By Dr. Mercola
Killer at Large1, a documentary film by Steven Greenstreet, tackles the topic of obesity, a problem of truly epic proportions where misinformation is a major driver. According to former Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, quoted in the film:
"Obesity is a terror [threat] within; it's destroying our society from within and unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9/11 or any other terrorist event that you can point out."
Presently, a full two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has also skyrocketed, tripling over the past 30 years. One in three children between the ages of 10 and 17 is now overweight or obese, and 27 percent of young adults, 17 to 24, are too heavy to join the military.
As a result, today's children may be the first generation whose life expectancy is shorter than that of their parents...
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 110,000 Americans die as a result of obesity each year, and about one-third of all cancers are directly related to it.
Data collected from over 60,000 Canadians also shows that obesity now leads to more doctor visits than smoking. One in four Americans is also pre-diabetic or diabetic, and heart disease and cancer, both of which are associated with obesity, top the mortality charts.
Clearly, the issue of how to achieve good health has never been more pertinent to more people. Yet despite the enormity of this problem, very little is being done to effectively combat obesity.
The film examines the causes of obesity and suggests ways to reverse this deadly trend. Below, I sum up my own recommendations as well.
It's quite clear that conventional diet and health recommendations are off the mark... Obesity and related health problems are directly attributable to flawed diet—a diet too high in carbs and poor-quality proteins, and too low in healthy fats.
Yet multinational food corporations and biotech companies have successfully manipulated the system to encourage an increase in the use of cheap foods that contribute to the obesity epidemic.
A recent report exposing the deep conflicts of interest between the processed food industry and the trade organization for food and nutrition professionals in the US also shatters any illusion you may have had that registered dieticians will provide you with well-researched, science-based nutrition advice that will improve your health...
Skyrocketing Obesity Is Related to Misleading You on Health Issues
Obesity is the result of inappropriate lifestyle choices, and unfortunately, our government has done an abysmal job at disseminating accurate information about diet and health. It's one thing for corporations to put out misleading ads – honesty is not in the self-interest of the processed food and beverage industry. It's another when the government falls in line with for-profit deception and becomes a propagator of corporate propaganda. And this is exactly what has happened... For example, conventional advice that is driving public health in the wrong direction includes:
- Cutting calories: Not all calories are created equal, and counting calories will not help you lose weight if you're consuming the wrong kind of calories
- Choosing diet foods will help you lose weight: Substances like Splenda (sucralose) and Equal or Nutrasweet (aspartame) may have zero calories, but your body isn't fooled. When it gets a "sweet" taste, it expects calories to follow, and when this doesn't occur it leads to distortions in your biochemistry that may actually lead to weight gain
- Avoiding saturated fat: The myth that saturated fat causes heart disease has undoubtedly harmed an incalculable number of lives over the past several decades, even though it all began as little more than a scientifically unsupported marketing strategy for Crisco cooking oil. Most people (myself included) actually need at least 50 to 70 percent of their diet as healthful fats such as organic, pastured eggs, avocados, coconut oil, real butter and grass-fed beef in order to optimize their health
- Reducing your cholesterol to extremely low levels: Cholesterol is actually NOT the major culprit in heart disease or any disease, and the guidelines that dictate what number your cholesterol levels should be to keep you "healthy" are fraught with conflict of interest -- and have never been proven to be good for your health
This is just a tiny sampling of the pervasive misleading information on weight and obesity disseminated by our government agencies. A more complete list of conventional health myths could easily fill several books. The reason behind this sad state of affairs is the fact that the very industries that profit from these lies are the ones funding most of the research; infiltrating our regulatory agencies; and bribing our political officials to support their financially-driven agenda through any number of legal, and at times not so legal, means.
Why Eating Fructose Is More Dangerous than Other Sugars
Part of what makesfructose so unhealthy is that it is metabolized by your liver to fat far more rapidly than any other sugar. The entire burden of metabolizing fructose falls on your liver, and it promotes visceral fat2. This is the type of fat that collects around your organs and in your abdominal region and is associated with a greater risk of heart disease.
Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, has been a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism, and his work reveals there are major differences in how different sugars are broken down and used. For example:
- After eating fructose, virtually all of the metabolic burden rests on your liver. With glucose or most other sugars, your liver has to break down only 20 percent. The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and causes gout.
- Every cell in your body, including your brain, utilizes glucose. Therefore, much of it is "burned up" immediately after you consume it. By contrast, fructose is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat.
- The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)3. Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.
- Fructose is the most lipophilic carbohydrate. In other words, fructose converts to glycerol-3-phosphate (g-3-p), which is directly used to turn FFAs into triglycerides. The more g-3-p you have, the more fat you store. Glucose does not do this.
- When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat.
- Glucose suppresses your hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates leptin, which suppresses your appetite. Fructose has no effect on ghrelin and interferes with your brain's communication with leptin, resulting in overeating. That fructose triggers changes in your brain that may lead to overeating and weight gain has also been confirmed through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests.
The Evolutionary Link Between Fructose Consumption and Fat Accumulation
No doubt you've heard that consuming more calories than you burn off is the root of your weight problem. Alas, this "conventional wisdom" has been firmly debunked by modern science. The fact is this: Not all calories count equally. It is in fact FAR more important to look at the source of the calories than counting them.
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 explained by 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 a crucial point that must be understood.
The bottom line is that your consumption of carbohydrates, whether in the form of grains and sugars (especially fructose), will determine whether or not you're able to manage your weight and maintain optimal health. This is because these types of carbs (fructose and grains) affect the hormone insulin, which is a very potent fat regulator. Fats and proteins affect insulin to a far lesser degree.
As long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you're programming your body to create and store fat...
Research by another expert in this field, Dr. Richard Johnson, chief of the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado and author of The Sugar Fix and The Fat Switch, further confirms this. His work demonstrates that fructose-containing sugars cause obesity, again not by calories, but by turning on your "fat switch"—a powerful biological adaptation that causes cells to accumulate fat in anticipation of scarcity (or hibernation). His most recent book, The Fat Switch, is of major importance to anyone who has ever struggled with their weight and/or persistent health issues. Five basic truths detailed in his book include:
- Large portions of food and too little exercise are NOT solely responsible for why you are gaining weight
- Metabolic Syndrome is actually a healthy adaptive condition that animals undergo to store fat to help them survive periods of famine. The problem is that most of us are always "feasting" and rarely undergo fasting. As a result, this beneficial switch actually causes damage to contemporary man
- Uric acid is increased by specific foods and causally contributes to obesity and insulin resistance
- Fructose-containing sugars cause obesity not by calories but by turning on the fat switch
- Effective treatment of obesity requires turning off your fat switch and improving the function of your cells' mitochondria
I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, which is a useful tool for those struggling with their weight. Dietary sugar, and fructose in particular, is a significant "tripper of your fat switch," so understanding how sugars of all kinds affect your weight and health is imperative.
What Are the Sources of Your Daily Calories?
According to the 2010 Report by the Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans4, the top 10 sources of calories in the American diet are:
1. Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars) 139 calories a day 6. Alcoholic beverages 2. Yeast breads, 129 calories a day 7. Pasta and pasta dishes 3. Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes, 121 calories a day 8. Mexican mixed dishes 4. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks, 114 calories a day 9. Beef and beef-mixed dishes 5. Pizza, 98 calories a day 10. Dairy desserts
As you can see, on the whole it's easy to see that the dietary roots of the American weight problem is linked to carbs—sugars (primarily fructose) and grains—in the form of processed foods and sweet drinks. You've often heard me state that soda is the number one source of calories in the US diet, which it was, based on the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The updated NHANES survey above covers nutritional data from 2005-2006, placing grain-based foods in the top two slots.
Still, soda comes in at number four, and I still believe many people, particularly teenagers, probably still get a majority of their calories from fructose-rich drinks like soda.
I strongly recommend ditching all sodas as a first step to clean up your diet and help normalize your insulin levels. I believe it's one of the most powerful actions you can take to improve your health and lower your risk of disease and long-term chronic health conditions. Especially when you consider that just one can of soda per day can add as much as 15 pounds to your weight over the course of a single year, and increases your risk of diabetes by 85 percent! If you struggle with an addiction to soda and other sweets, I strongly recommend you consider Turbo Tapping. It's a simple and clever use of the Emotional Freedom Technique, designed to resolve many aspects of an issue in a concentrated period of time.
My Recommended Fructose Allowance
As a standard recommendation, I advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day. For most people it would also be wise to limit your fructose from fruit to 15 grams or less, as you're virtually guaranteed to consume "hidden" sources of fructose through processed food and condiments.
There certainly are exceptions to this rule. People who are aggressively exercising can consume far more, especially if consuming the calories around the time of exercise, but generally, to optimize health, most will benefit from restricting their fructose input.
Fifteen grams of fructose is not much -- it represents two bananas, one-third cup of raisins, or two Medjool dates. Remember, the average 12-ounce can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar, at least half of which is fructose, so one can of soda alone would exceed your daily allotment. If your insulin and leptin signaling is fine and you have normal body weight and don't suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, then consuming more fruit is reasonable.
In his book, The Sugar Fix, Dr. Richard Johnson includes detailed tables showing the content of fructose in different foods -- an information base that isn't readily available when you're trying to find out exactly how much fructose is in various foods. You can also find an abbreviated listing of the fructose content of common fruits in this previous article.
Key Point: Replace Carbs with Healthful Fats!
Keep in mind that when we're talking about harmful carbs, we're only referring to grains and sugars, NOT vegetable carbs. When you cut grain/sugar carbs, you then need to radically increase:
- The amount of vegetables you eat since, by volume, the grains you need to trade out are denser than vegetables, and
- Healthful fats such as avocados, coconut oil, organic pastured egg yolks, raw grass fed organic butter, olives, and nuts such as almonds and pecans.
Avoid highly processed and genetically engineered omega-6 oils like corn, canola and soy as they will upset your omega-6/3 ratio. Of course you want to avoid all trans fats, but contrary to popular advice, saturated fats are a key component of a healthy diet that will promote weight loss.
A reasonable goal will be to have as much as 50-70 percent of your diet as healthy fat, which will radically reduce your carbohydrate intake. It can be helpful to remember that fat is far more satiating than carbs, so if you have cut down on carbs and feel ravenous, this is a sign that you have not replaced them with sufficient amounts of healthy fat.
Most people will likely notice massive improvement in their health by following this approach as they are presently consuming FAR more grain and bean carbohydrates in their diet, and any reduction will be a step in the right direction. To help you get started on the right track, review my Nutritional Plan, which guides you through these dietary changes one step at a time.
You Can Avoid Becoming a Statistic
Perhaps one of the most powerful scientific discoveries to emerge in the past several years is that the old adage "a calorie is a calorie" is patently false. Furthermore, the idea that in order to lose weight all you have to do is expend more calories than you consume is equally false. The research clearly demonstrates that even if you control the number of calories you eat, if those calories come from fructose, you are at increased risk of obesity and pre-diabetes, which includes insulin and leptin resistance, fatty liver, high blood pressure and high triglycerides.
Conventional advice tells us that obesity is simply the result of eating too many calories and not exercising enough. However, Dr. Johnson's research, discussed above, shows that a high fructose diet is one of the keys to trapping excess fat and developing metabolic disorders, and that as soon as you throw fructose into the mix, "calories in versus calories out" is no longer a functional equation.
In short, limiting fructose in all its forms, along with other sugars, is imperative in order to avoid "flipping the fat switch" that can trigger your body to accumulate excess fat. And replacing sugar and grain carbs with vegetables and healthful fats is the key to normalizing your weight, metabolic function, and overall health.
Intermittent fasting is another powerful tool that will help you transition your body from obtaining the majority of its fuel from glucose stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver, to the fat stored in your tissues. This is one of the most effective ways to burn your excess body fat, become lean, and eliminate sugar cravings.