I have avoided writing this post for 5 months and now it’s time to get serious and just say what I have to say.  Why have I not wanted to write this post?  The short answer is this.

The dogma associated with ingesting any kind of sugar, even natural sugars in the form of ripe fruits, maple syrup, honey, and even unrefined cane sugar is daunting.  The anti-sugar movement, I swear, is stronger than the anti-tobacco lobby in Washington.  There isn’t a person who is interested in achieving balanced health who hasn’t heard the pontifications of the “sugar haters” to the point where it is almost impossible to believe any kind of sugar could be remotely healthy for the body.

Before you go thinking I am about to advocate eating bags of refined sugar let me assure you, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  I do, however, want to explain what happens to the body when you eradicate all forms of sugar, even when ingesting high amounts of starch (as in grains and beans, especially whole grains).

We’ve been talking a lot about metabolism and the definition of a strong metabolism over on our Facebook page.  The body is made up of billions of cells.  Those cells form tissues, and those tissues make up the organs with the organs creating the body in which we live.  Since creating a strong and healthy body starts on a cellular level, it makes sense that we feed those cells with the best possible “fuel” for a strong metabolism.  (Energy production is one of the most important functions of your cells and forms your metabolism.)

Forget what you have read in all the diet books (especially the low-carb/no-carb ones).  Glucose is now and will always be the body’s preferred source of fuel.

Glucose is sugar.  Proteins are not sugar.  Fat is not sugar.  Sugar is glucose and glucose is sugar.

I know, many of you will confuse sugar with fructose (a fruit sugar) and fructose is being even more vilified these days than glucose. Understand that sugar as in cane sugar, honey, maple syrup and even fruit are disaccharides which are broken down to both fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose  but even this process is beneficial for the metabolism as the addition of fructose to glucose prevents insulin from spiking too high which will reduce the tendency to store fat, will help balance minerals in the body in a way starch does not, and will even help calm down the adrenal glands while modulating blood sugar.

Don’t mistake why nutrition gurus are demonizing fructose (even though they themselves most likely do not understand why) as meaning fructose has no place in a healthy diet.  It has a place when balanced with glucose.  High fructose corn syrup (which is in everything these days!) and too many calories from fructose absolutely should be eradicated from the diet as fructose (especially when ingested on its own and in high quantities) can overload the liver and in excess is stored as fat.  Here’s the rub though and what people guilty of “sound byte nutrition” fail to tell you.  Sugar and raw honey are a mix of fructose and glucose as is most fruit and root vegetables.

Demonized high fructose corn syrup is dangerous because it contains a higher fructose to glucose ratio where sugar and honey are more prone towards glucose.  HIgh fructose corn syrup is also calorie dense as it contains 4 to 5 times as many calories ounce for ounce than regular table sugar and contains many unidentifiable ingredients (chemicals) which is more than likely a factor in liver toxicity.  {Read more about the skinny on fructose in Fructose:: Facts and Fiction}

Let me summarize the above for you.  Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel source and glucose in balance with (or slightly greater in ratio to) fructose has huge metabolic advantages.

So what happens to the body on a “no sugar” diet??

Your body can survive on a diet with no sugar but to do this it must find alternative fuel sources and pathways to creating energy.  It does this in two ways:

Lipolysis, or the breaking down of fats that are already stored in the body is the first alternative fuel source.  When blood sugar is low (hypoglycemic state) the body releases adrenaline to search for any glycogen stores in the liver.  When you take in zero sugar those glycogen stores will be empty and will not be able to replenish blood sugar for energy production in the body.  That’s when adrenaline signals the body to mobilize fat stores to use as energy.

Low-carbers and no-carb gurus will tell you that this utilization of fat as energy is the body’s preferred method of energy production and it is, indeed, a source that has been used throughout the history of man but…. it was only meant to be used for times when there were no sources of glucose like hard winters where there were no fruits and no starchy roots as foods.  The body utilized the fat stores that were created during the summer and fall when our ancestors instinctively knew to overeat everything and anything (especially sweet) to store up for the winter.  This using fat as the only source of fuel with adrenaline as the signaling ‘device’ was only meant to be used in extreme situations and not even for that long.

As with every time adrenaline is released in the body, corresponding cortisol is released to signal the body to break down bodily tissue for the second alternative fuel source, gluconeogenesis.  (Just think gluco (as in sugar)+neo (as in new)+genesis (as in creation)) This is where the body breaks down any proteins in any tissue it deems worthy of providing energy.  Bone, skin, organs, muscle, the thymus gland; nothing is out of bounds to break down in order for the liver to convert to glucose for energy production.

So, let’s recap the last three paragraphs.  Lipolysis needs adrenaline release to happen.  (The body CAN use its fat stores without a state of stress as is the case when an overdose of adrenaline is released)   Gluconeogenesis requires cortisol (a stress response) to basically “eat” the tissues of the body in order to create a fuel source.  Not to say the body doesn’t utilize fat under normal circumstances.  Carbohydrates and fat (along with small amounts of protein) are all utilized to create ATP (energy) in cells.

Triggering the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol and “tricking” them into working 24/7 is tantamount to running from a hungry lion all day every day.  It’s never supposed to happen.  It is only for emergencies.  When these hormones are overutilized the body is in a constant state of stress leading to chronic stress related “dis-ease” including inflammation, hormonal imbalances, thyroid dysfunction, and immune suppression.

“But I feel so GOOD when I quit sugar!!!”

High cortisol tends to clear the mind and increase moods.  It’s true, you need an elevated mood and clear mind when outfoxing a predator or hunting for food (which is why the “fight or flight” mode is in place in the body).  Increased adrenaline, as we already discussed, does contribute to fat stores being used as fuel which equates to weight loss.   As I also said, this increase in stress hormones were only meant to happen for short periods of time.

So what happens when you quit sugar??

When our stress hormones are activated our bodies prioritize bodily functions.  All of a sudden creating balanced glowing health is pushed to the backseat while surviving the current (and chronic) stress is of utmost importance.  The body is much smarter than we think.  It knows there are only so many fat cells and tissue it can use as fuel so it lowers metabolism to prolong the  use of the sources of fuel (fat and tissue) it has at its disposal.

In short, chronic stress responses of a no sugar diet slow down and damage metabolism.

How can not eating sugar possibly damage metabolism?? Especially when everyone knows that sugar is addictive and toxic….  I’m glad you asked.

The thyroid is one of the biggest factors in a metabolism that is either weak or strong.  It basically is the control of the center of the metabolism with its creation of thyroid hormones T4 and T3.

If the metabolism of the body functioning as it should be, the body is producing A LOT of T3!  (The body does not produce a great deal of T3 instead converting the majority of usable thyroid hormone from T4.  That conversion is done in the liver consequently where glycogen is stored.) If the body is not converting enough T4 into enough T3 then metabolism is, in a word, low.  This conversion is dependent on glycogen stores (which is dependent on enough glycogen being stored by the liver which further depends on whether there is enough glucose being ingested) being replenished properly.

Every single time stress hormones are activated, thyroid production decreases, and chronic stress hormone release puts the thyroid into a downward spiral.

What’s worse, thyroid suppression leads to lowered metabolism which further leads to the liver being unable to store glycogen properly.  When we go on a prolonged campaign where we quit sugar our lowered metabolism and impaired glycogen storage abilities are not easily repaired as adding back sugar into our diets after that damage has been done will not immediately fix the issue and T4 to T3 conversion will be reduced for months to even years to repair.

In short, eradicating sugar from the diet is absolutely NOT the way to go for a healthy metabolism.

A weakened metabolism impairs other functions in the body including digestion, immune function, ability to function sexually and reproduce, sleep issues, blood sugar handling issues, and can even cause accelerated aging.

When the body is prioritizing bodily function with a nod towards survival instead of thriving, blood flow is diverted away from the digestive process.  Basically, digestion slows down almost to a screeching halt leading to nutrient deficiencies, gut permeability (leaky gut allowing endotoxin and bits of food to permeate the gut into the blood stream, and bacterial overgrowth (most people assume no sugar will eradicate candida overgrowth when, in reality, it tends to make it much worse) due to transit times of food through the intestines being greatly increased.  (Think food laying around molding with immobility.)

All of these issues lead to decreased immune function. Think about this; gut permeability and leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, and slow metabolism have been linked to IBS, Chron’s disease, food intolerances and allergies, asthma autoimmune illnesses such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis, and many other dysfunctions in the body.

Slow digestion is also part and parcel with estrogen dominance.  When the body cannot excrete excess estrogen brought to the GI tract it is then reabsorbed and recirculated.

Low metabolism also leads to low testosterone in men and low progesterone in women (and progesterone is desperately needed to oppose all that free estrogen floating around the body). Low testosterone leads to low libido in men; not exactly good news for sexual performance or fertility.  Low progesterone, however, not only fails to oppose estrogen leading a whole storm of symptoms in the body, but can actually prevent conception or, if conception is obtained, pregnancy is generally not sustained leading to miscarriage.

Let me confuse you further.  A no sugar diet can lead to lowered metabolism which can lead to a host of digestive problems including leaky gut.  Leaky gut can be problematic for those with estrogen dominance, recirculating estrogen that is not excreted properly.  Estrogen dominance can actually exacerbate food allergies, leaky gut, and immune dysfunction (including autoimmune illness.)  Estrogen dominance further down regulates metabolism, causes further stress responses in the body (which leads to adrenal fatigue), and leads to accelerated aging.

One of the worst problems a no sugar diet causes, in my view, is impaired glucose handling issues.  Yes, you heard me.  The one thing not eating sugar is meant to make better is actually making much worse.  Here’s why.

When there is no sugar in the diet, blood sugar levels are generally low (hypoglycemic).  Many who go on long-term low-carb diets have reactive hypoglycemia.   Again, adrenaline is released to look for stored sugar but cortisol is released to break down tissues to produce glucose which means proteins, amino acids, whatever it can find.

Adrenaline signaling the body to use fat as fuel puts the body in the position of being exposed to high levels of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats) which have been stored in our fat cells.  PUFAs are highly unstable that are oxidized quickly and are downright toxic. They prevent sugar from being utilized by the cell as fuel, consequently driving blood sugar levels up but also cause serious damage to the cell.

Sugar, regardless of being ingested or the body utilizing gluconeogenesis to break down protein into sugar, remains in the bloodstream causing high serum blood sugar levels.  This inevitably leads to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.  PUFAs are also incredibly damaging to beta cells in the pancreas responsible for insulin function. When insulin function is impaired due to severely damaged beta cells, diabetes ensues.

Oh and a word on aging.  For those of you who are thinking “utilizing fat stores as fuel” is a pretty good deal think again.  The elderly utilize fat almost exclusively (but not in a good way) as opposed to glucose for fuel.  That is a major stress response and inefficient metabolism in a nutshell.  (No, I am not saying that you can’t lose fat but you CAN lose fat without triggering a cacophony of stress responses as fat IS utilized when creating energy.)

Utilizing fat exclusively for fuel over glucose exposes you to a great deal of PUFA and these PUFAs in addition to estrogen (estrogen production even in old age does not decline to zero) causes lipofuscin leading to “age spots” associated with metabolic waste and reflects directly to the degenerative state and decline of optimal organ and system function in the body.   Elderly are most often associated with an extremely low metabolism and, as such, this impairs the body’s ability to remove free radicals, inactive cells, and cellular debris.

Think about it this way….  If your house was full of rubbish you could never take out how could you ever have a clean happy household ready to foster warmth and joy?

Aging is failure to thrive, to regenerate.  Aging is degeneration, the body’s ability to metabolize.

For those of you who are brainwashed by the stories of those who have quit sugar and feel like they can leap tall buildings in a single bound, let me tell you, this is a phase.  Depending on the person, this phase could last two weeks to two years but will eventually result in symptoms such as brain fog, sluggishness, low thyroid, hormonal dysfunction, etc.  It may not happen overnight but it WILL happen, eventually.

You can argue with me all you like but you can’t buck nature.

I am not suggesting you eat a bag of sugar a day.  I am merely pointing out that seasonal fruit, for example in the fall and winter stewed or sauteed apples and pears with a little ricotta cheese, some raw honey, or maple syrup can be a boon to raising impaired metabolism and too many people are running around with impaired metabolism.

Some strained orange juice with a little gelatin and a pinch of sea salt can calm adrenals and balance blood sugar in a snap.  A little custard made with maple syrup would  pack a protein punch and an easily digestible form of sugar right before bed which will keep adrenaline and cortisol release to a minimum overnight.  (Glycogen stores are depleted up to 75% as we sleep.)

As always, macronutrient balance in the form of a little fruit or some form of natural sugar, a high quality protein, and healthy saturated fats are the true key to optimal metabolism which leads to a leaner, healthier you.