Caramel and Rust

Caramel and rust. Kind of sounds like a country band, doesn't it? 

Well, in this instance, it's actually referring to processes that happen in your body. Say what? I have caramel and rust in my body? Essentially, yes!


Glycation is the bonding of a sugar molecule to a protein or lipid molecule without the regulation of an enzyme. In other words, these two lovebirds decide to get together without permission from mom and dad. 

Glycation happens both inside our bodies, and outside. And guess what the perfect example of glycation is? Caramel! When food molecules are undergoing glycation, they brown. Think of the crust on bread, the browning of meat, even browning of roasted vegetables. And yes, the sugar and protein molecules of cream, butter, and sugar coming together to create that delicious concoction of caramel, is glycation.

Glycation, or caramelization, happens in our bodies all the time. But the more sugar we have floating around in our bodies, the more glycation can happen, and that can be bad news. We want things to be fluid in our body, not sticky.

When a protein and sugar molecule join together without oversite from the body, it becomes toxic trash that can damage tissues, organs, and even cells down to the DNA level. 

Glycated molecules become Advanced Glycation End-Products, or AGE's. These inflammatory molecules are believed to promote inflammation and accelerate aging. AGE's are produced in our body naturally every day, but moreseo when a lot of glucose is present. We also ingest them when we eat all those delicious caremelized foods. Dang.

Some healthful foods are also naturally high in AGE's. For a detailed table of AGE content of several foods, check out this article by Dr. Loren Cordain.


Now we come to rust, or oxidation. You've heard of oxidation in the body, or at least you've heard of free radicals and antioxidants. 

Oxidation is just the loss of electrons. In the case of rust, oxygen steals electrons from iron (with water being a catalyst), and oxide is formed. As iron turns to iron oxide, it crumbles and is no longer the strong metal it once was.

We don't technically rust per se, but we have the same reaction with oxygen in our body. Cellular respiration (how our cells produce energy) is dependent on both oxidation and redox, or taking away electrons, but then adding them back. When a molecule becomes oxidized in our body, it becomes a free radical. 

Free radicals have important functions in the human body. (This is how our immune system kills invaders, by releasing free radicals to steal electrons from the intruders.) But a cascade of too many free radicals can wreak havoc. This is why it's so important to ingest antioxidants through diet. You've heard the admonition to eat your fruits and veggies, especially colorful ones. Those are your best sources of antioxidants. 

The Wrap Up

If you take anything away from this article, let it be that in order to not be caramelized and rusty on the inside, consume the lease amount of added sugar as possible, control your carbohydrate and AGE intake, and eat brightly colored fruits and veggies to ensure you have adequate antioxidant support for your body.

If you've tried to cut back on sugar before, or add more produce into your diet, and have experienced difficulties, perhaps a slight shift in thinking would help, and I can coach on that!

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