Men's Fitness December 2006
Sugar: What Kinds to Eat and When
The Dreaded Insulin Dump
Although sugar is lower in total calories per gram than fat, it contributes mightily to a fatty frame. "In our society, sugar is consumed in excessive amounts through unhealthy foods, and it increases total calories, leading to weight gain," says Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles and president of Simply Fit Inc. This effect is largely due to a hormone called insulin.
The more highly processed sugar you eat, the greater the release of insulin from the pancreas. That's because the main role of insulin is to return blood-sugar levels to normal. However, when blood-sugar levels jump violently-which is what happens when you eat high-GI foods-your body pumps a massive amount of insulin into the bloodstream. This causes an overshoot, making blood-sugar levels bottom out, which triggers appetite, leading to a vicious cycle of overeating. In fact, sugar is often compared to a drug rather than a nutrient in the way it can leave you craving more instead of leaving you satisfied.
Overeating isn't the only danger. Some doctors, including Walter Willet, M.D., chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, believe that years of eating processed food and experiencing the constant blasts of insulin can actually exhaust your pancreas' ability to produce insulin, putting you at risk for diabetes. Another condition, known as insulin resistance, can also develop, in which your body is so accustomed to insulin surges, the hormone loses its power to reduce levels of blood sugar. Recent research published in the British Medical Journal shows that men with elevated blood-sugar levels have a higher mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.
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