Added sugar and fructose are counteracting the effect of your supplements
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Added sugar and fructose are counteracting the effect of your supplements

Added sugar and fructose are counteracting the effect of your supplements.

There might well be an ingredient in your supplement that you don’t expect: sugar, or even worse, fructose. Manufacturers will add them to make their supplements taste better and you would be really surprised at the very high levels sometimes found in supplements. This is something you really need to watch out for. Added sugar or even worse fructose is seriously bad for you, and they will counteract the effect of your supplement.

Many people are coming around to the idea that fats were unjustly vilified by doctors and that added sugar is the real cause of many of the modern diseases of civilized countries. The problems with sugar goes far beyond it being ‘empty calories’, or even its effect on insulin peaks, although both of these problems are serious enough. The terrible effect of sugar on our health is due to one of its constituents, fructose.

Whereas starch is simply a polymer of glucose, and produces glucose molecules when digested, sugar is a disaccharide containing one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. These two sugars are treated very differently by the body. We have evolved to use glucose, it is the most common fuel for our cells, and one of the few fuels that our brain cells can use. That is not to say that glucose isn’t harmful when consumed in excess, but it is also a fundamental foodstuff.

Fructose is very different, and is not a sugar that we encountered in large amounts during our evolution. You might find that strange since fructose is found in fruits, and sweet fruits are very ‘natural’. However fruits also contain masses of fibre, which stop us from absorbing all the fructose. Fruits have a low glycaemic index and are relatively low in calories, something that cannot be said of sugar. You would have to seriously binge on fruit to consume significant amounts of fructose. Our bodies simply did not evolve to deal with large quantities of fructose, such as those we get from refined sugars. It cannot be used for energy by our cells. When we consume glucose, quite a lot of it is taken up by muscles, the brain, and other tissues and burned for energy. The remainder is transported to the liver where it is turned into glycogen, the body’s method of storing glucose.

In contrast fructose cannot be directly used by the cells for energy. The only organ that can process fructose is the liver. There is no storage system equivalent to glycogen with fructose. Instead the liver converts it directly to fat!

I am sure you can see the irony in this. You might be taking a supplement to help you burn fat. Perhaps something containing carnitine. And yet the fructose in the sugar added to the supplement will be converted to fat by your liver because the body doesn’t have any other ways of dealing with it. Unless you are burning masses of fat and metabolizing everything you eat, there are two final destinations of the fat produced from fructose. A lot of it might be deposited directly in the liver. When done in excess this can result in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is obviously bad news.

Alternatively the fat can be moved for storage in other tissues. It is transportes as VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) particles, which raise the blood triglyceride levels and contribute to heart disease.

There is also fructose’s effect on hormone balance to consider. Unlike glucose fructose does not elicit an insulin response. The receptor that detects sugar in the blood is simply not triggered by fructose. It therefore also doesn’t elicit the release of the satiety hormone leptin. The result is that despite consuming many calories in the form of added sugar, the body does not register the fact that its calorie requirements are being met. Many scientific studies have shown that eating fructose-containing sucrose, or fructose leads to consuming more calories, in a way that glucose itself doesn’t.

Then there is the famous effect on blood sugar levels. This in turn is caused by glucose. Glucose is not in itself bad, it is the vital fuel for the cells in our bodies, especially the brain. However, in nature, pure glucose is practically unheard of. It comes in the form of complex carbohydrates with a large dose of undigestable fibre. This slows down its digestion and absorption. This is what our bodies have evolved to deal with.

Refined sugar, of course, is absorbed very rapidly, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, which triggers the release of a lot of insulin. As tissues get repeatedly exposed to very high level of insulin they become desensitized to it, this in turn leads to the release of even more insulin, starting a vicious cycle that ends with type II diabetes.

There is another factor to consider when taking post-workout supplements that enhance protein synthesis and muscle gain. Exercise, particularly resistance exercise leads to the release of the anabolic growth hormone. Insulin inhibits the release of growth hormone, so sugar in your supplements can actually stop you from building up your muscle and waste your effort during the workout.

So what is the answer? Trying to find a bad-tasting supplement with no sugar? Using supplements that use artificial sweeteners? Neither of these is a real answer. It is actually hard to find a supplement without any sweetener. They don’t taste good and producers don’t think they will sell. Artificial sweeteners on the other hand are seriously bad for you. They might potentially be even worse than the sugar they replace.

Luckily there is a reasonable solution to this conundrum in the form of stevia. Unlike other sugar substitutes stevia is an all-natural extract from a plant native to South America, which has been used by people in Brazil to sweeten beverages and for its medicinal properties for centuries. Stevia is free of all the health risks of sugar and artificial sweeteners Not only is stevia not bad for you, it is actually positively healthy. Research studies show that the sweet compounds in stevia can lower blood pressure, and lower blood sugar levels. In a way it does exactly the opposite of what sugar and fructose would do. And it makes your supplement taste good!

Further Reading:

Fructose increases belly fat and decreases insulin sensitivity:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673878/

Consuming fructose increases the risk of developing fatty liver disease:

http://www.journal-of-hepatology.eu/article/S0168-8278(08)00164-5/abstract

Fructose can induce leptin resistance leading to obesity:

http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/295/5/R1370

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