Carbs, glorious carbs!
A couple of weeks ago we talked about what happened as a reaction to the low-fat craze of the late 20th century: food manufacturers started taking fat out of all of their products and instead replaced it with sugar. What we didn’t discuss is why this is such a big deal.
I’d like to walk you through a little of the physiology of what happens in our bodies when we consume sugar. Now before you get too concerned, remember that I’m a big fan of some types of carbohydrates (i.e. complex carbs that contain fiber). However, it’s important to note that not all carbs are created equal. Some are made to fuel your body while others should only be enjoyed once in a while.
So, let’s take a look at soda and perhaps you’ll see why I never touch the stuff.
What Happens in my Body when I Drink a Soda
Glug, slurp, sip!
That was me drinking a soda. Twenty ounces of highly adulterated high fructose corn syrup – i.e. sugar. No matter what form it’s in – and there are many forms of sugar: cane sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, honey, dextrose, fructose, etc. – sugar (sucrose) is processed the same way in your body. All types of sugar appear with the same chemical formula:
sucrose = glucose + fructose
Twenty ounces of soda contains about 65 grams of sugar (that’s rounding down, mind you), which is equal to about 16 teaspoons of sugar, or just over one-fourth cup. Of sugar. One-fourth cup of sugar.
This simple sugar is simple as pie (ha! I’m hilarious) for my body to digest. As soon as I guzzle down the soda, a huge splash of sugar is absorbed into my bloodstream.
Now, our bodies do not like to have too much sugar in the blood (high blood sugar levels for long periods of time can damage kidneys, eyes, and nerves, to name a few things). When everything is working well in the body (i.e. in a person’s body who doesn’t have diabetes or insulin resistance), the body is quick to respond to this large sugar dump and starts to work fast to bring the blood sugar down.
Two things happen simultaneously upon absorption of this sugar from the small intestine:
Happening 1: Insulin production. Because I don’t have diabetes, my pancreas (a very friendly organ) responds to the blood sugar dump by churning out the hormone insulin like crazy.
Happening 2: Blood (with the sugar) goes to the liver. Blood from digestion goes first to the liver before going anywhere else in the body. The liver is a magical organ – it does more than you know for your body. Besides detoxifying your blood, synthesizing proteins, and metabolizing medications, the liver is also the first organ to come into contact with sugar.
Okay. So now I’ve got a bunch of sugar entering my liver and my body has to figure out what to do with it. Thankfully, the insulin that my pancreas just made starts giving directions.
The first thing Insulin says… “Hey muscle cells, open up!”
The liver quickly converts the components of sucrose (fructose + glucose) into all glucose – the preferred energy source for everything from your brain to your biceps. From there, some of the glucose is released back into your bloodstream to fuel these cells.
Insulin acts like a key to open the body cells that need energy, allowing glucose to move from the bloodstream and into the cell where it can be broken down further.
Check out this two-minute video I made that explains it a little better: