Eternally Essential Sugars
And the basic biological reality is that ALL biological systems run on sugars for their energy - not fats, not proteins, not starches, but sugars. So it is more than a little curious as to why they are being painted in such a bad light.
No wonder you have a 'sweet tooth', you are an ape !
Sugar Coated Apes
A cursory glance at our gut, and how it has been designed, developed over millions of successive generations, tell us loads about what we are designed to eat. Nutrients of importance and scarcity have shaped the bowel, creating highly differentiated and specialised areas to ferment, disassemble and assimilate the various components we need for life. The evolutionary risks of spending such time, energy and resources to reshape portions of the bowel to do such specific roles, shows us the importance of the elements they are designed to capture.
Our digestive system’s similarity (and almost identical structure) to that of our closest relatives show an obvious alignment in nutritional requirements. We are, after all, apes - of the highest order. All that really separates us from them, is a crazy idea we have about our superiority – that has nothing to do with our biology.
This shared anatomy indicates a hundred or so million years of getting our primary nutrients from common places - fruit and leaves (plus 2-5% denser material from nuts/seeds & animal matter). This diet provides sufficient density and variety of content for our closest relatives (with the same digestive capacity) to build a healthy body (innumerably less diseases in the ape world), a strong structure (apes are 7-10 times stronger than us actually), flawless teeth (ever see an ape at the dentist ?) and bones (osteoporosis is unheard of in all other mammals), and a huge brain (for no apparent reason) – almost entirely from fruit and leaves – the very mix we evolved on.
And the key factor is that the body and brain are completely powered on sugars. The body can ONLY run on sugars. Not starches. Not proteins. Not fats. Not oils. Sugars. You can convert all those other things into sugars to fuel the system, but we had the primary food source to match the primary need – for millennia.
This makes sugars pretty damned important, and high on the list of attractive tastes. And it shed a very different light on our troublesome ‘sweet tooth’. Biologically, you can reframe it now; not as an indulgence, a petty, trifling weakness for the good stuff, but by solid instinct.
I would go further. It is the front-end experience of a physical reality; that every cell in your body is screaming for sugars. Constantly. And millions of years of alignment has set your mind looking for direct satisfaction of that – sweetness.
This is especially true of the brain, which consumes as much sugar as the body can spare.
Incidentally, the brain is a very, very carefully protected organ, and the thousands of components needed to build and manage it have to be chemically chaperoned over the blood/brain barrier with careful adjustment, monitoring, and management. But it turns out that sugars are one of only two compounds that are given free reign to pass without any red tape whatsoever. Again showing us how vital sugar is as a fuel for the brain, and just how plugged in to it we were as a food source.
And over the course of evolution, we have come across endless types of sugar. We have learned how to deal with them all, and convert them into what we need. But our digestive system and sugar balancing organs have built a strong relationship with fruit, as the simplest source of this incredible, smokeless fuel that we require – glucose. And so, for 120 million year old reasons, when we taste sweet, out digestive processes expect fruit: high water content, low fat, low protein, high water, high vitamin, high mineral, high sugar. Easily digestible, colourfully packaged, easy to eat; fruit. You can't beat it.
More to the point, because this fruit has cellular integrity (ie; each of the cells is in tact when we eat it) all the nutrients remain protected from oxygen, light, bacteria, etc., until we start to chew open and digest their contents. The uptake of the sugars is slowed because this plant matter actively gets in their way, and gives the sugar-balancing system time to appropriate them. The kidneys and pancreas skim off any excesses and dump them from the body via bowel and urine, which is a tremendous waste, indicating that too much was assimilated at one time.
There are two main reasons for this dumping. High blood sugar increases the risk of bacterial infection, as high sugar content will in any system. And too much sugar in the blood effectively raises the blood viscosity, so it cannot pass through tiny capillaries, meaning that the most delicate structures suffer - symptomatic of diabetes (extremities become cold, nerve endings die, brain produces headaches, eyes become blind).
So, it is a fine balancing act: if too great an influx of sugars happen at once, the excesses are dumped via kidneys (lost in urine), or forced into cells through excess Insulin from the pancreas. Too little, and the energy demands of cells are not met, and they start to burn very inefficient, smokey fuels, like protein and fat (light headedness, headaches, lethargy, body odour), and extra sugars are drawn from the liver’s storage of Glycogen to make up the shortfall……
Its All in the Packaging
This never happens in the forest, where all sugars arrive with their inherent cellular context. The body has the chemically smash through the cell structure of the fruit, slowing the uptake of the sugars. But we do not eat sugars in this fashion now. The majority of them that we consume arrive without any cellular packaging, and are water soluble the moment they are consumed. This is a very different, very new, and very dangerous addition to the sugar subject.
A major problem with ANY processed sugar is that it does not arrive in the bowel packaged as expected. Processed sugars are free from cell matter, and once chewed, they are water soluble. Thus, they arrive in the blood all at once, putting a huge strain on the pancreas to appropriate them, and on the kidneys to eliminate the excesses. Its not immediately the end of the world, because the body has all kinds of buffers and management tools, but continued strain on these organs, generation after generation, will lead to weakened systems being inherited, and failure inevitable.
To understand the largest problem we have with sugars, it is not necessary to see the difference between different forms of sugar, but simply the length of our evolutionary relationship with the package they come in – or don’t come in.
The Devil is in the Process
Whether we are talking about white sugar, brown sugar (simply white sugar with the molasses added back in for flavour), honey, Agave nectar, Yacon syrup, pure fructose (refined from fruit), or even fruit juice (yes, its still free-floating sugars in water, with no cellular content to slow the uptake) we can see that the most obvious difference is not chemical, but structural. None of them will work very well because they are all pre-processed, water soluble, free-floating sugars, separated from their cellular home. The devil is not in the product, or in the process. It is in the very fact that it is processed.
We evolved eating massive volumes of fruit (eating it practically ALL day), but we were eating it in a form that the body had developed a relationship with. And it is this relationship that cannot be replicated by any type of processing.
So, the bottom line is: Everytime you process a food, you lose. When you juice, blend, dehydrate, express, extract, squeeze, cook, chop, etc… you lose nutritional viability. All the delicate organic compounds which our bodies seek to break down in digestion, get exposed to oxygen, light, heat, bacteria, etc., and begin the degradation process before we can channel, hone and hijack it towards digestion.
And this in turn points to another underlying lore. The more you step away from our natural patterns – the things we were designed for over millions of years of evolution – then the more shortfall you find. And where there is shortfall, there is workload to make up the difference.
If we cook out all the fibres from food, then we have to start actively seeking fiber in other foods. If we oxidise all the vitamins by exposure to air, then we need to buy them in capsules. Keeping things as close to their natural form as possible, allows life to be simpler, healthier and cheaper.