By Dr. Mercola
Diet myths abound in the health industry, but one of the biggest myths of all is the idea that a calorie is a calorie, no matter where you get it from, or what the chemical or nutritional makeup of it is.
If you care about your health and are truly working to keep your weight down, then you need to know the truth about calories as well as the substances that distort how calories work in your body.
For example, sugar is one of the major health topics in the news these days, with "sugar is sugar" news updates, ads, and counter-ads.
Now, a new video, the "Skinny on Obesity", presents a chilling awakening on weight, weight gain, and chronic diseases like dementia, cancer, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Watch it, and you may never look the same way at sugar or calories again. Your body actually treats sugar in the same way it treats alcohol and other toxins. This is in large part how sugars can damage your liver and other organs, and why Dr. Lustig refers to sugar as a toxin. I recently wrote about this at length in the article, Is Sugar Toxic?
Obesity Goes Beyond Aesthetics
While many still shrug at the notion of obesity being anything but an aesthetic issue, this simply isn't a truthful evaluation of the situation. The obesity epidemic threatens not only the health and longevity of a clear majority of people, it also adds a tremendous burden to our health care system. As Dr. Lustig explains in part 1 above, the eight primary diseases related to metabolic dysfunction account for a staggering 75 percent of the healthcare costs in the US.
These diseases include:
|Type 2 diabetes
||Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (now affects 1/3 of all Americans)
||Polysystic ovarian syndrome (affects 10 percent of American women)
The four diseases listed on the top row are conventionally associated with metabolic syndrome. However, as stated by Dr. Lustig, several other diseases fall within this scope as well—which are listed in the bottom row. He also explains that while obesity is associated with metabolic syndrome and all of these diseases, obesity is not the CAUSE of them; it is simply a marker. Rather, the underlying cause is metabolic dysfunction, and excessive sugar/fructose consumption is a primary driver of that.
According to Dr. Lustig, 20 percent of obese people have perfectly normal metabolic functioning, and the excess weight will not affect their overall lifespan. Ditto for 60 percent of normal-weight people. However, the MAJORITY of obese people—about 80 percent of them—do not have normal metabolic function, and 40 percent of normal-weight people also suffer from metabolic dysfunction, and are therefore prone to these obesity-related diseases... All in all, metabolic dysfunction affects a clear majority of Americans.
What's the Cause of Rampant Metabolic Dysfunction?
One dogma that has contributed to the ever-worsening health of the Western world is the belief that "a calorie is a calorie." This is one of the first things dieticians learn in school. Unfortunately, this is completely FALSE... Another dogmatic belief that simply isn't true is the idea that obesity is the end result of eating too much and exercising too little; i.e. consuming more calories than you're expending. This has led to the view that obese people are simply "lazy."
But as Dr. Lustig points out, there are societal forces at work that go beyond personal responsibility. An increasing number of infants are now obese, and "laziness" is certainly not a label that can easily be affixed to a developing infant. These societal forces include:
|Lack of time to prepare and consume proper foods
||Alterations in mass food production. Since the 1960's, when saturated fat was incorrectly demonized as the cause of heart disease, processed foods have reduced fat content while simultaneously increasing sugar content (in order to be palatable)
||Soil depletion (reduced nutrient content in soil)
||Alterations in animal husbandry and the feed given to animals. Commercial livestock routinely get antibiotics and genetically engineered feed, for example
As mentioned in the featured video above, the societal changes over the past 60 years or so have created what amounts to a perfect storm; a confluence of dramatically altered food environment combined with reduced physical exertion and increased exposure to, and consumption of, a wide array of industrial and agricultural chemicals that have a detrimental impact on the human biochemistry.
Among the dramatic changes to our food supply is the extensive use of sugar, primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which is added to virtually all processed foods. And this is where the fallacy of "a calorie is a calorie" comes into play, because a calorie from fat does not impact your body in the same way a calorie from fructose does.
One Calorie Can Be Vastly Different from Another...
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, fructose is "isocaloric but not isometabolic." This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. This is largely because different nutrients provoke different hormonal responses, and those hormonal responses determine, among other things, how much fat you accumulate.
The average American consumes 1/3 of a pound of sugar a day. That's five ounces or 150 grams, half of which is fructose, which is 300 percent more than the amount that will trigger biochemical havoc. And many Americans consume more than twice that amount! Thanks to the excellent work of researchers like Dr. Robert Lustig, as well as Dr. Richard Johnson, we now know that fructose:
- Is metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority being turned directly into fat
- Tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism, as it turns off your body's appetite-control system. Fructose does not appropriately stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") and doesn't stimulate leptin (the "satiety hormone"), which together result in your eating more and developing insulin resistance.
- Rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity ("beer belly"), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
- Over time leads to insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers.
This is why the idea that you can lose weight by counting calories simply doesn't work. After fructose, other sugars and grains are likely the most excessively consumed food that promotes weight gain and chronic disease. This also includes food items that are typically viewed as healthy, such as fruit juice or even large amounts of high fructose fruits. What needs to be understood is that when consumed in large amounts, these items will also adversely affect your insulin, which is a crucially potent fat regulator. So yes, drinking large amounts of fruit juice on a daily basis can contribute to weight gain... In short, you do not get fat because you eat too many calories and don't exercise enough. You get fat because you eat the wrong kind of calories. As long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you're programming your body to create and store fat.
Replacing Sugars with Healthy Fats is Key for Reversing Metabolic Syndrome
I believe there are two primary dietary recommendations that, if widely implemented, could help reverse our current disease trend in short order:
- Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains), and
- Increasing healthy fat consumption
While health authorities insist that sugar is fine "in moderation," and that grains are an essential part of a healthy diet and can actually help you prevent heart disease, they fail to take into consideration that:
- Fructose is the NUMBER ONE source of calories in the US. An ingredient that is found in virtually all processed foods cannot be considered "moderate." Even most infant formulas contain the sugar equivalent of one can of Coca-Cola, which helps explain how six-month old babies can be obese
- Refined carbohydrates (breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles etc) quickly breaks down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease known to man, including heart disease
Your Body NEEDS Fats for Optimal Function
Fats in general are considered the dietary villains, especially saturated fat, which many people still claim will increase your risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. However, this is simply untrue. The only really dangerous fat out there is trans fat (margarine, vegetable oils). Saturated fats are actually vital for optimal health as they are:
|Building blocks for your cell membranes
||Useful antiviral agents (caprylic acid)
||Effective as an anticaries, antiplaque and anti fungal agents (lauric acid)
||Modulators of genetic regulation and prevent cancer (butyric acid)
|Needed for production of a variety of hormones and hormone like substances
||Carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and required for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes
||Useful to actually lower cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids)
||Provide a concentrated source of energy
When cutting down on carbs, you generally need to increase your intake of healthy (ideally organic, unprocessed and minimally heated) saturated fats. Both carbs and fats are sources of energy, but saturated fat is actually the preferred fuel for your heart. Another metabolic bonus is that fat does not raise your insulin levels, whereas carbs do. However, it's important to recognize the difference between grain carbs and vegetable carbs.
If you want to lower your insulin levels and reduce fat accumulation, reduce the amount of grains and sugars you eat; NOT your vegetables. In fact, you actually need to radically increase the amount of vegetables you eat when you cut grains, as by volume grains are far denser than vegetables. As for healthy fats, good sources include:
|Olives and Olive oil
||Coconuts and coconut oil
||Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
|Raw Nuts, such as, almonds or pecans
||Organic pastured egg yolks
||Unheated organic nut oils
Keep in mind that olive oil should not be used for cooking. Instead, use coconut oil for cooking, frying and baking, and save the olive oil for salad dressing. Another healthful fat you want to be mindful of is animal-based omega-3. Deficiency in this essential fat can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year. For more information about omega-3's and the best sources of this fat, please review my previous article: Are You Getting the Right Type of Omega-3 Fats?
How Much Fructose is Too Much?
As a general recommendation, I suggest keeping your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, with a maximum of 15 grams from whole fruit. The table at the bottom of this page can help you calculate your fructose from fruit consumption. However, if you have ANY of the following health issues, then you'll want to be very careful to limit fructose to just 15 grams per day or less, and this includes fructose from whole fruit. Ideally, you'll want to avoid ALL sources of fructose until your insulin stabilizes, and then proceed with caution.
||High blood pressure
||High uric acid
High uric acid, in particular, is a potent marker for fructose toxicity, so if your levels are above:
- 4 mg/dl for men
- 3.5 mg/dl for women
... then you would be wise to avoid all forms of fructose until your levels have normalized—just as you would with high insulin levels. Here's a quick reference list of some of the most common fruits that you can use to help you count your fructose grams:
||Grams of Fructose
||Grams of Fructose
||1/8 of med. melon
|Date (Deglet Noor style)
||1/8 of med. melon
||1/16 med. melon
||Grapes, seedless (green or red)
(3.5" x .75")
|Grapefruit, pink or red