Observations and thoughts: on sugar, Agave Syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and obesity. Presented with my usual sardonic pluck, taste tested and approved.
Through most of my childhood I had a mild weight problem. Even into adulthood I carried a small, slight, paunch even when other parts of me were lean. This was annoying. Why, Allah, why I asked?
Power cleans, kettlebell swings, stair climbs and runs, I developed lean muscle and, strangely, abdominal definition on top of visceral belly fat. Quite surreal, to flex one’s abs harder than wood but still have a pot belly, however slight. After making some fundamental changes in my diet, including intermittent fasting, this belly fat is mostly gone, though it makes occasional reappearances commensurate with my consumption of ghee and sugar.
Recently I’ve come to realize some of the likely reasons for this, and much of it has to do with difficult to metabolize placements of adipose tissue (“that’s fat cells y’all”) developed from childhood on up. Diets and exercise were not able to metabolize these deposits of stored fat, and their origins lay in to excessive consumption of certain things like sugar, and to a slight degree products containing high fructose corn syrup. Now such products were rare in my youth, most sweet goods were simply sugar based, High Fructose Corn Syrup didn’t start popping up in things until I was in the 8th grade, oddly enough when my slight childhood chubbiness passed into “dude you have boy-boobs” territory.
My youthful penchant for eating cake icing out of the can, consuming Little Debbie’s by the box like they were tic-taks, and walking less than I should, while drinking too much soda pop, may have had to do something with this.
The tendency of my siblings to run around like terrors throughout Avondale, armed with sticks and rocks, and harassing other kids kept us reasonably slim. I offer no apologies for this gang like tendency, a bunch of nerdy doctor kids living on the fringes of the ghetto sort of need safety in numbers. Alone anyone could, and did, take us. Together with sticks running around like savages we found some security… and exercise.
I blew up a bit when my sister and I moved back to DC, into a nice neighborhood, away from most of our siblings. There, our only walks were to the Metro station. I did need to out run thugs on Bladensburg Rd, when cutting over to the Rhode Isl. Metro Station. But those were short runs, and I really wasn’t jumped that often. So this meant less exercise, and hence I became a chubbier kid.
7-11 Doughnuts and Fritters didn’t help, of course. But what really sealed the deal was soda. Yes, soda pop.
Uncle’s fridge was chock full of it, all of the rare brands they didn’t have in Ohio, like Squirt Soda. And who could resist Squirt?
And somehow after 9 months of steady soda drinking I found myself a very unhappy and very chubby young teenager. Not obese by any means, but possessed with fat that no jogging during soccer practice seemed to budge.
Being a chubby kid growing up in the 80’s, looking back on it and on old photos of myself I was actually almost normal by today’s standards. And this recently shocked me. As much of a fat ass bookish little nerd boy that I thought I was, I would have fit right into most middle schools today. At least here in the midwest. What I thought of as ugly, aberrant, fat when looking back at t was actually almost trimmer than some of the normal kids that I see today, especially in middle class areas of town.
I think that two things prevented me from the sort of full fledged childhood obesity that seems almost a norm nowadays. One, the fact that as Much Atari or Nintendo that I played between the 6th and 9th grades (before I outgrew video games, they just felt boring and childish after that) I got some exercise walking to the metro station, or out running mean kids who wanted to beat me up.
Two – the fact that most of my favorite sin foods back then just had regular sugar in them, sucrose, and not high fructose corn syrup.
Ok, so many of you will roll your eyes “not some sort of high fructose conspiracy theory again’ – bear with me a bit, before jumping to conclusions.
Let’s look at something else, Agave nectar. Most of the women I know are natural health food store types. NPR, Herbal Tea, Yoga classes, and of course Alternative sweeteners. Place white sugar in front of them and they turn their noses, place brown Sugar in the Raw in front of them and somehow it’s acceptable. Sucrose is sucrose baby, trust me on this one.
One spunky young thing recently told me, in bated breath, about Agave syrup. She even baked me cookies with the stuff. Since it’s bad form to reject baked goods from pretty and excited young women who simply want to please you in so many ways I, of course, accepted the offer. I am a gentleman, after all.
However something did not sit right with me. Agave syrup? What the hell are people doing using a cactus for sweetener, I thought to myself. So, intrepid, I decided to poke into a few books and articles and unravel the source of the intuition that nagged at me.
What I found shocked me. and perhaps it may shock you.
Agave nectar is unhealthy for you, like the clap or Chlamydia or other unpleasant things. However pleasant the consumption is the result is most baleful.
Agave nectar is given to us as a “health food” but it’s not.
Regular table sugar, refined white sucrose, is “better” for you by any metric than agave nectar. Look up how Agave is processed, it’s actually more processed than table sugar. THAT should tell you something. The organic stuff is just as bad. Just eat a bunch of honey or something, if you must.
Agave Nectar and High Fructose Corn Syrup suck.
Indeed, I tell you truthfully that in my more paranoid moments, which are few and far between, I maintain a healthy suspicion that this degree of sheer suckiness is actually by design.
Permit me to explain- this stuff seems almost designed to make us unhealthy. So it would be wise of you to try to avoid eating it. What follows isn’t biochemistry 101, and I admit taking some liberties with a fast and loose explanation, but I encourage you to do some research and look at multiple sides of the issue.
Most of us have the common sense not to believe the industry adverts on High Fructose Corn syrup – and indeed that stuff is really worse for you than refined sugar. But few know that agave nectar, as sold in health food stores, is as bad as high fructose corn syrup. And both are worse than sugar.
Lest pedants hit me over the head – “Worse” is a subjective appraisal on my part. “They suck” is also subjective, but can be substantiated.
The reasons why refined sugar, while not being the best thing in the world to consume (it’s better than Meth, of course) beats out high fructose corn syrup or agave nectar lies in how our bodies metabolize each.
It has nothing to do with the calories – calorie counting leads us to wrong impressions.
Calorie counting, as most people commonly understand, is a scam.
It does have to do with how Sucrose (white sugar) is metabolized and how Fructose is metabolized.
With how both are broken down into glucose, with the mechanisms by which fructose is converted into triglycerides and adipose tissue (yummy fat!)
Sucrose, table sugar, is broken down by your body into glucose, which can be used in the Krebs cycle for energy, and l-fructose, which can be further broken down into glucose, but some of it is converted into triglycerides and eventually adipose tissue. Your fat cells becomes stuffed with the stuff. Now, the type of fructose that you will consume in fruit is more easily broken down into glucose, so less of it is converted into triglycerides and stored as fat – anyway your body needs these things at some level. The problem is in excess.
The type of fructose found in Agave syrup and high fructose corn syrup is mostly just converted into fat by your body. I’ll skip the specific pathways and mechanisms, you can feel free to look that up on your own.
Basically if you eat a pound of white sugar and a pound of high fructose corn syrup and a pound of pure refined fructose (the stuff is tasty, I used to buy it at Clifton natural foods) your body will store MORE of the fructose as fat, and less of the table sugar as fat, and use more of the table sugar as energy in the form of glucose (research the Krebs cycle, or go back to your sophomore biochem course notes) and store less of the table sugar as fat.
Again, that’s a fast and loose explanation.
Fructose consumption suppress leptin secretion and insulin, when this happens your body experiences hunger pangs, because even though you are stuffing your face with enough calories to light a light bulb, your body thinks it isn’t eating – again fast and loose explanation.
Leptin suppresses our appetite. Without it we pretty much will stuff our faces because we will feel hungry. Hence we will get fatter, this isn’t biochemistry 101. I could explain how the stuff is converted into adipose tissue, how triglyceride levels increase, and explain how the Krebs cycle works, and so on, but it’s complex and you can Google it up or hit your old college textbooks.
The general point is that consuming large quantities of sugar isn’t good for you, but consuming large quantities of some types of sugar can be worse for you in subtle ways, including by increasing your appetite you end up consuming a larger quantity of food, and your body ends up storing more of it as fat, and all sorts of other nasty problems with blood pressure and so on and so forth.
Basically high fructose sugar sucks and makes us fatter, and as we become more obese we face other health problems, while the people selling us this crap to consume are laughing all the way to the bank.
Just use regular sugar in moderation. Or honey. Or maple syrup. Granted the stuff is expensive as sin.
OB disclosure: I have invested interests in sugar industry stakeholders – on a small level anyway.
I have no fiduciary interests in the honey or maple syrup industry, and I still recommend both of them over sugar anyway, so like just use honey or something.
High fructose sugar sucks, makes us obese and unhealthy, and only benefits Cargill and ADM stakeholders, it’s bad, avoid it like you’d avoid the plague, or worse syphilis, avoid it like you’d avoid fornicating in alleyways with sketchy people for free, met in dive bars after 2 AM.
Some risks are, obviously, not worth the imagined payoff – which like so many things sold to us in life, is often a massive disappointment. So like…
Just don’t do it. I mean, why consume something that tastes like sugar but destroys your body faster than sugar? Is this wisdom? Is this intellect ? No, far from it.