How Does The Body Process Sugar?

While researching the topic of How Does The Body Process Sugar, we came across some very confronting information in regard to sugar. You may be more aware now than ever before that it is a substance that is put into a huge amount of food we eat.

These days, it is fairly common knowledge that the over-consumption of sugar is unhealthy for us.

As for how the body actually handles and breaks down sugar, this is a very complex topic. We can cause strain to many parts of our body by over-consuming this substance.

Thankfully, here at Detox & Cure, we have worked to make things as simple as possible.

kicking-sugar-and-how-it-affects-your-body image of corn cobs and a jar of high fructose corn syrup with candy icons overlaid in light grey
Do you know the source of your preferred sweetener? Find this image on Instagram.

So how does the body process sugar?

Bear with me as I attempt to balance making this as simple as possible with the task of retaining sufficient meaningful information. There are a few categories in which different fuel sources are processed:

  • Glucose

Glucose is our primary source of fuel and is processed by both the body and liver. Foods that contain proteins and carbohydrates will contain glucose. The body will immediately use some of the sugar for energy in other parts of the body.

The remainder will end up in the liver, where it will be broken down through a series of chemical processes to convert the glucose into stored fat (lipoprotein). 1

While this chemical process is happening, the pancreas creates and sends insulin into the body to signal the brain that the body has consumed a substance.

Eventually, the insulin will send signals to the brain to indicate that the body is full and should stop consuming. Fats are low in carbohydrates but they still trigger the pancreas to produce the same signals.

  • Sugarcose (sugar)

When we add sugar to the above process, the liver will have much more glucose to deal with than what is normal. This results in more glucose being converted into stored fat.

Over the long term, this has shown to increase your levels of stored Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL). 2

VLDL has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Put simply, your liver creates more and more stored fats, which translates to an increased body size due to, well, all the extra stored fat!

  • Fructose

Fructose is the really big issue facing today’s society as it is the Sugar which is packed into so many of our foods and drinks. Specifically, it is the man-made High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is loaded into soda, sports drinks, and even fruit juices!

Did you know that fructose is not used by the rest of the body; it is processed directly by the liver?

The fructose is broken down in a very similar manner to the way the liver process alcohol (i.e. a toxin). What fructose also fails to do is trigger the pancreas to create insulin. 3

This leads to energy spikes and crashes due to wildly fluctuating and unchecked blood sugar levels. This also means the brain never receives the signals that the body has consumed substances and that we need to stop eating or drinking.

Fructose in fruit is a different story

For those of you wondering about fructose in fruit, it is not a concern. Fruit contains high levels of fiber help to counteract the effects of fructose. It also leads to the pancreas recognizing it has consumed something, which in turn triggers a response in the form of insulin release. 4

For a more in-depth (and very science-driven) explanation on how the body processes sugar, check out the breakdown below in the video with Robert H. Lustig.

So what should you do?

Sugar in small amounts is generally not a major issue for your body to process. It becomes an issue when you over consume sugar, resulting in a huge strain on your liver to process it and stress on your body to store it.

Having an active lifestyle will help to mitigate these issues by burning excess sugars for energy when you are active.

Monitoring and controlling your intake is a great way to help avoid putting stress on your liver and body. Fasting is also an effective way in managing your blood sugar levels if you do intend on consuming higher levels of sugar.

If you are looking to reduce or eliminate sugar from your diet, check out our 7 step guide to overcoming sugar addiction. What are your thoughts on how the body processes sugar? Let us know in the comment below.

FAQs

What does the body do with sugar?

The body uses sugar primarily for energy. Glucose is directly absorbed and used by cells for immediate energy or stored in the liver and muscles for future use. Fructose, however, is processed by the liver, where it can be turned into glucose for energy or stored as fat. The key is moderation, as excessive sugar, especially added sugars like high fructose corn syrup, can lead to health issues. Natural sugars in fruits, because of fiber content, are less concerning.

How is sugar metabolised in the body?

Sugar metabolism involves breaking down into glucose and fructose. Glucose is used by cells for energy or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Fructose is processed by the liver, potentially turning into glucose, glycogen, or fat. This process varies by sugar type and overall health impact depends on the amount and source of sugar consumed.

How does sugar turn into fat?

When the body has excess sugar, especially fructose, the liver converts it into fat through a process called lipogenesis. This fat can be stored in the liver or distributed throughout the body, potentially leading to health issues like obesity and liver disease. Moderation and a balanced diet are key to preventing these negative effects. 5

How does the human body digest sugar?

The human body digests sugar by breaking it down into simpler forms, mainly glucose and fructose, in the digestive system. These simpler sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to cells for energy or stored for later use. The liver plays a crucial role in managing sugar levels and converting excess sugar into fat for storage. 6

Conclusion

‘How Does The Body Process Sugar’ discusses how the body processes sugar, focusing on glucose, sucrose, and fructose. It explains that while glucose is used by the body and liver for energy, adding sugar increases fat storage, linked to health risks like heart disease. Fructose, especially from high fructose corn syrup, is processed differently and can lead to energy fluctuations without signalling fullness to the brain.

However, fructose in fruit, with its high fibre content, doesn’t pose the same problem. The article advises moderation in sugar consumption and maintaining an active lifestyle to manage sugar intake and its effects.

If you are looking to reduce or eliminate sugar from your diet, check out our 7 step guide to overcoming sugar addiction. What are your thoughts on how the body processes sugar? Let us know on our Instagram and Pinterest.

Reference

  1. “What to know about lipoproteins, cholesterol, and diet” – J. Kubala, 23 November 2023 [Medical News Today] [Archive] ↩︎
  2. “VLDL Cholesterol” – Medline Plus Staff, Last checked 21 February 2024 [Medline Plus] [Archive] ↩︎
  3. “Pancreas and insulin: An Overview” – MyDr.com.au Staff, Last checked 21 February 2024 [MyDr.com.au] [Archive] ↩︎
  4. “Fructose & Fibre: friend or foe?” – Compare the Market Staff, 8 June 2016 [Compare The Market] [Archive] ↩︎
  5. “Does Sugar Turn Into Fat?” – A. Picincu, 8 November 2019 [LiveStrong.com] [Archive] ↩︎
  6. “Carbohydrate Digestion and Absorption” – CSI Staff, Last checked 21 February 2024 [Canadian Sugar Institute] [Archive] ↩︎

Last Updated on 4 months by D&C Editorial Team

About the Author

Luke has a background in bodybuilding and martial arts. His fitness focus drove his interest in health. After learning about what a plant based diet can offer he began to transition from a carnivorous diet to one that comprised of more plants and wholefoods. A devotee of clean drinking water, and clean eating, Luke is on a life long path to fulfillment and understanding.

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