Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hey Sugar

That's not a compliment, I'm afraid. I've been riding this hobbyhorse for a while. I'm happy to say the world is coming around to the point of view with which I have been allied -- sugar is among the greatest curses of civilization. Gary Taubes of the Nutrition Science Initiative discusses the history of obesity research in the new BMJ.

Here's the basic setup. Yes, we know that given the basic laws of physics, you can only gain weight if you consume more calories than you burn (and excrete, although that's presumed to be a minor issue in caloric balance). So, the prescription to prevent or treat obesity has long been simply eat less, exercise more.

But that doesn't say anything about the question of why people eat more than they need and store fat. We've heard a lot of talk lately about the "obesogenic" environment -- more sedentary jobs, sitting around in front of computer screens instead of going out and playing ball, and the availability of cheap, high calorie food. Fair enough but . . .

There has long been a hypothesis, prominent in continental Europe prior to WWII but largely forgotten since, that consuming a lot of carbohydrate, and particularly glucose and fructose, directly affects metabolism such that the body stores calories as fat without signalling satiety of hunger. In a nutshell, it's not just that sugary drinks are added, empty calories: they also go straight to the midsection while leaving you hungry. There is an ancillary hypothesis that once you have excess adiposity, the fat cells themselves stimulate storage of additional fat.

Taubes argues that we have largely forgotten this because after WWII the language of science became English, and the largely German language literature based on these ideas was no longer widely read. Maybe so but we sorta kinda have known it, we just haven't connected the dots. I have written before about the  glycemic index. Eating sugar in the absence of dietary fiber and protein causes a spike in blood sugar, followed by a spike in insulin, followed by an overcorrection and a drop in blood sugar, then you're hungry again . . .  This is the proximal cause of Type 2 diabetes, but maybe also a proximal cause of obesity. Starches also have this effect, but to a lesser degree, and they are typically consumed as part of a complete meal which moderates the glycemic spike.

I won't go further into the complexities of this. It is known that prescribing a carbohydrate restricted diet, rather than just telling people to eat less, works better at promoting weight loss in the short run, which supports the hypothesis. The trouble is that people don't often stick to carbohydrate restricted diets for the long term. But, getting sugar water out of the food supply would make it a lot easier.

Why haven't we done the research to prove this and take advantage of it to fight the obesity and diabetes epidemics? Because the "food" industry pays for disinformation, just as the tobacco industry and fossil fuel industries have done and still do. They are evil.

Coca Cola is poison, just like methamphetamine. Stay away.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Great post. It is hard to fight against the industrial food production system, but small gains have been made. This (excess carbs) is part one of the problem. Part two is the demonization of fat and the omega 6 overuse (like canola oil, an industrial lubricant remarketed as food). Support pastured animals!