Book Review: Fat Chance

Fat Chance

by Robert H. Lustig, MD

fat chance

“Nature made sugar hard to get. Man made it easy to get.”

The premise of this enlightening and informative book is that sugar (more specifically, fructose) is slowly poisoning us all. Consumption of fructose has doubled in the past 30 years (high fructose corn syrup was invented in the 1970s). At the same time, we are eating more and more calories than we used to — mainly more calories from carbohydrates, and especially soda, fruit, and processed foods, which are all loaded with the stuff (surprise!).

Dr. Lustig presents his research in a captivating manner with enough scientific research to validate his claims, but not so much that you can’t understand a damn thing he says (though it does still boil down to a lot of science). His background as a pediactric endocrinologist gave him a new perspective toward the obese. Our typical, knee-jerk notion that people are obese because they are gluttonous sloths who choose to be fat doesn’t hold up when the obese are children — and 20 million American children are now considered obese. Certainly they did not ask to be fat.

Dr. Lustig asks us to reconsider the “personal responsibility” argument that obese people are the ones at fault. Rather, he explains how every chemical reaction in our bodies fights to hold onto its fat stores. The body is smarter than the brain. Hormones sometimes don’t act correctly, leading us to think mentally we are hungry we when aren’t physically. And then even more chemical reactions trigger hormone releases that give us pleasure and reward when we eat certain foods (desserts, comfort foods, high-carb and high-fat foods), meaning a hit of sugar is chemically very much like a hit of cocaine.

No wonder we’re all fat and sick.

Much of the book focuses, not surprisingly, on the plight of children, who are becoming obese at rates faster than the older generations. They don’t set the rules about food, and they probably can’t tell their parents they want salad instead of pizza (I mean, really, what kid loves salad?)

But behind all the science behind insulin, leptin, Peptide YY, etc. is the fact that our food environment has changed so drastically in the last 30-50 years. Now we have endless amounts of sugar and no fiber lining shelves at grocery and convenience stores. We drink sugar water by the gallon. It’s available 24/7 and it’s cheap. And it’s killing us.

We must change our environment. We must choose the best foods we can (and avoid fast food, sodas, and juice). Where there is fructose, there is trouble (whole fruit without added sugars/juice are safe because the fiber mitigates the effect of fructose). Where the fiber has been removed, there’s trouble. Adding fiber (usually only soluable) back into processed food does not work as well as eating foods naturally containing both soluable and insoluable fiber.

The section on public health through government intervention (some may call it the nanny state) is especially important.Dr. Lustig focuses not on the concept of limiting your access to doughnuts but on limiting what food manufacturers can do, especially in terms of advertising to children (until age 8, kids can’t tell a commercial from the actual TV show) and transparency about what goes into (and is taken out of) processed foods. Or how obesogens (any endocrine-distrupting chemical that seems to promote weight gain) run rampant in our water supply, plastics, pesticides, and soy products (which, of course, are also in everything)

We must change public health policy to promote healthy, real foods and demote HFCS and sugars from our food supplies. The FDA and USDA refuse to take a stance on limiting sugar consumption, thanks to powerful food lobbies. There’s no line for added sugars on nutritional info panel because Big Food said that was “propriatery data” and if they disclosed how much sugar they are adding to food, other companies would be able to recreate their precious recipes.

Yeah, right.

Moving to a health care system that actively works to reduce and prevent obesity is a major step. Of course, that also means getting Big Food and Big Pharma to sign on — which cuts all three industries’ profits. Get the soda and juice machines out of schools. Make school lunches out of real food (and pizza is not a vegetable). Remove Farm Bill subsidies for commodity crops and instead use them to encourage farmers to plant actual vegetables and fruits. Rework SNAP and WIC so they encourage whole foods. Take dietary control from the USDA, whose main job is to sell the very things that are so bad for us to eat (like factory-produced beef). Stop marketing processed foods to children.

Limit sugar (especially fructose). Eat more fiber (especially from plants). Exercise more. Nothing revolutionary here — just what works.

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