Friday, June 24, 2011

Will Sugar Make You Fat?

Sugar, particularly in it's refined form, is often painted as the dietary devil and cause of many ailments. There is definitely good reason for the warnings against high intakes of refined sugars, but will consuming a little bit of sugar each day make you fat? Worse yet, will it make you sick?

Sugar, just like any carbohydrate, and also like protein, contains 4 calories per gram. Fat, on the other hand, contains 9 calories per gram. If watching your weight is your main concern, then so long as you manage your caloric intake to suit your personal needs, adding sugar to your coffee each day won't do any more damage to your waistline than any other food or beverage.

But the difference between sugar and real food, like an apple or some pasta, is that sugar contains empty calories; consuming sugar gives you nothing but a rapid burst of energy and nothing else nutritionally. Other foods that contain carbohydrates usually come along with any or all of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Carbohydrates contained in the cells of fruits and vegetables, for example take longer to be absorbed into your blood stream because your body has to actually do work on the food to metabolize those carbs. The same goes for complex carbohydrates, or those individual carbohydrate units sewn together in long strands. In that case, each unit has to be snipped from the last to be used as energy. With plain old sugar, none of that applies.

When simple or refined sugar is ingested, it is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, causing a spike in our blood sugar levels. In response, the pancreas has to quickly pump out insulin to bring that sugar into our cells to allow them to use it. If there is too much sugar hanging around in the blood, beyond the need of the cells, the liver also has to do work to store it away for future use, which can lead to weight gain. Over time, if too much stress is placed on our organs, they can become damaged and stop functioning normally. There are also many associations between simple sugars and cancer, among other diseases.

So ultimately, eating small amounts of sugar may not make you fat, and it might not make you sick, but the key truly is moderation. A better idea than consuming refined sugars would be to get your sugars and carbohydrates from natural sources to maximise the amount of nutrients you get per calorie, rather than 'spending' your calorie budget on nutrient-poor sweeteners.