In his book, Fat Chance, Robert Lustig, MD, ConnectWell’s obesity, diabetes and food expert is spreading his message about how to beat the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity and disease. In the book, Robert details the science behind the obesity and metabolic syndrome pandemic and the politics that have promoted the current state of global health.
Robert warns in his book that people who land in the “normal weight” category on the BMI chart are not necessarily immune from metabolic syndrome. In fact, 40% of normal weight individuals have metabolic dysfunction along with 80% of obese individuals. Visceral fat, abdominal fat around internal organs such as the liver, is the culprit to metabolic disease. TOFI, an acronym for thin-outside-fat-inside, is a term used to describe people who have the appearance of being thin, but have visceral fat that is causing problems with their metabolic health. The waist-to-hip ratio is a good measure of visceral fat and risk for metabolic syndrome.
So what is causing the rise in visceral fat over the past 30 years? It turns out that multiple factors have been implicated in the problem, but sugar is a major contributor. Sugar and sugar equivalents have found their way into 80% of packaged foods. So, even if you are not a regular soda drinker and you consume moderate amounts of packaged foods, you are most likely consuming an unhealthy amount of sugar. It turns out that overconsumption of calories from sugar wreaks havoc on the metabolic system. All calories are not created equal… “a calorie is not a calorie.” Robert explains the science of how sugar is metabolized in the body and converted into fat as well as how obesity impacts insulin and leptin resistance creating a negative feedback cycle.
Robert compels his readers that this is something we all should care about regardless of our weight. Indeed, the overweight and obese can improve their metabolic health by reducing their weight by just 7-10%. Additionally, normal weight individuals with metabolic health issues need to be just as vigilant about the foods they are eating as their overweight and obese counterparts. And the people who are currently healthy must continue to eat right to retain their metabolic health.
Here are some of Robert’s suggestions of how to protect your health:
- Stop outsourcing your food choices to the food industry. The food industry cares about profit rather than the health of its customers and the industry has been profiting hand over fist by selling you their products.
- Eat real food defined as whole foods—food from their original source.
- Read nutrition labels vigilantly to understand what was done to the food product.
- Create a healthy food environment in the home by removing unhealthy foods and beverages.
- Cook from whole foods and prepare homemade lunches for children (most school meals are made from unhealthy food products and ingredients and serve sugar-sweetened beverages like flavored milk or juice).
- Don’t drink your calories except for milk. Quench your thirst with water and eat your calories.
- Don’t drink juice—eat the fruit (whole fruit has fiber that slows down the absorption of sugar while 100% fruit juice lacks fiber and is loaded with natural sugar).
- Reduce your sugar and sugar equivalent intake to the American Heart Association guidelines.
- Exercise to build muscle and increase insulin sensitivity and energy expenditure.
Q & A’s from the recent Fat Chance media tour
Q: Roughly 80 percent of all packaged foods in the United States contain added sweeteners. Sugar is everywhere—is it all that bad?
A: The problem is “refined sugar”—that is, the stuff like high-fructose corn syrup and regular table sugar, made up of glucose and fructose—which has been stripped of any nutritional value. Processed food is full of refined sugar, and it has detrimental effects: The fructose in it gets turned into liver fat, which can prevent the liver from processing insulin properly. This may lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, which puts you at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Naturally occurring fructose in fruit comes with a boatload of fiber, which limits its absorption. Refined sugar has no fiber. You absorb it all immediately — that’s how the damage is done.
Q: How did we get hooked on sugary foods to begin with?
A: We’re biologically programmed to like sweets—our tongues and brains know that no food on the planet is both sweet and poisonous. It was a test for our hunting-and-gathering ancestors: If a food is sweet, it won’t kill you. It’s ironic because that’s exactly what sugar is doing to us now.
Q: What should we be eating?
A: Real food! That’s it. If it came out of the ground, or it’s from an animal that ate what came out of the ground, you’re good to go. But if a human processed it in between, either something was added, usually sugar, or something was removed, most likely fiber and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. The key for most people is reducing insulin, and to do that, you have to put back fiber into your diet and cut back on refined carbohydrates and sugar. If you’re buying food that has a nutrition label, it’s been processed. And if any form of sugar is one of the first three ingredients, consider it a dessert. When I was a kid, we had dessert once a week. Now we have it once a meal, and it’s almost always processed. That’s the problem.
Q. You write that the obesity epidemic arose from food becoming an addictive substance and a commodity. Why has this happened?
A. “Sugar is weakly addictive and has hijacked our biochemistry: 80 percent of American supermarket foods are now laced with added sugar. As [processed food manufacturers] took fat out and put sugar in, we bought more. Also, the way you make food storable—and cheaper—is to get rid of the fiber. Ultimately this is a fight between your wallet and your health.”
Refer to these news links for more on Dr. Robert Lustig’s book Fat Chance:
- CBS This Morning: 2/13/2013
- Forum with Michael Krasny: 1/28/2013
- Commonwealth Club of San Francisco Podcast: 1/24/2013
- Chicago Tribune: 1/17/2013
- Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN: 1/16/2013
- Science Friday: 1/11/2013
- Time: 12/27/2012
- Oprah: 12/17/2012
Andrea Bloom, Founder and CEO, ConnectWell
Lori Arden, Director Client Outreach, ConnectWell