SICKLY SWEET: PART 3

What happens in the body after I eat food containing sugar?

To use a simple example, let’s say you’ve just eaten a muffin (containing amongst other ingredients – sugar). The body absorbs the flour and wheat and breaks these down into glucose – the body’s basic energy source. Glucose is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream destined to be put to work in the energy centres of the body – muscles, brain, and heart. Your body’s number one priority is to keep you fuelled 24/7, in fact 80% of the carbohydrates (energy foods) eaten is used for this purpose. We can store about 4 hours of energy as glucose in our bloodstream. The remaining 20% is stored (much like excess power can be stored in batteries) in the liver as a substance called glycogen. The liver can, on demand, switch this glycogen back to glucose and shunt it back to the bloodstream. It’s this continual conversion which keeps us alive and functioning even in starvation mode. Excess glucose not stored in the liver is converted to body fat (think now a row of batteries). This fat storage is very dense so as to conserve ‘space’ in the body but it’s also limitless in its ability to store. This condition (obesity) leads to a plethora a chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The amount of glucose in your blood can be measured by a simple blood test (best measured after at least 8 hours of fasting) and is recorded as fasting glucose level or blood sugar level. Healthy levels are between 3.6 and 6.0 mmol/L.

OK I may eat a little more sugar than I should but I’m not fat

That’s what you think. Consider the diagram below which shows two people’s cross-section of their abdominal region (pretend they have been sliced at the belly-button).

If you were to run a tape measure level with their belly button around their waist, both subjects would be the same circumference.  In the top photo the subject’s body fat under the skin (let’s call it ‘love handles’) is twice the volume of their fat surrounding their internal organs.  In the bottom photo the internal fat surrounding their organs is the same volume as fat under their skin.  When comparing subjects, both appear the same size on the outside but inside it’s a far different story.  This condition is called TOFI – thin on the outside fat on the inside.  This condition is thought to be caused by the excess consumption of sugar being shuttled into visceral (fat between the organs).  Further, this condition can lead to Metabolic Syndrome characterised by high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides and glucose in the blood.