I discussed the initial breakdown and digestion of carbohydrates last time. So, what happens from here? Where does all this glucose go in your body? What does your body do with it? This is actually where things get more interesting (I think) and how carbs get a bad reputation (and basically the whole premise of low carb diets).
So we just ate, digested (which really means, our digestive system broke down in tiny pieces) carbohydrates into little sugar molecules that get sent to your liver: mainly glucose and fructose. All carbohydrates contain glucose. But you also get a fair amount of fructose sugars too if you have eaten anything containing table sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, high fructose corn syrup, and fruit! So now you have a bunch of glucose and fructose hanging out in your liver.
Your liver’s main job is to process everything that gets into it from your digestive system. Everything that gets digested and absorbed from your small intestine (except FAT), gets transported to your liver directly to be processed. Your liver basically decides if its good/useful (and sends it into your blood stream), bad (breaks it down to be eliminated) or needs to be changed into something useful.
Glucose is put in the “useful” category. Fructose is put in the “needs to be changed” category.
Fructose is then turned into glucose, to make it useful. So now, you have a ton of glucose hanging out in your liver! Three main things are done with it:
- A good amount is sent into you blood stream to be circulated in your body (this is your blood sugar). It does this because you blood is basically a highway to all your cells in your body. In order for the glucose to reach your cells, it needs to be put into you blood to actually get to them. Once they reach your cells, your cells absorb it and turn it into energy. Your body uses this energy to keep your body running. This is why when your “blood sugar drops,” you feel tired and hungry. You body used up its quick, available energy source and is now telling your brain to add more (or eat something! to provide more glucose!).
- Extra glucose can be stored for later. It can be stored in your liver and in your muscles. The fancy word for this storage system is glycogen. You body only makes a limited amount of glycogen though. Enough to really last about a day. Your muscles use this stored glucose for you when you need extra energy (like heavy lifting or exercising), fasting (not eating), or in times of stress (both mental and physical stress). Once, your glycogen is used up, you will need to make more (eat more glucose!).
- Extra extra glucose gets converted to fat. Since your body only needs a limited amount of glucose for energy, and a limited amount to make glycogen, anything remaining gets converted to fat. Fat really is your body’s way of creating long term energy storage. Remember glycogen only lasts about a day (you need to constantly replenish it), but fat can last a long time, if its not used. Your body is very smart. It will put something it knows it can use into long time storage as a survival mechanism.
There is one important player I forgot to mention that is also involved in these three processes…INSULIN.
What is insulin? Its a hormone. What’s a hormone? Its a molecule whose sole purpose is to tell other things what to do. Hormones literally talk to your cells to get them to do things. Cells have these little “switches” on them that need to be turned on or off. Who controls these switches? Hormones.
So what switches does insulin turn on?
- Tells your cells to take in glucose to be used for energy.
- Tells your liver/muscle cells to store glucose (make glycogen).
- Tells your fat cells to make more fat!
Reason #3 is why low carb diets exist and a big reason why people are people told to limit their sugar intake. Insulin is only triggered when it senses glucose in your body. Therefore: no carbs = no glucose = no insulin
If insulin’s job is to tell your body to literally make fat, what happens when there is no insulin? There is nothing there to tell your body to make fat.
Now, if you are eating too much sugar/carbs over a long period of time, insulin is constantly being triggered. So any extra glucose that you body can’t use, will get converted into fat. ALSO, if insulin is constantly being triggered, your cells become desensitized to it (or “resistant” to it). So, what happens when your cells start ignoring insulin? There is nothing to tell the glucose where to go. This is bad. This is how diabetes is formed. Its almost like the “boy who cried wolf.”
Also, all this fat that is created overtime is what leads to obesity, heart disease and other problems.
So what to do? Obvious answer: eat less sugar! At least start with less “added sugars.” In the average diet in the western world (aka Standard American Diet or SAD), too many people are eating processed foods and not enough real, whole, home cooked food. Processed food contains a lot of added sugar
Just read the labels, if you don’t believe me. Look at the grams (g) of sugar in each serving. A teaspoon = 4 g sugar (if you need a visual).
So a really good place to start if you are in this category, is to start eating more real food and less processed food (basically anything that has ingredients in it you can’t pronounce, don’t know what it is, or is a laundry list of things). Stick to actual veggies and actual fruit. Make more meals at home. This is a really good starting point. Then you can tweak it from there. But by adding in more real food, you will naturally eat less of the other stuff and probably already will start feeling better.
Also, the more sugar you eat, the more you will want to eat it. And good news! The opposite is true too! The less you eat sugar, the less you will want to eat sugar! I would suggest a slow transition out. Just slowly start cutting out sugary things out of your diet. Give your body (and taste buds) a chance to adjust. This will be much more sustainable then the all or nothing approach. Slowly add in healthier foods to compensate. Or add in more protein/fat in your diet to curb cravings and also satisfy hunger (you will naturally eat less because you will get full faster).
You can also send me a message too, if you need help! If this was an easy task, no one would have health problems, so I get it! My job is to help in this transition and make it easier and sustainable for the long term.
Do you have any tricks to help cut sugar out? I would love to hear them!