Much of the national conversation on nutrition has gradually embraced the notion that sugar is toxic in all its forms: sucrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. It’s fattening, it’s addictive, it causes high blood sugar and insulin resistance, it is a major driving force underlying the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes, not to mention fatty liver, joint deterioration, tooth decay, and Alzheimer’s dementia (“type 3 diabetes”). But there should be much more than sugar awareness when it comes to analyzing processed foods—there’s also amylopectin A.
Recall that amylopectin A is the carbohydrate unique to wheat and grains, a chain or polymer of sugars in a specific branching configuration that makes it uniquely and highly digestible. Compared to the amylopectin C of legumes, for example, and amylopectin A raises blood sugar higher and faster if pitted head-to-head, ounce-for-ounce. Likewise, compared to sucrose (table sugar), amylopectin A raises blood sugar higher. (This explains why the glycemic index of whole wheat bread is higher than the glycemic index of sucrose.)
To illustrate the importance of this phenomenon, let’s take a look at Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, a popular breakfast cereal among adults interested in “getting more fiber,” a feature that has been responsible for a huge amount of misinformation surrounding this product, such as “Raisin Bran helps you lose weight” and “Raisin Bran helps reduce cholesterol” (even though you know that cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease causation and boosting cellulose fiber contributes nothing to reducing its risk).
Here’s are the nutritional facts for Kellogg’s Raisin Bran:
Breakfast cereals are often criticized for their sugar content. You can see that 1 cup of Raisin Bran contains 17 grams total sugar, of which 9 grams were added sugar. It means that a one-cup serving provides the equivalent of a little more than 4 teaspoons of sugar. With 3/4-cup added skim milk, there are a total of 26 grams of sugar or 6 1/2 teaspoons per serving. Unfortunately, that’s where the thinking for most Americans ends. They may therefore look for cereals with lower sugar content and/or reduce portion size.
But look at total carbohydrates: 47 grams. Recall that we subtract fiber, since it is either metabolized by bowel flora (e.g., arabinoxylan, amylose) or not metabolized at all (cellulose), but not by our own human digestive enzymes. Therefore, with skim milk, subtract fiber from total carbs: 56 g – 7 g = 49 g, then subtract the 26 grams sugar = 23 grams per serving or nearly 6 additional teaspoons sugar.
So, with skim milk added, sugar provides 26 grams while the (mostly) amylopectin A provides 23 grams. Of course, put the two together and you’ve got 49 grams of total sugar and amylopectin A (more than 12 teaspoons sugar-equivalent), an amount that is more than enough to generate unhealthy metabolic consequences. Recall that it takes only 15 grams of net carbs to begin to yield rises in blood sugar, insulin, small LDL particles, de novo lipogenesis in the liver to produce triglycerides and VLDL particles that cause heart disease.
No question: Sugar is a huge problem. But don’t overlook the harmful effects of something worse than sugar: the amylopectin A of wheat and grains. Even though, in the example of Raisin Bran, there is more sugar than amylopectin A, the total overwhelms your metabolism with a long list of unhealthy consequences, cellulose fiber or no.