Most Americans do not have a clear understanding of why they gain weight, and that is not surprising. Most of what we have been told about weight gain has not been factual and does not stand up to results of clinical trials.
Here are a few facts:
- Our bodies are chemical factories that take the food we eat and turn it into a form of sugar called glucose – a type of sugar called a monosaccharide. Glucose is the fuel that the body burns (metabolizes) for energy. If there is too much glucose in the system, it is converted into glycogen – a polysaccharide.
- The liver and muscles in the body store a small amount of glycogen (sugar) as an energy reserve. When needed, the hormone insulin instructs the liver and muscles to release glycogen into the blood, and the blood carries glycogen to the cells in the body.
- Normal bodily functions are dependent on tight control of the level of sugar in the blood. This is accomplished through the release of hormones from the brain, pancreas, liver, intestines, fat cells, and muscle tissue. The pancreas is the key player and lowers or increases blood sugar through the release of insulin and glucagon.
- The human body contains approximately 5 liters of blood. The total amount of sugar in the blood is about 4 grams – less than one teaspoon and is largely controlled by insulin. (FYI − An extra-value meal at McDonald's, 2 cheeseburgers, a large order of fries, ketchup, and a coke amounts to 230 grams of carbohydrates which equals 230 grams of sugar, or about 46 teaspoons of sugar. 46 times the amount of sugar required to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.)
- When there is excess sugar in the blood, the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin directs the muscle and fat cells to take in sugar. When enough carbohydrates (sugar) have been eaten, the fat cells release a hormone called leptin which signals the body that it is full and not starving.
- If the blood sugar level is still too high, after storing what it can in liver, muscles, and existing fat cells, insulin signals the body to create more fat cells.
- On the flip side, after fasting or sleeping for several hours, the glucose level in the blood falls and the pancreas releases a hormone called glucagon. Glucagon causes the liver to convert stored glycogen to glucose which is then released into the bloodstream. Glucagon also affects fat metabolism and can cause fat to be burned.
This is the bottom line.
When too much sugar (carbohydrates) is eaten, sugar in the blood increases. Insulin then directs the body to store the excess sugar as fat. When glucose levels in the blood fall, glucagon directs the body to use glucose stored in the liver and muscles for energy. If the body still needs more energy, glucagon instructs the body utilize fat – stored energy.
In other words:
- Sugar equals carbohydrates. Carbohydrates equal sugar.
- Insulin regulates blood sugar by moving sugar into storage –a small amount of glycogen is stored in the liver or muscles. If there is still too much sugar in the system, it is stored in fat cells or new fat cells are created.
- Eating too much sugar over a long period of time can lead to obesity, insulin resistance, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, and a host of related health problems.
Insulin (drug therapy) is usually recommended as the initial therapy for diabetes is a person’s HbA1c level is greater than 10% or if fasting blood glucose levels are consistently above 250 mg/dl.
But if high blood sugar is the result of eating too much sugar, then using insulin to lower the blood sugar level only treats the symptom, it does not cure the problem. The actual question should be, “How can I reduce my blood sugar level without the use of drugs?”
The next related blog post will examine the difference between glycolysis and ketosis.
The American Dilemma ─ Fat and Getting Fatter; #1
Calories In vs Calories Out to Lose Weight? -It’s complicated; #2
Calories In vs Calories Out; #3 – The Issues
Nutrition vs. Weight -- What Should I Do?; #4
Weight Loss – Deciding What is Fact and What is Fiction; #5