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[Home] [Foundations] [Fat Burning Mode]


Health Foundation # 4:
 Burn Fat, Not Sugar

It is important to use the right fuel in the human body... human cells are designed to burn fat for energy. Human cells can also burn sugar for energy, but doing so causes more free radical damage to our cells than does burning fat (fat burns “cooler” and releases less free radicals per calorie of energy obtained.

If someone burned aviation fuel in a normal gasoline car engine, that car engine would run fine for a while, just like our bodies will burn sugar. But, eventually, in both cases, damage will result from using the wrong fuel. The unfortunate fact is that 90% of Americans have put their bodies into sugar burning mode through incorrect lifestyle choices. Consequently, their health won’t last as long as it  might otherwise have lasted.



Dr. Rosedale (author of the Rosedale diet) says,

ronrosedale1“If I were to summarize in a single sentence what practice would best promote health, it would be this”—

“Health and life span are determined by the proportion of fat versus sugar people burn throughout their lifetime and so the more fat that one burns as fuel, the healthier a person will be, and the more likely he or she will live a long time; and the more sugar a person burns, the more disease ridden and the shorter a life span a person is likely to have.”

Energy Modes Compared

Fat Burning Mode

Sugar Burning Mode



No Excess Fat Storage

Excess Fat is Stored on One’s Body

One Retains Bone & Muscle Mass

One Loses Bone & Muscle Mass

Long Life

Short Life

Primer on Fat Burning Versus Sugar Burning

When we talk about eating (and burning fat or sugar fuel to obtain energy), we must first realize who, or rather what, is eating. We, ourselves, are not really doing the eating. Our stomachs merely grind that food down into tiny particles and deliver those food particles to the cells of our body. It is our cells that do the eating. When we put food in our mouth, that is simply continuing a transport chain from farm to grocery store to our mouth... to our stomach to our bloodstream and then to our cells.

The cells in our body (all 100 trillion) can only burn two kinds of fuel to obtain energy. They can burn sugar or they can burn fat. Those are the two energy producing modes cells have. And the health of the body will be determined by the primary fuel that our cells burn.

So, why and how do cells change from burning sugar to burning fat or vice-versa?

The answer is, as in life generally, that our cells are creatures of habit. They get good at doing that which they do repeatedly. If they become conditioned to burn sugar, they will always want to do that. If they get conditioned to burning fat, they will continue to do that.

  1. The simplest way to condition cells to burn sugar is to eat lots of high carbohydrate foods.
  2. The simplest way to condition cells to not burn sugar is to stop eating high carbohydrate foods.
  3. Of course, once a person is in sugar burning mode, the cells will complain and refuse to leave sugar burning mode, unless you know how to “persuade them” to do so.

The Role of Leptin in Determining Fat Burning or Sugar Burning Mode

There is another way to understand why cells choose to burn fat or sugar. To comprehend this, we need to learn about the chemical messenger leptin. Leptin has several functions, but a primary function is to tell our brain how much fat we have available to be used for fuel.

Leptin is made in fat cells and circulates in the blood and is detected by the brain (via the hypothalamus gland). Based on how much leptin the hypothalamus detects in the blood, signals are sent to all the cells of the body instructing the cells which fuel they ought to burn — fat or sugar.


Being in sugar burning MODE causes a person to become fatter because every possible incoming calorie is converted to fat. Being in fat burning mode causes a person become skinnier because the body burns up fast stores in order to make energy.

In trying to make a complex subject simple, we’ll just say that if the hypothalamus senses less than 4 nanograms per milliliter of leptin in the blood then, it puts the cells of the body into SUGAR BURNING MODE, meaning that:

  • It will instruct the appetite center of the body to feel hungrier than normal.
  • It will also instruct the cells of the body to burn sugar and not fat
  • It will instruct the body to store fat, in order to build up fat reserves.
  • It will also instruct the body to not “feel as energetic” in order to conserve energy.

On the other hand, if the hypothalamus can sense 4 to 9 nanograms per milliliter of leptin in the blood then the hypothalamus will instruct FAT BURNING MODE causing the person’s body:

  • Burn Fat
  • Feel A Normal Amount of Energy
  • Not Feel Hungry

And the Problem Is

The problem is that the hypothalamus can lose its ability to measure leptin. Specifically, if the level of leptin in the blood reaches 9 ng/ml or higher then the hypothalamus is unable to recognize the leptin message... and interprets leptin to be zero. The hypothalamus then acts to put the body’s cells in “starvation mode” which causes the body to:

  1. Burn Sugar
  2. Store Sugar
  3. Not Feel Energetic (so you can spend less energy, so you can store more fat)
  4. Feel Hungry (so you will eat more, so you can store more fat)

All of those are designed to help you outlast a famine, but otherwise, if your body has an excess amount of stored fat instead of too little stored fat, is BAD. So, what should one do to always stay in fat burning mode?

The Solution Is

The solution for staying in the desirable fat-burning mode is to keep leptin levels in the range of 4 ng/ml to 9 ng/ml. Leptin levels roughly correspond to stored fat levels because leptin is made in fat cells. Generally speaking, you can guess what your leptin level is by knowing your body fat percentage. This isn’t as precise as getting a leptin test from your doctor, but is easier to check.

Somewhere between 18% and 22% body fat you will find that your leptin levels are above 9 ng/ml, at least part of the day. That’s because leptin levels fluctuate in daily cycles. So, it may be above 9 ng/ml part of the day eliciting sugar burning mode and below 9 ng/ml other parts of the day, allowing fat burning mode. Things that influence leptin levels include:

  • If your blood sugar is high, more leptin is produced in fat cells than if blood sugar is normal or low.
  • If you are under stress, more leptin is produced. Injuries create stress and so after you have been injured, your fat cells will produce more leptin.
  • Insufficient sleep or eating late in the day will also increase your leptin levels, particularly at night.

It is possible to become leptin resistant (meaning leptin  levels are higher than 9 at least part of the day and therefore interpreted as zero) with lower body fat percentages than 18% to 22% if you have any of the above factors in your life that increase leptin production.

Once your leptin level goes above 9 for a significant part of the day, then you will spend most of your time each day in the sugar burning/fat storing mode and your fat stores will start increasing.

Remember, you can always get a blood test to determine exactly where your leptin levels are.

We strongly recommend that you get our E-Booklet on Leptin Management. It is free for the asking, and possibly the most important information about staying healthy you can ever receive. Following the life style recommendations in this E-Booklet will help you get your leptin under 9ng/ml and your associated body fat percentage into an optimal range.

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