You're what you eat (Blog 7)

Just So You Know… It’s Killing You.

To pass the time on my 6+ hour drives from Bucknell to home in Boston, I listen to books on tape (nerdy, I know). I only listen to non-fiction books, and am currently in the middle of Dr. Robert Lustig’s book called Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.  I have become incredibly fascinated with Lustig’s points, arguments, and rationale and want to take this week’s blog proposal as an opportunity to share Lustig’s findings because I believe they are revolutionary and life saving. Gary Taubes’ New York Times article does a great job of summarizing Lustig’s book and exposing some of the core issues.

Lustig is a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders and the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California (San Francisco) School of Medicine but has recently focused on analyzing the American and global obesity epidemic as a disease (one that leads to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other pathways to death) that is being treated in all the wrong ways. For example, recent diet fads and weight-loss plans advise to eat less and exercise more because most people assume losing weight is as simple as burning more calories than you eat. Lustig argues that a calorie is not just a calorie, because it depends on the source of the calorie as our bodies process certain substances differently. Similarly, the simply low-carb or low-fat diets are also a waste of time according to Lustig, because they fail to restrict the one “toxic” substance that is in virtually everything we eat now: sugar. Lustig argues that sugar is a toxic substance that people abuse and he believes that sugar should be in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol because it is something that’s killing us.

The article (and book) have great empirical data to back up these claims and I recommend reading both if you are interested in learning more, but for now I will give you a brief overview of what sugar (fructose, glucose, and high-fructose corn syrup) does to our bodies:

“You secrete insulin in response to the foods you eat — particularly the carbohydrates — to keep blood sugar in control after a meal. When your cells are resistant to insulin, your body (your pancreas, to be precise) responds to rising blood sugar by pumping out more and more insulin. Eventually the pancreas can no longer keep up with the demand or it gives in to what diabetologists call “pancreatic exhaustion.” You become insulin resistant when you deposit fat in the liver, and it is very possible to have a fatty liver even if you’re not overweight or “fat”. This is because the liver is the only organ in the body that can metabolize fructose, a main component of sugar and therefore when the liver struggles to metabolize all the sugar we eat, fat is produced in the liver instead.A study was done at UC Davis where human subjects drank 8-10 cans of Coke or Pepsi a day, and after only a few days their livers would start to become insulin resistant. This test is extreme with the number of cans of soda consumed, but it is not far off from what some Americans consume in sugar on average.

According to the article, “As Lustig points out, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are certainly not ‘acute toxins’ of the kind the F.D.A. typically regulates and the effects of which can be studied over the course of days or months. The question is whether they’re ‘chronic toxins,’ which means ‘not toxic after one meal, but after 1,000 meals.’” This brings up an important point that the American government does not see sugar as harmful. What I question, though, is whether the F.D.A doesn’t want to look further into the effects of sugar because it is too closely tied to so many of the large companies that profit off of using cheap sugar and fructose ingredients in their products.

How does this relate to other issues in America besides the fact that obesity is at an all-time high? Weight-loss companies are making fortunes off of America’s inability to choose healthy inputs for our bodies and since these are businesses, they really aren’t advocates of finding ways to help people stay thin because if there really were a perfect diet, weight-loss companies would go out of business.

So in conclusion, I advise you to check food labels and to think again when consuming high-sugar foods and beverages because cutting your addiction to sugar may end up increasing the longevity of your life. I also strongly advise reading the article attached above and Lustig’s book if you’re interested in being truly healthy.


Sources: NY Times Article

Youtube Video

3 thoughts on “Just So You Know… It’s Killing You.

  1. I think the idea of chronic toxins is really useful. In general, our model of safety in food is to “keep out the bad stuff.” But sugar is something you need some of, or at least carbohydrates. And the traditional approach of preaching virtuous moderation is one of personal habits, not public health per se.

    It does seem to me we need to also learn to taste differently. WE are so exposed to so much sugar, we are dulled to other tastes.

  2. Well, Robert Lustig is quite the dramatic. Though I found the ‘sugar is killing you’ approach entertaining, I cannot support it. I can stand behind one statement from the parent post though. It is true that“…a calorie is not just a calorie, because it depends on the source of the calorie as our bodies process certain substances differently”. This statement is exactly why Splenda is so popular. Splenda is a no-calorie sweetener because it a chemical altered sugar compound that cannot be process by the body i.e. it contributes nothing to caloric intake [1]. In Layman’s terms, in goes out the way it came in – unaltered. I digress.

    Though sugar is taking the blame for obesity, where is it responsibility of the consumer? Who is going to take that Pop Tart out of your hand when you are eating your second one? Not me. I appreciate Rachel’s view on the topic of sugar, processed foods, and obesity but I have to disagree with several items in this blog post. Just like foods Rachel, claims are good in moderation. As Jordi mentions, sugar is something you need some of. As you mention, it is killing me.

    Let’s dive deeper into the sociological reason why sugar has been rising in consumption. The public, at least from what history can tell us, only stops eating something once it is classified as bad. Until then, it’s like we accept a food item as a challenge by eating as much as possible. We must remember that just because it hasn’t been listed as “bad for you” that it can still be, in fact, bad for you. Even good foods, in large quantities, can be bad. Yes, dark chocolate can be good but not after you finished an entire bag of dark chocolate chips.

    Often society eats with popular movements. Food marvels like lard, margarine, fatty meats, and carbohydrate-rich meals have come with food science technological advancements and gone with market fads and increased education. I mean, you and I wouldn’t use lard to cook today but it was a household staple just decades ago. This is because we have learned that saturated fats, like lard [2] are not good for you [3]. Getting back to sugar, you can’t cut it out completely but you can use honey as a sweetener in your coffee next time. Simple changes like that, over a lifetime, can make a difference. So Rachel, hopefully more people get as excited about health as you! If they do, then maybe they will make smarter eating choices. Keep spreading the word Rachel; just make sure you use other authors besides Lustig.

    [1] Sucralose.; MSDS No. LW5440140 [Online]; Dulcetter Technologies, LLC: Farmingdale, NY, (accessed October 19, 20013).

    [2] Lard – Nutrition Facts.” Nutrition Data – Know What You Eat. SELF Magazine, 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.

    [3] “Saturated Fat.” Nutrition for Everyone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 04 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.

What do YOU think? Tell us!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s