These days with fitness industry growing so fast everybody seems to have their own ideology and sticking to it no matter what. Sometimes we even forget to look into science based straight facts, or we find a simple fact taken out of the context and interpret it in a way that would suit our ideology the best.
What I keep hearing and I think we all can agree on it is that, Sugar is bad and Vegetables are good. Right? But is this a black and white truth? Let me explain.
Eating till you can’t move
If you eat until you can’t move all day everyday (ad libitum, as researchers call it), and you start adding sugar to your coffee, your oatmeal and your protein shakes, you are most likely going to gain weight. But that does not mean that “sugar made you fat”.
The reason is simple. Sugar scores very low on the satiety index. This means it doesn’t fill you up much relative to how much energy you consume. So if you add sugar to a meal, you won’t eat much less of it. In fact, you may eat more of it because it’s tastier (higher palatability, as labcoats say). Adding sugar to your meals will increase your overall energy intake.
And since your body follows the laws of physics, specifically the laws of thermodynamics, what happens to your weight depends on your body’s energy balance. You gain weight in an energy surplus, because energy will be stored. You lose weight in an energy deficit, because your body will have to oxidize AKA burn bodily tissue to get enough energy.
What is sugar and how it affects You
So what is sugar? Is it really more fattening than oatmeal or rice?
Table sugar AKA sucrose (50% glucose, 50% fructose)
Many studies have compared groups eating a diet with the same macronutrient composition (% protein, % fat, % carbs) that differed only in which carb sources were consumed. The groups eating lots of sugar lose just as much fat without losing more muscle mass than the groups consuming little or no sugar. In studies where complex carbs like whole-wheat bread are replaced with sugar but the total caloric intake is kept constant, no body composition changes take place.
So as long as you are aware of what you are consuming daily, having sugar in your diet is in itself not bad for your physique.
Simple and Complex Carbohydrates
A 6 month study of 390 participants found that this is true for all simple carbs, like fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar): whether you consume simple or complex carbs, it does not affect your body composition. Also important blood markers such as your blood lipids (an important marker of your cardiovascular (heart) health) has not been effected due to amount of sugar being consumed, as long as overall caloric intake was acquitted.
So is it right to classify simple carbs as bad and complex carbs as good? It think it is more than anything a medical tradition that we call carbohydrates with 3 or more sugars ‘complex carbs’ and we call carbohydrates with 1 or 2 sugars ‘simple carbs’.
What about “sugar crash”?
It is a myth that sugar causes a massive blood sugar spike followed by a complete crash. The effect on a food’s blood sugar is measured by the glycaemic index (GI). Sugar, due to its 50% fructose content, has a GI of ~68, which is a ‘medium’ effect on blood sugar. Sugar even has a lower GI than whole-wheat bread, which has a GI of ~71. The same applies to the insulin index.
Sugar is “unhealthy”
Just think for a second, there are many cultures in tropical climates thriving on diets of up to 90% carbohydrates. And we’re not talking oatmeal and broccoli here. These cultures rely on sugary fruits. In fact, honey is the favorite food of the Hadza from Tanzania.
Evolution has made sure our bodies can deal with sugar, because it is found in many of the world’s most nutritious foods: fruits. Fruit is in fact one of the foods humans have consumed for the longest period of our genetic existence. It has been a staple in our diet ever since we were still monkeys living in the jungle. And glucose is literally in our blood.
“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” – La Rochefoucald
Sugar isn’t bad. Nor is it good. Sugar has empty calories. It doesn’t satiate and you feel hungry soon after you finished a sugar based meal. But if your overall diet is nutritious, you are healthy and physically active and your diet consists mostly of whole foods, sugar won’t make your waistline any bigger, or won’t make your “abs disappear”. You don’t have to live on rice and broccoli. And unless you have a food intolerance, you certainly shouldn’t avoid fruit or dairy because they contain sugar. That’s exactly the kind of broscience that drives fitness enthusiasts into following obsessive and monotone diets that aren’t healthy in psychological or nutritional terms.