Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Low-carb Solution is Nowhere in Sight

I just want to find closure on the week's six part series on sugar in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In fact, from what I've read, the newspaper is pretty much in the dark about obesity and a solution for it - this is typical of mainstream thinking. It is locked into a paradigm that emerged some 45 years ago and can't seem to get out of that box.

 Wednesday's articles were pretty well standard - Tiffany Crawford's article "Juiced: Sugar in a bottle" reminds us that, although soda was banned - the first in Canada - in the province's schools a couple of years ago, kids continue to gulp the pop bottles. Slurpees, sodas, and other designer bottles and cans that attract kids are getting larger; some are filled with vitamins, and caffeine - the market is certainly attractive and seductive. The 2008 guidelines had justified its ban of junk food from vending machines and the cafeteria because in their words quoted in the article, drinks with no nutrients are  "clearly linked to obesity and tooth decay in children." But the kids are not deterred. However, new guidelines are slated for a revision in the fall of 2012 in the light of new products and new information.

Crawford's article points out that the Canada-U.S. Dietary Reference Intakes, which is a system of recommending nutritional intake taken from the Institute of Medicine that actually offers input to Health Canada's Food Guide, recommends 48 grams or 12 added teaspoons of sugar a day for a 2, 200 caloric diet. This excludes sugar found in milk and fruits. But, as Crawford points out, two 590 ml bottles of Mountain Dew gives you 60 grams of sugar - so, things are tight for the kids if they have to count calories. Bottom line here is that calories are a problem because these calories have no-trade off value -they are empty. Better to eat fruit, at least there are vitamins and anti-oxidants although the low-carb community has often enough pointed out that the vitamin and anti-oxidant buzz is much ado about nothing. Pound for pound, animal products out perform fruits and vegetables when it comes to offering nutrients. But that's an important issue for another day. It is a topic area that mainstream dietitians and so-called nutrient experts fail to note - they avoid the issue like the plague because, to them, animal products are saturated with fat and fat is evil.

The other article in the same paper is by Randy Shore titled "Morning treats can pack a high-calorie punch." Take note - the "treats", meaning sugar,  are associated with calories - the focus here is on muffins, doughnuts, and cookies rather than sugar in the pop/liquid form. This pretty well continues the general thrust of the series on sugar, namely its caloric content via sugar. The implication is that it will make you fat and has no nutrients. I have no problem with that. My problem is this: what are they going to replace these empty calories with? For biological reasons, I do not think that grains, fruits, and vegetables are a reasonable "healthy" option. Readers of low-carb/paleo blogs as well as readers of  the growing scientific literature on the matter should know the negative effects these carbs have - lectins and phytates prevent the absorption of nutrients, anti-oxidants are nature's organic pesticides, fruits contain fructose, and we all know about the effects of gluten. Furthermore, carbs turn to glucose in the body. Do they have an answer for that?

Randy Shore, with another article the next day, opened the question - "Is the fat tax the answer?" The Canadian Medical Association and the B.C. Medical Association are in favour of such an approach, thinking that since it worked for tobacco it should work for sugar. Somehow I doubt it. Contraband doughnuts anyone? Not everyone agrees. The debate is on. I think the industry would make the products cheaper to balance the tax hike so that kids can keep buying the product.  Of course, Shore leaves the last word for Dr. Perry Kendall, the provincial health officer, who says that tax alone as a control measure will not work - it has to be tied with physical activity and parents have to be on board with being role models and promoting awareness. Folks, this is the same advice of the last 45 years. I challenge anyone to go back to the archives and see what was said. It is old advice; it has not worked. The same mantra over and over, again and again for 45 years. And what has happened in the last 45 years - an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases of civilization the likes we've never seen before. The American Standard Diet (SAD) being advocated is not a proper diet; it is based on the food pyramid we've all seen. The pyramid continues to be the model on how to eat - avoid sugar, eat grain, fruits and veggies (plenty of it) avoid fats. Oh yes, exercise. Telling people to cut back on saturated fat didn't work; now they have a new demon - sugar. It is a start in the right direction but the missing calories (when one eliminates sugar)  have to come from somewhere. People need calories for energy; we want to exercise and so we need calories - if not from sugar, then, from where? Fat? It is nutrient-dense; it satiates. But the medical profession does not want to go there. Other carbs? The low/carb/paleo community knows better than to go there. We are at the crossroad and we are stuck - there is no end in sight.

The final epistle comes from the editors of the Vancouver Sun newspaper - they refer to it as "the newspaper's view" and the title of the editorial is "Walk the walk on childhood obesity crisis." Here the paper displays a pathetic paternalistic arrogance - "If there's one thing we know, it's that childhood obesity is a serious problem in Canada. And if there are two other things we know, it's what causes childhood obesity and what needs to be done to prevent it." Because the newspaper editors know it all they wonder why the federal government has included a website that allows Canadian citizens to weigh in on the issue before proceeding with their report in the near future. Why do we need input from the public "given how much we already know about childhood obesity and how to prevent it?" As I've hinted on occasion, the Vancouver Sun does not understand the issue thoroughly. This is what they recommend: " "As far as diet is concerned, we know that children and youth should eat between six and eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day...." Really? There is no biological need to do that according to the low-carb/paleo community; I've hinted at the negative implications of doing such a thing.  They also say that "we know that kids who are physically active perform better both physically and mentally, yet more than half of children and youth between six and 19 are not active enough for optimal healthy growth and development." The fallacy of confusing cause and effect is being made here. It is mentally fit and alert kids who get physical and active. Those in a "mental fog" do not feel like engaging in physical activity. The mentally fit ones are fueled by proper nutrients. Mental events determine if one is to be active or not -not the other way around. As the low-carb/paleo community knows, the lack of exercise does not make us fat; being fat inhibits our desire to exercise & play sports.

Once again, the urgency displayed by the newspaper editorial group seems to be like the George McGovern senate committee, which would not listen to the debate over whether fat/cholesterol does or does not cause heart disease & allow it to be resolved by discussion from scientists, but forged ahead to create the mess we are in by making it government policy to demonize fat and allow the food industries to change our eating habits - remove traditional fat & replace it with inflammatory fats (polyunsaturated) and replace the calories lost from fat and be replaced by carbs - the ones I've demonized. The current advice suggested by the newspaper is wrong and the government should know about it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

There's More to Sugar Than Obesity

Next in line (Tuesday) with the Vancouver Sun newspaper series on sugar, I've been blogging about, was an article by Pamela Fayerman ("A Weighty issue: How much sugar is too much?") in which she argues that sugar is a double-edged sword - on the one hand it is needed but on the other hand it also makes us fat.

Fayerman begins her article by citing a study of Tufts University in the Journal of Nutrition thirty years ago that showed that sugar, regardless of what form it took, accounts for weight gain. Rats eating sugar gained more weight than rats who didn't consume sugar and they also had larger appetites - it seems that the drive toward a bigger appetite is signaled by blood sugar swings. According to Dr. Michael Lyon, an obesity researcher at the University of British Columbia, cited by Fayerman, maintains that "overweight people tend to have highly variable blood sugar levels and that rapid drop in blood sugar in these people result in frequent, and often inappropriate, urges to eat. Likewise when blood sugar is stabilized in these people, the frequency and intensity of appetite sensation decreases dramatically." Fayerman points out that this negative view of sugar is balanced by its good point, thus making sugar a "necessary evil" - she says, "Carbohydrates, derived from sugars and starches, are as essential as water, fats, and proteins." Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Fayerman supports the often mistaken view that carbs are necessary for health by pointing out that brain cells depend on glucose - true, but she does not understand that during starvation, fasting, or a ketogenic diet the body makes 120 grams of glucose (not sugar from the table which is half fructose) that the brain runs on from either amino acids or the glycerol backbone of triglycerides. There is no need for sugar or any type of carbohydrates. Dr. Jonny Bowden, often during his seminars, will do the following demonstration  - he will divide his listeners into two groups like the Survivor show and imagine them being on a desert island for a year - one group will be on one side of the island, the other group on the other side. One group will be fed nothing but protein and fat for one year (no carbs) and the other group will have nothing but carbohydrates with zero fats and proteins. What will happen when they are rescued? Only half will be rescued because one group will have all died. The group consuming carbs will not survive. Without fat or protein you cannot live long at all. As Bowden bluntly puts it: " there is no physiological need for carbohydrates in the human diet." This claim is supported from the anthropological literature and molecular biology.

Fayerman's article continues with a quick summary of the linear progression: from carbs to glucose to glycogen and/or fat tissues. She then warns us of the dangers of high fructose corn syrup filed under the umbrella of the metabolic syndrome - basically it means weight gain especially from visceral fat and  increases in blood circulating triglycerides among other things. What is left out by Fayerman - because the focus is on "sweets" - is the fact that grains, fruits, and vegetables contribute to weight gain. Why? Because they all translate into glucose; the body converts them all to glucose not just sugar and/or fructose. And fructose is the sugar of fruits. She misses the whole picture. Where's the forest and where's the trees? Furthermore, there is no mention of what fructose does to the liver. It does what alcohol does -   it fattens it up. It is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and it is on the rise among youth just like Type 2 diabetes. The focus on obesity hides the full impact of the "sweets" as expressed in the metabolic syndrome, or better still, the diseases of civilization hurried along by what Dr. Kurt Harris refers to as the "neolithic agents" - the carbs.

Is Sugar Addictive?

Peter McKnight's article ("Sweet on sugar"), in the second of the six-part series on sugar (se previous blog entry), weighs in on the question of whether or not sugar is addictive. He points out that the topic attracts a lot of people, especially professionals in the medical business. And the topic of addiction is found on all fronts: shopping, exercise, video games and so on. This is because the definition of addiction is vague - it could apply to anything. But  the world of psychiatry and psychology have identified underlying aspects such as changes in brain chemistry. To illustrate, if sugar is addictive, one can simply demonstrate that it produces those underlying elements (changes to brain chemistry) that identify it with addiction.

McKnight refers to a "comprehensive" study produced by a team of psychologists at Princeton University led by Bart Hoebel which is often cited as proof that sugar is addictive. This was a study that divided rats into several groups. One group (experimental)  had 12 hours of free access to their daily food with sugar water, then deprived them of anything for another 12 hours. This group was compared with three other groups - rats who always had access to the food and sugar; rats who had access only to food (no sugar water), either  all the time or in periods of 12 hours. The experimental group did display behavours that were in tune with the three stages of addiction according to the American Psychiatric Association - bingeing, followed by symptoms of withdrawal - anxiety & depression - and lastly, craving characterized by pressing the lever that dispenses sugar water more readily than those of the control groups. Changes to brain chemistry in a specific area (nucleus accumbens) were also found among the experimental group - increases to dopamine took place, similar to that of the effect of morphine and cocaine. So, addiction is real with respect to the consumption of sugar. So what? McKnight points out that critics like neuroscientist David Benton argue that music, humour, winning a game, smiling faces and so forth have similar outcomes - the release of dopamine. Benton argues that the dopamine becomes "habituated" - hence, it subsequently releases less and less dopamine. What is important is that destructive drugs never produces "habituation." A drug like morphine is alien to our bodies, carbohydrates, not so. But the study did show that the experimental rats never got habituated - the control group did not display signs of addiction. Hoebel admits that addiction to sugar is possible if we approach it like the experimental group. McKnight concludes that, since most humans do not eat that way, then "the risk of developing an addictive to sugar is effectively nil."

 What McKnight fails to grasp is that obese people are not like slim people; diabetics are not like non-diabetics. McKnight says that those who eat naturally won't become addicted to sugar. The answer needs to be qualified - in the short term - because what McKnight fails to understand is that the problem is not sugar but carbohydrates; starches, like sugar, enter the bloodstream as glucose (sugar is half fructose -which is works differently than sugar but more insidiously). Furthermore McKnight says that "surveys suggest that most people don't crave sugar per se. Rather they tend to crave foods high in both fat and sugar, with a majority of the energy coming from fat." Uhh? Sugar is not addictive but only if combined with fat? Ice cream? McKnight's logic fails him here - taste is confused with addiction; fats are not addictive at all; they are needed by the body much more so than sugar; they carry the fat soluble vitamins and minerals and fat soluble phyto-chemicals needed by cells in the body. Sugar does none of this.

 Here's the statement that tells me McKnight does not comprehend simple biology - "research suggests that cravings for sugary foods tend to decrease the longer people stay on low-calorie diets." Combine that statement with this one: " Since cravings ought to increase when people abstain from sugar, this provides further evidence that sugar isn't addictive in and of itself." First of all people on low calorie diets are on high carb diets - fruits, grain, and vegetables are all treated by the body (insulin) as a sugar. Glucose by any other name is still glucose; the body does not play semantic games. It is the instability of blood glucose that stimulates the craving - it may not be sugar; it may be pasta, bread, fruit. Want to eliminate the craving? Try low -carb. Blood sugar will stabilize and become normal - craving for sugar (and other carbs) will disappear. McKnight's  view, that those who eat in a natural way should not fear becoming addicted to sugar, is correct only if the natural way is the low carb way of eating. Somehow I doubt that that is what he means.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sugar -the media's latest demon

Starting on Saturday March 12th the Vancouver Sun newspaper ran a six-day series of articles on sugar. It seems that everyone is hooked on this topic these days. But as I'll point out, half the story is missing. An interesting thing to note is that these articles were all written by journalist/reporters of the paper - no dietician, no nutritionist. In general most of the information was correct but they did leave out what I consider the relevant stuff - the inside scoop -  what goes on at the molecular level of the body. Looking at sugar from the  lens of sociology is fine but it does not get to the crux of the matter - how to conquer the demon, sugar.

The first article ("Sugar: The new pariah") by Randy Shore begins the series by looking at statistics that confirm the high cost of obesity ($30 billion in Canada in health cost and lost productivity) and equates it with the high consumption of sugar in the form of pop - the average Canadian consumes 24 kg. of sugar & 36 two-litre bottles of pop a year. Shore points out that, although sugar consumption has deceased from 33 kilos a year per person (1960s) to the current 24 kilos, 90% of of sugar consumption comes in packaged processed foods - Shore seems to hint that processed sugar is bad but the traditional "home" cooking with sugar makes it good. Sugar is sugar.

Shore points out that the data from Statistics Canada does not include high fructose corn syrup -after the introduction of HFCS in the 1980s consumption rose to 96 litres a year (2001) but has dropped to 72 litres per year yet obesity levels in the last ten years has increased. Why? According to Shore, the problem is not sugar!!!! It is "our relationships with food and with each other." Uhh? Shore is supported on this by Sheila Innis, director of nutrition and metabolism research program at the University of British Columbia. The point here is that the makers of processed food have eliminated fat from products, due to pressure from a fat-phobic society and replaced it with sugar for flavour. Hence, the major portion of sugar is not from home but from packages - the consumption of sugar has been taken away from our control. But Innis refused to point at one specific factor to account for the obesity epidemic - to her it is "a good energy source" and "has a lot going for it." But if it is a good energy source what's wrong with it? And if obesity is equated with couch potatoes, then why are the couch potatoes just sitting there? Wouldn't they jump up from the couch and run because they are energized? Sugar is energy. Why are the obese so sluggish? Innis claims sugars are a good source of energy. Clearly, the biological explanation of the sapping of energy by high consumption of sugar is missing here or it is not understood. What Shore or Innis do not understand is that obesity is a disease of the mis-management of energy - we become tired and lack energy because that energy source (glucose)  derived from carbohydrates is stored as fat. We do not get fat because we are not active, we are not active because we are fat - over consumption of  sugar depletes us of our energy - it gets stored as fat.

Shore continues on to say that sugar in the form of pop and snacks offer calories without the nutrition. For Shore, sugar at "home" is better because, at least, it is used to make nutritious food. Umm. This is like saying that a criminal is not so bad if he robs a rich guy rather than a poor guy. Sugar is good if you eat it with  a home-cooked pie but not when the pie is bought at the super market. Shore ignores the biological fact that any sugar stimulates the production of insulin no matter where it comes from. Innis explains that the body handles sugar differently if eaten with protein and fat. So what! The article started by lamenting that the over-consumption of sugars as being associated with the current epidemic of obesity - wouldn't avoiding it at home lead toward a solution? It really doesn't matter if sugar is consumed with or without protein and fat.

Shore finishes off his article by asking whether sugar is addictive or not. Why do we crave the "rush that sugar gives us?" Shore refers to a psychological theory that sugar fills a void in our life - "we eat out of a sense of meaning" according to Bruce Alexander, professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University. Alexander suggests that food makes us bond as a family as a society - those addicted to sugar are not connected to society. It is funny how the article trails off on this note and yet does not get to the crux of the matter - unstable glucose in the blood is the catalyst of that craving. Putting things in our body is not like putting on clothes; molecules and hormones are activated.