Why is This Sugar Epidemic Happening?
So how did this sugar epidemic happen? How did we drop dietary fat, but gained body fat instead?
While there are quite a few contributing factors, there are a few key details that have made such a major impact in this obesity epidemic.
The decision to cut our fat by 25% was made primarily based on the testimony and data of a multi-linear regression formula that Ancel Keys created in his Seven Countries Study. Keys was a scientist at the University of Minnesota, which embarrasses me being I grew up there. He is considered the father of the Mediterranean Diet and this study ended up getting his face on the cover of Time Magazine.
As I also mentioned, Keys showed that cardiovascular disease increased as dietary fat intake increased as well across seven countries with the US being the worse example of high fat intake. While this study became well publicized and the foundation for the decision to cut dietary fat, it honestly wasn’t complete.
It was poor science.
What Keys didn’t take into account was that sugar would increase with the rate of the dietary fat in foods. A good example would be a donut, which is high in fat and sugar.
As Dr. Robert Lustig mentions in Sugar: The Bitter Truth, “You have to do it both ways. You have to hold fat constant showing that sugar doesn’t work, and then you have to hold sucrose constant and show that fat still works. He (Keys) didn’t do it (show the second test of holding sucrose constant). He didn’t do the thing you need to do to measure a multi-variate linear regression analysis.”
Simply put, Keys didn’t show that either fat, sugar, or both were causing the high rate of heart disease.
Robb Wolf, the research biochemist author of The Paleo Solution, mentions that the Seven Countries Study actually had quite a few more country results that ran contrary to this belief of “high fat equals high risk of cardiovascular disease”.
In reality, with each of the seven countries that Keys listed growing in fat consumption, more than likely each of these countries also increased in sugar consumption.
Last post, we talked about the political pressure that Nixon and Butz put on stabilizing (or lowering) food prices to assure the re-election. The creation of cheaper HFCS gave them an avenue to help their goal.
George McGovern and his government committee of crusaders were out to stop malnutrition, which was a worthy cause. Unfortunately in their attempt to help malnutrition, they heard testimony from Ancel Keys on this subject and carried out sweeping action for low-fat diets.
Again all of this was a perfect storm to promote sugar and grains to solve the malnutrition and food pricing issues. They now had the “scientific evidence” to take action.
The poster child of this monstrosity was the unveiling of that classy Food Pyramid. Oh boy!
It tells you to do about the exact opposite of what you should be doing when eating food.
Thank goodness the Food Pyramid was replaced by a slightly less terrible Michelle Obama Food Quadrant thing called My Plate (yes a bit sarcastic there). Even as evidence and scientist opinions piled up against this low-fat campaign, it was forced through like pork in a vegan’s mouth.
This shaky Keys study is what we based 40 plus years of nutrition on. “America! Bleep Yeah!”
Sounds like some collective junk punches are in order.
Well we took a stab at it. 40 years later with an obesity epidemic consuming our world, we should probably admit we failed, admit a sugar epidemic and move on to something that works.
High Sugar Diet, Actually is a High Fat Diet
We talked before about how high LDL is associated with cardiovascular disease. LDL isn’t the cholesterol itself, but the particle that transfers it around in the bloodstream. Think of LDL like the ship that carries the cargo of fat (triglycerides) and cholesterol to the shore.
LDL does play a role in cardiovascular disease, but not what you may think. There are actually two types of LDL: large, buoyant and small, dense. Large, buoyant LDL, which is created by dietary fat, actually floats. It can’t get stuck in the reefs, called the endothelial cells of the arteries, along the way.
Small, dense LDL, which is created by carbs and sugar, on the other hand is like the small ship particle carrying fat and cholesterol that gets caught in the reefs, or arteries. Many of these “little ships” or small, dense LDL get caught under the endothelial cell layer and start forming plaque. You start crashing a bunch of ships in an open path; it is going to make it hard for other ships to pass through. This plaque is what blocks your arteries and makes it very hard for blood to flow through causing high blood pressure and eventually a heart attack.
The irony is that in an attempt to stop fat accumulation and diseases in the body, the American government unknowingly (or maybe knowingly) stopped what they thought was “The Monster”, for an even worse monster in sugar. It is like locking up a panda, to free a T-Rex.
When we consume fructose (sugar), nearly 30% of the fructose that goes through your body is converted to fat. Glucose, which comes from a variety of food sources, on the other hand stores very little as fat according to a study called Regulation of Hepatic De Novo Lipogenesis in Humans by Marc Hellerstein in the Annual Review of Nutrition. De novo lipogenesis is just a fancy name for the process of how carbs are converted into fat.
The irony of it all is that a high sugar diet is really the highest fat diet we could possibly have.
Sugar is Addictive
Eric Stice, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute has done studies that have shown that sugar stimulates our mind in a way that is very similar to that of crack cocaine.
Yeah I said…crack cocaine.
As soon as sugar hits your tongue, it automatically triggers increased levels of blood that runs to certain regions of your brain. In fact, even thinking about sugar can start the release of insulin levels shooting up. This is a huge reason why we have a sugar epidemic.
Dopamine, which is a chemical produced in the brain, is then released saying that sugar consumption is a very good thing. Dopamine creates a feeling of euphoria or “awesomeness” as I like to call it. What is interesting is that this is the same chemical that releases when we do hard core drugs like crack or drinking alcohol.
Now what makes this also as concerning is as we eat more sugar we build up a tolerance just like a drug user. The more you eat, the less you feel the reward. So in order to get that buzz you have to keep hiking up the quantity of sugar in order to achieve the same satisfaction.
What makes this worse is that as we mentioned before, the hormone chemical called leptin usually tells your brain that you are full. But when you throw in a bunch of sugar, is stops responding.
Leptin is produced by fat cells and cells lining the wall of the stomach. The leptin produced in the stomach tells you that you are full. When you eat fructose, it jacks up your insulin levels. The higher your insulin goes, the less your brain can recognize leptin. So your brain keeps thinking it is starving.
The lack of leptin and the increase of dopamine to the brain is an evil 1-2 combo that would terrify even Muhammad Ali. Now you see why this turns into a vicious cycle and an epic sugar epidemic where we have to eat more and more sugar to try to fill the need.
Fructose and Sugar Are the Same: Equally Terrible
One of the bad assumptions that was made and that we bought into was that high fructose corn syrup was somehow better for you than sucrose because it had less fructose. In reality cane sugar or table sugar, the white stuff known as sucrose, is the exact same as high fructose corn syrup.
They are chemically bonded a bit differently, but they both have fructose in it. Each has about 50% fructose. Sucrose is indexed in sweetness at 100. High fructose corn syrup, which is 42-55% fructose, is rated at a 120 level of sweetness. You would think we eat less Fructose then, but we don’t. While sucrose has dropped in usage, HFCS has countered that. Our combined usage of sucrose and HFCS is more than what we have ever consumed when it was just sucrose.
So not only is high fructose corn syrup sweeter, but now we even consume more of it than we did when we ate just sucrose. So while they are both similar, that also means they both have similar terrible results on our body. They both spike insulin levels. They both help to retain more fat in your body. And both do a terrible job of trying to satiate our needs for food, so we end up eating more and more calories.
Only our livers can attempt to handle fructose and utilize it or try to maintain it. Fructose is converted as glucose by the liver and then stored as glycogen. Depending on the dose of fructose this can be toxic and flood the liver along with glucose causing insulin resistance which will lead to obesity.
As a side note, obesity is a huge symptom of metabolic syndrome along with diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is the natural breakdown of our body that causes a high risk for those major chronic diseases like heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, neurological disorders and many others. These are all a part of the top 10 killers that we talked about earlier in the post. Sugar is a major cause of all of these life killers.
Prevention Magazine and the CDC mention that 75 million Americans have metabolic syndrome. That is about 1 in 4 people in America. So if you have a family of four, there is a high chance someone you love already has this. See how this is so widespread? It does more than cigarettes or alcohol could do on their own. Sugar brings on a host of so many damaging diseases that it almost seems unstoppable.
This whole process happens even more rapidly with sugar consumption. Oxidation happens when there are high levels of fructose just like glucose. The only difference is that it is intensified and forms 7 times the AGEs or “advanced glycation end products”, which damage our cells and leads to advanced aging. This means more diseases and now at a faster rate. It is like an accelerating virus covering the globe. (Sorry to be all doomsday like)
Fructose’s Sibling Named Ethanol
What is even more telling is that fructose is so closely related to ethanol, which is in alcohol. Ethanol is created by fermented sugar, which is really the same thing as fructose. Not only are they chemically similar, but they also have similar results such as hypertension, obesity, insulin resistance, and addiction.
Seeing these types of similarities should start to freak you out now. Think of all the restrictions we have had on alcohol over the years. Compare that to the lack of restrictions on sugar and it gets a bit scary.
Now before you start fuming at me, I know that sugar doesn’t make most people as inebriated and there is a lot less harm by eating sugar and driving compared to drinking and driving. I am also not saying we should make it illegal for kids to eat sugar, but we wouldn’t give a beer to our kids right? Maybe we should hold back a bit on the cake and ice cream. Think of how much sugar in drinks and food we feed to kids unknowingly from such an early age. Sugar is everywhere and we are so excited to eat it. Now you can see why sugar has silently become our worst addiction possible and what I believe is the major cause for so many of our diseases. As Dr. Lustig plainly states, “Sugar is a toxin”.
Fructose and Fiber
So you may start thinking…wait what about fruit and vegetables? They also have fructose in them. Are they bad too?
No there is a huge difference.
Remember we talked about how fiber has been removed from food by food corporations to help package and sell it? You should because I asked you to remember it last post. Well fiber is one of the major differences between fruit and vegetables versus sugar.
Fruit and vegetables have much needed nutrients as well as one key ingredient: fiber. For a long time we genetically were attracted to fructose like a Hollywood movie star. There is a reason we go out of our way to get it and feel so good after we eat it.
We are supposed to have it.
But Mother Nature was kind enough to make it in the form of natural foods with fiber, not processed and chemically altered foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose.
By having fiber in fruit and vegetables it helps to slow the digestion of fructose and satiate the body, or let leptin, that satiating hormone, do its job. Fiber also helps slow down the insulin spikes that tend to happen with grains and sugar. Less insulin spiking means lower risk of metabolic syndrome or diabetes, heart disease, and getting a stroke.
In our neck breaking lifestyles we continue to buy food without fiber in it and companies are willing to sell more of it. We are, in essence, trading our lives for dollars. Start finding ways to replace the sugar with more fruit and vegetables.
Where is the Sugar that is Causing this Sugar Epidemic?
So where is all of this stuff?
Well remember how we removed fat and started to process more food in mass quantity? Since we eat a ton of processed, low fat food it is in a TON of food that we eat.
It could be in everything you eat.
We are talking about places you wouldn’t even think like
- cottage cheese,
- low fat treats,
- microwave dinners,
- peanut butter, and
- countless other foods.
It can easily feel overwhelming to consider how many foods contain some form of this toxin.
Why has this been allowed to happen? It goes back to the fact that sugar is cheap and it helps to preserve food while giving it taste. It doesn’t hurt that it is addictive so it keeps people coming back for more.
This is why poor civilized communities tend to be more obese than wealthy communities according to CDC surveys and many other studies. Cheap sugar and processed foods are even more abundant in lower-class communities, which lead to this malnutrition and obesity. This is why poverty-stricken parents are obese while their kids are skinny. They don’t eat much, but they eat the wrong things. Even if you are eating low amounts of calories, if your diet consists of a high quantity of sugar then you will get obese.
The problem is that we haven’t even scratched the surface on how bad sugar is for you.
I Don’t Know if I Want to Know What’s Next!
We have talked about how addictive sugar is and how poor it is for you. This is all short term. We haven’t even dug deeply into the long-term problems like metabolic syndrome. In the next post, we will talk about some of the damaging long-term effects that sugar can place on your life.
Just a warning…your probably not going to like what you see.