Public Health Enemy #1: Fructose

I have a bone to pick with the fitness and commercial diet industries. If you listen to the trends and fads, you “gotta go low carb” to get fat loss results. Carbs are the enemy right? And a 300lb, insulin resistant, sedentary, office worker should be eating the exact same thing as a 180lb man or 140lb woman — both of whom are regularly active, relatively lean, but trying to take it to the next level and reach peak physical condition? Yep, cut the carbs across the board. Carbs are the enemy.

Whatever dude.

To me, those are nothing more than media sensationalism tactics and commercial dietary blanket statements — both of which are highly marketable, but just as equally, highly inaccurate. “If we cut the carbs, we can eat whatever else we want in unlimited quantities and still stay lean.” Really? How’s that one working out for you?

Listen if carbs were the enemy, wouldn’t traditional Asian cultures have been the fattest most diabetic populations on the planet. Got rice?

History tells us different. In pre-1991 Japan, diabetes and obesity rates were never over 3% of the population. It is only since Western habits (ie large portions of processed foods) have gained popularity with each successive generation that the numbers have gotten worse, now closer to 11%.

And here in America, where we are so ahead of the times, so cutting edge with our dietary recommendations, and have a billion dollar low carb industry, shouldn’t we be the fittest people in the world? I mean we have low-carb bars, snack foods, and even gum. As beaches and poolsides everywhere tell us, however, quite the contrary is true. We’re still the worst nation on the planet, right around 33%.

LEARN FROM HISTORY

To me, this “all carbs are the enemy thang” is no different than the 1970’s “all fats are evil thang”. Haven’t we learned our lesson about lumping different foods into one general category and condemning them as the downfall of society? I guess not. In today’s world, a natural potato is the same thing as a man-made muffin loaded with sugar and flour. And we’re supposed to eat our fake, factory produced, low-carb bar to compensate.

Again, whatever dude.

In the 1970’s, heart healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids were lumped into the same category as pro-inflammatory vegetable oils and trans fats. We were told to cut fat across the board, regardless of the source. With advancements in research and knowledge, we now know that was uninformed, counterproductive advice.

One day, I feel like we will look back at the current Carbophobia Era in the same sort of way. Did they really say that potatoes and rice were just as bad as sugar and high fructose corn syrup? Really? C’mon man, you are B.S.’ing me right? They weren’t that stupid.

AMERICA’S WORST FOOD COMPOUND

So just like with fats, we can’t oversimplify. Unfortunately, we must put in some effort to educate and inform ourselves if we are to truly end up with the most accurate information and the most effective plans. We can’t blindly follow blanket statements.

We must distinguish between carbs that can be beneficial (especially for anaerobic athletes) vs. carbs that are without a doubt detrimental to our health. It is not ALL carbs that are killing us, making us sick, and making us fat; it is certain TYPES of carbs. And I have a bona fide grim reaper for you (yes I am going to resort to the scare tactic on this one).

While there are several worthy foods, I’d put the championship belt around concentrated sources of fructose as the worst compound in modern diets. If you did nothing other than cut out sugar and high fructose corn syrup from your diet, I’d bet you’d end up with a pretty decent physique. But that crap is everywhere, and is in everything.

According to numerous studies, fructose is the main culprit in table sugar that causes insulin resistance — FRUCTOSE y’all, not my poor glucose/starch compounds that get unfairly lumped into the same category via the “Y2K All Carbs Are Evil Campaign”. Here is one of those studies that compared a starch-based diet with sucrose/fructose-based diets:

Old-timers paper link: Thresher et al, Comparison of the effects of sucrose and fructose on insulin action and glucose tolerance. AJP- Regu Physiol October 2000 vol.279 no.4; New-school web link: http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/279/4/R1334.full

In an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the metabolism of fructose was further investigated. The report indicated that fructose, compared with glucose, is preferentially metabolized to fat in your liver. In animal models fructose produced the following responses: insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, high insulin levels, high triglycerides, and hypertension.

WE LOVE THE SWEET STUFF

The primary reasons that fructose is used commercially in foods and beverages is: (1) It’s cheap, and (2) It is the sweetest of all carbohydrates, up to 1 ½ times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar).

But isn’t fructose a natural sugar found in nature via whole fruits? Yep. How can it be bad for you then?

The fructose in whole fruit exists in tiny amounts. That’s not the problem. It’s the commercialization of foods, and the trend towards using additives to make everything sweet (because we love the sweetness) that is the problem. With the food refining process, we are getting concentrated sources of fructose in dramatically higher amounts, and with much more consistent regularity, than mama-nature ever intended for us. And it is this specific type of carb that is making us fat, diabetic, and sick.

Where is most of our dietary fructose coming from? The top 2 are:

1. High fructose corn syrup and pure fructose as a sweetener in packaged and processed snack foods and desserts, as well as sauces, dressings, and condiments.

2. Ditto for pure table sugar added to almost every refined treat, snack, and baked good. Sugar is 1 molecule of glucose plus 1 molecule of FRUCTOSE.

Beyond that, we get if from additional sources like:

3. Agave nectar, which is almost pure fructose. This is the latest marketed “health food/ sugar substitute”, but it is one of the worst things you can put on your food because of the high fructose content.

4. Honey

5. Fruit juice and fruit smoothies

6. Dried fruits

7. Fruit. 1-2 pieces of whole fruit a day is healthy and should not be problematic. Just don’t go around like a chimp eating 50 bananas a day. At that point, the fructose adds up.

We have to start cutting back on our fructose intake to improve both our waistline and our overall health. They call it dessert, not a dietary staple, for a reason.

SWEET ADDICTION

What is the most widespread, addictive drug in our society today? Is it cocaine? Maybe for the nightclub crowd, strippers, and bankers. Painkillers? Athletes and seniors use them to get by. Pot? Dude, I grew up in California and went to school at Berkeley, so that certainly makes sense. Tobacco and alcohol? They’re legal, over-the-counter, and readily available in any grocery store, market, restaurant, and bar. We’re getting warmer.

In terms of sheer numbers of addicts, there is one drug that surpasses them all, combined. There is one drug that is more dangerous than the rest, simply because most people are not even aware that it is a drug. There is one drug that is having profound, detrimental effects on our nation’s health and well being (as well as your waistline), and it is cheap and highly available wherever you turn. Many parents even give it to their children on a daily basis, not knowing any better. What is this drug?

Sugar.

This compound, along with our lack of portion control with sugar-loaded foods, is the main reason why we are the fattest, unhealthiest people on earth. I do not mean to make light of drug addiction. On the contrary, that’s how devastating I think this whole sugar problem is. Make no mistake about it my friends. Sugar IS a drug. It is a compound that we can become physically, mentally, physiologically, and emotionally addicted to.

Every day in America, many of us are abusing a powerful drug that is slowly crippling us. As seen above, sugars are some of the most destructive things you can put into your body. When you talk about these foods, it is not what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It is what doesn’t kill you quickly kills you slowly. I truly believe that if cutting out sugar/fructose was the one and only change you made towards improving your health and fitness profile, you would obtain dramatic results.

Most people have a hard time cutting out sugar, just as they would have cutting out any drug. Its not just a weak will, it’s a physiological addiction. Sugar triggers serotonin release in the brain, which has a calming effect and gives us a sense of well-being. Have you ever just eaten one M&M? You can’t do it, because your body gets a glimpse of that drug-like effect and the reward centers in your brain crave more. Its not just the taste or a weak will, it’s a physiological desire to eat more.

This is the main problem with “emotional eating”. People don’t run to chicken and broccoli when they are stressed, anxious, or depressed. They run to comfort foods that make them feel better. They run to sugar. You need to find healthier ways to deal with your emotions than relying on a drug-like chemical disguised as food.

BLOOD SUGAR ROLLER COASTER RIDE

There is also evidence that sugar and the resulting high levels of insulin affect appetite centers in the brain. In high amounts, insulin is an appetite stimulant. Eating sugar makes you even hungrier, which in turn causes you to overeat. Sugar loaded foods are the most dangerous foods to overeat because of this appetite stimulating affect. They make you hungrier and crave more of the same.

Like all things related to fat loss and gain, this can be related to blood sugar levels. When simple sugars are consumed, blood sugar rises above its upper limit. Insulin is released in large amounts to clear sugar from the blood. The large amount of insulin can end up doing too good of a job, so much sugar is cleared from the blood that blood sugar levels are left low, below the normal limits. Low blood sugar causes fatigue, low energy, and hunger.

The body craves food to return blood sugar back to higher amounts. It craves a type of food that will enter into the bloodstream and raise blood sugar levels quickly – more simple sugars. It’s a harsh cycle of peaks and valleys; simple sugars cause you to eat more simple sugars. It’s a roller coaster ride of energy bursts and energy crashes. Not only do you gain body fat, but hormonal processes in the body make you more prone to continue eating in this destructive manner.

To put it another way, my recommended sugar intake for positive fitness and body composition transformation is 0g per day. For those interested in general health, my recommended sugar intake is 0g per day.

CUTTING THE CRAP — BLOG EXAMPLE

I’m not going to lie to you. Cutting out sugar is not going to be easy. You may have withdrawal symptoms and you will get cravings. That’s exactly why I would classify it as a drug. But if you work hard, and power through like you must do when breaking any addiction or bad habit, it does get easier.

So I want to provide you with a real life example to motivate you.

One of our friends contacted us about 2 months before her wedding day. She had read our site and wanted to apply some of the content to shape up a little bit before the big day. She was realistic, and didn’t think she could implement every single one of our recommendations (after all she wasn’t a fitness freak), but wanted to make a real effort towards moving in the right direction.

The compromise we came up with? She was only going to focus on doing one thing — cutting out all sources of fructose and sugar. No other dietary changes were to be made. And she exercised a little more, but not enough to make a huge difference. The result?

She lost 15lbs in that two-month time frame, and we both though she looked great at her wedding.

If you are only going to take one step, make it this one.