Something we eat every day could be toxic to us and could be at the root of obesity, the metabolic syndrome and cancer. According to the American Heart Association:
“People with the metabolic syndrome are at increased risk of coronary heart disease and other diseases related to plaque buildups in artery walls (e.g., stroke and peripheral vascular disease) and type 2 diabetes. The metabolic syndrome has become increasingly common in the United States. It’s estimated that over 50 million Americans have it.”
This article published today in the New York Times Magazine called “Is Sugar Toxic?” by Gary Taubes does a great job summarizing not only his own writings, but also what Robert Lustig talks about in his lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth“. Taubes article is 9 pages and Lustig’s lecture is just under 2 hours. They are both worth your time. If you don’t have the time, let me give you some highlights and I hope later you will take the time to read this article and watch the lecture.
Why am I so passionate about this topic? Well, because I had a weight problem and our country has a weight (and health) problem and I do not believe that it’s all our fault.
I believe our bodies are designed to maintain a healthy weight naturally, but this isn’t happening. We are doing something with our food that is messing with our natural biochemistry. Based on what I have learned, researched, read and experienced first hand in my life, I’m realizing that “added sugar” (specifically fructose) could be a significant factor (if not THE cause) of many of our health problems today, including our struggle with weight management.
Lustig’s argument is specifically targeting fructose as the problem. Fructose is found in sucrose (table sugar), sucrose is 1/2 glucose and 1/2 fructose. High fructose corn syrup also contains glucose and fructose (normally about 55% fructose and 45% sucrose). High fructose corn syrup has recently gotten a bad rap, but it is basically the same thing as sugar. Now you are probably saying, “But fructose is in fruits and vegetables.” That is true, but in fruits and vegetables it is packaged with fiber which helps reduce the load on our liver.
The main concern is with the “added sugars”, which are typically consumed with little to no fiber, which loads the liver with fructose. Since the liver is the only organ that metabolizes fructose, this is the problem. In his lecture, Lustig goes through, in detail, what our body does with fructose in the liver and how he believes it is the root cause of the metobolic syndrome. To make matters even worse, Taubes brings up in his article the linkage to cancer,
“One of the diseases that increases in incidence with obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome is cancer.”
OK great, so now we have an increase in metabolic syndrome, which increases your chance of cancer, too!
The timing of this article is funny. I have spent the last 4 weeks focused on reducing added sugar in my diet. The reason I found this article in the first place was my research on the fructose topic. What I have found in my 4 week experiment (reducing my own intake of fructose) is further body fat reduction. Within just a few weeks of added sugar reduction, I have dropped additional body fat.
In addition to what I have observed with my own experiment, I started to think about other people in my life. My father has type 2 diabetes and he does a great job in managing it. When I look at his lifestyle, he has basically eliminated added sugars in his diet and he is super lean. He can’t keep body fat on him if he tried! I realize this observation is not exactly scientific, but for me it is about results and, then fact is that reducing the added sugar has given me results. So I definitely believe there is something to think about here.
It turns out, we put sugar in EVERYTHING! I went to my local grocery store about 2 weeks ago and picked up about 5 loaves of bread that looked super healthy. The ones that I use to buy, you know, whole wheat this, all natural that. Guess what I found? You got it, sugar. It was in EVERY loaf (in one form or another). Next time you go to the store, look at anything in the middle. I bet you will find some form of sugar in it. Why do we do that?
Well, a lot of it started due to the low fat craze, which was based on information that turned out to not be all correct, but that is a whole other blog, so let’s leave that there for now.
A statement by the AHA on Aug 24, 2009 was to reduce “added sugar” in our diet to NO MORE than 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men. That is NO MORE than 25 grams for women and 37.5 grams for men.
OK easy enough right! Well, let’s see some different things we might choose from to eat for breakfast:
1 strawberry Yoplait yogurt – 27 grams
1 cup OJ – 21 grams
1 blueberry scone – 24 grams
OK I am not going to go further…the point is that sugar is hidden in our foods and we need to pay attention. You can see how you can have a glass of OJ and a yogurt and you are already hosed for the entire day and you have not even left the house!
The take away here is, we need to watch our added sugar consumption. You will find added sugars mainly in processed foods and foods prepared for you (aka restaurants). In addition, those processed foods will be low in fiber which is the one thing that helps your system deal with the sugar load, so you are getting a double whammy.
Here are some things to watch for when you look at the ingredients list on food you buy. All of these are just ‘added sugars’:
sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, maltrodextrin, hydrolyzed starch, invert sugar, corn syrup, honey, cane sugar, molasses, evaporated cane juice,…
So watch those added sugars, lose a few extra pounds and possibly avoid some health risks down the road!