The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Making America Fat: It’s Not the Burger, it’s the Bun

July 6th, 2010 · 9 Comments · Posted in food news

Guess which part of this burger makes you fat

Guess which part of this burger makes you fat

It’s been a while since I ranted about carbohydrates and our misplaced fear of fat. But there’s been a rip-tide of press lately confirming what some of us already knew: it’s not the fat in our diet that’s making Americans obese, but the way we gorge on carbohydrates, and especially refined carbohydrates like bread and cookies and cake, and the sugar in all the sodas and chocolate milk we drink.
Dr. Andrew Weil published a great piece on this recently at Huffington Post where he referenced the best text on actual fat science, Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”
A second blog at Huffington Post references research from Harvard Medical school pointing a finger at insulin, the fat storage hormone that is stimulated by carbohydrate consumption. This country really needs to drop the hysteria about fat and start a national conversation on insulin and its relationship with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Finally, I just watched a brilliant lecture by Robert Lustig, an endocrinology professor at University of California, San Francisco, about fructose (read high-fructose corn syrup) and how it has become the engine driving weight gain in the American diet. The lecture has been on YouTube for not quite a year and has nearly 500,000 views. Says Lustig: Pay no attention to what the corn refiners say. High fructose corn syrup is not benign because it is the same as sugar. In fact, high-fructose corn syrup is just as poisonous as regular sugar. It disrupts liver function and stimulates our bodies to eat and store fat. Lustig shows exactly how fructose is linked to metabolic syndrome: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease.
No, a calorie is not a calorie and exercise is not the solution to your weight problem. It’s about the types of food we eat, and how we are killing ourselves with cheap carbs and especially sugar and sodas. Stop drinking fruit juice! Have an apple instead. Eat your burger without the bun. Trade that bowl of pasta for a grassfed steak. Even better, have a nice fillet of wild-caught Alaskan salmon smothered in bearnaise sauce.

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  • bronwyn

    You write:
    “Says Lustig: Pay no attention to what the corn refiners say. High fructose corn syrup is not metabolised the same as ordinary sugar.”

    Did you listen to the same lecture I did when I followed your link?

    I heard (from 0:19:00-0:20:18) “But indeed, this is true, high fructose corn syrup is exactly the same as sucrose, they are both equally bad, they are both dangerous, they are both poison”.

    You are aware that ordinary sugar is sucrose? I went to listen to the lecture because I couldn’t believe that any reputable scientist would say what you said he said, and it turns out he didn’t.

  • Ed Bruske

    Thanks for the correction, Bronwyn. What I meant to say was, fructose is not the same as glucose, the form of sugar the body manufacturers when we eat carbohydrates. And you’re right: whether it’s high-fructose corn syrup or table sugar, they both are poisons that cause obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. I have corrected the text.

  • bronwyn

    I didn’t say I agreed with him though!
    I’m a firm believer in moderation in all things. We are all too prone these days to want to apportion blame on others. It would be lovely if we could sit on our butts and eat all we wanted without gaining weight, but that is not the case. There is no magic bullet. We all need to realise that we need to exercise more and eat less. Particularly less sugar, but HFCS is no worse than the others. It’s about the same as honey, just much cheaper.

  • Ed Bruske

    There wasn’t much in the lecture to disagree with. He wasn’t presenting a matter of opinion. When he says fructose (or sugar) is “poison,” he means, literally, that the body treats it–metabolizes it–as a toxin, in the liver, and all sorts of bad consequences ensue. He gives many good reasons for exercise, especially to activiate insulin receptor cells. But he argues that bio-chemical mechanisms are more important in the accumulation of fat than thermodynamics (calories in/calories out). Fructose (sugar) explains the epidemic of obesity since the 1970s because it short-circuits appetite control mechanisms. We are consuming far more calories–from sodas, juices and the use of fructose in so many processed foods–than our bodies would normally have any appetite for if the calories were coming from more traditional types of foods.

  • bronwyn

    I agree that you in America are doing all the things he says. We in New Zealand are also having an obesity epidemic, however, and we do NOT consume the amount of sugar that you do. Not by a very long way. What we have is a tradition of eating high fat foods, and we are becoming much more sedentary.

    Also, my degree is in biochemistry, I’ve worked in a university biochemistry department for over 20 years, and have heard many many lectures/seminars/discussions on metabolism. My opinion of Robert Lustig is that he is taking a very one-sided view. I have seen some of his replies to people who question him and was unimpressed. He ignores any evidence that does not support his viewpoint, and exaggerates that which does. He has his idea and he is sticking to it no matter what. This is dangerous in a scientist, it leads to the sort of thing we saw recently in England with the autism/vaccination debacle.

    When it comes down to it, the best diet is the one that has an appropriate calorie count and that you can stick to for the rest of your life. If low-carb, high fat allows you to keep your calorie intake down then that is obviously the diet for you. Many people can’t though, we are not all the same. It is just not true that everyone can eat as much fat and protein as they like and lose weight. Some people like to eat a great deal more fat and protein than others do, and they will continue to gain weight unless they eat less.

    The diet that suits me, for instance, is relatively high in protein, lots of fibre, a little fat, and I treat myself to some carbs in the form of rice or bread (home made) once or twice a week. If I didn’t do that I’d crave them and end up bingeing. I’ve never had a sweet tooth, I’ve never eaten more processed food than maybe a burger once or twice a year, and if I let myself eat as much fat as I wanted I’d balloon. Fat is my weakness.

  • Ed Bruske

    Bronwyn, the best independent account I know of is Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” which embraces the same science Lustig advocates. It’s been confirmed for me in spades through my own personal experience with diet. But of course you’re right: you can’t eat unlimited quantities of anything and expect to maintain your weight. Lustig, it should be noted, does not advocate a low-carb diet. But he has singled out sugar as a particularly pernicious factor in the obesity problem. As he says, it’s difficult to explain otherwise an epidemic of obese toddlers. I do believe sugar has largely been given a pass in the nutrition debate, at the expense of fat, which is an essential macro-nutrient. To each his own.

  • Chantal

    I just wanted to say that i do not believe that everyting in moderation is good for you……i am so tired to hear people say that, i think people say that everyting in moderation is good for you just so that they do not have to make any effort to change.
    I tell people who tell me that the following….think of your body as your vehicule…if i peed in your gas tank just a little bit, would your car run the same….your body is your vehicule, the food you eat is your fuel…the higher quality the fuel the better the results. Sugar is not a good quality fuel.

  • Brad

    No one said everything in moderation is “Good” for you.. but it’s OK. In other words, if you eat a balanced diet and exercise, you CAN drink soda, eat some chips, or bad stuff in moderation and be fine. I’m in good health, good weight. I eat right and I exercise. If I want a soda once in a while, I have one, or have some cake at a birthday party, have some chips with lunch, etc.

    That’s all that was intended.. not saying these things are good for you, but as long as they’re kept in moderation and soda isn’t a staple of your diet (like it is for many Americans), there’s no big deal. That being said, sugar and carbs aren’t the enemy, it’s people not knowing how to balance everything out.. eating more of the right things, exercising, and sparingly enjoying the bad things.

  • Rick in Texas

    My dear wife can eat anything with sugar as an ingredient but if she digests anything with corn sugar in the ingredient list it makes her ill.
    It ain’t the same despite the recent TV commercial.