Fat and sugar – coming up to Bonfire Night, November 5th, it seems a relevant time to talk in terms of gunpowder, sparks and blowing things up.
For the experts out there, forgive this blunt instrument, but to keep it simple, we can refer to fats in our food as gunpowder, full of potential energy but inert and inactive whilst it sits there in our food.
To activate gunpowder and release its stored energy, you need to ignite it with a spark, sugar. Then stand back….
Sugars, occurring naturally in nature in small amounts, are also another form of energy potential, but a much easier one to access, and sugar triggers a hormone that most of us have heard of, called insulin – this is our hot spark
I’m not going to talk about glycogen, glucagon and other biochemistry, I am going to keep it simple and food-related.
We need to remember that our biology was evolved over many, many, many millennia to adapt us to survive in what was the wild environment. We have not significantly changed, biologically, over the last 2-3 millennia to cope with this plastic-wrapped food society. Our biochemistry still wants us to seek out energy-rich foods, particularly in the autumn, to store up energy potential for the winter and save us from starvation during the dark and cold months.
Unfortunately, we are hard-wired to seize upon an occasional wild bee-hive and drain the honey or strip a fruit bush of its berries in a rare haven of gorged sweetness. Also remember that fruit back then was more like tiny crab-apples, not the overblown and sweet, Golden Delicious we find in Aldi (other supermarkets are available). You could eat a belly full of such fruit and your blood sugar would only rise gently as the fructose slowly made its way through the fibres and pips and with much chewing, into your bloodstream. Fruits today are grown to be big, full of juice and fructose. Eat a piece of fruit from the shops now, and the fructose is much more quickly delivered to your bloodstream so you get a quick rise in blood sugar. And let’s not forget that there is the equivalent to a bee-hive of honey at every counter and till in every shop as we walk down the average street.
A quick rise in blood sugar is a trigger for your pancreas to issue insulin, to deal with the sugar and deliver it to your muscles and liver for quick energy use in the form of glucose.
Insulin stimulates muscle, fat, and liver cells to absorb glucose. The cells either use this glucose for energy or convert it into fat for long-term storage.
If you happen to be eating fats along with the sugary foods, all that fat will also be taken and stored along with the glucose, it all gets converted. This is the detonation of the fats, this is why you ‘blow up’.
Insulin is the spark; fats are the gunpowder.
If we are brutally simple about this, you could summarise like this:
Eat sugary foods and you will need to burn the energy by using your muscles as the insulin has made it available for energy delivered to those muscles.
Do nothing and it gets stored as fat.
Eat fats along with it and the whole lot gets stored as fat.
Fat is brain fuel
Eat fats on their own or with proteins and there is no insulin triggered. The fats are digested and absorbed into the liver and bloodstream and they will convert into ketones and be used for brain fuel. We don’t want too much fat running around in the blood, so it is not wise to overdo it. The body has a hormone called CCK which detects fats arriving in your stomach and shuts off your appetite. You could not eat four pots of double cream without feeling or being sick, but it is quite easy to eat four pots of low-fat, high-sugar yogurts and still feel deprived in some way, and keep on snacking.
There is no shut-off hormone for sugar and it sets off a see-saw of blood sugar swings which make you hungry for more.
Natural, undamaged, organic fats can be nourishing, satisfying and have a lovely mouth feel. “Creamy” – is a delicious word.
Eat your full fat yogurts plain – if you add fruit, you add sparks.
Eat your nuts and seeds toasted or salted – add sugar (even honey) and you add sparks.
Grains are power houses of stored complex sugars and they have the potential to raise blood sugar – eat wholegrains in small amounts and have them with nuts and seed milks or even with water. Grains are actually an unnatural development by modern agricultural man and we don’t have the biochemistry to deal with them without triggering the insulin response. Grains, over the last 40 years, are even more insulin-triggering than their natural ancestral grasses were.
We were not designed to eat bread !!! Really !!
There is a fabulous seed-only bread recipe which I have borrowed from Dr Shideh Pouria and Dr Sarah Myhill – see below.
Eat fruits on their own and first thing in the morning on an empty stomach – and walk or dance that energy off!
Have your fatty foods with proteins – keep the rind on the bacon and keep that crackling on the pork but don’t eat the potatoes or Yorkshire puddings at the same meal (starchy foods are complex sugars). Eat oily fish, fish livers and full far, organic and raw dairy yogurts and kefir; for vegans, eat the full fat version of everything plant-based; coconuts, avocados, durians, olives – all naturally oily foods.
Keep your fats (gunpowder) and sugars (sparks) separate and you will avoid the explosion! Eat them together and you will be the one ‘blowing up’!
Basically, although I hate labels, you are really applying the low-GI (Glycaemic Index) principle or the Ketogenic approach. Both have their critics and both can be distorted away from their underpinning ethos, but keep in mind the principle aim is to keep blood sugars from rising. Anything that stops the blood sugar rising, stops the sparks and deters the body from storing any available fat.
Seed Bread Recipe here