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Interesting Information: Sugar and Inflammation

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Interesting Information:  November 22, 2013

Sugar and Inflammation

Ellen Davis promotes ketogenic diets, which is a diet where fats provide most of the calories.  She has an article in the July/August 2012 issue of Well Being Journal entitled “Ketogenic Diets:  A Key to Excellent Health” (20-23).  Davis supports the ketogenic diet because she used it to reverse her own metabolic syndrome and to regain her health.  In the process, she lost over 80 pounds.  Her web site is www.healthy-eating-politics.com.  (I’ve written about metabolic syndrome in the essays on this blog.)

I am drawn to more of a balanced diet approach–as long as there are not digestive issues.  If there are digestive issues, then one needs to eat in a healing way for some time.  This ketogenic diet is very like Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s GAPS protocol–which has a lot of good science and clinical practice results behind it.  (GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and there are essays on this blog about GAPS.)

I do think that most Americans are eating way, way too many carbs–that their eating so many carbs is out-of-balance and is causing chronic disease.  (This statement does not address, also, the toll that toxic poisons in and on American foods, takes.)

And I do think that eating a lot of carbs is causing inflammation in the body–which is one root cause of disease.  For instance, Davis points out that a bagel “breaks down into about sixteen teaspoons of sugar in the bloodstream” (21).  So if you are going to eat one, be sure to put a lot of cream cheese or butter on it to help cut the sugar load–just as you would with a baked potato.  And remember that the cream cheese or the butter is not going to make you fat, but that the bagel will because it turns to sugar in your system.

Davis writes that “oxidative stress is what causes metal to rust, and cooking oils to go rancid when exposed to the air.”  This oxidative stress “can create molecules called reactive oxygen species, or ROS.  These molecules, commonly called free radicals, are chemically reactive and can damage internal cellular structures” (21)

She writes that “if inflammation is present, excessive amounts of ROS are created and overwhelm the cell’s defenses, causing accelerated damage and eventually cell death.  This is why inflammation is linked with so many types of disease processes.”

So, food choices are very important, says Davis:  “…high-carbohydrate foods provide much more glucose than the human body can handle efficiently.  Blood glucose is basically liquid sugar, and if you have ever spilled fruit juice or syrup on your hands, you know how sticky it can be.  In the body, this stickiness’ is called glycation.”  The process of glycation starts a chain of events that increases inflammation and creates “substances called advanced glycation-end-products (AGEs)”–which “interfere with cellular function, and are linked to the progression of many disease processes, including Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and autism.”  The “higher the blood sugar, the more serious the damage” (21).  And I wonder if there is a connection between inflammation in the body and the start of cancer–which may get a toehold when the immune system is overloaded.

Davis quotes Ron Rosedale, MD, from his book Burn Fat, Not Sugar to Lose Weight:

“Health and lifespan are determined by the proportion of fat versus sugar people burn throughout their lifetime.  The more fat that one burns as fuel, the healthier the person will be, and the more likely they will live a long time.  The more sugar a person burns, the more disease ridden and the shorter a lifespan a person is likely to have.”

While I am always leery of MDs who are writing about nutrition–since most have had no nutritional training whatsoever–what Rosedale is saying about fat being healthy is a fit with Dr. Mary Enig’s stance on fat in Eat Fat, Lose Fat, written with Sally Fallon Morell, both of The Weston A. Price Foundation.  Dr. Enig is an internationally recognized expert on dietary fats, and I have written about her work in many places on this blog.

And Rosedale’s statement is a fit with Gary Taube’s work on the hormonal conditions caused by eating too many carbs, in Why We Get Fat.

So, there you have it…

Some interesting information…

Mainely Tipping Points 32: Fiber Menace

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Tipping Points 32:  Fiber Menace

FIBER MENACE

One of the most striking things I’ve discovered while researching food and health issues over the past few years is how often strong personalities (usually males with a fervent belief system and either money or political power) drastically change what we think is healthy to eat.  Science refuting belief is ignored, obfuscated, or denied.  And, when industry becomes involved, the changes are permanently cemented into cultural truth.  Such is the case with our current practice of overeating fiber.   

Konstantin Monastyrsky, in FIBER MENACE:  THE TRUTH ABOUT FIBER’S ROLE IN DIET FAILURE, CONSTIPATION, HEMORRHOIDS, IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME, ULCERATIVE COLITIS, CHROHN’S DISEASE, AND COLON CANCER (2008), identifyies Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) and John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) as agents of dietary change.  Graham, a Presbyterian minister who undoubtedly held the anti-body dictates of Calvinism, “prescribed a high-fiber vegetarian diet” to control lust” (1).  Graham believed men should not have sex until after they were 30 and then only once a month.  He believed white bread caused constipation and recommended “Graham” flour made from coarsely ground wheat.  Graham died alone, and Monastyrsky notes that Graham’s “abrasive, irritable personality” was likely a “manifestation of acute protein deficiency and unstable blood sugar” (1-2).

Kellogg, writes Monastyrsky, was a prominent physician, a celebrated surgeon, a successful entrepreneur, an author, a charitable man, and a health reformer.  Kellogg had a profound impact on the American diet since “he had the resources, the forum, the charisma, the conviction, and the authority to deliver his message over a long, long period of time and to lots and lots of people” (2).  Kellogg, like Graham, was obsessed with chastity and constipation.  He “never made love to his wife.”  To remedy masturbation, he “advocated circumcision without anesthetic for boys and mutilation of the clitoris with carbolic acid for girls.”  He believed constipation caused sexual desire as impacted stools stimulated the prostate gland or the vagina.  He proscribed a coarse vegetarian diet and bran and paraffin oil with every meal—which caused constant anal leakage along with the “decline of libido, functional impotence, and infertility” due to protein deficiencies.  Since he lived to be 91, Kellogg was likely “a typical hypocrite, who didn’t practice what he preached, sex or no sex” (2).

Kellogg’s namesake company is “still minting a fortune by peddling…sugared breakfast cereals fortified with fiber.”  In 2004 alone, the Kellogg Company spent over $3.5 billion just on ` promotional expenditures,’ “ so “no wonder fiber is still on everyone’s mind and in everyone’s stools….” (3).  And so, writes Monastyrsky, “if you believe that the introduction of fiber into the American diet came about as a result of thorough academic research, methodical clinical investigation, and penetrating peer reviews…it didn’t.  It’s actually based on profane sacrilege, fanatical misogynism, medieval prudishness, common quackery, crass commercialism, incomprehensible medical incompetence, and by the legal standards of today, negligence and malpractice” (3). 

There is, writes Monastyrsky, no scientific proof that high-fiber diets are healthy or aid constipation (13).  And a major text for gastroenterologists (ROME II) notes that “`there is little or no relationship between dietary fiber intake and whole gut transit time’ “ (114-115).

Indeed, there are reams of studies demonstrating that anything but “minor quantities of fiber from natural, unprocessed food” upsets the whole digestive chain in ways that leads to the problems listed in FIBER MENACE’s title (13).  Worse, many reputable studies show that high-fiber diets do not provide protection from the second largest cancer killer in the U.S.–colon cancer–and are probably a cause of it–information which has been largely ignored (180-187).  And, studies show that “carbohydrate intake…[is] positively associated with breast cancer risk.”  Yet, health authorities continue to insist that we eat more fiber, avoid meat and animal fat, eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink a lot of water (185).     

But, let’s back up for a moment.  Monastyrsky received medical training and a  pharmacology degree (1977) in Russia (Ukraine) before emigrating to the U.S. in 1978, where he embarked on a very successful career in technology, primarily on Wall Street.  Then, after years of eating a high-fiber vegetarian diet, he became very ill with diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, hemorrhoidal disease, and anal fissures.  He returned to his medical training and research skills to heal himself and  learned that his life-threatening condition often takes decades to develop. 

According to Monastyrsky’s web site (www.gutsense.org), he is a certified nutritional consultant and an expert in forensic nutrition, a new field of science that investigates the connection between supposedly healthy foods and nutrition-related disorders, such as diabetes and obesity.  Treatment is through nutritional intervention.  He’s written two best-selling books in Russian and FIBER MENACE and GUT SENSE in English.  His work is highly respected by the Weston A. Price Foundation and is a fit with other work denouncing the overeating of carbs, the loss or lack of gut flora and fauna (disbacteriosis), and the need to eat nutrient-dense foods for health—such as Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s GUT AND PSYCHOLOGY SYNDROME and Gary Taubes’ WHY WE GET FAT.

Monastyrsky explains the “evolutionary functions of each digestive organ” and notes that each organ specializes in a specific food group.  The mouth macerates and masticates flesh for we are “canine-wielding predators”; the stomach ferments and digests proteins; the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine) mixes chyme (a thick liquid without any solids that arrives from the stomach) with enzymes and absorbs water; the gallbladder uses bile to break down and assimilate fats; the jejunum and ileum (the last two sections of the small intestine) complete digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and absorb “their basic components (amino acids, fattly; acids, monosaccharides); and the large intestine recovers remaining water, nutrients and electrolytes, converts “liquid chyme to semi-solid stools,” and expels them (8-9). 

If this process is disturbed by an overabundance of indigestible fiber, the system struggles.  Malabsorption, where needed nutrients are not absorbed, occurs, which leads to malnutrition and disease.  Constipation and/or diarrhea occur, as does bloating and gas.  The stretched digestive system—a condition worsened by drinking water that makes fiber swell–begins to need more and more fiber to function.  The delicate tissues of the normally narrow anal canal are torn and scarred by too-large stools.  The lack of appropriate fats further compounds these disease conditions by causing stool impaction.  Intestines “bloated from inflammatory diseases caused by indigestible fiber” create hernias (28).       

Monastyrsky warns that a lot of fiber is hidden in fake processed foods under obscure names, like “cellulose, B-glucans, pectin, guar gum, cellulose gum, carrageen, agar-agar, hemicellulose, inulin, lignin, oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides, polydextrose, polylos, psyllium, resistant dextrin, resistant starch, and others.”  These factory made ingredients are derived from wood pulp, cotton, seaweed, husks, skins, seeds, tubers, and selected high-yield plants that aren’t suitable for human  consumption without extra processing” (18). 

So, what constitutes constipation?  Monastyrsky notes that mainstream medicine does not recognize constipation as the very serious condition that it is until it is too late and more extreme digestive conditions have developed.  If you’re not experiencing twice-daily easy and complete stools–Monastyrsky describes in detail what a healthy stool should look like using the UK’s Bristol Stool Form Scale—you might want to read FIBER MENACE. 

WARNING:  Monastyrsky warns that one must wean off fiber very gently or one will set off unintended consequences, like increased constipation.  To heal a damaged digestive tract, the GAPS diet, from GUT AND PSYCHOLOGY SYNDROME, is excellent—www.gapsdiet.com. 

 

Turkey Tracks: Juicing

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Turkey Tracks:  May 27, 2011

Juicing

My niece, Lauren Howser Black, is starting to experiment with juicing–which she shared on Facebook.

I am trying to figure out juicing myself and am slowly coming to some conclusions.

First, all food is made up of three ingredients:  protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  Protein and fat are the building blocks of the body.  They are absolutely necessary for ideal  human health.  Carbohydrates are, apparently, not, since one can get every single nutrient, vitamin, enzyme, etc., one needs from meat alone.  (This information comes most recently from Gary Taubes in WHY WE GET FAT–which I covered in Tipping Points Essays 29 and 30.)

We eat carbs to give ourselves energy.  And, they taste really good for the most part as most are yummy fruits and vegetables.  But, the plant kingdom has been vastly misunderstood for some time.  Plants are chemically based, and they can pack a powerful punch.  For instance, all the major drugs that really work come from plants.  And, plants have chemicals that are absolutely addictive for humans.  Sugar and grains are an example.

Second, humans do not handle cellulose well at all.  Unlike cows, we don’t have four stomachs full of bacteria specifically meant to break down cellulose, in the form of grass.  Our system is much closer to dogs.  We have a single stomach, longer intestines, and bacteria specializing in processing meat and fats.  When we overload them with cellulose, we set up gut conditions that make us sick since all that bulk in the gut, according to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who wrote GUT AND PSYCHOLOGY SYNDROME, starts preventing the absorption of the good nutrients we need.

Third, humans really do not handle sugars well at all.  Sugars of all kinds throw off the delicate balance of our digestive system–which, in turn, causes the host of chronic diseases associated with people who have settled in one place and are growing, particularly, grains.  You’ll recognize some on the following list:  arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, schizophrenia, and cancer.   Autoimmune and inflammatory conditions abound.  These all appear alongside developmental degradation, like crooked teeth and bad eyesight.  Hunter-gatherers and nomad herders, on the other hand, have been and are (yes there are still some in the world) disease free.  [This kind of assessment is widely discussed.  Here, I’m using Lierre Keith’s recounting of this history in THE VEGETARIAN MYTH (139+).  She is, in turn, drawing on the work of Dr. Loren Cordain, who has worked extensively with archeological evidence of what earlier people ate and how it affected their bodies.]

Given this information, one might avoid all carbs.  I think that would be hard, and most hunter-gatherers and nomadic herders foraged for greens, tubers, seasonal fruits (which were much less sweet than our fruit today), and the like.  Plus, we are surrounded with eye-catching produce all year around.   AND, one has to consider, also, that juicing has long had a place in healing circles.  Maybe it works to detoxify the body–short term–but long-term health requires nutrient dense foods.  Vegetables are not nutrient dense.  Period.

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride absolutely holds a place for juicing in the GAPS diet.  (I wrote about GAPS in Tipping Points 31.)  But, she is dealing with a population of sick people (autism, in particular) who have significant gut issues.  (There is a growing recognition that autism almost always has a particular profile of an impaired digestive system AND that autistic people crave carbohydrates and have very limited diets.)  I know I have a gut issue–it was the root cause of my food allergy issues.  I suspect most Americans today do, given all the grains, other carbs, processed food, and chemicals they’re eating.

Dr. Max Gerson was one of the pioneers of healing the body through, among other practices, juicing.  But, he also used infusions of raw liver as well.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, who has an interesting web page and who wrote THE NO-GRAIN DIET, juices–but mostly green vegetables.

So, how to think about this issue?

It’s pretty clear that fruit juices are really high in sugar and offer a terrible jolt to the system.  Fructose sugars are particularly difficult for the body to handle and cause elevated insulin levels.  No one should ever drink commercial fruit juices.  If one is struggling with obesity, too much fructose can and does lead straight down a road that has stops at diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and so on.  But, what about vegetable juices?

I have a Vita-Mix, which pulverizes whatever goes in, so I have to think about all the added cellulose as well.  I’ve decided I need to strain whatever I am going to mix up.

Let’s start with a seemingly balanced approach.  Campbell-McBride says juicing is a great way to get nutrients without all the cellulose.  She advocates about a 50-50 ration of fruits to vegetables.  The sweet in the fruits make the good of the vegetables drinkable–especially for picky eaters.  And, the GAPS work shows that some fruits help heal the gut.  She  recommends two cups of juice a day total.  Here are some of her suggestions:

Pineapple, carrot, and a little bit of beetroot (5%  total) in the morning prepares the digestive system for the coming meals.

Carrot, apple, celery, and beetroot cleanses the liver.

Green juices from leafy veggies (spinach, lettuce, parsley, dill, carrot, and beet tops) with some tomatoe and lemon chelate heavy metals and provide magnesium and iron.

Here’s a list of vegetables she uses:  carrot, beetroot (5% of mixture only), celery, cabbage, lettuce, greens (spinach, parsley, dill, basil, fresh nettle leaves, beet tops, carrot tops, white and red cabbage)

And, her list of fruits comes from the GAPS approved fruits.  She also really likes black elderberry as an immune builder.

The Green Approach.  Dr. Mercola does not permit fruit juice because of the elevated levels of sugar.  I’m not sure I see the difference between eating an apple and juicing it, however, especially since I have this new sensibility about all the cellulose in the apple itself.  Anyway, his juicing is confined to green vegetables.  He avoids carrots, beets, and squashes.

Here’s his beginner green drink:  2 stalks of celery, 1 cucumber, 2 stalks of fennel.

He recommends starting with 1 or 2 ounces and adding to that until you are drinking 12 ounces at a time.

He recommends mixing mild greens (lettuces, but not iceberg; endive, escarole, spinach, cabbage) with stronger veggies (kale, collard, dandelion greens, mustard greens), and adding herbs, eggs (1 to 4), and some flavorings (1 Tablespoon coconut that is whole fresh grated or unsweetened dry from a health food store, 1 Tablespoon fresh cranberries, 1/2 lemon, 1 inch ginger root).

Hmmmm.   I’d have to work up to liking these green mixtures.  But, it’s something about which to think.  I would caution that spinach and chard have high levels of oxalates which can give you kidney stones if eaten in excess.   Also, I really like the cookbook THE GARDEN OF EATING, Rachel Albert-Matesz and Don Matesz.  She has a few juiced drinks as well, but has a Vita-Mix and one eats everything.

CAUTION:  YOU MUST USE ORGANIC PRODUCE!  If you want to be healthy, you cannot consider eating anything that is full of poisons.  Juicing for health when you’re using a tainted food defeats your whole purpose.  The Environmental Working Group now has a web site listing what poisons are on our foods:  http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/

I juiced a mixture of fruits and veggies today, and we drank it for lunch.  I used too many fruits.  It was sweet and good, but I had a headache an hour later.  I think for the moment I’m going to stick with my homemade yogurt, egg, coconut oil, fruit smoothies for the moment, with more limited fruit included.  And, a tonic of raw eggs, lemon juice, and honey.  Maybe I’ll play around with Mercolas more green suggestions.  But, we eat so many fresh, locally grown greens and bone-broth soups, that maybe I don’t need the juicing thing.   I am worried about too much fruit and weight loss, which I need to do.  Hey!  I just read that cinnamon is MAGIC for getting tired, insulin-resistant cells to give up fat.  Will add it to my smoothie in the morning.  I do like Campbell-McBride’s suggestions–just have to curb the urge to put in more fruit.

Mainely Tipping Points 29: A Cultural Studies Answer

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Tipping Points 29

A CULTURAL STUDIES ANSWER

In WHY WE GET FAT (2011), Gary Taubes asks a scientific question.  His answer deploys scientific data from respected scientists working with the relationship of food to human body chemistry.  To recap, overweight people develop a hormonal disorder which is caused by eating carbohydrates, especially the easily digestible, highly processed carbohydrates (white flour, sugars, grains, starchy and/or sweet vegetables, and fructose from fruits bred to be big and sweet).  This disorder causes human bodies either to trap and store food energy in fat cells, no matter the energy needs of the body, or to funnel food energy to the muscles, which makes for a lean body with lots of energy that must be exercised away.

Taubes addresses some of why the inaccurate calorie in/calorie out, or “energy,” paradigm has persisted despite a decided lack of supporting science and the existence of a growing body of contrary evidence stretching back at least sixty years.  My own discipline, Cultural Studies, would begin where Taubes often leaves off by asking who is benefitting and what structural and cultural forces are being deployed for support.   

Cultural belief systems are probably the most powerful organizing forces man has ever devised.  Taubes describes a particularly insidious cultural belief that supports the energy paradigm.  By arbitrarily deciding that obesity is not a dysfunction of the body, a path opens which allows the belief that obesity is caused by the brain —which has been culturally interpreted to be about behavior, about character, about gluttony and sloth (80-86).    

Taubes’ identifies Louis Newburgh, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, as one originator of the “head case,” or psychological, explanation for obesity.    In the 1920s, Newburgh became a nationally recognized expert on obesity, and he posited that either obese people were taught to overeat by their parents or they had a “`combination of weak will and a pleasure seeking outlook upon life’” (83). 

“Newburgh,” Taubes notes, “was preaching to a medical establishment that had been taught to revere authority figures, not question their pronouncements” (83).  Newburgh, I’d say, lived in a time when most fat people were poor people.  He was a patriarch who was preaching something that most people of his own class understood to be true:  there’s something wrong with people who are poor, and the fat ones, well, they have “perverted appetites” (82).   

Wrapped up in this psychological explanation are the intersections of class, race, and gender.  Taubes points out that the poorer one is, the fatter one is likely to be since the calories available to the poor derive from cheap carbohydrates (18).  Taubes lists many worldwide studies of poor fat populations who are, with one exception, people of color.  (The exception is Naples, Italy, right after World War II ended, when Naples was destitute.)   Within these studies, the fattest of the fat, by large percentages, are women, who, Taubes infers, are giving the best food to their families (17-32). 

Taubes demonstrates that these poor people are not lazy, that they work hard, physical jobs.  And, like the investigating scientists, Taubes concludes that both malnutrition and subnutrition coexist in these populations because traditional patterns of living have been displaced and available food is mostly highly processed carbohydrates (17-32). 

The medical community, Taubes explains, uniformly swerved in the “head case” direction until well after World War II (84).  Historically, we know that post World War II America is when industry began providing more and more processed food, particularly the highly processed vegetable oils and margarines that replaced animal fats like butter, lard, and tallow.  And, we know that obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer rates all increased.

In the 1970s, Taubes relates, the practice of “behavioral medicine” emerged and the term “eating disorder” became the preferred label, but the “head case” tenants are still intact.  The psychological eating dictates are with us today:  slow down your eating and eat only in the kitchen or at the dining room table (84).  I’d add this one:  we eat when we’re emotionally disturbed in order to nourish ourselves—rather than understanding when we’re emotionally upset, we have more trouble controlling an unsatisfying diet.  Anyway, Taubes notes that today “many, if not most, of the leading authorities on obesity are psychologists and psychiatrists, people whose expertise is meant to be in the ways of the mind, not of the body”—an outcome that ignores the chemical connections between obesity and diabetes (84). 

How is it that certain people get to be “experts” in combating obesity?  Newburgh, for instance, was a doctor of medicine.  Yet, most medical doctors study neither nutrition nor the chemical impact of foods on the human body.  So, where are medical doctors getting their information?  Like most of us, not many medical doctors have time to sit down and figure out whom among the “experts” actually has adequate credentials, is asking the right questions, has formulated solid scientific answers in an independent arena that is not tainted by either personal belief system or corporate funding, whose work has withstood ensuing peer critique, and whose results have been duplicated. 

Today, we are struggling with pronouncements from a host of medical doctors who have written very famous diet books—and made a lot of money–but whose diets often prove ineffective or, even, unhealthy when scientifically tested.  Many of these books are predicated upon the lipid hypothesis (anti-saturated fat).  Taubes uses the 1960s turn toward the belief that animal fats are bad for us and carbohydrates “heart healthy” to describe the formation of the lipid hypothesis belief system:   “…doctors and nutritionists started attacking carbohydrate-restricted diets, because they bought into an idea about heart disease that was barely even tested at the time and would fail to be confirmed once it was….They believed it though, because people they respected believed it, and those people believed it because, well, other people they respected believed it” (160-161). 

We are struggling with information from “expert” organizations like the American Dietetic Association, whose partners and sponsors, as revealed by Zoe Harcombe in THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC,  include “Coca-Cola ($31.4 billion), PepsiCo ($44.3 billion), GlaxoSmith Kline ($45.2 billion), General Mills ($14.9 billion), SoyJoy ($9.2 billion), Mars ($30 billion) and many others” (Tim Boyd, book review of Zoe Harcombe, THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC:  WHAT CAUSED IT?  HOW CAN WE STOP IT?, in “Wise Traditions,” Winter 2010, 50-52). Corporate industry funds academic departments and specific scientists and successfully obfuscates bedrock science, just as it did with tobacco and is doing with many current drugs and toxic chemicals.       

And we are struggling with a government whose agenda and regulatory mechanisms are controlled largely by industry–a government who has, regardless of dissenting bedrock science, used its authority and our tax dollars to effect vast, damaging, and unsustainable changes in our food system since World War II.  Industry has bent our government and our legal system to its will–corporations are now people, but do not have the ethical responsibilities of people–which is a potential death knoll for what remains of our democracy.      

In 1977, when Senator George McGovern’s U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs—a group operating out of belief, not science, decreed that saturated animal fat was dangerous, Dr. Mary Enig, then a graduate student of biochemistry at the University of Maryland, was so puzzled that she analyzed the report and reached the opposite conclusions.  Enig’s own work pointed to the highly-processed vegetable oils and trans fats as the likely culprits in increasing rates of cancer and heart disease.  She noted that the McGovern committee had “manipulated the data in inappropriate ways in order to obtain untruthful results.”  She published her findings, and the edible oils industry not only successfully silenced her and her colleagues, they prevented them from getting any further research money.  Though Enig and her colleagues continued their research, it wasn’t until the 1990s when European work on trans fats began to be published that Enig was vindicated (http://www.stop-trans-fat.com/mary-enig.html).  Nevertheless, deadly trans fats, often labeled “partially hydrogenated fats,” are still allowed in our foods.  

So, who is benefitting from the current energy paradigm?  In the end, no one.

Mainely Tipping Points 28: Why We Get Fat

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Mainely Tipping Points 28:  WHY WE GET FAT

 

In WHY WE GET FAT (2011), Gary Taubes—a highly respected science researcher and writer, drives a scientific stake into the heart of the “calories in/calories out” paradigm that began developing in the 1950s and grew to become the medical orthodoxy we experience today.  Taubes explains the proven science behind why some people get fat—a question totally lost in the wilderness of the “energy balance” paradigm and its attendant low-fat/high carbohydrate diet.  The circular logic of this paradigm holds overweight people in a vicious, unscientific, damaging, deeply cultural  polarity:   either people of low character eat too much (gluttony) or exercise too little (sloth).  

Taubes traces the history of when research in nutrition and obesity “lost its way” and observes that these fields have “resisted all attempts” at correction.  Much understanding, Taubes writes, was lost after World War II with “the evaporation of the European community of scientists and physicians [particularly the Germans] that did the pioneering work” (ix).  Since that time, writes Taubes, “individuals involved in this research have not only wasted decades of time, effort, and money but have done incalculable damage….Their beliefs have remained impervious to an ever-growing body of evidence that refutes them while being embraced by public-health authorities and translated into precisely the wrong advice about what to eat and, more important, what not to eat if we want to maintain a healthy weight and live a long and healthy life” (ix). 

Taube’s earlier book GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES (2008) is an extended, densely researched book written to start a conversation with “the experts.”  Taubes believes that it might take another lifetime to change this paradigm, but, meanwhile, he sees that the disease burden (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer) being created by eating the wrong foods is “overwhelming not only hundreds of millions of individuals but our health-care systems…” (x).  Taubes wrote WHY WE GET FAT so the lay person could understand what’s wrong and have the courage to take personal charge of his/her health rather than relying on “some of the misconceptions that pass for public-health and medical advice in this country” (xi).

So, why do some people get fat?  All real food, as compared to some of the chemical brews passed off as food today, is composed of fats, proteins, and/or carbohydrates.  In a nutshell, people have genetic tendencies toward fatness or thinness that combines with a hormonal chemical disorder caused by eating too many carbohydrates—which throws off the body’s ability to regulate fat accumulation appropriately in both fat and thin people. 

Here’s a gross simplification of Taube’s main explanation:  Fat accumulation is regulated by hormones, and the most important hormone is insulin.  Ideally, when our insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue.  When insulin levels fall, fat is liberated from fat tissue and is burned for fuel.  However, easily digestible carbohydrates, like highly processed sugars and grains and starchy vegetables, make the body produce more insulin.  And, this insulin works to trap fat inside fat cells; it does not release them to burn for energy.  Thus, obesity is a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric imbalance.  Worse, this hormonal imbalance makes an overweight person hungrier because the body is growing larger, and it makes that person sedentary because all the food energy is being stored, not burned.  Gluttony and sloth are effects of this hormonal imbalance, not causes (10). 

Insulin, Taubes writes, works also with other hormones, like the sex hormones, and countless enzymes to partition fuel around the body.  This chemical process decides what food energy is burned, what is stored, and in which tissues it is stored (fat, muscle, liver).  An insulin disorder can partition a disproportionate amount of consumed calories into storage as fat, rather than having them used for energy by the muscles.  In lean people, the factors work to burn as fuel a disproportionate share of the consumed calories, which creates high energy levels (128).   

Some people, Taubes explains, develop insulin resistance, which means the body has to secrete higher and higher insulin levels in order to perform the same tasks—a “vicious cycle” intensified by eating easily digestible carbohydrates.  Next, these people start to manifest the precursor to heart disease, metabolic syndrome.  Body fat accumulates, especially around the waist; blood pressure rises; triglycerides levels rise; LDL cholesterol particles become small and dense; HDL cholesterol levels fall; and blood sugar becomes erratic (glucose intolerance).  Diabetes occurs when the pancreas can no longer secrete enough insulin to keep the body balanced.  And Alzheimer’s and most cancers are “associated with metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes” (195-198). 

Taubes’ subject is why we get fat, so he does not address the health effects on the lean, energetic person whose leanness is created by this hormonal disorder, which is, in turn, caused by eating too many of the wrong kinds of carbohydrates.  He does note that that as we age, our muscles become increasingly resistant to insulin and more energy gets partitioned into fat (130-131).   

There are generational components to these disorders.  Taubes notes that worldwide studies demonstrate that children born to a mother with hormonal imbalances that have created obesity are likely, also, to struggle with obesity.  The nutrients the mother’s body supplies to her baby affects his/her levels of glucose, which, in turn, affects the pancreas so that it develops more insulin-secreting cells, which, in turn, makes the baby fatter at birth.  These babies have a tendency both to oversecrete insulin and to become insulin-resistant (132).            

Exercise, Taubes demonstrates effectively, will not make one lose weight.  Indeed, for weight loss, exercise is counterproductive because it creates hunger (40-56).  And, undereating  does not work.  At some point one must return to eating normally, and the weight returns.  Taubes reports that the eight-year, billion-dollar National Institutes of Health initiative, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) of the 1990s, showed that a low-fat diet did not result in weight loss and “did not prevent heart disease, cancer, or anything else” (33-39). 

Taubes looks at many current studies, among them the 2007, two million dollar, government-funded A TO Z Weight Loss Study from Stanford University which compared four diets:  Atkins (low carbohydrate), LEARN (a traditional diet with 55-60 percent carbohydrates), Ornish (low fat), and the Zone diet.  The Atkins diet won, substantially and significantly, across the measured categories (weight loss, dropping triglyceride levels, dropping blood pressures, and improved cholesterol conditions)—prompting lead researcher Christopher Gardner, a twenty-five year vegetarian, to note that the results were, for him, a “`bitter pill to swallow’” (191-192). 

Taubes notes that Atkins diet participants were allowed to eat as much red meat and meat fat as they wanted (191-192).  And, that “since the 1960s, when it was first argued that animal products could be bad for our health because they contains saturated fat, nutritionists have typically refrained from pointing out that meat contains all the amino acids necessary for life, all the essential fats, and twelve of the thirteen essential vitamins in surprisingly large quantities.”  Meat, writes Taubes, “is a particularly concentrated source of vitamins A and E, and the entire complex of B vitamins.”  Indeed, “vitamins B12 and D are found only in animal products….”(176).

Vitamin C is the “one vitamin that is relatively scarce in animal products.”  But, “the more fattening carbohydrates we consume, the more of these vitamins we need.  We use B vitamins to metabolize glucose in our cells.  So, the more carbohydrates we consume, the more glucose we burn (instead of fatty acids), and the more B vitamins we need from our diets.”  When we eat carbohydrates, we “excrete vitamin C with our urine rather than retaining it” (176). 

Without carbohydrates in the diet, Taubes notes, “there’s every indication that we would get all the vitamin C we ever needed from animal products.”  Thus, Taubes concludes, “Carbohydrates are not required in a healthy human diet.”  And, “another way to say this (as proponents of carbohydrate restriction have) is that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate” (176).             

The solution to both obesity and leanness accompanied by excessive energy is actually pretty simple:  stop eating carbohydrates, especially the easily digestible ones, like, bread, pasta, potatoes, sweets, beer, fruit  juices, and sodas.  (I’d add cold breakfast cereals to this list.)  Taubes notes that before the 1960s, conventional wisdom recognized that these foods were “uniquely fattening.”  And, he notes that this message has been at the heart of an “unending string of often best-selling diet books” (11).  He also notes that “when physicians stopped believing it, a process that began in the 1960s and concluded in the late 1970s,” their change coincided “with the beginning of the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes” (150).     

Taubes does note that if the obesity has gone on too long, the body may not be able to reset its own chemistry (205).  And, that if one is taking medications to lower blood sugar or blood pressure, one should work closely with a doctor because following a low-carbohydrate diet lowers both so that a dangerous “double whammy” effect can occur (216). 

Taubes reproduces the Atkins-version diet used by Dr. Eric Westman of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at the Duke University Medical Center.  Westman has been working with this diet since 1998 (202).  And, Taubes points to four other doctors with similar clinical practices across the country (202).   

My only critique of this diet is that it allows artificial sweeteners and does not distinguish well between good fats and bad fats.  But, you can read Tipping Points 14 to understand how to sort those fats out for yourself.