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Is Sugar Actually Making You Fat?

I think I’ve finally discovered the ultimate secret to fat loss. Are you ready for this?

The reason you are overweight is because you are eating sugar and carbs! When you eat these foods your body produces insulin which then stores the sugar and carbs as fat. So simply reduce your intake of these foods and you will lose a ton of weight.

That’s it!

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…no I’m obviously kidding - there is no simple fix to fat loss. It takes consistency, patience, a little failure, and a calorie deficit.

The reason I wanted to write a topic on this is because it's a classic client question I get that pops up on nearly 80% of a laundry list of dietary concerns.

So why does insulin seem to get a lot of attention these days? Let’s explore.

Side note – this post is not aimed at persons who have type I or Type II Diabetes. More so for people who think they will screw up their health if they eat sugar. For the former populations please refer to your dieticians and seek professional help who work under this remit.

What is insulin?

I would guess that before you opened this page you have a general idea of what insulin does. If not, here are the basics:

In a nut shell – insulin's role in the body is an energy storage mechanism.

When we consume carbohydrates, be it complex (brown bread, broccoli) or simple (table sugar, Coke) the pancreas detects a rise in glucose being ingested into the blood. It then releases insulin for any excess sugar to be shuttled into muscle cells and fat cells for later use as energy.

Your body wants your blood sugar level to be normal because too high a level of sugar in your blood can cause hyperglycaemia which can potentially lead to diseases like diabetes via damage of vessels and vital organs like the heart.

So to counter high blood sugar levels it stores glucose in the liver and the muscles (glycogen) and inhibits release of more glycogen from these same cells.

So insulin is bad right? I mean – we don’t want to store anything if it’s going to end up as fat right?

A misunderstood hormone

Just because you see the word storage does not mean that what you store will turn to fat. Really it’s the total volume of energy we eat and drink, and not just the sugar or carbohydrates that determine fat storage. This is where total caloric intake over the course of a day or week is key.

If calories are controlled for and protein is equal in two competing diets, it does not matter whether you eat a low carb diet or a high carb diet as the main driver of fat loss is determined by overall energy balance. Put simply:

Carbs do not make you fat. Too many carbs will make you fat.

Dietary fat does not make you fat. Too much dietary fat will make you fat.

Protein does not make you fat. Too much protein will make you fat.

So I shouldn’t stop eating sugar or carbs?

Not if you enjoy them no. Obviously though we need a little context.

The problem with a lot of carbs, especially simple carbs; they generally contain zero nutritional value and don’t keep you full.

If you ate the same amount of calories of spinach versus table sugar, the nutrients and satiation of the spinach would far out-weigh that of the table sugar. The same applies to blood sugar control. If you're an individual that eats carbs and feels tired or lethargic afterwards, you might have trouble metabolising them.

And what happens when you fee tired? You reach for sugar to keep you awake, and thus your calorie intake will increase as a result.

Having a biscuit every now and again will not undo your progress. Too many biscuits probably will.

If you prefer breads, pastas, rice and sweet food you will naturally eat a higher carbohydrate diet anyway. It just means that your fat intake will need to compensate with a lower amount.

If you prefer fattier foods like avocado, nuts, seeds and pork, then you will naturally favour a higher fat diet. Carbs will have to be lower for you to be in a calorie deficit.

If you find that a low carb diet is working for you, great keep doing it. But realise that it’s because you are eating less calories, and not because you are eating less carbs.

Some final thoughts

By eating a meal high in carbohydrates and sugar, your need for insulin will increase which will mean more insulin will be released. True.

But – you DO NOT NEED INSULIN TO STORE FAT. The hormone ASP allows fat to easily pass into adipocytes (fat cells) without the need for insulin. So the idea that insulin is the sole storage hormone is not true.

Low carb advocates who push the notion that insulin is the sole purpose that you are overweight miss the point that exact same thing will happen if you consume too much fat instead.

Lastly protein is also highly insulinogenic. Not just carbohydrates. We know protein is key for fat loss, yet no one mentions protein as being detrimental to fat loss progress?

Insulin has been used as a scapegoat for the ignorance of the bigger picture. Your overall energy intake is too high. It has nothing to do with sugar.

So keep eating the cake – unless you are eating too many calories. In that case it's probably a good idea to stop eating the cake!

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