Shape Up: Sugar's sinister side
Published 25/04/2011 | 05:00
I recently had a consultation with a new, health-conscious female client to whom we will give the fictitious name of Isobel. Upon meeting, she informed me that she was on a low-fat 'breakfast cereal diet'.
Three servings of a cereal, sandwiched in between two breakfast cereal bars, can apparently help people lose weight, "as part of a calorie-controlled diet".
Isobel had a fear of fat and the slick marketing of the cereal diet led her to believe that weight loss could be so easy if she followed the programme. The reality could not be more different.
The legacy of the 1980s' anti-fat campaign has left many women frightened of eating foods that contain fat. It may even be the case that the exclusive focus on the adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.
When you see a label saying low fat you should think 'high sugar'. Isobel had told me she had followed these programmes for years with no success but thought, with optimism, that maybe this one would be different.
The reality is that it is not different; it is just packaged differently.
Isobel is apple-shaped, which is referred to as an android type in medical literature, but this body shape is synonymous with people who consume a lot of carbohydrates that turn into sugar very quickly.
The more sugar you consume in your lifetime, the harder your pancreas has to work to produce insulin -- which is referred to as the hormone of ageing -- to bring blood sugar back down to a normal state.
The more frequently you do this the more resistant your body will become to getting insulin where it is needed -- into the muscles.
As we eat and digest our food, we create a supply of sugar in our blood. Normally, the job of the insulin is to deliver the sugar to the muscle cell, where it can get used to produce energy.
Since fat was demonised over 20 years ago, there has been an increase in the amount of sugars and refined carbohydrates that we consume. This is important because all these carbohydrates will be converted into sugar and the insulin must deliver all the sugar it finds.
So, over time this influx of sugar makes your muscle cells become resistant but as I said before the sugar still needs to be transported somewhere. This is where the fat cells step in, as they are always ready to accept the sugar and store it.
As time goes on, and the cells become more insulin resistant, the sugar is automatically sent to the fat cells to be stored.
This is why we eventually start to store fat even if we're not eating a lot of it -- we are converting our sugar to fat.
The good news is that this process can be reversed if we are willing to do the right things. First, we must limit our intake of sugars and refined foods. This will give the pancreas a chance to rest and recuperate.
In turn, this will limit the need for large amounts of insulin. With less insulin, the muscle cells are no longer as overwhelmed. This will allow them to start being receptive to insulin again.
Second, we must exercise with a goal to train hard and build lean muscle mass through weight training. This increases the demand for the sugar that's available and if we build more muscle cells, there are more cells that are willing to listen to insulin.
If you were knocking on someone's door and you knew the person was home, your normal response, if he or she didn't open the door, would be to knock again, only louder.
This is essentially what your body does. Insulin is knocking on the door of the cell. It knocks louder by secreting more insulin because the cell did not respond to the first signal. What we need to do is make the cell 'hear' the signal better and we do this by the eating the right nutrition and exercising correctly.
Isobel's body is no different to yours. It runs well with the right fuel but it will burn out quickly if you use the wrong fuel or wrong maintenance.
A cereal diet, bread and the promotion of the grains as per the food pyramid is the wrong fuel, particularly for insulin-resistant people. It ruins their engine.
Health & Living