So what’s the big deal about sugar anyway?  This really seems to be the nutritional buzz word for the last several years, and no one seems to be talking about saturated fat or cholesterol anymore, but is it just pop nutrition, or is there something to this?

Simply stated: yes, sugar is in fact the devil (No, really, we checked), and a lot of horribly done science and artificial conclusions were drawn from studies concerning cholesterol and saturated fat.  This isn’t to say saturated fat and cholesterol may have a role to play, whether it is more beneficial or harmful depends on various factors, but the matter of refined carbohydrates and sugar in particular (especially high fructose sugars) is a simple matter.  Let’s not leave you hanging though, what’s the big deal?

As so many of my discussions, lectures and articles do, it comes back to that two million years of ancestral human existence.  Animals change over time, but over great swathes of time with the most permanent and species wide genetic and adaptive changes happening over tens or hundreds of thousands of years or more to be the most able to survive the conditions that persist for the species.  This has a couple of repercussions.  One is that we have not yet been able to adapt genetically, biochemically, and biomechanically to the way we have lifted for the last ~10,000 years as farmers, let alone the last 60 years as ‘desk jockeys.’  The other side of this coin is that we are still ‘hard wired’ to live off the land in a particular fashion (i.e. we spent 2 million years as hunter gatherers so our bodies are still made for this).

Taking this discussion towards the issue of sugar, the ONLY time the vast majority of humans anywhere on earth had sugar was during the fruiting and blossoming seasons in spring and summer where sugary fruits and some higher sugar content vegetables were available.  Some areas in the world had some year round, but this was rare and some areas didn’t have really any at all!  The sugar we did have was all pretty fibrous as well and had loads of nutrients, both of which are a big deal in deciding how the body reacts to the sugar it does get.  The big thing to take home though was this cyclic nature to sugar during the year.  During the spring and summer we stuffed ourselves with it, but we had to forage for it, compete with animals for it, (aka work for it), what we did get was filled with fiber and we only got it during certain months of the year.

The rest of the year was much harder on us just to keep from starving, let alone the fact that sugar was pretty nonexistent except in miniscule amounts in some vegetables and very small amounts of fruit.  We lived this cycle very year as a species for two million years!  Our bodies know that come winter we will have a harder time finding food than during spring when animals are mating and plants are putting out food like it grew from trees…okay bad joke out of the way, but our bodies knew that in the summer it was time to pack away all the energy we could and convert it to fat so that come winter we would be warmer and wouldn’t starve to death.

So what happens when our body eats sugar?  It thinks it’s spring/summer and time to put on fat!  Fructose in particular has a larger ratio of its energy converted to fat automatically regardless of any other factor when we eat it.  So you know those commercials paid for by the national corn conglomerates that say “Oh, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is just like table sugar, your body doesn’t know the difference!”  It’s a straight out conscientious lie. (<a href=”” > Look Here For More Info On That.</a>)  This happens because your body after all these thousands of generations of ancestors knows that fructose means spring.  The more sweet a meal is (including when we have artificial sweeteners with no calories!  Calories are almost irrelevant, it is other mechanisms that are more important), the more insulin is stored and the more fat will be created out of anything you eat.

This mechanism is what has let our species survive so extremely well and spread over every continent (besides that cold one!) before modern times.  But today we no longer live based on the seasons.  We did in a notable way as farmers instead of hunter gatherers, but for the last few decades the changing of the seasons has zero impact on the Western world in a survival fashion.  We have no shortage of food at any time of the year and we even still have the same foods because of being shipped globally or being grown with artificial methods so there is no seasonal eating.  We also have no fasting and no seasonal shortage of food.  Not that the latter is necessarily a bad thing (the former is very appropriate when done properly) but every single meal we eat is a veritable feast by the standards that were applicable for two million years of our existence and biologically is still the case.

So adequate and regular fuel is awesome but lets get at where the real problem rests.  The issue is that our bodies are still based off this cyclic annual seasonal model that has certain natural cues from sugar intake to light and heat, among other things.  But we have artificial light whenever we want it we have permanent internal heating and the moment fall hits so too does pumpkin spice lattes, let alone the fact that our diets are filled with refined carbohydrates (only a step away from sugar really) and enormous before nonexistent levels of sugar (even more than cultures that lived on sugarcane territory!!).  Our bodies do not know how to handle this so it just goes with the flow and goes; “Oh! Sugar…and oh wait that’s fructose! I know what to do with that!” and starts body fat creation to get ready for the winter that will never come.  When we live in a perpetual spring we have written our own demise in our diet and our lifestyle.

Yes I am being a bit dramatic, but not by as much as you might think.  The sugar gets stored as too much fat and after a while chronic sugar intake and its resulting insulin spikes (not to mention all of the artificial sweeteners and other chemicals that contribute) can cause diabetes.  With or without the diabetes (though it heavily contributes) obesity can easily occur which DOES NOT EXIST in human history until the modern days except in kings and nobles or other evolutionary cultural exceptions.  Our bodies do NOT know how to handle it.

Our adipose tissue (fat) is very rarely known for its role in the endocrine system (hormones), but it actually secretes the body’s most important hormone: leptin.  Leptin goes to the brain (as well as every other tissue in the body) and informs it how much energy is on hand in case of a famine or just the winter to come.  Lots of leptin and the brain knows it can let the body grow and repair itself quickly, let the immune system kick some ass and let the brain be as power hungry as it wants (the brain takes up 25% of our energy and uses more when we learn or think a lot!).  If not much leptin comes in the brain doesn’t let metabolic processes such as the above go quite as full bore and it releases hormones that lower the metabolism and simultaneously make you hungry and seek out food.  Food that comes into the system automatically goes more to fat than usual because of low leptin.

So where’s the disaster in this, it sounds like a good system to me?  Well it is a good system…except that after two million years of daily fasting and annual starving without a single bit of obesity in the lot…our body doesn’t know how to deal with too much leptin.  When too much leptin piles up (from obesity) it just shuts it out like crazy talk and gets on with its business…but it makes its decisions based on the leptin that gets through, which may now be virtually none.  The brain thinks you’re starving and you start shutting down the metabolism and trying to store more fat quickly even though you’re already coated in far too much!  This is why caloric restriction diets are actually counterproductive and don’t work, by the way. This also means the energy doesn’t go to your muscles, brain, and some organs nearly as much which means eating makes you tired and you seem to have less energy all the time.

So while we’ve taken this article beyond its basic intent, I think you can see why sugar is such a big deal in a bad way.  The body takes it as a signal to start storing fat and having high fructose makes it worse, having no fiber makes it worse, having lower nutrients (even if its 100% juice most of the nutrients is in the pulp and skin by the way and the vitamins in it are added and usually artificial and hard to absorb!) makes it worse, and the artificial sweeteners are among the biggest culprits.  In a chemical and nutritional perpetual spring our bodies suffer enormously and sugar is the modern foundation of this problem.

So what’s the take away at the end of the day? I’m not necessarily suggesting we be severe in our attempts to keep sugar cyclic but that is the general notion. Sugar desperately needs to be filtered out of our diets to the vast majority of the time only coming from whole fruits and veggies (seriously, juice should be kept to 4oz and under most days and only fresh real juice. If it doesn’t have sediment and pulp, it’s not real enough) and mostly seasonally so. Come the spring and summer enjoy your fruit! But ditch the white breads and pastas most of the time, avoid sodas, anything with HFCS and artificial sugars at all cost. Enjoy yourself when celebrations come through, eat that piece of cake and have a beer! But don’t do this every day, that’s what gets us and keeps the perpetual Spring working against us! Eat fibrous foods and keep refined carbs low, and sugars real (dates, whole fruit, REAL honey [did you know most honey bottles have no honey in them? Yup, you guessed it, it's HFCS and colorings+chemicals] and so on) but still limited.