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.

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