Tags Posts tagged with "Metabolism"


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By Chris Zenyuh

Throughout our evolution, fruit stood as the primary source of sugars in our diet. That we evolved to desire sweetness, I contend, was not for energy but for the vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants that come with the fruit. The fiber helps slow sugar absorption and reduce its negative metabolic potential, and the vitamins compensate.

The limitations of seasonal fruit accessibility made getting too much of these sugars infrequent, at most. Access to purified cane sugar was limited as well, due its tropical origins. The cost of growing and shipping cane sugar slowed its consumption, certainly for those of lesser means. Still, the demand for sugar steadily increased, a fact that the English monarchy used to fund its war chest.

William Duffy (in his book “Sugar Blues”) has suggested that the sugar machine was largely behind English colonization and enslavement through the 1800s. Duffy suggests that denying sugar’s responsibility for metabolic dysfunction dates back to Dr. Thomas Willis, private physician to King Charles II. Willis both discovered and named diabetes mellitus. Smart enough to recognize the illness and its sugar-related cause, Willis was also smart enough to name it after “honey” instead of sugar, perhaps to keep his job and his head!

Enjoying rations of sugar and rum, tens of thousands of the British sailors who guarded the sugar routes fell ill and died from scurvy. School children are taught that scurvy is a vitamin C deficiency, as it was discovered that the symptoms could be reversed with the addition of citrus to the rations. Sadly, this well-known story promotes the denial of the cause: too much sugar (and rum). Our food, medical and supplement industries continue to promote the use of fortification and vitamin supplements to “protect” against illnesses like scurvy, rather than incur financial loses that would result from curtailed consumption of sugars.

The spiraling decline of our general health gained momentum in 1973, when then Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz instituted a 180 degree change in the farm subsidy program. Prior to 1973, farmers were directed by the government to curtail production to keep the supply and demand for corn in check. Sometimes, the farmers were instructed not to grow corn but were compensated for lost income. The restricted supplies kept corn prices high, making it too expensive to use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. Sugar cane, expensive due to its tropical origins, found itself in a limited range of food products.

The new program launched in 1973 rewarded corn farmers for producing as much corn as possible. Soon, the science to produce more corn, then the science to engineer additional uses for the extra corn became big businesses. High fructose corn syrup and cattle feed businesses were early beneficiaries of the new system. The ranchers and corn refiners lobbied to pay below cost for corn. Corn farmers would lose money, but, the new farm bills enabled the farmers to make up their losses (and more) by receiving the subsidies, funded by tax dollars. That made it cheaper to feed cattle corn than to feed them grass and cheaper to sweeten food with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) than with sugar.

Americans were now able to purchase foods sweetened with HFCS and corn-fed meat at much cheaper prices than ever before. The cost, of course, does not include the medical expenses that may be incurred from chronic exposure to glucose and fructose, though.

The Sugar Association, still burdened with the expense of sugar cane’s tropical origins, has expanded its use of sugar beets to become price competitive in the caloric sweetener market. Farmed and processed in the continental United States, sugar beets are used to sweeten processed foods almost as cheaply as HFCS. If the ingredient label doesn’t specify cane sugar, it may very well be beet sugar. Of course, it is still sucrose.

Now you know why caloric sweeteners are omnipresent in our food system and how “food” can be available so cheap. You might want to reconsider the amount that you consume of what nature so frugally offers. Regardless of its source or history, it is metabolically the same!

Chris Zenyuh is a science teacher at Harborfields High School and has been teaching for
30 years.

Stock photo.

It’s time to connect sugars to metabolic dysfunction. As a quick reminder, sugar is a paired unit made up of glucose and fructose.  These are the same two sugars (a term that can be used generically for the various related calorie-bearing sweeteners) that comprise high fructose corn syrup. Also notable is that starch is composed of long chains of glucose. Consuming too much of any or all of these substances puts stress on your body in numerous ways. Our individual metabolic vulnerabilities fall prey to this stress, as some individuals may develop diabetes and others cardiovascular disease, etc. This lesson will focus on the stress that too much glucose can place on your metabolism.

Since your body can use glucose for energy, we are quick to accept this “blood sugar” as a good thing. We are equally inclined to believe the marketing that encourages us to buy more (sport drinks, pasta, etc.) especially if we also believe the claims that dietary fat is unhealthy. It turns out, however, high blood levels of glucose (more than two teaspoons) can be lethal. Consuming a typical sugary beverage (or a bagel) threatens to introduce five to 10 times that amount.   

Chris Zenyuh.

Luckily, your body is equipped to protect itself from such assaults and in the case of a glucose “rush,” it calls upon cells buried within your pancreas to produce insulin.  Insulin works like a verbal command to your fat cells, directing them to remove glucose from your blood before it can reach dangerous levels.  The more glucose consumed, the more insulin produced and the more your fat cells are called into action. (Notably and ironically, high insulin levels actually reduce the ability of your muscle cells to absorb this energy, leaving them, and you, still hungry.)

These verbal directions, when repeated frequently throughout the day, become tiresome to your fat cells, which develop a sort of hearing loss described by the medical community as “insulin insensitivity.” Progressively more insulin than before will be required to get the job done, crossing the line to a pre-diabetic state. Eventually, the cells become unable to “hear” the insulin commands (insulin resistance), a condition known as diabetes.

If that is not concerning enough, insulin also functions as an inflammatory signal to your body. Inflammation, a topic of its own, is a critical component of our health maintenance. It should work in concert with our natural repair mechanisms. But when out of balance, it inhibits our recovery from even normal wear and tear. One may develop arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and/or require extended recovery times for illness and injury.

Recent research places the blame for heart attacks on the inflammation that can develop along the walls of your arteries. Ironically, the cholesterol that was once thought to be the culprit is now seen as evidence of your body’s attempts to repair this inflammation.

Similarly, obesity, once viewed as a pre-cursor to diabetes, is now known to be just one symptom of glucose management malfunction that may occur as diabetes progresses. The acronym TOFI (Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside) has been coined to describe individuals who appear healthy, but have metabolic dysfunction that is dangerously real.

Our society has yet to learn the difference between looks and health. Many thin individuals are unknowingly pre-diabetic or at risk for heart disease. Even the acronym TOFI continues to promote the stereotype that fat is unhealthy. And yet, there are plenty of active, overweight individuals who are metabolically healthier than many of the thin people who judge them.

Whether absorbed from starchy foods or literally half of table sugar, glucose represents both an energy source and a cause of disease, depending on the amount and frequency of its consumption. Knowing how your body metabolizes glucose is an important step in being able to make better food and beverage choices for a healthier life.  Choose well, live well. “Chow for now!”

Chris Zenyuh is a science teacher at Harborfields High School and has been teaching for
30 years.