Sugar and artificial sweeteners aren't doing your diet any favors

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Thomas Secrest
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To succeed at your diet, you must control insulin spikes

Weight loss and dieting are hard enough without our body fighting you every step of the way. Yesterday, we started our look at how to get your body to cooperate with your diet so that weight loss takes place with the least amount of resistance.

In yesterday’s article we discussed how our body cycles between the ‘absorptive state’ and the postabsorptive (fasting) state several times per day. We noted with interest, the physiological fact that during the absorptive state our body does not burn fat for fuel and instead uses the glucose contained in our meals. On the other hand, during the postabsorptive (fasting) state, our body changes its metabolism and starts to burn fat for energy and to some degree begins to conserve glucose. Links to all previous articles are located at the bottom of the page.

The reason for this was touched on in a previous article. It has to do with the fact that your brain and a few other tissues can only use glucose for fuel. The brain, shall we say, has an ego and it views itself as the most important organ in the body. The brain (excuse the personification) also knows that most other organs and tissues of the body can easily use fat for energy. Therefore, when the glucose starts to run out, the body shifts its metabolism and causes most of the cells in the body to start looking at fat as an energy source. This means that glucose reserves are conserved exclusively for the brain.

The hormone that regulates all this metabolic switching is insulin and to a lesser degree glucagon. Both hormones are made by the pancreas and released in response to nutrient changes in your blood, as well as a few other things.

Your meals are a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each nutrient category has a different effect on the release of insulin.

  1. FACT: Insulin release is greatest in response to carbohydrates, is about 30% less in response to proteins and responds little to fats.
  2. FACT: Insulin is the major hormone of the absorptive state.
  3. FACT: Insulin mainly affects muscles, the liver and fat tissue.

Now it’s time to put all these bits of information together and get them working for us.

Keeping insulin fluctuations at a minimum

If you could see a graph of your insulin production, you would notice that it shoots up after a sugary drink. The reason is that the simple sugars in a cola beverage, for example, require almost no processing and enter the blood very, very quickly. The cells of the pancreas monitor this rapid, extreme rise in blood sugar and goes into overdrive producing insulin to bring the levels back to normal. Since the body has no real use for such a surge in blood glucose, the fat cells, under the influence of insulin, covert the glucose into fat and store it.

When the sugar is gone, the pancreas stops its production of insulin, but the insulin that was produced does not instantly disappear – it takes a little while – about 15-30 minutes.

Let’s do the math: you buy a sugary drink and consume it over the course of 30 minutes. This means that you have put your body into its absorptive state for about 45 minutes – 45 minutes when you could have been burning fat for fuel, but weren’t. Not to mention the calories that you really didn’t need that were in the sugary beverage. This is a lose – lose situation.

How can you make it worse, buy a super-sized gulp and drink it over 1 or 2 hours. There are a lot of people who do this all day; it’s just a habit they get into. I used to have that habit – I would buy a giant drink on the way to work and keep it in my hand for the next 3 hours during my morning classes. Then I would go to lunch, buy another drink on the way back and keep it in my hand while I taught my afternoon classes. This is a habit that you have to break.

TIP: Stop nursing sugary beverages of any kind.

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I use artificial sweeteners so it doesn’t apply to me. Right? -- WRONG

Remember earlier I said that insulin is produced in response to changes in blood glucose and a few other things. Well it’s now time to describe one of those other things.

It turns out that digestion is a really complex process, which is largely controlled by input from you neuroendocrine system. Your tongue is loaded with sweet receptors. Since your body hates surprises; the last thing it wants is to find out that you just ate a lot of sugar as it is entering your bloodstream. The body prefers to be proactive and not reactive. So when those sweet molecules pass over your tongue, you tongue sends out an advanced warning that sugar is on the way. In response you pancreas begins to produce insulin and off you go into your absorptive state. While sugar-free drinks reduce your caloric intake, they still send you into an absorptive state that prevents you effectively using your fat as fuel for energy production.

TIP: Kick the sugar-free habit.

There is also a second problem with sugar-free products. We usually consume sweeteners in a pure form only in water based drinks. At all other times we are mixing the sweetener into complex foods to reduce the caloric content. For example, coffee with cream and sweetener and all kinds of cakes and cookies made with sweeteners. Research has shown that when sweeteners are mixed with carbohydrates, the insulin response is much higher than if the items contained sugar. So on the one hand, you eat fewer calories, on the other, you go deeper into the absorptive state.

TIP: Kick the refined sugar habit.

Here’s what we’ve discovered; almost any way you cut it, simple sugars (refined sugar, regardless of color) and artificial sweeteners tend to put our body into its absorptive state. These compounds lead to wild fluctuations in insulin levels, with a net effect that insulin levels are higher than they should be AND for longer periods of time.

To be successful with our diets we need to attack these last two habits. We need to get the raw sugar (sometimes it well hidden) and sweeteners out of our life. Not overnight, that will make you crazy, but overtime, a little here and a little there, until these items represent only a miniscule part of our daily intake.

Be careful not to substitute, instead you want to eliminate these items.

What I means is, don’t double up on the cream in your coffee because you stopped dropping in 3 cubes of sugar or a packet of sweetener.

If you have adjusted your caloric intake to your BASELINE level, then breaking these two habits would, by itself, produce a slow, but steady weight loss.

As with judo, we want to use the our body’s strengths against it, and the power in breaking these 2 habits really kicks in when we combine them with a few other physiological judo moves. These other judo moves will be covered as we continue our weight loss journey.


Again I want to thank those who have taken time to write and ask questions and offer suggestions. I hope to hear from more of you as time passes and we build our little community of people losing weight the smart way. There are still more articles to come, so stay tuned.

I would like to hear from you. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, you can reach me at: Thomas Secrest

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