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.





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.





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




Hydro-Electricity vs. Rainforest Protection

25 08 2009
Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest is a hot topic this week it seems. The Guardian Newspaper published an article today on the proposal for 229 small scale dams in the Brazilian Amazon. This comes after my post yesterday on rainforest depletion vs. economic growth in Brazil. The issues are similar. On one hand, you have the farmers, villagers and residents of smaller towns trying to lift themselves out of poverty and grow along with their country’s economy. On the other hand you have the Indian tribes of the Amazon as well as a world wonder of a natural ecosystem that is ultimately quite fragile. The guardian article talks about how the tribes are changing drastically and adapting to modern times, with wireless internet installed recently and televisions in a few homes, all of which are powered by a generator that runs from 9am to 9 pm. The article only makes mention of the village of Pavuru though, leading me to wonder if any of the other 29 directly impacted villages have any of these comforts? Even if they are becoming accustomed to such things, they state that they do not need electricity from the dams. They fear that damming all the tributaries will prevent fish from migrating upstream and thereby cut off their access to some fish – the main source of food for the tribes.

The Amazonian tribes are also displeased with other government plans to build roads, and other hydro-electric dams, inluding plans for one of the largest dams on earth. Once again, I am going to have to side with the rainforest on this one. As with other developing countries in the world, Brazil has the opportunity to develop efficiently and differently than North America and Europe. They can efficiently consume electricity, construct buildings with passive cooling in mind, and plan to grow in harmony with their natural surroundings rather than grow overtop of  them. While constructing a select few small scale hydro-electric dams may not have a dramatic effect on the surrounding ecosystem and villages, building one of the world’s largest dams, or blocking most waterways with 229 small dams, will certainly have a detrimental effect. The scale of these projects is simply too large for the system in which they are being placed.

The Guardian Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/23/brazil-amazon-electricity





Rainforest Depletion vs. Economic Growth

24 08 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

After reading an article in the L.A. Times this morning about the loss of Rainforest in Brazil to agriculture, I am once again reminded of the struggle between two opposing forces that often find themselves at odds in developing countries. Do we protect the environment or allow the people to succeed economically?

According to Mongabay, Brazil has lost an average of 34 660 square kilometers of rainforest per year between the years 2000 and 2005. While this is a very small percentage of the total rainforest cover, it is certainly a lot of land, and it has only increased since then. Many of us know that deforestation in general is not helping with air pollution or climate change. We need trees to produce oxygen and sustain life. Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is not only reducing the global tree population, but is directly depleting one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth.

On the flip side, Brazilians and other South Americans have the opportunity to finally make some money by clearing their land of trees and selling grains and cows to North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. In fact, this has been strongly encouraged in Brazil with benefits being provided to those who clear at least 80% of their land.

So we are presented with quite a difficult situation. How can we support the economic gain of such South American countries without compromising the beloved rainforest? It is obvious that we cannot continue on the current path forever until the forests are entirely lost. So do we search for a solution now, or just play it off – business as usual – until we have little to no rainforest left, and we see the extinction of millions of species? My vote lies with finding a solution now. Yet the solutions that are being presented don’t sit right with me. Things like North American countries paying paying South American countries to keep their land forested. This is the equivalent of social welfare to me, except the people receiving money are fully capable of work . To pay a farmer to not do something seems terribly backwards. Maybe some solutions lie in new industries, or shade-grown crops? There must be a way that South America can rise in the world market without destroying its vast and beautiful ecosystems.

L.A. Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/22/science/earth/22degrees.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss





Better Place: The Electric Car Revolution

19 08 2009
From: Renault, 2009

From: Renault, 2009

As companies like General Motors, Toyota, and Honda plug away at developing new hybrid vehicles in their attempts to ‘go green’ (and I applaud them for doing so!), a group called Better Place has teamed up with Renault to offer fully electric vehicles as well as the infrastructure to go with them to cities across the world. Better Place’s initiative includes:

  • working with battery manufacturers to produce advanced lithium-ion battery technologies with improved performance, range, charge time and battery life, not to mention recyclable and environmentally friendly too.
  • creating networks of electric vehicle charging possibilities including charge stations and battery switching stations
  • assisting in the development of global standards which will hopefully accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles all over the world (http://www.betterplace.com/)

Now what part does Renault play in all this? Well, Renault has committed to providing the vehicles to go along with the infrastructure. They plan to produce tens of thousands of electric vehicles per year starting in 2011. There will be 3 models available: a saloon, a compact city car and a van. Better Places Denmark is developing the lithium batteries for these vehicles. The plan is to have each buyer sign up for a monthly subscription to have access to the batteries. The partnership will initially market the program and its cars in Israel and Denmark where a recent study initiated by Better Place indicated that these 2 locations had the highest percentage of buyers interested in purchasing an electric vehicle for their next car (57% and 40% respectively). Charging of these vehicles will be available through three methods. First, Denmark plans to construct an initial 60 charging stations in parking lots and on streets where you will be able to ‘top up’ your battery charge. You can also plug the vehicles in at home when they are not being used. The third method overcomes the obstacle of the time it takes to charge a battery. 100 swap stations will be available across Denmark for driver to quickly switch their used battery for a fresh one in only 5 minutes. Less time than it takes to fill up the gas tank in some cases. (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/strong-consumer-interest-in-electric-vehicles-bodes-well-for-new-era-of-sus/, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/18/renault-electric-car)

Better Places is also now working with the province of Ontario in Canada. Despite the deep rooted dependence on cars in Ontario established by Henry Ford in 1903, the Ontario Government has acknowledged the need for change. They have partnered with Better Place to move from the current gas powered Car 1.0 model to the electric powered Car 2.0 model which relies on renewable energy. The partnership plans to create an Ontario wide electric vehicle network powered by Bullfrog Power, a renewable energy company in Ontario. This network includes everything from public awareness and education to government incentive/rebate programs to reviving the local auto industry with the production of electric vehicles to a system of province wide charging stations. Finally, a real solution to recover Ontario’s dying auto industry (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/better-place-partners-with-ontario-to-bring-car-20-electric-car-infrastruct/, http://www.betterplace.com/global-progress/canada/).  

Thanks to Sarah English for contributing.