Foods Kept in Plain Sight May Reveal the Source of Your Weight Management Problem

Story at-a-glance -

  • The types of ready-to-eat foods you leave in plain sight on your kitchen counters can be used to predict your weight. Those with cereal and soda on their counters are on average 20 to 26 pounds heavier than others
  • Cutting added sugars can improve a child’s health in as little as 10 days, reducing triglycerides by 33 points, and lowering blood sugar by 53 percent
  • Reducing added sugar consumption improves heart health. Just one to two servings of sugary beverages per day may raise your risk of heart disease by 35 percent, diabetes by 25 percent, and stroke by 15 percent

By Dr. Mercola

According to recent research, the types of ready-to-eat foods you leave in plain sight on your kitchen counters can be used to predict your weight.

According to Professor Brian Wansink, who specializes in how house design affects eating habits, this is one of the ways in which you may trick yourself into gaining weight.

If a food is left out, you're far more apt to eat it than if it's tucked away in a cupboard, so what you leave out can make a significant difference in your overall diet and, ultimately, your weight and health. As reported by the Epoch Times:1

"The study2,3 looked at photographs of more than 200 kitchens in Syracuse, New York, to test how the food environment relates to the body mass index (BMI) of the adults at home.

The women in the study who kept fresh fruit out in the open tended to be a normal weight compared with their peers.

But when snacks like cereals and sodas were readily accessible, those people were heavier than their neighbors — by an average of more than 20 pounds. 

'It's your basic See-Food Diet — you eat what you see,' says Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and lead author of the paper in the journal Health Education and Behavior."

Soda and Breakfast Cereal Top List of Obesity-Related Foods

Those who kept soda out in the open and within easy reach weighed an average of 24 to 26 pounds more than those who didn't.

And while processed breakfast cereals are widely advertised as being healthy for your heart and weight, people who kept cereal on their counters weighed an average of 20 pounds more than those who didn't have cereal in their counter.

This study is hardly an example of rigorous science showing that cereal makes you fat, but it's still an interesting observation that falls right in line with the nutritional facts. Most cereals are chockfull of sugar, and excess sugar is the number one culprit of obesity and chronic disease.

Cutting Sugar Can Improve Child's Health in Less Than Two Weeks

As reported by The New York Times,4 recent research shows that cutting added sugars can improve a child's health in as little as 10 days. The study5 was led by Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist who has long argued that added sugar is toxic when consumed in too-high amounts.

"Obese children who cut back on their sugar intake see improvements in their blood pressure, cholesterol readings, and other markers of health after just 10 days, a rigorous new study found...

In the new study, which was financed by the National Institutes of Health... [t]hey removed foods with added sugar from a group of children's diets and replaced them with other types of carbohydrates so that the subjects' weight and overall calorie intake remained roughly the same.

After 10 days, the children showed dramatic improvements, despite losing little or no weight. The findings add to the argument that all calories are not created equal, and they suggest that those from sugar are especially likely to contribute to Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases..."

The study reduced the amount of added sugars from an average of 27 percent of daily calories down to about 10 percent, which is in line with the most recent recommendations by the federal government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, issued in February.

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Study Pins the Blame on Refined Sugars and Processed Fructose

It's worth noting that while the children in Dr. Lustig's study ate the same percentage of carbohydrates as they normally did, all added sugars, such as sugar cane and corn syrup, were replaced with starches instead.

From a health standpoint, the children were not placed on an ideal diet — they were fed hot dogs and baked potato chips, for example, but this was done specifically to demonstrate that not even sugars are metabolically identical.

Refined sugar and processed fructose such as high-fructose corn syrup is FAR more harmful than glucose and other sugars found in whole foods. As Dr. Lustig told Time magazine:6

“I’m not suggesting in any way, shape or form that we gave them healthy food. We gave them crappy food... and processed food — and they still got better.

Imagine how much even better they would have gotten if we didn't substitute and took the sugar out. Then they would have gotten even better yet. That's the point."

On average, the children (aged eight to 18) saw the following improvements in their lab work and disease markers after this short intervention:

  • LDL cholesterol fell by 10 points
  • Diastolic blood pressure fell five points
  • Triglycerides were reduced by 33 points
  • Fasting blood sugar dropped by 53 percent
  • Insulin levels also significantly improved

Sugar Is Natural, but It Can Still Be Toxic

In an article7 for the Huffington Post, Dr. Lustig writes about the toxic impact of added sugars, noting that:

"The naysayers will say, 'But sugar is natural. Sugar has been with us for thousands of years. Sugar is food, and how can food be toxic?'... Sugar by itself furnishes energy, and that's about it... Fructose, the sweet molecule in sugar, contains calories that you can burn for energy, but it's not nutrition, because there's no biochemical reaction that requires it.

In excess, it can fry your liver, just like alcohol. 
And this makes sense, because where do you get alcohol from? Fermentation of sugar. Too much sugar causes diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and tooth decay. When consumed in excess, it's a toxin. And it's addictive – just like alcohol..."

According to Dr. Lustig, this similarity is precisely why kids are now developing alcohol-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, even though they're not drinking alcohol.

Less Sugar, More Veggies Can Make Big Difference in Health Decades Later

If you have young children, I strongly advise you to take this information to heart, as one's childhood diet can have long-term health ramifications. For example, according to a recent study8,9 published in the journal Circulation, the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat can affect your heart health 20 years later.

People between the ages of 18 and 30 who ate seven to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day were 25 percent less likely to have significant coronary calcium in their arteries 20 years later, compared to those who only ate only two to four servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Another recent scientific review10 confirmed that cutting down on refined sugar and processed fructose improves heart health. 

Drinking just one to two servings of sugary beverages per day was found to raise a person's risk of:

  • Heart disease by 35 percent
  • Type 2 diabetes by 25 percent
  • Stroke by 15 percent

Frank Hu with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told Forbes:11

"Since we rarely consume fructose in isolation, the major source of fructose in the diet comes from fructose-containing sugars, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup, in sugar-sweetened beverages. Our findings underscore the urgent need for public health strategies that reduce the consumption of these drinks...

Part of the problem is how fructose behaves in the body... While glucose is escorted by insulin into cells to be used as fuel, fructose doesn't need the escort. It's processed in the liver, where it can be converted into triglycerides, otherwise known as blood fats. These can lead to insulin resistance, which is a leading cause of not only diabetes, but of heart disease."

The infographic below, published by Prevention,12 shows how sugar drives inflammation and affects virtually every aspect of your health, from your skin to your joints, your heart, and even your genitals.

Body Sugar Infographic Preview

Recommended Daily Sugar Limits

The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend limiting your daily added sugar intake to nine teaspoons (38 grams) for men and six teaspoons (25 grams) for women. The average American, however, consumes around 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and this is quite clearly far too much for your body to handle. A meta-review13 published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that once you reach 18 percent of your daily calories from added sugar, there's a two-fold increase in metabolic harm that promotes pre-diabetes and diabetes.

I strongly recommend limiting your daily fructose intake to 25 grams or less from all sources, including natural sources such as fruit — regardless of whether you're male or female. That equates to just over six teaspoons of total sugar a day. If you're insulin resistant, which applies to about 80 percent of Americans, you'd be wise to limit your total fructose to 15 grams per day until your insulin resistance is resolved.

Task Force Issues New Common-Sense Guidelines to Prevent Diabetes

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now urges all overweight Americans over the age of 40 to get their blood sugar tested at least once every three years, even if they don't have symptoms of diabetes.14 This is a very inexpensive test and I recommend checking your fasting blood sugar and fasting insulin on an annual basis, regardless of your age or weight, and to take proactive steps to address elevated blood sugar levels as insulin resistance is the first step toward diabetes and chronic disease.

Previously, the task force recommended diabetes screening for people with high blood pressure, but not for overweight people without symptoms of diabetes. However, more recent studies have found that lifestyle changes are "consistently beneficial" for preventing or delaying the disease. This is a perfect example of how it can take conventional medicine decades to reach even the most common-sense conclusions, as I've been teaching how to prevent diabetes through diet and exercise ever since I started this newsletter nearly 20 years ago.

Now, finally, these strategies are becoming more widely recognized by the conventional medical community. According to task force member Dr. Michael Pignone:

"The Task Force found screening adults ages 40 to 70 who are overweight or obese can identify individuals with abnormal blood glucose levels before it progresses to diabetes and that offering or referring them to intensive lifestyle interventions can help prevent or delay complications from the disease."

How Sugar Industry Turned Unnecessary Luxury into a Food Staple

Sugar was not a part of the average man's daily diet until very recently, and the sugar industry spent a lot of money to convince people it was an essential nutrient. In the 1940s, it was common knowledge among doctors and dentists that sugar was completely unnecessary, and that it could be harmful. But by the 1970s, a dramatic change in consciousness had occurred, thanks to the influence of the sugar industry, and today added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names.15,16

Time magazine17 recently featured a series of sugar commercials from the 1960s, in which sugar is promoted as an essential nutrient for energy — and, believe it or not, for weight loss. For example, one ad says:

"After practicing baton twirling, Judy climbed the apple tree to rescue the cat, skated to the store for bobby pins. Now she's home from dancing class. She needs a sugarless, go-less soft drink like a kangaroo needs a baby buggy. What are little girls made of? Sugar. For energy."

Another ad aimed at working women suggests that drinking a soft drink or eating a candy bar just before mealtime will reduce your appetite and keep your energy high. Sugar was also promoted as "the willpower you need to undereat." A series of ads from 1972 carry the slogan, "Sugar. It isn't just good flavor, it's good food."

These campaigns were so successful that even though you don't see deceitful ads like this anymore, many people are still under the mistaken belief that you "need" sugar for energy. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you eat correctly, your body can easily create all the sugar you need, your food cravings will quickly vanish, and your energy levels will remain stable for hours on end once your body becomes fat adapted, which means relearning how to use healthy fat rather than sugar as its primary fuel.

Sugar Industry Uses Tobacco Industry's Play Book to Fool Consumers

The sugar industry operates in much the same way as the tobacco industry did back in its heydays. For over 30 years, the tobacco industry knew that nicotine was addictive and caused lung cancer, and this information was purposefully withheld from the public. Big Tobacco executives even lied during Congressional testimony, stating they had no knowledge of adverse health effects.

Today, the sugar industry is being equally evasive,18 either dismissing or downplaying the scientific evidence showing that excessive sugar consumption is a primary driver of obesity, metabolic dysfunction, and chronic disease. Andy Briscoe, the head of the Sugar Association, has even made appeals to the scientific advisory committee making recommendations for the 2015 US dietary guidelines to go easy on sugar.

The committee recommended Americans consume no more than 10 percent of their daily calories in the form of added sugars, citing "strong and consistent evidence" that sugar is associated with obesity and other health risks. Briscoe went so far as to say19 "'there was no 'proof of cause and effect' linking 'added sugars' intake with serious disease,' nor any 'significant scientific agreement' to justify telling the American public sugar is 'a causal factor in a serious disease outcome.'"  Briscoe has also gone on record with the following, quite ludicrous and wholly inaccurate, statements:20

"Obesity is a serious concern in America, but sugar is not the culprit... Sugar has been used safely by our grandmothers and their grandmothers for centuries... All-natural sugar is currently being scapegoated for all kinds of health problems, despite the fact that Americans consume less of it now... Every major, comprehensive review of the total body of scientific literature continues to exonerate sugars intake as the causative factor in any lifestyle disease..."

Food Swaps That Can Help Improve Your Health

As shown in Dr. Lustig's study, even minor changes in your diet can make a big difference in your health. The key is to get rid of the added sugars. And, while I certainly do not promote eating processed foods like baked chips, even "crappy food," as Dr. Lustig put it, can be tolerated to a greater degree as long as you've eliminated the added sugars. Paste Magazine21 recently listed a number of food swaps that could help improve your health. For example, you can:

  • Replace power and cereal bars with trail mix (nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Just avoid the dried fruit if you're insulin resistant or diabetic, as they tend to be very high in fructose)
  • Replace chips with kale chips, pea crisps, seaweed chips, or roasted chickpeas
  • Replace white rice with Heirloom Forbidden Rice — a very dark, purplish rice high in antioxidants
  • Satisfy your candy craving with dark chocolate (minimum 60 percent cacao). You can also make your own homemade chocolate treat (see video below)

The Importance of Microbes

Ultimately, your health (and even your weight) is largely dependent on the healthy bacteria in your gut, and sugar is just one of many ingredients in processed food that decimate your intestinal health. Your gut microbiome can also have a significant influence on a child's brain development, as well as your mental health at any age. As noted by Scientific American:22

"[R]esearchers are starting to uncover a vast, varied system in which gut microbes influence the brain through hormones, immune molecules and the specialized metabolites that they produce... Recent studies also demonstrate that gut microbes directly alter neurotransmitter levels, which may enable them to communicate with neurons."

Scientists have also started paying careful attention to the microbial composition of soil, noting that this is really where it all starts. Without healthy soils, we in turn will have a hard time staying healthy. As noted by National Geographic:

"Healthy soil's impact is wide-ranging but three big effects are: its ability to improve human health, its ability to halt soil erosion, and its potential to slow the effects of climate change."

The importance of microbes for human and environmental health has now become fairly well-recognized, although there are still many unanswered questions. In fact, the emergence of microbiome research may be one of the most important new fields of science, capable of addressing both human health and environmental destruction at the same time.

Now, members of the Unified Microbiome Initiative Consortium (UMIC), which includes researchers from 50 different scientific organizations, are calling on the US government to launch a Unified Microbiome Initiative23 — a cross-agency and cross-institutional program to support and coordinate microbiome research. As reported by Tech Times:24

"The UMIC believes such a program would lead to breakthrough discoveries in different fields, including medicine, renewable energy, ecosystem management, and commodities production."

Optimizing Your Gut Flora May Be One of Your Most Important Disease Prevention Strategies

All of this information should really drive home the point that your diet can make or break your health, and processed foods as a rule will do the latter. If you seek to optimize your health and weight, eating REAL FOOD is key. Not only will this automatically eliminate most or all added sugars from your diet, it'll also cut out a wide variety of food additives and chemicals that have never been tested for safety.

Eating real, whole, unadulterated foods is a foundational strategy to normalize your microbiome, and promote optimal health. In addition to that, you'd be wise to consider adding fermented foods and/or a probiotic supplement to your diet, and to avoid items that are harmful to your microbiome.

  • Fermented foods are the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Healthy choices include lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner), fermented grass-fed organic milk such as kefir, various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots, and natto (fermented soy). Some of the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods are also excellent chelators of heavy metals and pesticides, which will also have a beneficial health effect by reducing your toxic load. As an added bonus, they can also a great source of vitamin K2 if you ferment your own using a starter culture with K2-producing bacteria.
  • Probiotic supplement. Although I'm not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics is an exception if you don't eat fermented foods on a regular basis. It's also highly recommended during and after taking a course of antibiotics.

Items to avoid include:

Antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary (and when you do, make sure to reseed your gut with fermented foods and/or a probiotic supplement) Conventionally-raised meats and other animal products, as these animals are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics, plus glyphosate-contaminated genetically engineered grains, which have also been implicated in the destruction of gut flora Processed foods (as the excessive sugars, along with otherwise "dead" nutrients, feed pathogenic bacteria)
Chlorinated and/or fluoridated water Antibacterial soap Agricultural chemicals, glyphosate (Roundup) in particular