Every living organism needs it in order to thrive.
It is the human body’s preferred source of energy.
Your brain runs exclusively on it.
Your muscles are powered by it.
It courses through your veins to nourish all the cells throughout your body.
Without it, your body literally thinks it is dying and will go into starvation mode.
And yet it is vilified and treated as an enemy to be feared. They claim that it makes you fat. That it is the cause, rather than a symptom, of diabetes. That removing it from your diet will somehow magically make you skinny.
But as you will see, this primary source of energy is extremely important and necessary for optimal health.
What is this essential source of energy?
Or more commonly referred to and vilified as: carbohydrates. Or even, sugar.*
Hold on. Before you start telling me about how you heard that carbs are bad for you and that you should eat fat to lose fat, let’s go back to the basics. Sometimes, the media circus loves to shock you with a headline to get you to pay attention and get everybody talking about it. But before you hop on the bandwagon, I’d like to dial it down a bit by reviewing what you and I (should have) learned in biology class back in the day when we were still in school.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t pay much attention in class. Every night before an exam was spent cramming as much information as I could, only to quickly forget everything immediately after turning in my test with the justification that I needed to make space in my brain for the next exam. Yeah, I was that guy.
I took for granted all the knowledge available to me while in school and squandered it all in exchange for hacks to get passing grades. Now that I’m older (and wiser), I look back and wish I had taken school more seriously. But since I can’t do that, I did the next best thing: I bought a textbook.
Like everything else in life, if you don’t do it right the first time, you’ll have to do it again.
With my new trusty textbook in hand and a renewed search for the truth, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned to show you how important sugar is to your health. And no, I’m not talking about refined sugar, which is a far cry from the way sugars exist naturally in the real world.
Your Body Needs Sugar
Most of the processes that sustain life involve energy.
The energy and nutrition that are required for every cell in your body is supplied by the contents of the food you eat.
Think about that for a moment.
Everything your body needs, you supply.
By what you feed it.
Through the food that you eat.
The first time I realized the impact of this simple idea, it changed everything. So simple yet so profound.
But I digress.
Every cell in your body uses sugar, specifically glucose, for energy.
Glucose Is The Main Source Of Energy For Your Brain And Central Nervous System
Your brain requires a continuous supply of glucose and uses about 20% of your caloric needs even though it is only about 2% of your body weight.1
Brain functions such as learning, memory, and thinking are closely related to glucose levels.2
When glucose is low, things requiring mental effort (like willpower, self-control, and decision-making) are impaired. Have you ever felt like you’re more prone to sabotaging yourself at the end of the day? Less patient? More likely to just let yourself go?
You might be glucose deficient.
Or you might just need some sleep 😉
Have You Ever Wondered: Why Aren’t There Any “Essential” Carbohydrates?
There are “essential” amino acids (proteins) and “essential” fatty acids, yet there are no “essential” carbohydrates. Why is that?
“Essential” is a bit of a misnomer. All it means is that your body cannot make these things on its own so it must get them externally, or in other words, through the food you eat.
Glucose is so important that the body has processes that enable it to create glucose from non-carbohydrate sources (this is called gluconeogenesis: as in gluco – neo – genesis: creating new glucose).
Carbohydrates may not be “essential” in the sense of the scientific definition but there is no doubt that glucose is the most important nutritional component of sustaining life. I would like to make the claim that glucose is so essential, or necessary, to life that in the absence of it, the body will find a way to produce it.
Again, your body needs glucose and there are many systems, organs, and cells that cannot survive without it.
Glucose Transporters Exist Throughout The Body
For glucose to be used by cells, a transport mechanism is needed to move it into and out of cells, appropriately named glucose transporters, or GLUT for short. Scientists have identified a total of 14 different GLUTs.3 Compare that to only 6 types of fatty acid transport proteins (FATP). Only a few of the fourteen different GLUTs have been studied in detail. And there is still a lot that even science does not fully understand.
But what we do know is that glucose is used pretty much everywhere in our body, even if we don’t fully understand the exact mechanisms of how it works.
Want Better Workouts? Load Up On Carbs
If you’re into fitness, you’ve heard of glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose. Glycogen is stored primarily in the liver and muscles. The average human body stores 1,500 – 2,000 calories of glycogen, most of it (about 75%) in muscle tissue.4
The more glycogen in your muscles, the better they can output because glucose is its preferred source of energy, especially at higher intensities. Muscle fatigue occurs when there is an inadequate supply of glucose to power your muscles. In fact, depletion of muscle glycogen levels is the single most contributing factor to muscle fatigue. If you’ve ever “hit the wall” while exercising, that’s your body running out of glycogen. Higher initial glycogen levels (carb-loading) means your muscles can work harder longer with less fatigue.
Your Liver Is A Sugar Processing Powerhouse
As we talked about previously, glucose is essential for every cell in your body. But the thing about glucose is that it is an immediate source of energy so it does not have a very good shelf life. Meaning that it must be used up very quickly or else it starts going bad. Too much glucose hanging out in your bloodstream is not so good for you. So any excess gets converted to and stored as glycogen, which is much more stable.
Your liver plays a very important role in processing and managing sugar.5 Like your muscles, the liver also stores glucose as glycogen and can reconvert that stored glycogen back into glucose for energy as needed. Your muscles, however, cannot release that glucose back into the bloodstream for the body to use.4 Muscle glycogen can only be used by the muscle tissue that it is stored in.
What makes the liver such an important organ is that it can release glucose into the bloodstream as needed to keep your blood sugar levels in homeostasis and prevent your blood sugar levels from getting too low, or hypoglycemic.6
Remember that the brain runs on glucose and needs a constant supply? The sugar released by the liver helps to keep the brain and the rest of the body’s cells nourished, particularly between meals, when you are in a fasted state, and there is no external source of glucose to feed your brain and body’s energy needs.
This blood sugar homeostasis is very important as the inability to regulate the blood levels of glucose can lead to many problems, most notably, diabetes. The liver is such an important part of this process that all the sugar (or carbs) in the food that you eat is broken down to simple sugars and taken directly to the liver first for processing before passing it on to the rest of the body for energy.
Kind of a random side note: in the Chinese language, there is a term of endearment that is roughly translated as “darling” or “beloved.” But the literal translation of this word is “heart liver,” two very important organs that you literally could not live without. When you call someone “darling,” or “heart liver,” you are implying that you trust them with everything, including your most critical organs, more than anyone else. In fact, many other cultures also understand how important the liver is and use it as a term of endearment that signifies someone you cannot live without.
I know “I heart liver you” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but it has a much deeper, richer meaning.
The Big Idea Here Is That Glucose Is Everywhere And Is A Critical Part Of Sustaining Life
We’ve only covered examples of how carbohydrates are used in our bodies. We haven’t even talked about fiber which doesn’t get nearly enough attention and which most people don’t even know is a carbohydrate. Or how critical sugars are in plants and other living organisms. That starches, which are the storage form of glucose in plants, were the staple foods of the most prominent civilizations throughout history; think of wheat in ancient Egypt, potatoes in the Inca Empire, corn in the Aztec and Mayan empires, rice in China, sweet potatoes and soybeans in Japan, and chickpeas in the Middle East. Hummus anyone?
Some arguments against carbohydrates are that there is too much sugar in the blood in diabetes, that overweight people tend to eat a lot of added (refined) sugars, that our bodies can adapt to burning primarily fat in ketosis, or even that sugar feeds cancer cells (*Hint: sugar feeds all cells*). All of which are true observations.
But to say that carbohydrates or sugars are bad because we see it everywhere we see problems is like saying that people who are sick like to breathe oxygen. If we cut off their oxygen, their sickness would no longer exist. This is also true. But they’d also be dead.
Sugar is needed everywhere and is a critical part of sustaining life.
Part of the confusion lies in the usage of “refined sugar” as simply “sugar.” When you take a food and strip it of all of the other life-sustaining vitamins, minerals, fiber, and everything else, you are left with pure refined “sugar.” But life is more than the sum of its parts. And so is food. When you isolate just a single nutrient, you miss out on the synergies and full benefits that the whole food can offer that is not even fully understood by science. We’re missing the forest for a tree.
Refined sugar is NOT healthy. Refined carbohydrates are NOT healthy. But sugar is necessary and critical for every living organism. Therefore, we can conclude that refined sugar and refined carbohydrates are NOT the same as sugar.
Let’s call refined sugar, refined sugar. Refined sugar is the emperor with no clothes on. But don’t just let him stand there naked. Keep the clothes of fiber, vitamins, and minerals intact so that it can do its job with elegance and effectiveness as it was meant to do.
So please, stop making sugar out to be an evil villain.
*Carbohydrates, sugar, and glucose are used interchangeably as they are ultimately broken down by the body into glucose.
Did you know how important carbohydrates and glucose are to your body? Did any of these facts surprise you? Let me know in the comments below.
And please like and share this with anyone you think would benefit from knowing how important carbohydrates are.
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I’m Peter Chung from Perpetual Remission.
Thanks for reading and never stop doing good!
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