Most adult males require about 2,500 calories to maintain body weight. Most doctors will tell you that maintaining body weight is about calories in and calories out, regardless of caloric source.
3 teaspoons of sugar and one apple are calorically equal – about 50 calories.
Theoretically, if you ate 2,500 calories of sugar every day, and nothing else, you should be able to maintain your body weight – right?;
To answer this, we must know if caloric consumption, regardless of source, has the same impact on the body.
The answer is ‘no’. Here’s why:
•Ancestrally, humans had access to fructose (sugar is comprised of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose), only in the late summer or autumn when fruits ripened on bushes or fell to the ground from trees;
oThis was critical to survival as food became scarce during winter, and humans would have to endure long periods of fasting between meals or even outright famines;
oFructose signals the body to store energy in the form of fat – visceral fat (around the liver and other internal organs) first, and then sub-cutaneous fat (beneath the skin); This fat was used during periods of famine for survival; The body converts stored fat into ‘glucose’ from ketone bodies in the fatty acids; The body’s metabolism functions on glucose – it is essential for survival. Even during famine and periods of fasting, the body can synthesize glucose from its own tissue – known as gluconeogenesis, even after glycogen stores from muscle tissue have been depleted.
oSo while fruits contain many nutrients that are essential to life, they must be consumed in small quantities, to avoid ‘fat-storage’.
oFruits, when eaten in their original form, not pureed or juiced, contain fiber, which slows the rate of their metabolism, and minimizes blood-glucose spikes. It is the increase in blood glucose and fructose that triggers the pancreas to release the hormone insulin to remove, and store, excess levels of fructose and glucose. Over-taxing the pancreas for an extended time frame diminishes the pancreas’ beta cells, which are responsible for the insulin production. This is how type 2 diabetes develops – extended over-consumption of glucose and fructose-spiking foods. In time, if sufficiently severe, the pancreas’ cells malfunction and mutate which can result in…pancreatic cancer.
oSimple carbohydrate forms of food such as white flour products (bread, pizza dough, pasta), as well as white potatoes, white rice, and ultra-processed foods (packaged foods) including breakfast cereals, chips, pretzels, crackers, soft-drinks, fruit juices and even milk (lactose is milk-sugar), all serve to increase blood glucose and fructose levels; Fermented fruits and grains, i.e. alcohol – does the same thing;
oTherefore, using simple carbohydrate foods as a fuel source – is a mechanism for storing energy and therefore visceral fat – leading to weight gain from increased body fat storage. This occurs even in an isocaloric comparison to the consumption of fat, protein and complex carbohydrates; Note visceral fat also causes greater oxidization of surrounding organ tissue increasing the risk of cell mutation – cancer;
oDue to the pancreas’ response to increased blood glucose, insulin is released within a short time frame to clear it from the blood stream, which results in a drop-off of energy levels. This is why after people consume simple carbohydrates, they experience a burst of energy for a short time, followed quickly by a collapse of energy resulting in drowsiness and desire to sleep – sound familiar?
•That’s not all sugar/fructose does – in order to be able to store more and more energy, it shuts off the hormone ‘leptin’ which regulates your satiety – your feeling of fullness. As a result, those whose primary fuel source is primarily simple carbohydrates, cannot satisfy their hunger during meals and end up over-eating, contributing to greater fat storage and weight gain. Ever wonder why bars and restaurants always offer you a drink before your meal? That’s why – it increases your desire to eat. This is why fast-food outlets provide free refills of soft-drinks – serve yourself – more and more sugar = more food sales;
•To top it all off – sugar/simple carbohydrate foods, trigger your dopamine receptors in your brain – the feel-good hormone. Who doesn’t like feeling good right? One good hit deserves another – dopamine receptors that are over-stimulated, down-regulate (become desensitized) resulting in the need for greater amounts of sugar/simple carbs to get the same level of pleasure. This builds what is known as ‘tolerance’ or addiction. Once you begin consuming simple carbohydrates as your primary fuel source, you become addicted and desensitized and require ever-increasing quantities of food to achieve the same dopamine levels. This is also how people become alcoholics or become addicted to drugs, porn, sex, or shopping – the desire for dopamine.
•When you become addicted, you rationalize your consumption requirement – which requires using illogical reasoning; for example ‘oh having sugar or dessert once a week is not unhealthy – everything in moderation right?’. Except, sugar and simple carbohydrates cannot be restricted voluntarily due to their propensity to encourage addiction. So the right amount of sugar is – no sugar. Would you justify having cocaine in moderation?
•Does that mean you can never eat bread, pizza, pasta, or rice? No. Have it less frequently, very small quantities, and always with a food that is made up of complex carbohydrates that will slow down the rate of metabolization. For example, hummus on pizza. Beans with rice. Beans with pasta. Rapini with pasta. Pasta should be the size of a small bird nest, smaller than your clenched fist, not a sprawling mound covering your entire plate. 2-3 forkfuls max. It should also be prepared al dente to slow down metabolism. The complex carb accompanying food should be equal or greater in quantity than the simple carb. Never to be consumed in the evening, ideally only at lunch. Evening meals should be a small amount of protein with lots of vegetables, no accompanying simple carbohydrates;
•Personally, I try and avoid simple carbs completely, it is ideal to do so. That said, I may have 2-3 small, home-made pizza squares (per week, NOT daily), but always at lunch and always with a thick layer of hummus.
•Brown or wild rice in small quantities (same as noted for pasta above) accompanied by legumes; and with lean protein – ideally fish mostly. Poultry and red-meat infrequently.
•You can also make pizza with spelt flour or whole grain flour – Whole Foods (grocery store in North America) makes ready-made pizza dough (all ingredients listed) in their deli section from ancient grains which are complex carbohydrates. Most neighbourhood Italian bakeries carry small amounts of whole-grain pizza dough (not as healthy as ancient grains but better than white flour).
•Packaged foods, salad dressings, and condiments are loaded with hidden forms of sugar (sugar has over 60 different chemical names), ketchup is 2/3 sugar. Therefore packaged food consumption should be zero, with few exceptions. Air-popped popcorn with either extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil is acceptable.
•Fermented foods are important for gut health. So cheese and plain 2% Greek yogurt, unflavoured, unsweetened – adding your own fruit and nuts is acceptable in small quantities daily.
To conclude – in an iso-caloric setting – eating foods of equivalent calories, will not result in the same healthy outcome, if one of the food choices include sugar and simple carbohydrates.
Legumes are complex carbohydrates and are also the highest form of vegetable protein, especially green peas. Nuts, and avocados are also healthy forms of fat.
As is cocoa in dark chocolate (I stick to 90-95% cocoa), Lindt Excellence bar.
Fueling your body mostly with healthy fats, creates energy from ketone bodies rather than glucose and fructose from simple carbohydrates. It also provides energy in a steady state form, so you avoid the peaks and valleys of energy associated with simple carbohydrate foods.