Will Eating Fat Make You Fat? Surprise, Surprise – No it Won’t!
Fat is NOT bad for you. Fat is a clean source of energy. In fact, the right fat is the cleanest source of energy for your body. Our bodies are designed to burn fat for energy and use protein for muscle building and structural maintenance.
In its natural state, when it hasn’t become accustomed to a sugar-filled diet, your body burns fat for energy. Energy comes from glucose. Your body breaks fat down into glucose slowly, through a process called gluconeogenesis. But if glucose is available to your body in a simpler, more direct form, it’ll go for that. Because it’s simpler and faster.
So what contains a lot of easy-to-access glucose? Take three guesses.
Sugar. Sugar has loads of glucose. When you eat sugar or other simple carbohydrates, your body gets an instant shot of glucose, and goes into super-energy mode.
What Does Sugar Do to Your Body?
Sugars/Carbohydrates are a much faster releasing source of energy. Sugar contains glucose as is. So when you eat sugar, your body has sudden access to a source of energy that was otherwise harder to access.
Now given the choice between burning fat for energy and burning sugar for energy, your body will always select sugar. So, when it gets sugar, it selects that as the primary source of energy.
When it gets sugar beyond a certain point (5-8 grams of glucose for most humans), it switches from burning fat to burning sugar for energy.
The energy conversion mechanisms for fat-burning and sugar burning are different. When your body is in a fat-burning state it uses different mechanisms to sustain itself, and when it’s in a sugar-burning state, it uses different mechanisms to survive.
Switching from fat-burning to sugar-burning happens instantly but the reverse, that is, switching from sugar-burning to fat-burning takes some time for your body to do.
Additionally, the human body, at least for most non-athletes, doesn’t need more than 5 to 8 grams of free-flowing glucose in your bloodstream at any point. Our bodies try and maintain blood glucose in a very narrow range. The ideal levels are between 70 mg/dl and 110 mg/dl (mg/dl means milligrams of glucose in 100 milliliters of blood).
The regulation of blood glucose is performed by two hormones. Insulin and Glucagon.
Insulin is released by the pancreas’ Beta Cells. Insulin absorbs excess free-flowing glucose from your blood to try and bring it back within the normal range. So, when you eat something with unnatural amounts of sugar, i.e., any desserts, chocolates, sweets or other junk that fits this definition, your body follows the following procedure.
Sugar is eaten >> Your blood-stream is overwhelmed with a burst of glucose >> Your body realizes that you have a ton of sugar for energy >> It resorts to using glucose from this sugar as energy >> You feel a burst of energy >> Your pancreas secrete insulin to absorb and regulate the excess glucose >>There’s a fall in the amount of glucose in your blood >> There’s a fall in your the energy source that your body was using >> You feel tired because there’s a sudden drop in glucose >> You crave more sugar.
There. I’ve just explained the whole sugar rush/crash and food coma phenomena to you in one paragraph.
Now, keep this cycle of junk food in/insulin out for long enough, and your body builds up a tolerance to insulin.
In time, your body needs more and more insulin to deal with the large amount of sugar you keep poisoning yourself with. After a certain point, it stops responding to the insulin that your body can produce and needs MORE insulin. You’ll need to provide this extra insulin from an external source. Welcome to the world of Diabetes
This is partly why growing children are told to stay away from sugary drinks and other sugars.
Now coming to the other hormone, and frankly, the more interesting one in my opinion. Glucagon. Glucagon is released by your Liver’s Alpha cells. When your blood sugar/blood glucose falls BELOW the 70 to 110 range, your body releases glucagon. Glucagon is like that guy who can get you anything you need when you need it most.
Glucagon mobilises glucose from your body’s other non-sugar based sources. Stored glucose will be used to fuel your body. When your body runs out of stored glucose, glucagon forces it to resort to other sources for glucose. This is where the fun begins, and your health improves. All those unused stores of glucose slowly start getting used up. This is where the magic happens! This is where fat loss takes place.
(With inputs from The Telegraph, The Journal of the American Medical Association and the Hormone Health Network)
(Vishnu Gopinath is a journalist with The Quint. He tweets at @VishnuSaysWhat. This blog is based on his personal experiences. FIT recommends you to consult your doctor/nutritionist before embarking on any diet.)