If all carbohydrates get broken down to their most simple form, sugar, why is it unhealthy to just eat tablespoons of sugar?



If all carbohydrates get broken down to their most simple form, sugar, why is it unhealthy to just eat tablespoons of sugar?

In: Biology

A few reasons:

1.) The amount of carbohydrates you get per-pound from more complex foods is much less than the amount from processed table sugar, and it also takes more time to digest. So, it’s more difficult to overeat. A pound of table sugar will be stored mostly as fat, while a pound of chicken will need to be broken down and digested first. Whatever sugars are extracted will mostly be used, and only a minimal amount will be stored.

2.) Table sugar has virtually no other nutrients or minerals, so you won’t be getting any of those either.

3.) It can be killer for your teeth, since bacteria *love* sugar.

Sugar itself isn’t bad – in fact you need it. *Added* sugars are bad, because too much will cause your body to store it. This can lead to weight gain, heart disease, and a whole slew of other problems primarily caused by overeating.

The way your liver processes it. Eating an apple has a good amount of sugar (mostly as fructose), but it also has fiber, which slows the release of insulin and extends digestion.

Eating raw sugar, your body would react as it would to another toxin, in a rather extreme fashion. Your pancreas would excrete insulin at an alarming rate to cope with it.

Refined sugar has issues as other processed things, like table salt. In nature, sugar comes packaged in optimal form (as fructose with fiber, usually). Just as sea salt comes with other minerals like magnesium and potassium, which complement it. Stripping it from those other naturally occurring substances makes it better for profit margins, but worse for your body.


Most of the dangers come from the glycemic response to these various foods.

Pure sugar with nothing to slow the absorption rate will spike your blood sugar. This causes your pancreas to release Insulin to counteract that spike, which in turn reduces your blood sugar below normal levels, so your body releases glucose into the blood stream to compensate, which spikes it again, causing your pancreas to release more insulin… Lather, rinse, repeat until your glucose levels have hit a steady baseline.

This yo-yo effect taxes your pancreas significantly, as well as has other downstream effects on your body.

The more effort it takes your body to absorb the sugars, the healthier it is for your system when consumed in moderation.

What does it mean “unhealthy” exactly? It’s a very vague term. A tablespoon of sugar is just too much sugar to be used immediately by the average human, so most of it becomes stored as fat. If that is what you consider unhealthy, then yes, it’s unhealthy. But if you need the carbohydrates, because you are doing heavy work, then a tablespoon of sugar is “fine”.

If you were to only eat tablespoons of sugar, you’d suffer from malnutrition and get various disease.

Nutrition isn’t only a matter of energy, there are various nutrients that your body needs but cannot synthesize on its own.

Those are, broadly, vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals, and water.


Not all carbs do. Some fibers get broken down to component parts only by the bacteria in your colon, at the very end of the digestive tract. Others are somewhere in the middle but are still used mainly by bacteria without resulting in sugars that get absorbed. These bacteria are very important for your digestive and nervous systems as a whole.

Since car engines run on gasoline, can I make my car go faster just by lighting the gas tank on fire? How about just lighting the engine on fire?

Your body eventually breaks down energy sources into glucose, but you want the body’s systems to deliver the right amount of glucose to the right locations at the right times. That metered, accurate delivery gives the best performance, both in the human body and in a car’s engine.

It’s actually not that bad for you, to get all carbs from sugars as long as you’re not stupid with it. What is bad is having a lot in one go and spiking your blood sugar.
This triggers a big insulin response, which is gonna get you that sugar low after.

Plus a lot of this will lead to an insensitivity to insulin, leading to type 2 diabetes

Most complex carbs need to be digested first, in order to use them as fuel.

Most fruit has pectin and fiber to slow it down

Most grains and starches have fiber which slows them down

This is why ppl eat brown rice, the fiber slows it down. However, if you eat white rice with butter, the butter slows it down.

Precisely because it is too easy for those sugars to be broken down. Your body produces insulin to handle sugars, but if there is too much simple sugar, you have an overabundance of insulin. Pure sugar doesn’t appear much in food naturally. You’re putting huge amounts of something in your body that it has not evolved to handle.

It’s not. In moderation.

But putting sucrose, or worse glucose into your body in large amounts all at once taxes your ability to process it and may lead to some diabetes like stresses due to blood sugar spiking.

At it’s core your body is an incredibly complicated machine for turning potentially millions of different complex combinations of nutrients into a half dozen simple fats and sugars your body can use directly, on the fly, with minimal food wasted.

Many of the things we consider unhealthy are simply more direct routes to these simple fuels our body needs. But this encourages both over consumption and avoids the rate limits of how quickly we can process certain types of food.

Even highly processed food is good for you, in moderation. VERY CAREFUL moderation.

There are different types of sugar and your body processes them differently.


*The Obesity Code* is a really interesting book that goes into a lot of why it matters.

“Sugar” is a slightly problematic term, because it is a term for a class of compounds.

Table sugar, which is normally what we have around, is sucrose, which is made up of two simple sugars stuck together. Your body has no issue splitting them up, so each molecule of sucrose becomes 1 glucose and 1 fructose.

Most sweet foods contain either sucrose directly, or “high fructose corn syrup” which, is a mixture of fructose and glucose all mixed together.

Carbs are mostly just long chains of glucose, and enzymes happily cleave off glucose from the chains and use it. So carbs become sugar, but mostly, become glucose. This is energy for the whole body, every cell.

The difference comes with fructose…. remember the sucrose is a source of it…. When your liver processes sugars, it makes fats and cholesterol. This is “de novo lipogenysis” which is just the fancy latin way of saying “the creation of new fat”.

The thing is, remember how I said glucose is food for your whole body? Because of that, only a small percentage <10% ever gets processed by the liver.

Fructose however is not an energy source for every cell. Fructose is processed in the liver, and 90% of it goes there. [Fructolysis](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fructolysis) is the process:
> Unlike glucose, which is directly metabolized widely in the body, fructose is almost entirely metabolized in the liver in humans, where it is directed toward replenishment of liver glycogen and triglyceride synthesis.[1] Under one percent of ingested fructose is directly converted to plasma triglyceride.[2] 29% – 54% of fructose is converted in liver to glucose, and about a quarter of fructose is converted to lactate. 15% – 18% is converted to glycogen.[3] Glucose and lactate are then used normally as energy to fuel cells all over the body.[2]

There is really no difference between sugar and simple starches like white flour, white rice, and white potatoes. The saliva in your mouth breaks down starches so that they are essentially sugar when they hit your stomach.

More complex carbs, especially fiber, take a lot longer to break down, so their glycemic impact is drawn out and leads to fewer blood sugar spikes that strains your pancreas.

If I threw 10,000 tennis balls at you, one after the other, you would be be fine. If they all hit you at the same time, you would be dead.

Sugar goes in all at once, complex carbs break down over time, and hit your blood like the tennis balls thrown one at a time.