“You would never give your child a can of beer but you don’t think twice about giving them a can of soda,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist at UCSF and the founder of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition. He is fed up that so many children come to his clinic with diet-related disease, such as type 2 diabetes. His efforts to fix this epidemic are showcased in a public television special Sweet Revenge: Turning the Tables on Processed Food. Viewed by over one million people, the PBS program addresses health problems associated with our standard American diet and how this affects children and adults in the U.S. and worldwide. This page features the key topics discussed in the PBS program, and provides you with a concise study guide. Just click on the accordion bars below to access a brief summary of each topic.
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Quality Versus Quantity
Processed Food Environment
Myths about Nutrition
Debunked: Obesity results from the quality of food vs. quantity of food. “Obesity is a form of malnutrition, and today it comes from eating processed foods.” The American food supply has 600,000 items of which 71% are spiked with added sugar. Your body stores a larger percentage of fat with processed foods than it does with whole real foods. Americans consuming increased sugar translates to increased body mass. This increase in body mass increases young childhood chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes. “Now obesity is an epidemic in children; it’s an epidemic in toddlers; even in newborns.” Increase in birth weights worldwide result from increased amounts of sugar crossing the placenta in utero growing irreversible fat cells before birth.
Myth 2 – All calories are created equal.
Debunked: Where calories come from determine where they go or how they are metabolized and stored by the body. Foods higher in added sugar content (processed food) contain less fiber and result in a larger percentage of the calories being stored as fat. “Sugar in your food means fat in your liver, and eventually type 2 diabetes, once your internal metabolic function is overwhelmed.”
Myth 3: Obesity is cause of certain prevalent illnesses like diabetes
Debunked: In fact, more non-obese people than obese people have metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and other chronic disease. TOFI: thin on the outside fat on the inside. Up to 40% of normal weight people have the same diseases as obese people: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and more. “Obesity is increasing worldwide at the rate of one percent per year. But type 2 diabetes is increasing at the rate of four percent a year.” China and India have huge diabetes problems while their population is generally not considered obese. Metabolic disease results in malnutrition, especially when the majority of calories consumed are from processed foods. Processed foods are foods coming from jars, bottles, packages, it also includes fast and junk food. Processed foods increase fat in the liver, and “liver fat is a major risk factor for diabetes even if you don’t have a lot of visible body fat. Even if you can’t see the fat, it can still be there.”
What's Wrong with Processed Food?
How did we get here?
Where did all that sugar come from?
Sugar sources: Read your labels
Sugar should not be in the first 3 items on the list of ingredients, if it is, it should be treated as a dessert. There are at least 56 names that the food industry uses for processed sugars. Some of these include; fructose, dextrose, corn syrup solids, molasses, sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, puree.
Sugar is hidden in our food supply
Sugar is hidden in 40% of beverages including soft drinks, juices, alcohol. Calories should come primarily from your food intake rather than by drinking. “…sugar is like alcoholbecause it impacts the pleasure center of the brain in the same way and makes you want to consume more.” Juices are to children what alcohol is to adults – full of sugar and harmful calories. “Sugar is the alcohol of the child.” Both sugar and alcohol are metabolized exclusively in the liver and in excess, and both can lead to liver fat accumulation and metabolic syndrome.
Making a conscious effort of acknowledging where the sugar you are consuming is coming from will result in a decreasing of overall sugar consumption and allow you to dictate where you want to be consuming sugar, for example a dessert. Indulging yourself to a delicious dessert once a week is ok, as long as it is not an everyday indulgence. Make it worth it!
“Some sugars is right where you would expect it to be. But a lot of sugar is hiding in some unexpected places.” Now, we have desserts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Many foods that we thought were good for us actually contain way too much sugar.” Foods high in sugar include, ketchup, canned foods, salad dressings, premade sauces, cereals and granolas. “Pay for real food now, or pay for the medical costas later. That’s your choice.”
Effects of added sugar on health and commerce
Hormones Regulating Food Intake
ABCs of our hormones
Short term signaling hormones
This is when the second short term hormone comes into play; peptide YY. Peptide YY is made at the end of the large intestine and it referred to as the “satiety hormone.” This hormone signals to the brain, “Not another bite. I’ve had enough. I’ll die before I’ll eat again.” You do not get the signal that you are full for a full 20 minutes after you have started eating. It is recommended to take your time while eating to allow peptide YY to tell you brain that you are satisfied.
Long term signaling hormones
The final hormone is called leptin, which is made in fat cells. Leptin is called the starvation hormone, “when you have enough energy stored up in your fat cells, your leptin levels are higher.” The hormone sends a signal to the brain by traveling through your bloodstream saying “hey I don’t need to eat so much. I’ve got enough energy on board,” which results in you decreasing your food intake. Leptin helps regulate your appetite this way.
Problems posed by processed sugars and processed foods on hormone regulation
The first problem is posed by processed sugars and processed foods on hormone regulation. Too much sugar creates too much insulin, which overwhelms the liver and causes it to store fat. Increased blood sugar puts us at increased risk for large vessels diseases like diabetes, cancer, etc.
The second problem is posed by the vicious cycle that is created by excess sugar in our diet that is wreaking havoc on our health. An increase of glucose results to increased insulin levels because of the increased sugar in bloodstream. This creates spikes in your blood glucose level, or blood sugar level. This increase of insulin blocks the leptin signal (starvation hormone) from reaching the brain – our brain does not receive the message of satiety, we do not know when we have had enough. As insulin is translated to more fat and leptin is blocked, we will find ourselves overeating which in turn results in increased sugar and more fat stored. Without leptin signal, your brain thinks you are starving so you continue eating and consuming more sugar, creating more insulin- thus the vicious cycle continues. Buying fresh, organic fruits and vegetables can regulate your appetite, prevent insulin levels from spiking and stop the many negative side effects that result from consuming processed foods and sugars. Buying locally sourced produce will support your community and local farmers markets. Strive for variety!
Alcohol and sugar act similarly in the body. They are both metabolized exclusively in the liver and in excess they both lead to liver fat accumulation and therefore both can cause metabolic syndrome. Sugar and alcohol are similar also because they both impact the pleasure center of the brain in the same way and make you want to consume more. You would not give a child a beer but will not think twice about handing them a juice or soda; the fructose in the drink acts like alcohol in the body. “Sugar is the alcohol of the body.”
“Obesity is brain starvation.” Obese people are not being fed properly. Increased insulin blocks leptin, the brain never receives the “I’m full signal”, so we over consume sugar filled product.
How can you reverse diabetes?
Real food for optimal health
- Cut back on sugar intake by eating real food.
- Read food labels, if sugar in any form is in the first 3 ingredients move on to another item. Remember to inspect labels on ketchup, sauces, breads, desserts, breakfast foods and beverages that are in your cart.
- Do not grocery shop while you are hungry.
- Avoid all processed foods, “if it comes with a label, it’s a warning label, because real food doesn’t need a label.”
- Shop the edges of the market, most foods on the inner aisles are processed. Stick to produce and meat departments on the outer aisles.
- Stick with wild caught fish, grass fed beef and eggs from free range chicken. Other types are corn fed to get the animal fat fast to market faster and to increase profits. The increased fat is passed onto the consumer.
- Buy organic when possible.
- Avoid partially hydrogenated, which is code for trans fat which are extremely dangerous to put in our bodies.
- Eat whole grains, avoid “enriched or unbleached grains” Whole grains contain fiber. Fiber makes you feel faster sooner, regulates blood sugar and also slows down absorption to protect your liver. “No insulin, no diabetes.”
- Brown rice instead of white rice
- Steel cut oats instead of prepacked oats
- Barley, faro, quinoa.
Remember, if it comes out of the ground it is good. It generally has low glycemic levels and high fiber. If not, analyze what processes it has gone through.
Try avoiding all processed foods and sugary beverages. Your diet should be primarily composed of real and whole foods. Doing so will promote your health and reverse disease. By adjusting your sugar intake, hormones will be working for you rather than against you. Maintaining an energy balanced diet means that you can still occasionally indulge in dessert; planning ahead and making it a weekly event will decrease the chance for deviations.
Lastly, take it slow! Plan your meals, take your time, eat with friends and just enjoy your food. “The best revenge is eating well.”
10 Day Real Food Challenge
One easy way to cut out the processed foods is to take the 10 Day Real Food Challenge.
A recent study led by Robert Lustig, MD, showed that by simply removing fructose (from added sugar) from the diet for 10 days, liver fat reduced by nearly 30%. This occurred without any reduction in calories in the diets of the test subjects. Why is this important? A fatty liver is both a sick liver and a leading indicator for metabolic diseases (obesity, high blood glucose, high insulin, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure). Metabolic disease significantly increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes. A fatty liver can occur in anyone; it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, thin or overweight.
Ten days may not be long enough to completely overhaul your diet, but it will leave you with positive momentum and a social network to help get you there; one that can provide you with support and encouragement along your health journey.
It is fun, easy, and educational. Simply click here to begin!