The movie What The Health recently came out. It’s been very popular on Netflix and some crazy things were said that are way out in left field. One of them was that sugar cannot make you fat and that it doesn’t cause diabetes. If you haven’t seen the movie here’s the trailer:
The Skinny On Sugar
So… what about that sugar thing? Let’s talk a bit about how the body processes sugar. Your body constantly monitors its blood sugar level. It keeps this level in check by using insulin. There is a very narrow margin within which the human body can basically not die.
When your blood sugar level gets too high, insulin is released to tell cells to start pulling sugar out of the blood stream. This excess sugar is stored as glucose in the muscles and liver. You can think of them like water storage tanks, but for glucose.
But just like water storage tanks, there’s a limit to how much glucose your muscles and liver can hold. Guess what happens when they’re full? The excess glucose is turned into fat and stored for use later. Because our modern diets are so full of carbohydrates, complex forms of sugar, and our lives so sedentary our storage tanks are very often full or near full.
What Is Glucose For?
The major activity that uses glucose is intense physical exercise. Resistance training, sprinting and the like. At lower intensity levels the body relies largely on fat for energy.
When the body is exposed to chronically elevated insulin levels, cells become less and less responsive to the effects of insulin and the body has a harder time maintaining safe blood glucose levels. If it gets bad enough it becomes the condition diabetes.
Now exercise does improve cells’ insulin sensitivity. That’s because insulin does a lot more than just maintain blood glucose levels. It’s an anabolic hormone that triggers tissue growth and repair. Very important after intense exercise.
The Hormone Dance
Our normal hormone rhythm should be lots of activity to get food. This is a tissue breaking down phase. A down cycle if you will. Once the food is gathered we eat. Insulin levels rise and begin a tissue building phase. An up cycle.
We would go back and forth like this regularly keeping a nice balance. But now most of us spend long hours sitting inactive and drive to a grocery store to get food. We have very little down-cycle time and spend much of our time in an up-cycle.
The body gradually defends itself and you get insulin resistance. Add to this how easy it is to get simple sugars in our modern diets, actually it’s harder to avoid them than get them, and you have a recipe for hormonal breakdown.
The assertion that sugar doesn’t cause diabetes and it can’t make you fat is dubious at best.