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Does Sugar Make You Fat?

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

Have you ever wondered if sugar is making you fat? Is it the sweet treats or the greasy food that makes us pile on the pounds?

Well the answer is here - and you might be surprised to learn that it's not the fat making you fat - it's actually the sugar (and it's also one of the reasons I developed my 21 Day Sugar Detox Program). So why does sugar make you fat?

Sugar makes you fat in the following way:

  • Sugars are made up of glucose and fructose.

  • The fructose can only be processed by the liver.

  • The liver turns excess fructose into fat.

  • Fructose is addictive and has no 'full switch'.

  • The pancreas secretes insulin to help the glucose reach the cells to be used as energy.

  • High insulin levels make the body struggle to burn stored fat.

Whether it's a new years resolution, or the lead up to a beach holiday, or even if you are just fed up with the way you look and feel, there are plenty of ways we can look to shed a few pounds.

There are all sorts of diets and fitness plans you could consider, but have you ever thought about simply cutting down on sugar?

If you are eating lots of sweet foods you might be putting on weight in ways that you would never know, and you could even be carrying a dangerous type of fat that you can't even see or feel.

But before we get into how we get fat, lets look at the different types of fat in our bodies.

sugar and tape measure

So when is a fat, not just a fat?

Subcutaneous fat is the fat that we can feel underneath our skin - it's the extra rolls we can get on our belly.

This type of fat serves several functions - it's stored as a source of energy, it keeps us warm, and it also acts as a form of protection to cushion us against bumps and knocks in our day to day life.

It's the fat we can see, and it's this fat we might pinch and decide that we need to do something about our diet and exercise. But this isn't actually the stuff that you should be worried about.

There is a much more dangerous type of fat that lurks unseen, and often unfelt, deeper inside our bodies.

And this type of fat is called visceral fat.

Visceral fat - what's that?

Sometimes also called abdominal fat, visceral fat accumulates deep within our body, in and around our organs such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas.

And the more of this type of fat we get, the more it starts to strangle our organs. Visceral fat is also considered to be almost an organ in itself, and a toxic one at that.

This is because as well as storing fat as an energy source like normal fat, visceral fat is actually a living mass of tissue that can also release it's own hormones and inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.

These chemicals and hormones can directly interfere with your mood, your appetite, your brain function and ultimately, your weight.

illustration showing layers of belly fat

It drives up your risk of stroke, heart disease, dementia and diabetes.

Visceral fat can also raise your LDL (or 'bad') cholesterol and increase your blood pressure.

And the thing about this kind of fat is that it has nothing to do with vanity because believe it or not it might not even be making you physically 'fat'!

Even skinny people can still have lots of visceral fat hidden within!

So it's this kind of fat that really is a danger to your health, and surprisingly it's not actually your 'love handles' that will kill you!

In fact, studies have shown that visceral fat is a strong, independent predictor of all-cause mortality in men. In other words, the more you have, the more likely you will die.

So it's down to the sugar then?

For years and years we were told that it was fat making us fat, but the latest research is now pointing the finger of blame squarely at all those sweet treats and sodas that can be the real reason you're putting on weight.

different types of sugars on spoons

Nearly all types of sugar, no matter if they come from fruit, honey, maple syrup or table sugar, are made up or roughly 50% glucose and 50% fructose, and it's the fructose that can cause all of the problems.

While glucose can be processed by any cell in the body, fructose can only be processed by your liver, and any excess is turned into fat.

Excess fructose can also cause insulin resistance and raised insulin levels in the blood.

When you eat a meal with sugar or a high carb content, it's down to our pancreas to release insulin to ensure the glucose in our bloodstream gets transported to our cells to provide energy.

Another one of insulin's jobs is to tell our fat cells to take the fat from our bloodstream, but with insulin resistance or high insulin levels, our body struggles to access this stored fat.

And to make matters worse, because our body can't use up this fat, it tells our brain that we are hungry, so we end up eating more!

Other ways fructose makes you fat

Eating too much sugar and therefore too much fructose can also create a condition called 'leptin resistance'.

woman eating ice cream

Leptin is a hormone that is released by our fat cells to tell our brain we have enough fat stored and that we don't need to eat anymore.

Too much fructose causes leptin resistance because it increases the levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream which end up blocking leptin from reaching the brain, which then tells your brain that you need to keep eating!

And there's even more bad news.

Fructose doesn't have the same 'satiety' mechanism as glucose, so while glucose will eventually let you know you have eaten enough, fructose doesn't behave the same way.

This is likely due to early humans only having very occasional access to fruits and berries so there was no need to stop eating them.

Plus, all the fibre in fruit regulates the flow of fructose into the bloodstream, allowing a much more gentle load on the liver.

In fact, back in those days, when food was scarce, our body would have thanked us for storing up the energy.

berries on a tree

But fast forward to today where we are faced with sweet treats everywhere we go, and perhaps now we could really do with fructose telling us when enough is enough!

And finally, just to make matters worse, fructose has been shown to be highly addictive and releases the pleasure hormone dopamine - which is why some people are literally addicted to sugar.

So when you put all of this together, fructose really is the bad guy, creating the perfect recipe for making you overweight and unhealthy.

And that bad guy has now been made even worse

Many processed foods are now made with with the worst kind of sugar there is. This is called High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and it is being used more and more because it's cheaper to produce than regular sugar.

When HFCS is made, the chemical process splits the glucose and fructose apart, which means the fructose hits the liver quicker, overloading it and forcing it to turn the fructose into fat.

High Fructose Corn Syrup on a spoon

So when you eat HFCS, all of those negative effects of fructose happen to your body faster and in bigger quantities - it literally is the worst type of sugar you can eat - and it's hiding in more and more foods, making more and more people fat and sick.

Sugar, obesity and cancer

Sugar can have a negative impact on so many aspects of your health by making you overweight, and one of the most worrying conditions could be cancer.

There is consistent evidence that higher amounts of body fat are associated with and increased number of cancers. These infographics from Cancer Research UK highlight the dangers of developing different types cancers if you are overweight.

illustration about 20 types of cancer

chart showing increased weigh resulting in more cancers

And obesity is on the rise

It's no coincidence that sugar consumption and obesity are both increasing hand in hand.

Over the last 30 years obesity has skyrocketed across western countries, with more than 10 percent of the world's population now classed as obese, and with America the most obese.

And the child obesity rates are rising faster than those of adults in many countries, which is a worry for our future generation.

A combination of perfecting the tastes of preferred foods in laboratories along with clever advertising and packaging, means that a population of younger people are establishing long lasting dietary practices that will negatively impact their longterm health.

The truth is, we are developing into a race of people living off processed foods that are often high in sugar, salt and fats.

Cooking your own meals from scratch is the only way to really control what you are eating, and by teaching your children even the basics of cooking in the kitchen, you can help to reverse this trend.

graph showing increase in obesity and sugar consumption

Don't forget, it's all just empty calories

And another problem with the white stuff is that when you eat sugary foods and drink sugary drinks, the calories you have consumed are all 'empty calories'.

What that means is that they don't actually contribute any type of nutritional value - you get all the weight gain without having any positive benefits.

Not only is sugar not really even a 'food' because it contains no nutrients or minerals, it can actually strip out minerals and vitamins from your body.

Quitting sugar really can have so many health benefits - you can read about them all in my blog post 17 Amazing Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Sugar.

Take a look at the evidence

Cutting out sugar from your diet can have a real effect on your waistline, by lowering your weight and most importantly improving your health.

Take a look at the image below - that's real weight loss by going sugar free.

After some nudging in the right direction my husband decided to kick the sugar habit at the end of 2016 and using Fitbit Wifi scales Mike was able to track his weight loss.

Graph showing weightloss

The image above is taken directly from his Fitbit app and you can see the dramatic weightloss in the graph.

Bear in mind that this wasn’t some kind of specific ‘weighloss diet’ that Mike had embarked on, it was simply the ‘sugarfree diet’ that I had put together.

It was all about eating good clean food with no added sugar - and the weightloss was simply a by product of this diet.

As you can see from the graph, Mike was 95.5 kilos at the end of Dec when he started wearing the Fitbit and using the scales. By the end of March Mike’s weight was 89.5 kilo’s - a total loss of 6 kilos (over 13 pounds!)

My husband would happily tell you himself he has alway had a sweet tooth, beginning at an early age, and has tried again and again to give up the white stuff, but now he has finally managed to do it!

And as an added bonus he has a much trimmer waist!

How about you?

Weightloss was never the goal when myself and my husband gave up sugar, it was just a happy by-product of our lifestyle change.

weighing scales and tape measure

We gave up sugar because we were fed up of not having control over our eating and constantly chasing our tails by feeding our sugar addiction.

So by cutting sugar out of your diet you can really make a difference to your overall weight.

So how much sugar should you be eating NOT to put on weight?

The current recommended daily allowance for a woman is 25g, which is around 7 teaspoons of sugar. For a man, it's 35g, which is about 9 teaspoons.

Eating this quantity of sugar per day shouldn't cause you too much trouble, but you'd be surprised how much sugar is hiding in many of the foods we eat, including stuff that you wouldn't even think of as 'sweet'.

The problem we have these days is that sugar is lurking in every corner - it's in so many foods.

woman eating a muffin

Suddenly it's normal to have a large coffee and a muffin at 11am, which will take you way over your daily recommended sugar allowance in one go!

Since when did we all start eating cakes so early in the morning?

Yet because muffins are in every coffee shop it becomes the 'new normal' and we just tuck in without giving it a thought. Then we wonder why we are feeling tired a couple of hours later and getting fatter and fatter a few months later?

And we're drinking on the weight

Aside from the muffins though, one of the biggest culprits in terms of high sugar content and piling on the pounds comes from our drinks.

From the growing selection of fancy coffee's on offer to our fruit juices to our cans of soda to our cider's and alcopops, we are drinking in more and more sugar.

And don't even start me on the 'sport's and 'energy' drinks, which are absolutely laced with sugar.

The multi million dollar soft drinks industry likes to tell us that our lives are nothing without a can of fizzy sugar water, but it is those very same soft drinks that have contributed to the planets' obesity.

Maybe it's time you made the switch back to water!

Time to take your head out of the sugar bowl

Just becoming aware of your own sugar intake is a great step in the right direction, and learning about how much sugar is in foods will really help you to cut down.

supermarket shelves

Always read the label, and if sugar is in the top five ingredients then steer clear and stick it right back on the shelf!

Also check the 'Carbohydrate of which Sugars' in the nutritional information list. This basically tells you how much of the product is made of sugar, so try to go for anything that's less that 5g per 100g.

Do it yourself!

Of course, the best option is just to cook your own food fresh, and that way you have total control over what you are eating.

It's such a basic, yet simple solution to our health woe's, yet so many people claim that they just don't have the time.

Maybe it's time to stop scrolling on social media, put down the phone and pick up the chopping board!

There is a saying that your 'health is your wealth', and we all know that without your health you are nothing, so try making a change by cutting down your sugar intake and start cooking from fresh.

happy couple cooking

Take a look at the recipes on this site, none of them have any added sugar and are a great start to your new low or no sugar lifestyle.

And remember, if you are still buying processed foods and other sugary snacks and treats, it all adds up, and eventually you'll wonder where those extra inches came from!?

The sad truth is that sugar really is making us fat. And sick.

So maybe it's time to quit?

Weightloss is just one of the benefits of a low/no sugar diet, so why not give it a try!

If you would like to quit sugar for good and regain control of your food choices, you can transform your life with my 21 Day Sugar Detox Program.


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