solving

Exploring the transformative power of problem-solving. Discover a three-step formula to shift your...

The Human Ecosystem: Navigating the Terrain of Chronic Disease

Exploring Chronic Disease, Cellular Disruptions, and the Path to Optimal Health...

The Secret Athletes Use To Look Great

Pro athletes look good. There is something they do that we normies can use to build an athletic body...

Hidden Superpower: A Key To Good Health

Superpowers, we all want them but none of us have them. Or do we? There is a real superpower we all...

Look Better By Breathing Correct

Let's find out why mothers in tribal societies constantly shut the mouths of their infants...

Simple Things Repeated Changes Lives

Doing the fundamentals for an unappealing amount of time is how we get the results we want...

The Dopaminergic Journey: Crafting Your Environment for Optimal Well-Being

Good health is more about avoiding what is unhealthy rather than implementing what is healthy. To do...

The Domino Effect: Why Physical Health Must Come First

Everyone wants to achieve greatness, yet most people don't even start their journey. The reason...

The Present Is The Solution

Four books with four perspectives on the present all converge on the fact that our success as humans...

The Impact of Dopamine Is WAY Larger Than You Think

The Impact of Dopamine Is WAY Larger Than You Think...

This is Why You Don’t Reach Your Goals (How To Rewire Your Mind)

It comes down to a brain molecule that was hijacked. It used to cause us to strive for a better...

How To Not Be Fake In A Fake World

The rise of atheism, materialism and social media has put many of us in a dark place. It is time to...

Embrace Uncertainty: Choosing Adventure Over Safety

Take the leap! Safe is good but it isn't always anymore. We live in a place where safety keeps us...

How to Leverage Your Intuition for Better Choices

Actions -> outcome -> ideal. Wrong. Actions -> Impact -> Recalibration -> Actions -> Ideal...

The Art of Meaning; How To Make Anything Meaningful

We have something called the meaning crisis. What does it mean? I do not know. Anyway, here is a way...

Testing it out for yourself: Is sugar really that bad?

If after you start eating something you feel great, how bad could it be? Here's how you test for...

Sugar: A Health Food Hiding In Plain Sight?

You believe sugar is bad, so does your friends, and your mother. You've heard it so many times you...

Exercise – We Got It All Wrong

Shifting our view on exercise changes everything. The amount of movement you do during the day...

My View On Diet | After 6 Years in Nutrition

6 years obsessed with nutrition. I know more and understand less. Let me know which step you are at...

How To Earn Money Doing What You Enjoy

A new era is upon us. By leveraging the tools of the internet we can build something we love...

The Happiness Paradox: Flipping it on its head

How often do you think about happiness? In this post there might be something you still haven't...

Productive Suffering: Seeking Discomfort Is Not What You Think

A post on the one concept that had the largest impact on my well-being...

Fixing Your Gut – Fixing Your Cells – Fixing You

You are your cells. If you want to be happy you need to take your health seriously. Let's start by...

Don’t Even Think About Going On A Diet Before Reading This

Gain clarity on what to eat by removing confusion. Find out the missing link to understand more...

Understand Your Cells, Understand Yourself

Understanding our evolutionary past gets us far, but it doesn't get us all the way. Let's get to...

From Vision to Action: A Practical Guide to Implementing Change in 4 Steps

Change needs to occur slowly and gradually. Sustainable personal development is what we want. Here's...

The Clear Way – How to Actually Change

Real change is hard. Mostly because we don't know what we want & we are terrible at doing things we...

How To Prepare For The AI Revolution

The AI Revolution might change everything. Even if it doesn't, it's worth preparing for. Here's how...

From Hibernation to Obesity: The Seed Oil Connection

Obesity: The chronic preparation for a period of starvation that never comes...

The Big Fat Lie: Seed Oils VS The Best Nutrition Studies Ever Made

The Hidden Data That Exposed the Seed Oil Scam. How the Best Nutritional Studies Ever Made Revealed...

The Dark Side of Seed Oil Fat: Why It’s Different and Why It’s Bad for You

A short run down of what fats are & three aspects that make fat in seed oils different...

The Only Dietary Explanation For Disease

There is one food most aren't aware of that is likely a major driver of disease. Find out which one...

Seed Oils – Our Largest Dietary mistake

A brief history of how seed oils snook their way into our diet...

The 4 Secret Habits For Effortless Health

6 years of knowledge distilled into 4 habits to reclaim control of your health...

Nutrition Advice No One Gives – That Every One Should Follow

A simple framework to maintain a great body, & great energy...

Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.