By Anne Hulton
Aug 10, 2017: Twenty years ago, fat and/or dairy products were touted as the great enemies of the waistline. An entire industry grew up around selling ‘low-fat’ and ‘dairy-free’ products, while diets designed to exclude these food groups made millions for their inventors. Sugar got off more or less scot-free – enemy only of the dental industry.
Fast forward two decades, and there’s been a sea change. Fat and dairy are (more or less)  off the hook and, while sugar has retained and consolidated  its unenviable position of being Public Enemy No1 as far as your teeth are concerned, it has also become the brand new demon of the diet industry. The Western diet industry is notorious for relying upon gimmicks and absolutes. One can sell a gimmick – a more balanced message like ‘moderation’ or ‘eat less and move more’ won’t prise people’s cash from their wallets in the same way that a gimmicky ‘rule’ or ‘regime’ will.
At the same time, plenty of big food-selling conglomerates rely heavily on the appeal of sugar. There is therefore a lot of conflicting opinion  going around about sugar at the moment, and a lot of vested interest in obfuscating the issue. Everything, at the moment, is coming from a place of extremes where sugar is concerned – depending upon who you listen to, the message is either to cut it out entirely, or to continue consuming it with impunity. What is needed is some solid science, to cut through the cloud of dollar signs some see in sugar or its absence, and give consumers the truth about the white stuff.
Sugar as fuel
One thing is for certain: anyone who tells you that your body doesn’t need sugar is lying. A life with no sugar whatsoever would be miserable – and not just because you’d miss the treats! Your body won’t work properly without sugar . Sugar is used by your body as fuel. Without sugar, your body and mind would suffer from intense fatigue. There’s a reason why we are driven to crave sugar – and that reason is that we used to have to eat a lot of the things in which sugar naturally occurs (fruits, for example) in order to fuel ourselves adequately during the longest phase of our evolution, when we were hunter-gatherers. This sugar, however, came in the form of fruit sugars and complex carbohydrates, which the body converts to glucose. Glucose is the substance used as fuel. Unfortunately, much of the sugar we consume today is refined sugar – which just isn’t quite the same…
The fructose problem
Ordinary table sugar usually comes in a form known as ‘sucrose’. This is a blend of glucose (which the body knows how to use) and fructose (which it does not). This must be broken down into its component parts by your liver, as the body only knows how to truly utilize one half of this molecular equation. The process of doing this puts considerable strain upon your liver if too much sucrose is consumed. Worryingly, more and more food producers are eschewing the useful, glucose aspect of the sucrose equation and turning to pure fructose in shocking quantities.
he rise in fructose levels (particularly the increased use of High Fructose Corn Syrup) corresponds to the shocking rise in obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases among the American population, and most clinical nutritionists would have little hesitation in linking correlation with causation.
The reasons for this causation are manifold: it is generally agreed that we were not exposed to high levels of fructose as our digestive tracts evolved into their current form , meaning that our bodies are unprepared to deal with the excessively high levels of it available today. It does not trigger the release of insulin in the same way that glucose does, meaning that it plays havoc with blood sugar levels and can be a significant factor in the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
It triggers disproportionate changes in brain chemistry, which some believe renders it addictive . And it does not trigger the drop in appetite which glucose does. In short, it makes you fat, ill, hungry, and addicted. If, that is, you eat too much of it.
Everything in moderation
Our society likes dietary extremes a lot. As mentioned before, there is money to be made in extremes and gimmicks. The simple truth, however, is far less glamorous. Weight loss is a complex business, and there is no magical formula which will make it any easier. As far as sugar goes, we should certainly be eating a lot less of it than we currently do .
That which we do eat should ideally be in healthier forms, like glucose, rather than HFCS. This does not, however, mean that one need leap aboard the fad-diet bus and give up sugar altogether. Cutting down is a great idea, and will give good results. Cutting out will just make you tired and obsessive. Remember – you need sugar. Just not too much, and in the right form.