By Tom, on June 21st, 2010
In my last post, I reviewed why our current diet of lots of carbohydrates and very little fat and protein became the government recommended diet and why it is causing more problems than it is fixing. If you haven’t read it I recommend you check it out.
Unless I have another reference in the post the information for this article was received via Gary Taubes and his eye-opening book Good Calories, Bad Calories.
The amount of sugar in our diet has spiked, High-Fructose Corn Syrup is to blame. It’s known to corn refiners as HFCS-55 (because it’s 55% fructose and 45% glucose). All those commercials that the corn refiners are airing to boost their image are completely accurate; HFCS-55 is almost identical to sucrose (table sugar) in its content. They also say it should be consumed in moderation. That is difficult considering that food manufacturers use it in recipes that never would have had sucrose. Mass produced food has so much HFCS-55 in it that the average American has gone from consuming 124 lbs. of sugars (anything that tastes sweet and has a chemical name that ends in –ose is a sugar) right before HFCS-55 entered the market in 1978 to nearly 150 lbs. of sugars by the year 2000. That’s in a world where people eat lots of “light” foods that are supposed to be lower in sugar. During this time childhood and adult obesity has increased as well as type 2 diabetes. It is a correlation that raises some interesting theories.
Fructose is toxic
Fructose is the main sugar in fruit, by association that makes it sound healthier. At first, it was thought to be healthier; it doesn’t raise your blood sugar and it doesn’t factor in the glycemic index. But, it actually causes more harm than glucose (the third sugar that we consume regularly and the sugar usually blamed for diabetes since it is absorbed directly in to the bloodstream and is easily measurable by blood test). Fructose is not absorbed into the bloodstream. It has to be handled by the liver. The liver takes fructose and slowly turns it into triglycerides and loads it on lipoproteins (HDL and LDL actually have fluffier yet more dangerous brother called VLDL that carries triglycerides). When the doctor tells you what your triglycerides level is pay attention. Cholesterol doesn’t matter in heart disease risk, triglycerides do. An interesting fact is that triglycerides are not raised by saturated fat, but by carbohydrates.
While the liver is handling the fructose the pancreas is releasing insulin to counteract the effects of the glucose. Glucose can be used immediately upon digestion but has ill effects on the body if it is too abundant in the bloodstream.
Glucose causes reactive oxygen species when cells burn it for energy and when there is more glucose the cells will burn more of it. Reactive oxygen species, aka free radicals, are the cause of rust in iron and cause oxidation of our cells. Luckily antioxidants take care of these. So eat lots of fruit and veggies and these shouldn’t be a problem.
The bigger problem that high-blood sugar causes is advanced glycation end-products (AGE ). They develop over a much longer period of time and cause many more problems. AGE occur when sugar attaches to proteins without the supervision of an enzyme (enzymes regulate the chemical reactions in our bodies). When blood sugar is under control AGE actually will break up as quickly as they form. But when when blood sugar is high these AGE hang around long enough to build on each other causing anomalies and crosslinking. Before AGE get involved LDL are harmless but they make LDL sticky and allow the formation plaque on the walls of our arteries. AGE also cause premature aging (hence the acronym). They are what accumulate in the lens, retina, and cornea causing cataracts. They’re also related to diabetes causing the formation of hemoglobin AIC (what is tested for when diagnosing type 2 diabetes.)
The liver is supposed to metabolize excess glucose into glycogen for storage, but in this case it is too busy with all the fructose. When the pancreas notices that the blood sugar hasn’t decreased it releases even more insulin. When there is too much insulin the blood the body’s cells start to become resistant to insulin. This insulin resistance is a cause of diabetes.
Insulin is toxic
Insulin has some other horrible effects on the body. Studies have shown that insulin thickens and hardens arteries. Over the course of your life your aorta will go from being elastic like a balloon to being stiff (if you try to inflate an older person’s aorta it will burst immediately.)
Insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) may help cancer develop; they encourage rapid cell growth and may disable the mechanism in cells that causes them to die after a certain number of replications in order to prevent mutations. Tumor cells actually develop more insulin and IGF receptors in order to produce even faster.
Finally, insulin might be a large factor in Alzheimer’s Dementia. Alzheimer’s is health related and genetic. All Alzheimer’s sufferers have a certain genetic variation of apolipoprotein E4 and amyloid plaque on their neurons caused to stick due to AGE). The same enzyme decreases amyloid and insulin (it’s called insulin degrading enzyme), however insulin is its first target. If there is too much insulin the amyloid is left in the brain and starts coating neurons. This causes the degeneration of an Alzheimer’s brain.
Lower Sugar and Lower Carbohydrates
So how do we counteract all the problems caused here? The easiest solution is to cut back on all consumption of refined carbohydrates (anything that is processed to make it white: white flour, white rice, white sugar) and manufactured foods as these are the foods that raise blood sugar and triglycerides. When we eat diets that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat (and necessarily protein) we eat far more calories, we become over-nourished. But in mice a near starvation diet (less than two-thirds of their preferred diet) actually extends their lifespan by 30-40% and drastically reduces their risk of cancer. Starvation diets in which carbohydrates are the source of calories cause malnutrition and depression as seen in Ancel Keys semi-starvation study for the Army during World War II. On the other hand a study done by John Yudkin in the 1960’s for the University of London showed high-protein, high-fat diet with fewer calories will satisfy an appetite. 
The solution to our nationwide obesity epidemic is not the USDA recommended low-fat, high-carb diet. That diet actually makes all of these diseases worse. What needs to happen is a dramatic shift in our diets. Our diets need more fat and protein, less sugar and carbohydrate. When we start to change our minds about sugar as a nation we can start to turn our universal weight gain around.
Further Reading on this topic:
 “The Science of Fat-Loss: Why a Calorie Isn’t Always a Calorie”