now with extra chunktastic yakberry shavings


The winner of our cute li’l NIT pool (god, please spare us from that ever again) ended up being someone anonymous… well, actually, *I* know who it is, but I’m not sure he can out himself. So until we get that little bit of no-fun behind us, I’m going to hand over the reins today to “once a heel” from the comments section, given his expertise on last week’s human body topics.

Given all the crap we’re fed (as it were) about supplements, diets, and what to put in our esophagii, I wanted someone to break it down for us Young MC-style, so here he is:


Ian asked that I write a blog about nutrition, but I don’t feel comfortable giving advice about individual eating/exercise regimens (talk to your doctors). However, I do know a little something about metabolism and biochemistry and, like many of you, share an interest in why things are the way they are. I also prefer to remain an “internet expert” which means I value my anonymity and as such there’s no reason for any of you to ascribe credibility to anything I say here.

So instead I’m going to recommend you watch this:

It’s a 90-minute seminar given by Dr. Robert Lustig to students at UCSF arguing a major factor contributing to the obesity epidemic in this country (and spreading worldwide). Now I know what you’re thinking… but give it a chance. The guy is fairly entertaining. There’s some technical biochemistry stuff in the middle (which he actually undersells, IMO) but any good Carolina grad should be able to follow the rest of it.

Disclaimer: the guy is trying to drive home a point, which means he uses inflammatory language, only pays lip service to other contributing factors, and in some cases, ignores some data that doesn’t quite fit the hypothesis. So while what he says here shouldn’t be taken as the be-all and end-all about why we’re so damn fat, he does highlight some interesting issues in the course of telling his story.

In a nutshell:

1) a key change in our diet began in the 70’s.

We reduced the amount of fat we ate while dramatically increasing the amount of fructose consumption (by as much as 5X).

2) the change was driven by political, economic, and scientific forces that were (at least partially) well-intentioned.

Nixon, who was fighting a “War on Poverty”, didn’t want the cost of food to be a political issue in the elections – food prices needed to get lower (and more stable). Around this time, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) hit the US – it was so cheap (and sweet) it quickly made its way into everything, including baby formula. Finally, in the early 80’s, health professionals all said we needed to reduce the amount of fat consumed in our diets from 40% to 30% to reduce heart disease.

3) these changes had disastrous consequences.

We did it! Only 30% of our calories now come from fat, but obesity and associated metabolic syndromes (including cardiovascular disease (CVD), Type 2 diabetes, lipidemias, hypertension, etc) have simultaneously gone through the roof. It can’t all be blamed on lifestyle choices.

4) a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing – to solve one problem we inadvertently made it worse in ways couldn’t predict at the time because the body is a complicated thing and we still don’t know much about how it works.

Because taking the fat out of food makes it taste like crap, we had to add HFCS as a sweetener to make it palatable. Turns out, however, there were some interpretation flaws with the fat=CVD studies, in part because we didn’t know that there was “good fat” and “bad fat”.

We also didn’t understand that fructose is not metabolized in the same way as glucose (another prominent sugar in our diet). Only a relatively small amount of glucose gets converted to fat. Much of the excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver – you might gain weight this way, but you can basically store an unlimited amount of glycogen without getting sick.

In contrast, almost all the fructose gets converted to “bad fat”. In other words, all the fat we took out of our diets was more than offset by the fat derived from the fructose we added in its place, and we added a lot! Worse yet, when you eat glucose you induce hormonal changes that ultimately signal to your brain that you don’t need to eat anymore. The way in which fructose is metabolized may partially interfere with those signals so you don’t feel as full and you keep eating more than you should.






5) “when God made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote.”

But isn’t fructose normally found in fruit and aren’t fruits good for us? Yes, but the amount we ingest from fruits is way less than what we’re putting in everything else. Fruits have a lot of fiber as well. Amongst other things, fiber limits the amount we eat and the efficiency with which it’s absorbed. Unfortunately, we’ve also taken all the fiber out of our foods in order to increase shelf life, allow for freezing, and facilitate preparation.

6) even though we can see this was a mistake, the myths persist with many folks thinking they’re eating healthy (less fat) when they’re not. Furthermore, there’s a whole set of beholden institutions that oppose correcting the problem.

If this stuff is so bad for us, why don’t the FDA, USDA, etc. do something about it? Food is one of the few things we still export to the rest of the world (along with weapons and entertainment). Who’s going admit that we intentionally make our food less safe? Besides, if you took out the HFCS and put back the fiber the food would taste worse, cost more, and couldn’t be frozen/stored for shipping. You don’t need to be an econ major to do the math.

7) it basically comes down to a choice between being fat or flatulent.

No one is advocating completely cutting fructose from your diet but if you want to start eating healthier, try to reduce the amount of foods you eat with added fructose (in all its various forms) and eat more fiber. You’ll eat less (and feel less hungry), you won’t get as fat, and you’ll greatly reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome diseases.

But, you will fart more.


0 thoughts on “now with extra chunktastic yakberry shavings

  1. jje

    Excellent blog this morning. Thanks!
    Timely for me. I am super vigilant about avoiding it for our family. I was at our newest farmer’s market yesterday – the one that prides itself on being “local” and mostly organic – and was supremely irritated when I looked at the label on some homemade pita chips my four year old convinced me to buy and saw HFCS listed. Ugh.
    FWIW, Trader Joe’s will not sell anything with HFCS.
    On a related note, if you haven’t seen Food Inc, I highly recommend it. Definitely changed how we look at food around here. (I’m actually four months into being vegetarian.)

  2. the other lee

    nice summary I actually started consciously looking for food without HFCS about a month ago when I read a summary of a study done with lab mice where mice were given the exact same diets and exercise schedules, etc etc but only HFCS vs Sugar as the difference and the HFCS mice retained 20% more weight. So I’ve given up soft drinks and sweets for the most parts (I can find some sugar sweetened cokes around here so that’s nice).
    but it is hard to find non-HFCS products, even Yogurt, in most grocery stores.
    anyway thanks for the post which confirms I’m doing the right thing.

  3. kjf

    if you go to whole foods to shop (i know it’s expensive) they do not sell stuff with HFCS. they even sell soft drinks without the stuff.
    and i could go on for hours about the importance of fiber. buy some benefiber and pour it in your iced tea or water – you won’t taste it at all. really important.

  4. jje

    Earth Fare (GA, NC, SC & TN) will also do a free “pantry makeover.”
    Take in:
    Peanut Butter with hydrogenated oil
    Any Soda
    Cereals with High Fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
    Salad Dressing with HFCS
    Jelly with HCFS
    They will give you an Earth Fare brand healthy replacement.

  5. Mich

    Great post. We cut out all HFCS a few years ago and at first, it was difficult and disheartening, as it was in EVERYTHING. But what it’s done is lead us to eat more “real” foods, less packaged food, and cook more – all good things, and all important for weight management and lifestyle.
    And yes to the fiber. Though I will nitpick a little on kjf’s suggestion – better to increase your fiber in your meals, etc., rather than through supplements. It will help to make your overall diet healthier, as with fiber in whole foods also come nutrients, vitamins, etc. in their original form.

  6. Sharon

    My comment to Ian’s earlier post about weight issues got eaten by the internet or something, but it was a long pitiful diatribe about how in the world to balance everything as a working mom — employees, bosses, kids, marriage, community, and exercise and eating right. Cooking healthy meals is one of the areas where I struggle. I don’t generally get home until after 6 — IF we don’t have activities. And at that point, kids and everyone are starving. We try to maintain healthy options but I’d love some suggestions on prepackaged, or otherwise quick meals — beyond beans and rice which my girls just don’t like. I try to avoid bad stuff, but sometimes it comes down to just getting something on the table. And then there’s the issue of what they’re served for school lunches….

  7. littlerattyratratrat

    Allergic to HFCS, so always been on high-alert for the damned stuff. It’s not like it’s some kind of cross to bear…real food tastes better than the processed shyte, and you feel better after you eat it.
    Sharon’s point is well-taken…we end our days exhausted and then need to prepare a full meal? But there are cookbooks that address this…it really is possible to make tasty stuff that isn’t too much time or effort. It can even be relaxing to mess around in the kitchen after an annoying day at work.

  8. jje

    I’m already anxious about school food choices next year. My kids eat fairly healthy, but it’s hard to compete with Chick-Fil-A Tuesdays and Pizza Fridays, etc. Wondering if it would be too obnoxious as a new parent to go all Jamie Oliver on them? ;-)

  9. once a heel

    A couple of quick thoughts after skimming through the comments…
    Given the bad rap HFCS has started to get, some companies are going back to sugar sweeteners. Unfortunately, from a biochemical perspective, there’s not all that much difference between HFCS (typically = 45% glucose & 55% fructose) and table sugar (sucrose= 50% glucose & 50% fructose) once it hits your gut. In other words, your sugar-sweetened coke isn’t all that much better for you.
    As for healthy prepackaged options when there’s no time to cook, you can start by looking at labels of things your family tends to like and favoring choices/brands with more grams of fiber and less sugar (not necessarily less carbs). Make sure they drink water/milk instead of sugared soda/fruit juices (fruit juice is not the same as a fruit!). Mix in a prepackaged salad or fresh fruit.
    There may be other little things you can do that will start adding up. For example, we try to cook one healthy meal on the weekends when there’s more time and make enough leftovers for at least one other healthy meal again later in the week.

  10. Neva

    Great blog!
    We’re are by far not the world’s greatest eaters but definitely try to follow these rules the best we can. Strongly recommend signing up for a CSA (portion of a local farm). We get veggies delivered every Thursday and it really makes us eat a ton more veggies.
    Sharon – do you live anywhere near a Trader’s Joes? That has been a lifesaver for quick, healthy family meals for me (and I know that getting home near six with a starving family thing).
    Also – I have learned to do a stir fry in less than 20 minutes that turns out pretty good… we try to have that twice a week (with tofu). My 9 year old just figured out this week that it was tofu – she’s been eating if for years and thought it was chicken!
    Also – the crock pot is ideal as well for having something ready. We do black bean chili a lot (but you said your kids don’t like beans – have you tried white beans?)
    Home made pizza (TJ’s has whole wheat pizza dough) – also a fave here and less than 20 minutes.
    Kashi’s frozen meals are good – they have a great whole grain in place of rice in all their meals that I love.
    Frozen fish (salmon, mahi mahi) from Costco or TJ’s in another staple – 5 minutes on the George Foreman grill and you’re done.
    Buffalo burgers from TJ’s – also excellent.
    I could go on and on. TJ’s should hire me!

  11. Salem

    Great video. I did not think I was going to watch a 90 min video by an Endocrinologist tonight. I just wish he had left beer out of the lecture. I honestly thought a Coke was less healthy than a Guinness. This knowledge thingy can be such a burden.

  12. kjf

    mich – agree that real anything is better than supplemental anything. but in the case of fiber many people find it really hard to get the amt they need from food especially folks with sensitive guts. and it is not easy for people with sensitive guts to digest insoluble fiber when you really are eating the proper amt so that’s why i mentioned the benefiber because it is soluble fiber and most people have no probs digesting it and it does not cause gas or bloating. (i sound like an infomercial here i know) the other issue with insoluble fiber from food is that many people actually get constipated from upping their fiber intake as they need to drink tons more H2O to keep up with the extra roughage so adding soluble fiber to water really helps that problem. but regardless of where it comes from eat your fiber!!

  13. Mich

    kjf, agreed! Good points about people who have trouble with digestion/gas.
    Also agree with Neva’s tips, particularly regarding the CSA. Our 3rd year starts in 2 weeks, and it really helps up the veggie/fruit intake, plus it’s great for all the local/organic reasons too.


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