Sweet Revenge – Turning the Tables on Processed Food

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Dr. Robert H. Lustig, host of Sweet Revenge and Frederick J. Ferrer, CEO of The Health Trust, on the set of Sweet Revenge
By Robert H. Lustig, M.D.,  M.S.L.

A calorie is a calorie. That’s the mantra. From that comes: calories in, calories out; gluttony and sloth; diet and exercise; and the most pernicious — if you’re fat it’s your fault. And the food industry has its corollary: any calorie can be part of a balanced diet. Here’s the real scoop: the quantity of food can make you fat, but it’s the quality of the food that will make you sick. And sick is where the money goes. Diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid problems, heart disease, fatty liver disease, cancer, dementia. These are the diseases of “metabolic syndrome”. These are the diseases that will kill you. And these are the diseases of processed food. Everyone thinks it’s about the calories, because overconsumption of total calories drives obesity. Yet we humans have a hormone called leptin, made by our fat cells, which is supposed to tell our brain to stop eating. But leptin now doesn’t work, which leads to “brain starvation”, and which is why 33% of America is obese. Why did leptin stop working? And why do 80% of obese people get metabolic syndrome but 20% do not; and why do 40% of normal weight people also get metabolic syndrome? Obesity prevalence is increasing worldwide by 1% per year, while diabetes prevalence is increasing by 4% per year. Obesity doesn’t explain diabetes. Rather, the quality of those calories determines whether you suffer from metabolic syndrome.

These are the diseases of processed food. Everyone thinks it’s about the calories, because overconsumption of total calories drives obesity. Yet we humans have a hormone called leptin, made by our fat cells, which is supposed to tell our brain to stop eating. But leptin now doesn’t work, which leads to “brain starvation”, and which is why 33% of America is obese. Why did leptin stop working? And why do 80% of obese people get metabolic syndrome but 20% do not; and why do 40% of normal weight people also get metabolic syndrome? Obesity prevalence is increasing worldwide by 1% per year, while diabetes prevalence is increasing by 4% per year. Obesity doesn’t explain diabetes. Rather, the quality of those calories determines whether you suffer from metabolic syndrome.There are eight things wrong with processed food to cause metabolic syndrome, unrelated to their effects on obesity: three things too little, and five things too much.

1. Too little fiber
Fiber forms a gelatinous barrier along the intestinal wall, which delays the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients — and that’s good. This limits the blood sugar rise, which limits the insulin response, which limits how much energy is stored in fat cells. When you consume fiber, you absorb less calories.

2. Too few micronutrients
Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; all of which prevent cellular damage.Once the produce is picked, frozen, cooked, or canned, the antioxidants start to decompose.

3. Too few omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, made by algae and found in wild fish and flaxseed, are both anti-inflammatory and anti-Alzheimer’s.

4. Too many omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids, found in seed oils and corn-fed animals (meat, poultry, farmed fish) instead drives inflammation, an important component of metabolic syndrome. Nutritionists suggest that our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be approximately 1:1. Currently our ratio is about 25:1.

5. Too many trans-fats
Trans-fats are synthetic fats that are added to food to prevent spoilage, as they don’t go rancid. The problem is, we can’t metabolize them! So they line our livers and our arteries. The good news is that the FDA ruled that trans-fats are not “generally recognized as safe” anymore, so they should disappear from the American food supply.

6. Too many branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s)
BCAA’s (valine, leucine, and isoleucine, from corn-fed beef, chicken, and fish) are essential amino acids that help build protein, such as muscle. If you’re either growing or body-building, then BCAA’s are good. But if you’re not, you don’t need much. Excess BCAA’s turn into liver fat and impair insulin signaling, driving metabolic syndrome and inhibiting leptin.

7. Too much alcohol
Excess alcohol is turned into liver fat, driving high blood triglycerides (which cause heart disease), insulin resistance, and the leptin problem which foments increased food consumption.

8. Too much sugar
This is the Elephant in the Kitchen. Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), are everywhere. Of the 600,000 food items in the American grocery store, 74% are spiked with added sugar. Two recent studies show that sugar causes type 2 diabetes unrelated to its calories. And we now have data that show that when kids are fed for 10 days the same number of calories (with no change in weight) but the sugar is taken out of their diet, their metabolic syndrome reverses.

So is it quantity or quality? Actually, the quality determines the quantity. Because processed food causes insulin resistance, which makes you fat and sick and makes you eat more. A calorie is not a calorie. Food should confer wellness, not illness. The only answer to all eight of these problems is to eat REAL FOOD.

Robert H. Lustig, M.D., M.S.L. is Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of “Fat Chance: the bitter truth about sugar”, “Sugar Has 56 Names: a shoppers guide”, and the just released “The Fat Chance Cookbook.

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The Health Trust, Dr. Lustig Partner for Sweet Revenge

Last summer, Dr. Lustig partnered with The Health Trust and FIRST 5 Santa Clara County to host and produce the one-hour television program, Sweet Revenge – Turning the Tables on Processed Food, for Public Broadcast Station viewers and local station KQED.

The program aired nationwide last fall and is now being used in conjunction with a local mini-grants funding opportunity to inspire dialogue on healthy eating throughout Silicon Valley neighborhoods.
Using his background as a physician and scientist, Dr. Lustig presents his compelling research to demonstrate the significant relationship between added sugar consumption and the increased risk for various illnesses including cardiovascular disease.

For more information on Sweet Revenge – Turning the Tables on Processed Food visit http://www.responsiblefoods.org/sweet_revenge.