What better day to write about sugar addiction, than Valentine’s. After hearing Dr. Robert Lustig on NPR’s Science Friday, I had the opportunity to see him speak live at a Community Education event at my children’s school last week. Oh boy, he is an angry man and for all the right reasons. And with his new book “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease”, he is sharing his knowledge with the wider population as he wants us to be angry, too. Angry at what the big food companies, the FDA, the Surgeon General, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Health have done, or not done, as the case may be, to protect consumers from (unintentionally) destroying their health. The evening was packed with scientific data, enough to show us that his theory is scientifically founded. After all, he is Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at UCSF and Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program, so he is qualified to understand and interpret the data. Here are my take-aways from the evening. Come and cook with us!
First off, it’s all about sugar, fat and fiber. Without going into the scientific details on how these three elements impact our metabolism – you can find it all in his book – all processed food is high in sugar (to make it more palatable) and low in fiber (to increase shelf life) and that increases the fat in our body. The intake of fiber is what we need to increase to ensure that our insulin levels stay low, leptin is high and the absorption rate of sugar is slowed down. Suffice to say, I can see a more detailed post on fiber in the very near future.
Second, according to Dr. Lustig, obesity is not a cause of chronic metabolism disease, it’s a result. Scientific data shows that most people with metabolic dysfunction are TOFI, which stands for “Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside”. So, instead of weighing ourselves every day, we should measure our waist circumference and work at slimming that down. It’s the visceral fat in and around your organs and not the love-handles that cause the problem.
Lastly, remember that what’s good for our wallet and good for our time is (mostly) not good for our health. Food companies sure make it easy (and often rather cheap) to put a complete dinner on the table but do you really know what we’re eating? One of Dr. Lustig’s colleagues used to work in the marketing department of a big food company and sat in innumerable meetings where the discussion was all about “how can we hide all the sugar” in products. There are 56 different names that food industry uses to describe sugar so it’s impossible for us to keep track of how much added sugar we really consume. Keep in mind that of the 600,000 processed food items in the US, 80% have added sugar and it is scientifically proven that consuming sugar is addictive. Big food knows that!
While the food industry would like to make this a “personal responsibility” problem, we have long moved past being able to solve this through “education” alone. Dr. Lustig sees this as a public health crises and he plans to launch legal action against Big Food just like what happened to Big Tabacco back in the day. Dr. Lustig has set up the Alliance for Nutrition Initiatives and Global Health as his platform to reach consumers through education, research, advocacy and action. In the meantime, we hope you enjoyed your Valentine with some dark chocolate! Come and cook with us real food!