Now before everyone gets excited and runs out to buy a gallon of ice cream and a bunch of candy bars and their favorite soda, and maybe even just a bag of white sugar to eat by the spoonful, slow down. Yes, your body does need sugar to survive. But no, it does not need that much sugar.
Why exactly does our body need sugar anyway? That's what I'm going to attempt to explain here.
Sugar in the beginning
So there's a theory out there, when it comes to evolution, that the first eukaryotic cell (cells with a nucleus, the kind you and I are made of) was formed when a bacteria and another single celled organism joined together. It's thought that the single celled organism engulfed the bacteria, and by some magic of nature actually indentured the bacteria to make energy for the cell. This was the beginning of mitochondria, the organelles in all of our cells that create the energy that animates our bodies.
And the food needed to create this energy? Glucose. Sugar was part of the energy process from the very beginning (oxygen was also important to the mix). So the use of sugar to create energy was in the very creation of the cells that construct our bodies.
In our body, there are some pretty important cells that can only utilize glucose to make energy, because they only create their energy through anaerobic metabolism, which means oxygen is absent from the metabolic process. The irony is these cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout our bodies to all other cells, so aerobic metabolism can take place. I'm talking about red blood cells.
Pretty much all cells in the human body have a baseline glucose requirement. If a cell needs to create energy FAST, like when you run a sprint, or need to perform some super human feat, or your favorite Justin Timberlake song comes up on a playlist and you just have to dance, sugar (or glycogen, as it is stored in the body) has to be present in order to do this.
Do you have to eat sugar?
Technically, a human doesn't have to consume sugar, aka carbohydrates, in order to have sugar in their body. The human body has a nifty trick called gluconeogenesis, wherein the body converts protein and other components into sugar. But here's the deal; the process of gluconeogenesis requires energy, and the human body is always looking to conserve energy.
So of course, your body preferentially wants carbohydrates from a food source. And boy howdy, a processed sugary treat is like hitting a jackpot in Vegas as far as your brain is concerned. And it rewards us BIG TIME for this incredible energy find. We typically don't need this much fast energy at once though, and we especially don't need it over and over and over again. But, as I describe in the video above, your body is programmed to expect starvation. Winter is always coming. Your brain will always reward you for finding sugar in your environment.
This, obviously, is a problem. Our current food environment is saturated with highly palatable, highly condensed, engineered forms of carbohydrate that create larger hits of dopamine in our brain than is commonly natural.
Should you eat sugar?
The short answer: not really (at least not added sugar). But let's be realistic. Sugar is everywhere. And even if you don't think you have a "sweet tooth", if you eat a lot of savory carbohydrate (bread, chips, crackers, pasta), that's all broken down in your gut into sugar.
I think one of the best things a person can do in our current food environment is to be very picky about the sugar they eat. White flour and added sugar should be cut out at least 85% of the time (if not all the time). Carbs consumed should definitely be from starchy veggies, legumes, and whole grains, and servings should be kept under control. As in, have just one serving. And read food labels for baby Jesus' sake. LOOK at how much sugar and carbohydrate is in food, even if it's labeled "healthy". Don't be a food zombie.
We can't change the way food manufacturers tempt us to consume their sugary, carb-laden wares, but we can educate ourselves as to how much sugar we are truly consuming, and put an action plan in place to control it. Need help with that? I can do that! Just fill in the form below.