Yellow Watermelon Juice
Creative Commons License photo credit: bhamsandwich

Just recently in response to my article – Juice Causes Diabetes – for the second time I’ve had someone leave a comment declaring sugar as a primal cause in sugar diabetes (remember when they used to call it that?) a myth. These sorts of comments tend give me a spontaneous brain aneurysm because they are a lethal combination of confident ignorance.

Often I feel it is a complete waste of my time to bother to reply. However, I do think the person’s comment presents an opportunity to have an interesting look at how certain processes in the body function while actually responding more fully to their comment.

I believe knowledge and understanding dispel myths and give us confidence to take responsibility for ourselves to make our own informed decisions. The Tao Te Ching says that when people no longer trust themselves they begin to depend upon authority. It is precisely a lack of personal responsibility and dependence upon authority that has resulted in the current sad state of affairs.

The Process
Lets say it’s mid-morning and you’re hungry. So you decide to make yourself a piece of toast with jam. You munch away happily and that slice of bread and jam makes its way through your digestive system where its constituent parts are absorbed by your body. The “carbo-hydrates” in the bread and jam are made up of carbon and water. The chemical bonds in carbohydrates are broken down to release energy to drive chemical reactions. That energy is either stored for short-term use in muscle or liver cells or they are stored for later lean times as body fat.

The breaking down of carbohydrates to produce energy begins with the heat of cooking. Followed by the saliva in your mouth as you chew your toast. Saliva contains enzymes that do much of the work. Lastly, the carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars by water and more enzymes during digestion. The final product is glucose.

As soon as glucose from your digested toast and jam is in your bloodstream your pancreas releases insulin which connects to insulin receptors on your muscle and liver cells and thereby opens those cells up for the sugar to enter so it can be stored for short-term use. Sugar stored in muscle and liver cells is called glycogen.

Here is Where it Gets Interesting
While the above process is relatively simple to understand, doing so is important. Here is why. If, for example, this morning you had a 1,000-calorie bagel and double latte for breakfast and you’ve done nothing more than sit in the car on the way to work and then sat at your desk all morning then when you have your mid-morning jam on toast chances are your glycogen stores in your muscle and liver cells are still full. What happens when the short-term energy stores are full? The energy goes to the long-term storage area called body fat.

An interesting fact is that people who are insulin resistant have telltale fat around their middle. You know, the pear shape every second person you lay eyes on is sporting these days. This is because if your muscle and liver cells are insulin resistant the insulin receptors on the cells do not open up to the insulin that has been released in response to glucose (sugar) in your blood that got there from eating carbohydrates and so that glucose (energy) must go somewhere and that somewhere is your fat store.

How do you become insulin resistant? To become insulin resistant the insulin receptors on your muscle and liver cells must be bombarded with too much insulin too frequently until eventually they start to shut down. How does it happen that these insulin receptors become bombarded by insulin? For that to happen you need to have lots of insulin in your blood stream lots of the time. How does that happen? Insulin is released in response to glucose in your blood and that only happens if you eat carbohydrates, a big word for sugar. Eating fat or protein on its own results in little to no insulin release. Which provides a big clue to one tool for regaining insulin sensitivity. Another effective tool is exercise and we’ll get to that in a moment.

What the “Sugar Causes Diabetes is a Myth” Websites Say
The majority of websites that I suffered through state that diabetes is caused by being overweight, lack of exercise and the all encompassing “lifestyle factors”. Could they possible be more vague? For starters this is a classic example of failing to understand the difference between causation and correlation. People who have type-2 diabetes also tend to be fat. They are not fat because they have type-2 diabetes. The same long-term insulin resistance that caused an accumulation of fat caused their diabetic state. Being fat isn’t so much a risk factor as it is an indication that you’re headed for diabetes.

The whole argument is circulatory anyway. One website said that being overweight is the biggest risk factor for ending up diabetic. It then said that sugar, as a cause of diabetes, is a myth. Then it said however, that consuming too much sugar will cause you to pack on the pounds. I couldn’t help but wonder – but, ah, you just said being overweight is the single biggest risk factor for diabetes and if eating sugar makes you overweight, how then is sugar not a cause of diabetes? Are these people incapable of following a causal chain beyond the first link? Too often I see the dumbing down of health information whereby it becomes over-simplified to the point where it is essentially misinformation.

Further, the reason why exercise is recommended for diabetics is because exercise depletes the glycogen stores in muscle and liver cells. Once depleted these will be refilled by glucose (sugar) in the blood thus lowering your blood sugar levels and stopping you from storing more fat. However, sitting down on some useless machine at your local “health” club barely breaking a sweat for an hour is not going to do the job. Low intensity exercise burns mostly fat as fuel. So this is where high intensity resistance exercises that stress the muscles such as kettlebell swings really stand out as effective. This is why exercise can be a powerful tool in regaining insulin sensitivity.

What This Article is Not
What this article certainly is not is a declaration of war on carbohydrates. Don’t make the mistake of taking some information and running too far. Balanced Existence is all about balance. What I am against is “food” such as bread, pasta, anything that contains processed sugar (including organic sugar) and eating or drinking anything that turns very quickly to sugar in the blood. These things are refined and processed foods. Make no mistake. There are no bread plants or pasta trees in nature. In nature fruit juice comes with fiber.

The reason why an apple does not become glucose in our blood as quick as say two slices of white bread is because it contains a stack of fiber. Fiber or fat slows digestion and sugar release. Knowing this and now understanding how the above described processes work take some time to think about the implications. For example consider what happens when the fiber of a fruit is removed, the sugar concentrated and later reconstituted and drank. Robert H. Lustig, M.D., UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology clearly states in his lecture that in nature the poison (fructose) is packaged along with the cure (fiber). So if you take the poison (fructose as juice) away from the fiber (the fruit) you get problems.

Vegetables and fruit like apple also contain the B vitamins in their outside husks you need to make the enzymes that are required to break the carbohydrates in vegetables and fruit down. See how everything in nature works in perfect harmony and balance? Something like white rice has had most of the vitamins and minerals removed because the outside husk (which incidentally also contains most of the fiber) has been removed. In order to digest such “food” your body must contribute its own vitamins and minerals. Welcome to deficiency. Next stop, health problems.

The same thing goes for fruit juice. Worse store-bought juices are all pasteurized just like milk to kill bacteria and extend shelf life. Pasteurization means they heat the juice up to kill the bacteria. The heat destroys the nutrients in the juice which is why they have to fortify things like milk and juice by adding vitamins back in. Only these are synthetic nutrients that are unlikely to be useable by your body. Further, nutrients always work and appear in nature in a synergistic relationship. There is no such thing as a vitamin C fruit. Although you may be interested to know that just one cup of broccoli contains almost 100% of your daily vitamin C requirements. So simply adding back in synthetic vitamin C and not all the other nutrients in proportion does not do any good.

Wrapping it Up
I found it highly ironic that the commenter suggested anyone who didn’t believe their unsubstantiated and unexplained claim (in terms of human physiology) that sugar as a cause of diabetes is a myth should contact an endocrinologists. Just a few posts ago I embedded a lecture by Robert H. Lustig, M.D., UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology which he titled Sugar: The Bitter Truth. I highly encourage you to take the time to watch and listen to what he has to say. This man is dealing with an epidemic of obese 6-month year old’s who have gotten that way in part because of drinking fruit juice poppers.

Simply saying something is a myth does not make it so. To my mind it all comes down to explanatory power. You can see for yourself the product of myself taking my own advice and at least with this article you can confirm my description of how the body works by consulting other sources that actually discuss physiological processes. You might also be interested in the process that causes you to crave carbohydrates. As always whatever you do, it’s your choice and it is you who has to live with it. That means it’s your responsibility.

The followup article to this post is now online: Sugar, Fat, Insulin & Diabetes: The Saga Continues.

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