How to Eat Poorly: more sugar, less fat

It is a very sad reality that poor nutrition happens mostly to poor people. It also does not happen “by itself” but it is rather the result of targeted marketing and advertising campaigns that bombard kids long before their critical thinking is formed. The truth is that too much fat, especially from natural sources, is far more preferable to sugar.

red-robin-bacon-milkshakeI circumscribe to the aforementioned campaigns PR releases and ads that promote the uniquely unhealthy marriage of too much fat and too much sugar. On September 2, Red Robin announced:

This fall, the south is in the house at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc. (Red Robin) with a new milkshake and burger sure to satisfy a guest’s sweet (and savory) tooth! Beginning now through Nov. 2, guests 21-and-over can enjoy the new Beam®-N-Bacon Boozy Shake made with Jim Beam® Maple Bourbon, caramel and vanilla soft serve blended to perfection and topped with bacon bits and a strip of candied bacon.

We now know that sugar in itself is bad, but it is particularly bad when coupled with excessive fat, as it causes fat to be more likely to be deposited on arteries and in organs, changing the waist to hip ratio. This is a simple fact that was wilfully ignored for decades by regulators and health / diet pundits. It wasn’t until Robert Lustig’s famous lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth reached the first million viewers, that people started to understand that there is something wrong with conventional wisdom which used to dictate that you have to stay away from fat if you don’t want to put on weight.

For Red Robin's branding, the new embrace of bacon -- at a time the media is more infatuated with better-for-you foods -- is ingenious, says one branding guru.

"Bacon is the poster-food for anti-establishment, anti-health," says Peter Madden, CEO at the brand specialty firm AgileCat. "Given the ever-increasing health-based society we live in, this is a food that says 'we're breaking the rules, health be damned.' "

Last spring, Carl's Jr. took bacon to the max by rolling out the X-Tra Bacon Cheeseburger with four strips of bacon on a char-broiled beef patty, Two summers ago, Burger King even introduced a Bacon Sundae -- soft serve drizzled with chocolate fudge, caramel sauce and bacon crumbles.

In 2013, bacon sales climbed 9.5% to an all-time high of nearly $4 billion, reports Information Resources. Bacon sales in the U.S. have increased four consecutive years, says the research specialist. (us2d-rr)

That bacon is popular, that’s nothing new. Fat in food is tasty, desirable, necessary and good for you, it’s just this pairing with huge amounts of sugar that makes it bad. And it’s not just Burger King and Carl’s Jr that do this, lesser known chains, such as Five Guys, are jumping on the bandwagon:

Fans of the Five Guys burger chain will be pleased to hear that you can absolutely prolong your order time now that they're testing customizable milkshakes. That's gotta be wonderful for the lines. Though, hey, bacon and Oreo milkshake!

Customers begin with a vanilla base for their milkshake. They're then given the option to mix in as many topping options as their artery-clogged hearts desire. Some of the more notable toppings include salted caramel, coffee, Oreo cookies and of course bacon. (fb-5g)

Let’s start with a few videos and documentaries: Fed Up, Science of Sweetness, Secrets of Sugar, Slim, sugar-free, mitochondria, big sugar.

A plethora of studies have come out since Lustig’s lecture, showing, for instance, that low-carb diets are far more beneficial than low-fat diets when there is no calorie restriction (inbo-nyt):

"By the end of the yearlong trial, people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity. While the low-fat group did lose weight, they appeared to lose more muscle than fat. They actually lost lean muscle mass, which is a bad thing,’ Dr. Mozaffarian said. ‘Your balance of lean mass versus fat mass is much more important than weight. And that’s a very important finding that shows why the low-carb, high-fat group did so metabolically well.’ … In the end, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides — a type of fat that circulates in the blood — plunge. Their HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group. Blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, stayed about the same for people in each group."

At TEDxEast, Nina Teicholz makes the following points (inbo-nina), which we’ll augument with heart disease indicators:

  1. In 2012, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined the health and lifestyle habits of more than 52,000 adults ages 20 to 74, concluding that women with “high cholesterol” (greater than 270 mg/dl) had a 28 percent lower mortality risk than women with “low cholesterol” (less than 183 mg/dl). Researchers also found that, if you’re a woman, your risk for heart disease, cardiac arrest, and stroke are higher with lower cholesterol levels.
  2. In 2013, a prominent London cardiologist by the name of Aseem Malhotra argued in the British Medical Journal that you should ignore advice to reduce your saturated fat intake, because it’s actually increasing your risk for obesity and heart disease.
  3. Then in March 2014, a new meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, using data from nearly 80 studies and more than a half million people, found that those who consume higher amounts of saturated fat have no more heart disease than those who consume less. They also did not find less heart disease among those eating higher amounts of unsaturated fat, including both olive oil and corn oil.

The best indicators for heart disease risk are outlined in the table that follows. Be aware that these same indicators have also been found to be fairly accurate in predicting your dementia risk.

  • 1. HDL/total cholesterol ratio: HDL percentage is a very important heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your total cholesterol. This percentage should ideally be above 24 percent. Below 10 percent, it’s a significant indicator of heart disease risk.
  • 2. Triglyceride/HDL ratios: Divide your triglyceride number by your HDL. This ratio should ideally be below 2.
  • 3. NMR lipoprofile: Possibly the most powerful test for evaluating heart disease risk, this test determines your proportion of smaller, more damaging LDL particles. Small LDL particles get stuck easily, cause more inflammation, and are tied to insulin and leptin resistance. This test is not typically ordered, so you might need to request it from your physician or order it yourself through a third-party. (For more information on the NMR Lipoprofile, please watch my interview with Chris Kresser, above.)
  • 4. Fasting insulin: A normal fasting blood insulin level is below 5, but ideally, you’ll want it below 3. If your insulin level is higher than 5, the most effective way to optimize it is to reduce or eliminate all forms of dietary sugar, particularly fructose, and processed grains.
  • 5. Fasting blood glucose: Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood glucose of 100-125 mg/dl had nearly three times the risk of coronary artery disease of people with a blood glucose below 79 mg/dl.
  • 6. Waist-to-hip ratio: Visceral fat, the type of fat that collects around your internal organs, is a well-recognized risk factor for heart disease. The simplest way to evaluate your risk here is by simply measuring your waist-to-hip ratio. (For further instructions, please see the link to my previous article.)
  • 7. Iron level: Excess iron can exert very potent oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron in your blood, you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should monitor your serum ferritin level and make sure it is below 80 ng/ml. The simplest ways to eliminate excess iron are blood donation and therapeutic phlebotomy.

This is important, because while any diet will work (in losing weight) if you stick with it (inbo-McMaster), there are other health factors one needs to consider before embarking on such a journey, and the lean mass to fat ratio has important metabolic consequences. A low calorie intake does wonders for weight-loss (it is, indeed, the most effective way to reduce fat), but keeping the weight off may be more difficult for those whose sweet tooth has been induced and cultivated by decades of TV advertising. It might help to know that conventional wisdom, long trained by famines in WWII and other similar experiences, is wrong when it comes to eating while sick. Fasting was shown to help in restoring the immune system (inbo-fasting):

The researchers say fasting “flips a regenerative switch” that prompts stem cells to create white blood cells, essentially restoring the immune system. “It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” said Valter Longo, professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the university. “And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system. (..) What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. (..) Longo added: “There is no evidence at all that fasting would be dangerous while there is strong evidence that it is beneficial.”

The endemic proportions of obesity can be placed squarely on the shoulders of increased calories intake in general (inbo-obesity), the greater emphasis on carbs at the expense of meat (inbo-meat) and the ravages that insulin does to one’s body when repeatedly badgered by sugars, mostly from HFCS (inbo-ec).

Avoiding a high sugar intake is far more difficult than you might think. For starters, it’s not only soft drinks and even “health” drinks that have an excess, but even low fat yogurt or the newer “skyr” (inbo-skyr). This is particularly evident with alcoholic drinks (inbo-alc):

A single pint of cider contains almost as much sugar as the World Health Organization recommends should be an average person’s daily limit. A can of gin and tonic contains about half that (the World Health Organization said a person’s daily intake of added sugar should be halved to six teaspoons to help avoid growing health problems including obesity and tooth decay). An analysis of sugar levels in cider, sherry and spirits found that some drinks contained as many as five teaspoons of sugar in a single serving. By contrast, wines and beer contained significantly smaller quantities.

When it comes to most processed foods, you need to look at the ingredients list (inbo-proc):

“it helps to have a good idea of what words to look for that basically mean sugar.”
These include, among others, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose and sucrose.
“Anything that ends in ‘ose,’ or anything that is a ‘syrup’ is made with sugar. If those appear earlier in the ingredient list, that means they are a major ingredient.”

Cooking your meals is best, but you might be surprised to learn that not all foods stress your body in the same way. Fortunately, there is solid research testing how much certain foods will increase blood glucose levels. This is the “Glycemic Index” (GI) list, and it is easily accessible.

Though a good start, this list is not an “end-all” – rather, a guideline (hh-gi).

  • Some foods, like carrot and watermelon, have a high glycemic index, but a serving contains so little carbohydrate that the effect on blood sugar is small. Others, like sugary soda, have a moderate glycemic index because they contain a fair amount of fructose, which has relatively little effect on blood sugar. But they also pack plenty of glucose, which does boost blood sugar, cautions Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.
  • The glycemic index of a particular food can also be influenced by what it is eaten with. Olive oil or something acidic, like vinegar or lemon juice, can slow the conversion of starch to sugar, and so lower the glycemic index.

Finally, in your quest to reduce sugar intake, replacing it with artificial sweeteners is a serious mistake. Recent studies have shown that they may raise blood sugar levels by altering digestive bacteria normally living in the gut, while other studies have shown a link between them and weight gain in children (inbo-sweeteners). Similarly, natural fat is quite different from “fattening / thickening agents” in that something that has nearly infinite shelf life, like many hydrolysed oils, is unlikely to sustain gut bacteria in the same way as bacon. In particular, see a study on Hydrogenated Oils and Insulin Resistance.

The table below should help in better understanding sugars and sweeteners.

Sources / More info: rr-bnbbs, us2d-rr, fb-5g, inbo-nyt, inbo-McMaster, inbo-fasting, inbo-obesity, inbo-meat, inbo-ec, inbo-tg, inbo-skyr, inbo-alc, inbo-proc, hh-gi, usy-gi, inbo-sweeteners, Teicholz-BigFatSurprise, inbo-fatmyths, inbo-nina, yt-docs

Artificial sweeteners Sugar alcohols Novel sweeteners Natural sweeteners
Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One) Erythritol Stevia extracts (Pure Via, Truvia) Agave nectar
Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate Tagatose (Naturlose) Date sugar
Neotame Isomalt Trehalose Fruit juice concentrate
Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low) Lactitol   Honey
Sucralose (Splenda) Maltitol   Maple syrup
  Mannitol   Molasses
  Sorbitol

 

   
  Xylitol    

Advantame

     

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