Your “Diet” Food is Making You Fat

17 02 2010

This article from the Huffington Post today puts very cleary the risks associated with the average North American diet of processed foods. The article isn’t brief, but I found that I felt a need to read the entire thing. We are made to believe that foods with sugar are bad for us and will make us fat. What we are never told, is that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), the sweetener used in almost every processed food to replace natural sugar, is even worse for us. Not only does it have a increased negative impact on our weight, but it comes with a host of other issues from lack of nutrients and energy in our bodies to the monopolization of the agriculture industry and hazardous Genetically Modified Foods.  Coincidently, along with the Post article, I also came across an article from the CBC about the high percentage of Canadians with high blood pressure, another symptom of HFCS.

From the Huffington Post:

Study after study are taking their place in a growing lineup of scientific research demonstrating that consuming high-fructose corn syrup is the fastest way to trash your health. It is now known without a doubt that sugar in your food, in all it’s myriad of forms, is taking a devastating toll.

And fructose in any form — including high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and crystalline fructose — is the worst of the worst!

Fructose is a major contributor to:

• Insulin resistance and obesity
• Elevated blood pressure
• Elevated triglycerides and elevated LDL
• Depletion of vitamins and minerals
• Cardiovascular disease, liver disease, cancer, arthritis and even gout

A Calorie is Not a Calorie
Glucose is the form of energy you were designed to run on. Every cell in your body, every bacterium — and in fact, every living thing on the Earth–uses glucose for energy.

If you received your fructose only from vegetables and fruits (where it originates) as most people did a century ago, you’d consume about 15 grams per day — a far cry from the 73 grams per day the typical adolescent gets from sweetened drinks. In vegetables and fruits, it’s mixed in with fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial phytonutrients, all which moderate any negative metabolic effects.
It isn’t that fructose itself is bad — it is the MASSIVE DOSES you’re exposed to that make it dangerous.

There are two reasons fructose is so damaging:

1. Your body metabolizes fructose in a much different way than glucose. The entire burden of metabolizing fructose falls on your liver.

2. People are consuming fructose in enormous quantities, which has made the negative effects much more profound.

Today, 55 percent of sweeteners used in food and beverage manufacturing are made from corn, and the number one source of calories in America is soda, in the form of HFCS.

Food and beverage manufacturers began switching their sweeteners from sucrose (table sugar) to corn syrup in the 1970s when they discovered that HFCS was not only far cheaper to make, it’s about 20 percent sweeter than table sugar.

HFCS is either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, and sucrose is 50 percent fructose, so it’s really a wash in terms of sweetness.

Still, this switch drastically altered the average American diet.

By USDA estimates, about one-quarter of the calories consumed by the average American is in the form of added sugars, and most of that is HFCS. The average Westerner consumes a staggering 142 pounds a year of sugar! And the very products most people rely on to lose weight — the low-fat diet foods — are often the ones highest in fructose.

Making matters worse, all of the fiber has been removed from these processed foods, so there is essentially no nutritive value at all.

Fructose Metabolism Basics
Without getting into the very complex biochemistry of carbohydrate metabolism, it is important to understand some differences about how your body handles glucose versus fructose. I will be publishing a major article about this in the next couple of months, which will get much more into the details, but for our purpose here, I will just summarize the main points.

Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, has been a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism. His work has highlighted some major differences in how different sugars are broken down and used:

• After eating fructose, 100 percent of the metabolic burden rests on your liver. But with glucose, your liver has to break down only 20 percent.

• 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). Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.

• Fructose is the most lipophilic carbohydrate. In other words, fructose converts to activated glycerol (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. Consuming fructose is essentially consuming fat!

• 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.

• Glucose suppresses the 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.

If anyone tries to tell you “sugar is sugar,” they are way behind the times. As you can see, there are major differences in how your body processes each one.

The bottom line is: fructose leads to increased belly fat, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome — not to mention the long list of chronic diseases that directly result.

Panic in the Corn Fields
As the truth comes out about HFCS, the Corn Refiners Association is scrambling to convince you that their product is equal to table sugar, that it is “natural” and safe.

Of course, many things are “natural” — cocaine is natural, but you wouldn’t want to use 142 pounds of it each year.

The food and beverage industry doesn’t want you to realize how truly pervasive HFCS is in your diet — not just from soft drinks and juices, but also in salad dressings and condiments and virtually every processed food. The introduction of HFCS into the Western diet in 1975 has been a multi-billion dollar boon for the corn industry.

The FDA classifies fructose as GRAS: Generally Regarded As Safe. Which pretty much means nothing and is based on nothing.

There is plenty of data showing that fructose is not safe — but the effects on the nation’s health have not been immediate. That is why we are just now realizing the effects of the last three decades of nutritional misinformation.

As if the negative metabolic effects are not enough, there are other issues with fructose that disprove its safety:

More than one study has detected unsafe mercury levels in HFCS.

• Crystalline fructose (a super-potent form of fructose the food and beverage industry is now using) may contain arsenic, lead, chloride and heavy metals.

Nearly all corn syrup is made from genetically modified corn, which comes with its own set of risks.

The FDA isn’t going to touch sugar, so it’s up to you to be proactive about your own dietary choices.

What’s a Sugarholic to Do?
Ideally, I recommend that you avoid as much sugar as possible. This is especially important if you are overweight or have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

I also realize we don’t live in a perfect world, and following rigid dietary guidelines is not always practical or even possible.

If you want to use a sweetener occasionally, this is what I recommend:

1. Use the herb stevia.

2. Use organic cane sugar in moderation.

3. Use organic raw honey in moderation.

4. Avoid ALL artificial sweeteners, which can damage your health even more quickly than fructose.

5. Avoid agave syrup since it is a highly processed sap that is almost all fructose. Your blood sugar will spike just as it would if you were consuming regular sugar or HFCS. Agave’s meteoric rise in popularity is due to a great marketing campaign, but any health benefits present in the original agave plant are processed out.

6. Avoid so-called energy drinks and sports drinks because they are loaded with sugar, sodium and chemical additives. Rehydrating with pure, fresh water is a better choice.

If you or your child is involved in athletics, I recommend you read my article Energy Rules for some great tips on how to optimize your child’s energy levels and physical performance through good nutrition.

 Here is the link to the CBC article: http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/02/17/blood-pressure-canadians.html?ref=rss

And The Huffington Post original article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/sugar-may-be-bad-but-this_b_463655.html 

So, to conclude, next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a few apples and some veggies. It is much better if you make grocery shopping a more regualr habit going once or twice a week to get fresh food rather than once every two or three weeks stocking up on processed freezer foods. If you have the opportunity to go to a tru farmer’s market where you can actually speak to the people who grow the food, do it. It sure won’t cost you any more than the grocery store, and you can learn a whole lot about your food as well as the people who get it to you. Lastly, watch the documentaries “Food Inc.” and “Monsanto”. That should be enough to change your eating habits.





The New and Improved Times Square, New York

16 02 2010

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that the small sections of Broadway that were closed to traffic last spring will become permanent pedestrian-only plazas.

The experiment was conducted last spring to test whether or not closing the section of roadway would improve traffic flow. Despite its inability to truly acheive this goal, Bloomberg states that a large reduction in pedestrian injuries coupled with a favourable response from business owners convinced him to shut the street down for good. And though traffic slowed on some cross-town routes, it actually did improve quite significantly on others. But safety was the defining factor.

From the New York times:

Advocates for the project said it had vastly improved safety in the area, pointing to a 35 percent decline in pedestrian injuries and a 63 percent reduction in injuries to drivers and passengers, according to city data. Foot traffic grew by 11 percent in Times Square and by 6 percent in Herald Square, and a survey of local businesses found that more than two-thirds of the area’s retailers wanted the project to become permanent.

What I find most interesting about this whole thing is the response from the business owners. In all my experience I’ve found that one of the most difficult things to deal with in trying to create a more pedestrian friendly space is business owners insisting that the loss of vehicles in any way will negatively affect their business whether it be shutting down a street on a Sunday, removing a large surface parking lot, redusing on-street parking, etc. Here, in one of the busiest places on earth, we have two thirds of business owners requesting that the area become a permanent pedestrian plaza. This looks to me like a fantastic precedent, not just as a space converted to pedestrian use, but as an example of businesses actually requesting it.

There have been allegations of the city not wanting to expose their traffic data and that Mayor Bloomberg has made another decision for the city without undertaking proper consultation with the city. The decision was made to close the streets permanently before the data was released for public viewing. While this may be true, it is no mystery that Times Square belongs to the pedestrians. If you’ve been there, you know that the sidewalks just aren’t big enough to handle the demand. So lets say this were a highway, becoming increasingly congested because traffic demand is getting higher. In such a case, the road would be widened, or another would be built. Here we have exactly the same problem, except for once it is the people who overpower the cars. I can side with that.

New York times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/nyregion/12broadway.html?hp





A Concrete Overpass Can be Beautiful

2 02 2010

This Vertical Garden is located in Pont Juvenal, Aix-en-Provence.

This just shows that it is possible to green our existing infrastructure in two senses of the word. Adding vegetation like this both enhances the aesthetic of the monotonous highway commute and all those little plants can make a small dent in counteracting the greenhouse gas emissions released from thousands of passing automobiles.





Let’s All Have Coal Ash for Breakfast!

14 01 2010

You can find someone to deny just about anything, and, I’m making an assumption here, but I would not find it remotely hard to believe that people like this can make a REALLY good living pulling stunts like this.





GMO’s in Your Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

9 09 2009
From: ildcalifornia.org

From: ildcalifornia.org

Tree Hugger recently published this brief article on genetically modified organisms in our North American food. I am aware that both the Union of concerned scientists and Tree Hugger are biased towards environmentalism, but I think this article has some good points. To sum it up, the article cites a study recently undertaken by the Union of Concerned Scientists that found that yields from GMO crops are marginally better than those from natural crops. This raises questions about the reasons for using GMO seeds.

If GMOs are developed to increase yields, then hey have failed. If they are marketed to reduce costs for farmers, and the price of GMO corn seed is now triple what it was just a few years ago, then they have failed yet again. If these seeds are engineered to use less herbicides when, according to recent indications, many weeds are becoming roundup-resistant, requiring a cocktail of herbicide applications in certain farming areas while crop land is being abandoned in others, they have most certainly failed! 

If these things are true, you’ve got to wonder what is going on in our agriculture industry and why it is going on. It certainly doesn’t seem to be for the benefit of the farmers or the people.

Union of Concerned Scientists: www.uscusa.org

Treehugger Article: www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/why-gmo-foods-have-failed.php?dcitc=daily.nl

Equally or more biased view on GMO benefits: www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/default.asp





We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society




Walking! It’s the New Driving!

11 08 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

A fellow blogger put together a great post on the benefits of walking as well as the unseen costs of driving a car. Here are a few of the things he’s discovered:

  1. 40% of trips made in the United States are 2 miles or less
  2. Even given the above, fewer than 10% of all trips are made by foot or bike
  3. In 2008, Americans consumed 22.5% of the world’s oil production (884 million metric tonnes)
  4. For those of you who like to blame China for being the big polluter, they burned 375 million metric tonnes
  5. If you thought driving vehicles was bad for the environment, consider this. A car produces more waste and air pollution in it’s lifetime before it’s even driven.
  6. Medical expenses due to obesity count for 9.1% of all American medical expenditures.
  7. The risk of death from heart disease could be reduced by 34% by simply walking 2 hours per week

I put these numbers out there for obvious reasons. Do I believe cars are terrible things? Not at all, especially when they’re becoming incredibly more efficient, and we’re finally on the cusp of producing electric vehicles for the masses. I understand that cars are necessary at times, especially given the current urban form of North America – that is sprawl. You can’t really be expected to walk everywhere when there is no infrastructure in place to encourage it. However, I know for a fact that there are still plenty of trips that are incredibly brief and could easily be made on foot. Often our first instinct as 21st century human beings is to hop in the car no matter where we are going. It has been proven though, that this is unhealthy in numerous ways. So, next time you’ve got to go somewhere, consider the actual distance and the actual time required for that trip. Do you really need to drive? Could you benefit from a calming walk and a breath of fresh air?

For more on the social benefits of walking and more stats and numbers: http://svenworld.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/talking-the-walk