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