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Is sugar bad for us? How much is ok?

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Health / Nutrition

Estimated reading time: 6mins

Is sugar bad for us? How much is ok? | Bulk Nutrients blog

Does sugar make me fat?

No! Consuming sugar doesn't turn on some invisible tap to fat accumulation. Just ask scientists, who have disproved this bogus "an insulin spike results in fat gains" countless times:

  • In this review into 32 studies, whether the diet was high or low in carbohydrates, weight loss was the same
  • When subjects have a diet made up of 77% carbohydrates but with calories still matched, the weight loss was the same. 
  • When scientists rigorously test diets made up of high carbohydrates or low and match the calories and protein, the fat loss is the same.

And these are studies into carbohydrates, which is broken down into glucose. So as a last-ditch effort to save face, sugar haters (who haven't done their research) will turn around and say: "Yeah, but sugar is worse because it contains fructose." 

Really? Sugar is made up of one glucose molecule, and one fructose molecule (it's called sucrose or "table sugar" as a result). And because sugar contains fructose, many have fallen for the fallacy that it is somehow evil and makes you hungrier. The truth is:

  1. Sugar is broken down by the body into glucose, so, fructose doesn't get a chance to wreak this apparent havoc.
  2. Fructose (and thus sugar, too) doesn't make you hungrier. It has, in fact, been shown to suppress your appetite.
  3. The studies that have linked fructose to overeating in humans were out of context and others were done into rats. The cited study gave subjects 30% of their daily intake from FREE fructose. Free fructose is pure fructose which sugar isn't. Sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose! Free fructose is near impossible to eat in your diet. We can get it from fruit, but the fibre in the fruit makes this a non-event, as the fructose gets to your liver very slowly due to the fibre intake. 
Sugar is NOT the kiss of death.
Sugar is NOT the kiss of death.

So, if the science is so clear, where do people get this notion that sugar is bad? That fructose is evil?

It also stems from epidemiological studies, which is the study of patterns. Scientists notice that those who drink lots of soft drinks are also very fat. And this is not surprising; people who drink lots of soft drinks also consume more calories than they burn from highly processed foods and don't exercise. So, the scientists (innocently) simply report that "sugar is linked to obesity", and suggest more research is needed for definitive results. 

But then the media gets hold of it, and its game over. "Sugar linked to obesity" becomes "sugar makes us fat."

Then we get the overnight nutrition experts who sell us food products, books, and health plans capitalising on media hysteria. Marketing departments take note en masse. And then, it's showtime! The myth is born, people profit, and it's all accepted as gospel.

But quietly, real scientists are doing the detailed work that isn't as popular for media headlines. They're quietly publishing reviews like this one in 2014, that noted:

"Based on a thorough review of the literature, we demonstrate that fructose, as commonly consumed in mixed carbohydrate sources, does not exert specific metabolic effects that can account for an increase in body weight."

It's why when scientists put two groups of subjects on a diet containing 4% of their calories from sugar or 43%, the fat loss results are the same.

Read that sentence again!

That's 11 grams of sugar versus 118 grams. And no difference in fat loss.

How much sugar can I eat each day?

Of course, health isn't just about fat loss. It's important we get enough micronutrients in our diet for optimal health. So, it begs the question, how much sugar is ok?

Well, scientists say 20% of calories from sugar is a good amount, as that won't detract from a healthy amount of micronutrients. 20% is a large number for something that is apparently terrible for you! 

Sugar can and does play a part in a healthy and balanced diet.
Sugar can and does play a part in a healthy and balanced diet.

Moreover, a recent report by the Institute of Medicine suggests the upper limit of sugar in the daily diet can be 25%. 

So, what's this in real-life terms?

Let's say Bulk Nutrients customer "Thomas" has a weight loss diet set to the following:

  • Protein: 190 grams (760 calories)
  • Fat: 70 grams (630 calories)
  • Carbohydrates: 140 grams (560 calories)
  • Total: 1950 calories

Thomas would take 1950 calories and work out 25%, which is 487.5 calories. He would then divide this calorie amount by 4 to get the number of carbohydrates he could eat in grams: 121 grams. So, 121 grams can be consumed from sugar in his diet.

Now obviously, this is the upper limit; Thomas doesn't have to eat all of this. But if a few days of the week he wants to consume some sugar treats within his macronutrient allowance, and he's getting enough fibre and micronutrients, then he shouldn't have any issues according to the research and subsequent recommendations.

It boils down to this:

Sugar is not GOOD or BAD for you, it's simply indifferent. It all comes down to the context in which it's consumed.

If you're consuming 20-25% of your calories from sugar daily, whilst getting enough fibre and micronutrients, then "sugar" is not going to bring about ill-health or make you fat; the science is very clear!

References:

  1. Gibson SA. Dietary sugars intake and micronutrient adequacy: a systematic review of the evidence. Nutr Res Rev. 2007 Dec;20(2):121-31. doi: 10.1017/S0954422407797846. PMID: 19079865. 
  2. Hall KD, Guo J. Obesity Energetics: Body Weight Regulation and the Effects of Diet Composition. Gastroenterology. 2017 May;152(7):1718-1727.e3. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.01.052. Epub 2017 Feb 11. PMID: 28193517; PMCID: PMC5568065.  
  3. Holesh JE, Aslam S, Martin A. Physiology, Carbohydrates. 2020 Aug 25. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan–. PMID: 29083823.  
  4. Lattimer JM, Haub MD. Effects of dietary fiber and its components on metabolic health. Nutrients. 2010;2(12):1266-1289. doi:10.3390/nu2121266 
  5. Melanson KJ, Angelopoulos TJ, Nguyen V, Zukley L, Lowndes J, Rippe JM. High-fructose corn syrup, energy intake, and appetite regulation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Dec;88(6):1738S-1744S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.25825E. PMID: 19064539. 
  6. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, Smith SR, Ryan DH, Anton SD, McManus K, Champagne CM, Bishop LM, Laranjo N, Leboff MS, Rood JC, de Jonge L, Greenway FL, Loria CM, Obarzanek E, Williamson DA. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009 Feb 26;360(9):859-73. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0804748. PMID: 19246357; PMCID: PMC2763382. 
  7. Shintani TT, Beckham S, Brown AC, O'Connor HK. The Hawaii Diet: ad libitum high carbohydrate, low fat multi-cultural diet for the reduction of chronic disease risk factors: obesity, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and hyperglycemia. Hawaii Med J. 2001 Mar;60(3):69-73. PMID: 11320614. 
  8. Surwit, R. S., Feinglos, M. N., McCaskill, C. C., Clay, S. L., Babyak, M. A., Brownlow, B. S., ... & Lin, P. H. (1997). Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 65(4), 908-915.  
  9. Teff KL, et al. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun;89(6):2963-72.
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