Craving Sugar: Why Do I Crave Sugar?

sugar cane plants
sugarcane plants
Sugarcane
Source: Public Domain

Your craving sugar may well have begun before you were even born! I am sure you have heard of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Once fructose is extracted from its naturally occurring sources, which always have it embedded in a lot of fibre, it becomes a very close relative of ethanol.

In fact, the only substantial difference between the two, in terms of nutrition, is that some of the ethanol is metabolized in the brain making people tipsy from too much. Whereas, isolated fructose is processed in the liver with no apparent toxic effects as they are not acute, rather they are chronic.

In the same manner that an expectant mother drinking alcohol exposes her baby to FAS because ethanol crosses the placenta barrier, a mother drinking fruit juice or any sweetened beverage, for the same reason, disposes her baby to what I would call fetal fructose syndrome (FFS).

This partially accounts for why we know have an unprecedented epidemic of obese 6 month old babies. Couple this with the number of mothers feeding their babies with commercial formula and you have the answer. More than 50% of some formulas are made up of corn syrup solids and sugar!

If anyone tries to tell you that obesity is a result of eating too much and not exercising enough have them explain obese 6 month-olds!

white lab rat in a gloved hand
Source: Public Domain

Studies on lab rats of the effects of maternal fructose intake have revealed that the babies of mothers with 20% of their caloric intake from fructose are born hypoinsulinemic. Which means to say born with abnormally low concentrations of insulin in their blood. Insulin and leptin are hormone proteins responsible for regulating our energy intake. They do this by signalling our brains that our bodies have sufficient stores and we feel satiated.

The fructose also interferes with leptin production. If that’s not enough it gets worse! The hyperinsulinemia produces a reward signal in an area of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens a part of the pleasure center. This leads inexorably to obesity.

What we tend to do, in effect, is starve our brains while overeating. Sugar, especially refined sugar is a very ready source of the energy our brains are tricked into believing our bodies need. Hence our bodies crave sugar. I am not speaking here about a minor craving, as researchers are now pointing out that sugar is far more addictive than cocaine.

Obesity results from fructose intake not just because it is comprised of “empty calories” but like ethanol, because of the chronic toxic effects. What I mean by chronic toxic effects is that fructose is not metabolized in the digestive tract. It all has to be metabolized by the liver and one of the byproducts is uric acid which causes gout and hypertension.

Comparing the 120 calories in a couple of slices of bread with 120 calories in a glass of orange juice illustrates this point. After the glucose in the bread is broken down and digested 24 calories end up in the liver. In the case of the orange juice almost three times as much, 72 calories need to be metabolized by the liver.

Let’s compare the 150 calories found in the carbohydrates in a can of coke and a can of beer to see what I mean. In the coke 10.5% is carbohydrate in the form of sucrose of which there are 75 calories each of fructose and glucose. The beer is 3.6% carbohydrate in the form of ethanol. Yes, ethanol CH3-CH2_OH, by definition is a carbohydrate.

The beer has 60 calories of maltose and 90 of alcohol. With the coke none of the fructose is digested in the gut it all ends up in the liver. With the beer 10% is digested and the rest ends up in the liver. The 90 calories with the fructose that reach the liver are almost the same as the 92 with the beer. In both cases the liver is left to deal with these undigested toxins. Therein lies the problem.

In both cases, processing the toxins produces a fatty liver commonly known as Cirrhosis. This does not happen immediately as with an acute toxin like arsenic but is chronic and develops over long periods of time. Your craving sugar is not all that different than an alcoholic craving booze. This is well borne out by the dramatic rise in sugar consumption during prohibition.

The fermentation of alcohol from sugar in the brewery is not all that different from the fermentation of sugar that takes place in the gut. Recognizing the toxic effects of ethanol, in keeping with public health initiatives, governments worldwide have been motivated to attempt to restrict consumption with everything from government controlled outlets through taxation to the extreme of prohibition.

Too bad that nothing has been done with fructose intake, which has resulted in a crisis in current health issues including obesity. As I explained in an article on detox, the liver being an essential organ has incredible self-restorative properties. As is so often the case, if we push this too far we get into serious health issues.

Metabolic syndrome is a grab bag term used for a basket of medical disorders that increase the susceptibility to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Metabolizing fructose in the liver leads to all of them. These include hypertension, inflammation, insulin resistance in the liver, obesity, elevated levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood, fatty liver, and resistance to leptin, which promotes incessant consumption.

One of the most significant disorders is called de novo lipogenesis which is simply the body’s capacity for turning carbohydrates into fat. The reason this is important is that our bodies store short term energy reserves as glycogen. Once they see that we have enough they convert the carbohydrates to fat for long term storage.

So, athletes for example, can get away with relatively large amounts of carbohydrate intake even in the form of fructose because their glycogen levels are being depleted through strenuous exercise. If us more sedentary types try to do the same our bodies say, “well we have sufficient glycogen let’s turn this into fat.”

I mentioned the studies by Ancel Keys in an article on the cholesterol myth. His infamous, hotly debated, Seven Countries Study in the 1950’s was largely responsible for the massive move away from fat in our diet, replaced, to quite an extent, by carbohydrates and the bulk of it in the form of sugar.

Although this was supposed to reduce the risk of heart disease it has managed to push it into epidemic realms. There was an element of truth in Ancel’s so called “lipid hypothesis” which attributed coronary disease to a high fat diet

The unfortunate problem with his hypothesis was that although fat leads to heart disease, consumption of animal fat is not the culprit. Otherwise the proposed solution would have been successful instead of the opposite. The deadly culprit is sugar the consumption of which has increased 6 fold since his study which is in keeping with the coronary disease statistics.

With the cheap production from GMO corn altered to grow like a weed and its addictive nature, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has found its way, in ever increasing amounts, into just about every processed food you can imagine. One is hard put to find anything from supermarket bread through a host of packaged convenience foods to condiments, like ketchup and BBQ sauce, that doesn’t have HFCS in it.

And it is killing us!

More information on the perils of sugar can be found at Jim’s website at Culinary Tidbits.

References:

Maternal Fructose Intake during Pregnancy and Lactation Alters Placental Growth and Leads to Sex-Specific Changes in Fetal and Neonatal Endocrine Function
M. H. Vickers, Z. E. Clayton, C. Yap and D. M. Sloboda

Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man.
K J Acheson, Y Schutz,T Bessard, K Anantharaman, J P Flatt, and E Jéquier

Alterations in hepatic fructose metabolism in cirrhotic patients demonstrated by dynamic 31phosphorus spectroscopy
Jean-François Dufour, Christopher Stoupis, François Lazeyras, Peter Vock, François Terrier, Professor Jürg Reichen

Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics

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