Sweet, Sweet Sugar

Forget fat. Fat is good for you. Fat is necessary for you to survive, and to thrive.

Forget saturated fat. Saturated fat is good for you. Saturated fat is necessary for you to survive, and to thrive.

Forget cholesterol. Cholesterol is good for you. Cholesterol is necessary for you to survive, and to thrive.

Forget them. They won’t give you a heart attack. They won’t make you fat.

Whaaaaat?? I know. Nutritional blasphemy, enough to send me to the second or third level of hell at least. But don’t worry about my little pink toes getting singed while the USDA pokes me with its pitchfork. I’ll explain in a later post why fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol are good for you, and you can believe me or not, consume them or not. Just forget them for now.

The real bad guy is sugar.

Sugar is a broad name which refers to a class of sweet-flavored carbohydrates classified into two groups: monosaccharides, or simple sugars, and disaccharides. Monosaccharides include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Disaccharides consist of two monosaccharides and include sucrose, or table sugar, maltose, and lactose.

God damn that was boring. I’ll try to keep that stuff to a minimum, so for our purposes we’ll mostly discuss glucose and fructose.

Before I start dragging sugar through the mud, let me first start by saying that glucose is the fuel of life. It provides energy to all of our cells, and while most cells can also burn fat for energy, our brain cells can only use glucose.

That said, we don’t need very much of it.

When glucose enters the bloodstream it stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin, which in turn tells the brain that we’re metabolizing energy and gives us a sated feeling. That feeling of fullness is crucial as it prevents us from overeating. This “insulin response” to glucose is used in calculating a particular food’s glycemic index.

The glycemic index is widely misunderstood and grossly misrepresented by food manufacturers, and I’ll be devoting a separate post to it. For now, just know that if a food label trumpets a low glycemic index value it’s probably hiding something sinister—like agave sweetener, which is 90% fructose (i.e. 90% poison).

Which foods contain glucose? Any food that we popularly call “carbs” or “starches.” Cereal grains (wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, etc.), bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. Fruits and vegetables also have glucose, as do refined sugars and alcohol. Of all these choices, fruits and vegetables are the only sources of glucose that you actually need, and should be the foundation of all your meals. Cereal grains, even “whole grains,” can be useful for physical performance in small quantities, but are not necessary for good health.

Whaaaaat?? Whole grains aren’t good for me? I know. Don’t worry about it for now, that’s a whole other post. Whole grains aren’t really bad for you, they just tend to give us more calories (glucose) than we need. What is bad for you, and will slowly kill you, is fructose.

Fructose is worse than just empty calories. Consider ethanol, or alcohol, and all the bad stuff you’ve been told it does to your liver. Fructose wrecks similar havoc on your liver, and doesn’t even give you the courtesy of a warm, sweet buzz or a lowering of your inhibitions. That’s because ethanol is just fermented sugar, and retains much of the same chemical composition. Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver, and while it’s there it creates VLDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and excessive consumption can lead to heart disease and fatty liver. And because fructose is a sadistic son of a bitch, and likes to kick us when we’re down, it doesn’t suppress our appetites so we just keep on stuffing our fat faces not realizing we were full thirty minutes ago.

Oh my god! What about fruit?! I’ve got to stop eating fruit?! If it’s got the fructose it’s gonna give me the heart attack and the fatty liver but before that the fatty ass! Relax, baby. Fruit is still good for you. Yes, it has a small amount of naturally occurring fructose (as well as glucose), but it also has vitamins, minerals, and perhaps most importantly, fiber. And fiber is the key to counteracting fructose.

Fiber slows down your digestion, giving your body time to metabolize whatever sugars you’ve consumed. Just like my Irish grandmother told me when I was four years old—never drink on an empty stomach—the same rule applies for sugar. And while I can’t remember actually seeing my grandmother eat anything, just sipping at tumblers of Jameson, the theory is still sound. A spoon full of table sugar (sucrose) is fifty percent glucose and fifty percent fructose. The majority of the glucose is absorbed by the small intestine and transported to your cells to be converted into energy. This process causes your body to produce insulin, to stop burning stored body fat, and tells your brain that you’re full. The remainder is metabolized by the liver and converted into fat cells. The more glucose you consume the more fat cells your body produces—and the more fat your body stores around your waistline.

Fructose is absorbed by the small intestine and transported directly to the liver, because your cells can’t use fructose as energy. Your liver starts working overtime to metabolize the fructose, most of which is converted into fat cells. Liver metabolism of fructose also creates triglycerides, which raise your VLDL (bad) cholesterol. Because your cells can’t burn fructose for fuel, your body does not produce an insulin response, and your appetite is not suppressed.

Ahhhh! No more… my brain hurts… right where I do my thinking… produce, doesn’t produce, burns, doesn’t burn, if I eat them together then what the hell is happening?

Eating things together is exactly the point. Fructose is safe is small quantities and with other nutrients, as in fruit. We crave sweet foods because sweet foods in nature, like fruit, are nutritionally rich. The problem lies in fructose that has been processed, condensed, and added to food in order to make it taste better. Our bodies aren’t equipped to handle such high concentrations of fructose, or any sugar for that matter, and it does bad things to us. Like make us fat. I mean, really, liver schmiver—as long as I look good, right?

So, some rules for recognizing and avoiding sneaky added sugars, or “free sugars,” so that we can better control our sugar intake and maybe actually enjoy some sugar on our own terms without it killing us, or worse, making us fat.

Because sugar is really, really delicious.  I mean, I really get misty when I think about all the time and energy I’ve put into my relationship with sugar, only to find out how that bitch has betrayed me over and over, and how I’m always on the verge of forgiving her and taking her back.  God I love her…

I know I’m trying to discourage everyone from eating this stuff, but damn that looks good…

  1. All Sugar is the Same.

    White, brown, turbinado, evaporated cane juice, honey—even fair trade organic raw honey. Any free sugar you add to your food or tea or coffee or whatever is the same, and thinking turbinado sugar or honey is somehow healthier than refined white sugar is absurd. Honey is refined sugar—refined by bees. I suppose raw honey is better than processed, since it’s only been refined once, but once it hits your bloodstream it behaves the same as table sugar.

  2. Don’t Trust Front Labels.

    Natural, All Natural, 100% Natural, Natural Sugar, Low Sugar, Reduced Sugar, No Sugar Added—anything printed on the front label is there to get you to buy that particular product. None of it has any legal definition. If something says “no sugar added,” it probably means that there’s already a super dose of sugar in it. Sweetened With Fruit Juice is another one to watch out for. Concentrated fruit juice has more sugar in it than soda, without food companies having to add anything more.

  3. Reduced Fat Usually Means Added Sugar.

    Fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar makes you fat. Reduced fat peanut butter tastes disgusting, so food manufacturers add a ton of sugar to make up for it. The result is a product with more calories that is less satisfying.

  4. Pick It Up and Turn It Around.

    1. Look at the Nutritional Information Label. If something has more than five grams of sugar per serving, seriously consider another option. If something has more than ten grams of sugar per serving, put it the hell back on the shelf.

    2. Look at the Ingredients. Look for added sugar in particular. Does bread need sugar? Hell no, but ninety-five percent of bread sold in the grocery store has added sugar. Especially Honey Wheat. If you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat Honey Wheat. They probably didn’t really add honey to it anyway.

  5. High Fructose Corn Syrup is as Bad as You’ve Heard it is.

    And worse. It’s the cause of the obesity epidemic in this country. If you see it in the ingredient list, put it the hell back on the shelf. Food companies add it to everything, so look at everything in your cart even if it seems ridiculous. Processed meats, frozen berries, bread, cereal—look at anything that comes in a box or a plastic bag and you’ll be hard pressed to not find it.

  6. Add Your Own Sweet.

    Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein. Flavored Greek yogurt is insanely high in sugar, as much as 35 grams per serving. Plain Greek yogurt is hard to choke down. The solution—buy the plain, then add a tablespoon of jam or fruit preserve (a brand that has less that ten grams of sugar per serving). Or throw in a handful of berries and almonds.

  7. Protein and Fiber are Your Friends.

    Whenever possible, which is almost always, consume whatever sugar you’re going to have AFTER you’ve eaten some protein and fiber. Preferably twenty minutes after. Protein and fiber slow down your digestion, giving your body time to process sugars before they raise your insulin levels too high. Your body will not burn stored fat while your insulin is up.

  1. Don’t Have Sugar on an Empty Stomach.

    A close second to High Fructose Corn Syrup in the obesity blame game is the Frappachino, the Mochachino, and any other Thousand-Calorie-Chino people suck down on their way to work. As a rough guideline you can count on between a third and half of all sugar calories to be converted to fat and sent straight to your ass.

  2. Booze is Sugar.

    Some genius caveman figured out how to take the sugar from fruit, grain, and honey and make it even better. Better as in a better experience, not better for you. True, a moderate amount of alcohol has some health benefits, but a moderate amount is less than you think it is. And the ethanol has the same effect on your insulin levels as its non-fermented cousins. So have your wine or scotch after dinner, not while you’re cooking it (or waiting for it), and keep it under two servings a day. A serving of liquor is 1.5oz, or one shot glass. A serving of beer is ½ a pint. And most wine bottles are 750ml, which is five servings. The way I pour I’m lucky to get three glasses out of a bottle of wine.

    Organic, gluten-free, light–that must mean it’s good for me.

    Mysterious and unnamed ancient cultures used this stuff 5,000 years ago. Wonder where they are now…


  1. Agave Sweetener is Poison.

    High fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose. Agave Sweetener is 90% fructose. Agave Sweetener is promoted as being safe for diabetics, because of its low glycemic index. Agave sweetener has a low glycemic index because your body doesn’t recognize it until it reaches your liver, and we’ve gone over what happens then. From now on just think of agave sweetener as high fructose cactus syrup, and put it the hell back on the shelf.

  1. Avoid juice, juicers, and juicing.

    Juice is a super dose of the worst part of fruit (fructose) with the best part of fruit (fiber) removed. An orange is good for you; thirty oranges condensed into a glass with the fiber strained out has more sugar than a can of soda. Vegetable juice has less sugar, but still no fiber. Just eat your fruits and vegetables. Juicing at home has the same problems, mainly that the particulate matter is strained out of the juice. Smoothies are fine, since the fiber is remains in the blender, but if you’re buying your smoothie from some shop, make sure they don’t use fruit juice or added sugar.

Presidential Feel Bad About Yourself Award

The President of the United States hates fat kids.  It is entirely possible a particular President Elect may be indifferent or ambivalent, or perhaps even have a soft spot for fat kids prior to his taking office. But just after the outgoing President hands the nuclear football over to the new fish, the former removes the American flag pin from his lapel, pricks his and the latter’s little fingers, and together they complete a short but solemnly sordid and bloody ritual known as “The Pinky Swear.”

Obama wanted to simulate the pin prick after rumors circulated that Bush Jr. contracted hepatitis from Clinton.  Bush denied the rumors, calling them “world-class bullshit,” then suggested that even if he was infected, “a little Hep-B is a small price to pay to rule the world.”

Upon his Pinky Swearing In, it is incumbent upon the President to award the Presidential Physical Fitness Award to all the skinny boys and girls.  The Award is based on a tedious assortment of exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, curl-ups, etc.  What the hell is a curl up, you ask?  It’s a sit-up.  But someone somewhere declared that sit-ups were bad for you so instead of coming up with a more effective abdominal exercise they just changed the name so unsuspecting parents would keep their outrage fixated on whether or not gay kids would be allowed to go to prom together.

For the purposes of the Presidential Physical Fitness Award the specific exercises are immaterial.  If the Office of the President truly cared about the fitness level of America’s youth there would be federal funding for school fitness programs, and time would be set aside every school day to ensure all the boys and girls would practice the exercises in preparation for the test.  At the very least there would be a ninety day regimen before the fitness test, similar to an SAT prep course.

But American Schools have none of these things.  Not that they necessarily should; mandatory group athletics is vaguely militaristic, and we’re not trying to create little wind-up conformist drones for the Glorious Leader.  But if the purpose of the Presidential Fitness Award is not to promote fitness, then why bother with it at all?  To make the skinny kids feel good about themselves?  They already feel good about themselves, or at least they’ve got better self-esteem than the fat kids.  I submit that its purpose must be to make fat kids feel bad about themselves.  If no one benefits, then it must be engineered to humiliate, to denigrate, to castigate, and to shame.  Having so many obese children makes the U.S. look bad to the rest of the world.  If our democracy and our capitalism and our affluence are so great, why are our kids so sweaty on relatively cool days?  For the Greatest Country in the History of the Universe the situation is unacceptable, and one of the most important duties of the President (classified Cosmic Top Secret,) is shaming fat American children into losing weight.

We would take the test around three in the afternoon, with all the kids divided by grade level.  Push ups were first.  I’d stand in line, wondering how many I could do, hoping I could get through it without embarrassing myself, without everyone pointing and laughing.  By the time it’s my turn I’m seriously doubting I can do even one push up, but I manage to do a few.  It must have been a respectable number since I can’t recall feeling especially embarrassed, just the general self-consciousness that all fat kids feel. It never occurred to me to wonder how many push-ups the portly math teacher who was counting could do, or if he was under pressure from the Secret Service to only count the ones where my chest touched the ground. If he was I’m grateful to him for risking a life sentence in an Alaskan gulag and showing some fat kid solidarity.

It also never occurred to me to wonder which crucial life skills I was preparing for by pushing myself up off the ground repeatedly until I couldn’t feel my arms anymore.  I mean, I’ve never seen James Bond do a push up, nor Indiana Jones.  Climb walls, sure.  Swing on vines and wires, you bet.  Punch dudes in the face, hell yeah.  Push ups?  Never.

Sit ups were pretty much the same—sorry, curl ups–except I always wondered why they made my legs hurt if they were supposed to be a stomach exercise. And surprisingly the one mile run wasn’t too bad either.  Sure, I was a fat kid, but I was a fat kid back when kids still played outside.  Tag, hide and seek, ring and run, plan to set fire to the school and chicken out and run away—all that fun shit.

But then came the looming leviathan that lurks leagues beneath the gooey, marshmallowy dreams of all fat kids, its kraken’s tentacles constricting their round little bellies until their breath comes in short, shallow squeaks.  The Pull-Up.

The first obstacle was just jumping up to grab the bar.  Come on, Mr. President!  Why you gotta make a fat kid jump?  Would I make it?  Or would I have to use the garishly colored plastic chair that the girls use to do that silly hang thing?  Why can’t I do the silly hang thing?

Somehow I’d make it up there, propelled by shame, my pudgy, sweaty palms slippery on the bar.  I’d realize too late I should have used the momentum from the jump to help with the pull up, because there was no way in hell I was getting either of my chins above the bar.

Feet dangling, kicking, trying to hump the air and defy gravity for a split second, but like the pretty girl at the dance the air wants nothing to with me, while evidently gravity is a dirty perv chubby chaser and can’t get enough of my big fat ass.  Er, no offense to anyone with a BBW fetish.  Different strokes and all…

I maybe make it halfway up the bar.  And probably maybe that’s optimistic, but what the hell I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt, just like I gave myself the benefit of a triple helping of chocolate ice cream sprinkled with M&Ms on top to fill the void carved from my fat little soul by the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. Which I was not awarded, in case the suspense was killing anyone.

Thank you, Mr. President.