What is the impact of sugar/carbohydrate intake?

We rarely stop to think about how remarkable the human body is at managing everything we put in our mouths.  There are intricate mechanisms for maintaining an appropriate balance (homeostasis) of innumerable electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.  There are probably many more unidentified or poorly understood factors that are tightly regulated, as well.  We are, of course, oblivious to most (if not all) of these processes, until we’ve pushed our bodies beyond their limits…and then the negative impact is manifest as a disease.

Our bodies have numerous mechanisms that establish normal set points for various factors.  For example, our brains have a “thermostat” to maintain an appropriate temperature for our bodies.  We also have an “osmostat” that regulates concentrations of electrolytes in the blood.  When the acidity of the blood or the levels of electrolytes of the blood deviate from the normal set points, there are mechanisms in place to make adjustments to return these values back to normal.  Keep in mind, though, that the levels of these factors are ever-changing, due to routine metabolic processes, physical stresses, or nutritional intake.

What is the impact of eating carbohydrates (or sugar)?  It’s important to understand that all carbohydrates break down into the sugar glucose, the exact quantity of which depends on the composition of fiber, polysaccharides (e.g. starch), disaccharides (e.g. sucrose, lactose), and monosaccharides (e.g. glucose, fructose).

First, let’s consider how much sugar is in the human body:

A typical human body contains 5 L of blood, and the normal blood glucose concentration is 70-100 mg/dL.  Utilizing some basic calculations, we find that the upper limit of a normal glucose (100 mg/dL) is equivalent to a total of 5 grams of sugar present in the entire bloodstream.  [For reference, 1 teaspoon = 4.2 gm.]

Contrast that amount with the amount of glucose present in the body of someone who fits the criterion for a diagnosis of diabetes.  By definition, a fasting glucose of 126 mg/dL or greater (on more than 1 occasion) equates to 6.25 grams of sugar present in the entire bloodstream.

  • Blood Glucose 100 mg/dL = 5 gm sugar  <- upper limit of normal glucose
  • Blood Glucose 126 mg/dL = 6.25 gm sugar  <- cutoff for diagnosis of diabetes

Thus, the difference between a borderline normal glucose level and a diabetic level of glucose is 1.25 gm  of sugar.  That’s only ¼ teaspoon of sugar distributed throughout 5 liters of blood.

If only 1.25 grams of sugar can raise your glucose from a normal level to a level that is considered “diabetic”, consider the effect of just 8 oz. of orange juice, which contains 21 gm sugar.

What about a meal containing 60 gm of carbohydrates (the standard allotment of carbohydrates per meal for diabetics)?!

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