The two leading causes of obesity in the western world are, in my opinion, the over consumption of trans-fats and sugar.
Sadly, due to disguised ingredients, you might not even be aware you’re eating them even if you have sworn off them for life.
The Modern Diet
When you take a walk through the supermarket what do you see?
Most of the supermarket is filled up with canned, boxed, and processed foods. Supermarkets have entire aisles filled with junk foods. Crackers, cookies, cakes, chips, candy … all these things are placed in key areas in supermarket that are designed to entice us to buy them. You can’t go to the checkout counter without being confronted with several varieties of chocolate, candy, and chewing gum. It’s enough to make any health fanatic have a fit of rage!
The thing is, we ALL know (or should know) these foods are bad news; however some of us decide to eat them anyway.
These foods are completely devoid of nutrients. However, some customers have been getting savvy to companies’ sugary trickery, so companies have started fortifying these ‘foods’ with various nutrients to try to attract people to buy them. Basically what this means is that companies are adding synthetic compounds to refined sugar products to give them the appearance of being healthy. For example, Coco Pops are filled to the brim with sugar, but Kellogg’s now market them as having “added calcium”.
In other words, it has become increasingly less obvious to the consumer that these foods are nutritional nightmares. Energy and sport drinks, or better yet, that ridiculous ‘vitamin water’ filled with sugar, are another example of sugary junk foods in disguise.
In the modern supermarket the chocolate and lolly aisle would be a better place for commercial breakfast cereals due to the horrendous amounts of sugar content. These aisles may as well be called “the unhealthy aisle” or the “dessert aisle”.
This is very alarming as the problem is even worse than it appears on the surface. Trans fat and sugar both make their way into foods that people wouldn’t expect. If you want to see this in action, take a browse down your supermarket’s soup aisle and take a look at some of the labels. Do you notice sugar in the labels? No? Look again.
Things like “sucrose” and “fructose” or pretty much anything that ends in –ose represents a sugar, whether ‘natural’ or artificial’.
So why is sugar in minestrone soup?
When we cook these things at home, we don’t add sugar to them. I’ve never seen the words ‘add sugar’ in any soup recipes (or maybe I just buy healthy cook books?) So why is it in these packaged foods? Because it adds shelf life, makes products taste nicer, and is more addictive to our taste buds.
The unfortunate fact is the majority of consumers are completely clueless about what’s in the foods they are eating.
Trans-fats are equally as bad (if not worse).
Trans-fats often find their way into foods that on surface value appear to be healthy. Things like granola bars and even breakfast cereal can contain trans-fats. Look for anything that is “partially hydrogenated”. This is “code” for trans-fats. Once you start reading labels, you’ll be shocked at how many foods contain both of these ingredients. That’s why I tell my clients and readers, if it’s in a packet, don’t buy it.
What do we mean by sugar?
The issue of carbohydrates and sugars can be confusing.
The negative reputation associated with all carbohydrates is not justified. To sort out all the confusion lets break carbohydrates down into two groups:
- Caveman Carbs
- Modern Carbs
Caveman carbs are easy to identify, just ask this one question,
“If I was a caveman or woman, could I eat this food?”
Modern carbs are the total reverse. They are all the foods that we did not have access to as cave-people.
Refined “Natural” Sugars
Natural sugar occurs in things like fruit (fructose) BUT don’t get tricked into thinking the isolated version of fructose is good for you- its not. Processed refined sugar for the most part comes from whole foods (which includes fruit).
This processing creates its’ own product. We know these by many names such as:
- Table sugar
- Corn syrup
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Agave Nectar
- Brown Sugar
- Organic Sugar
- Low GI Sugar
They are all refined sugars and all have the same impact on blood sugar and insulin despite which plant, fruit, or lab they come from.
While real whole fruit contains fructose sugar, it also contains a range of important nutrients and fiber. When we isolate the fructose portion from the food, there are no nutrients and no value despite the fact that ‘fructose’ came from fruit. Additionally, an apple has roughly 5 grams of fructose. Compare that to a 600ml bottle of US Coke Cola with 67.5 grams of pure sugar!
If you want more evidence of the dangers of fructose, look up ‘NAFLD’ which stands for ‘Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease’; which incidentally, is mostly affecting children in the US.
Fructose is not metabolized in the muscle, (unlike glucose); it’s metabolized in the liver. Compare that with ethanol (the kind that’s in alcohol): 10% of ethanol is metabolized in the brain (that’s why you get drunk) and the other 90% is metabolized in the liver.
That’s also why after years of heavy drinking people develop fatty liver disease because the liver has had to store too much ethanol in the form of fat in the liver.
However the onset on NAFLD is far more rapid as fructose can be easily consumed at rapid and large quantities. That’s why a high fructose diet causes NAFLD in a very short period of time.
Note: In Australia Coke is flavored with cane sugar. If it ever becomes flavored with HFCS, you will see the incidence of NAFLD rise.
The reality is our bodies don’t require sugar to function; the body has the ability to breakdown fat and use it as energy. A diet filled with sugar is not how the human body was meant to eat. It’s unnatural to the way we were designed. As a result, too much sugar can cause all kinds of health problems, such as obesity and diabetes and suppression of the immune system.
The focus then is to consume only unprocessed, natural caveman carbohydrates. These foods have the nutritional content still intact.
What’s wrong with sugar?
Refined and processed sugars have been stripped of their fiber and all of its nutritional value. This leaves a substance that has empty calories which means that it does little for our bodies except give us a short-term burst of energy which spikes our blood sugar and insulin and lowers our immune system.
It’s also important to understand that a spike in blood sugar will lead to a crash in blood sugar. This is what I refer to as the ‘sugar cycle’.
The worse part about it all is it is how common it is in foods. As mentioned above, it can be found in nearly everything. Most packaged foods are filled with sugar. And what’s worst is that it is in foods that we wouldn’t expect such as pasta sauce and canned soup.
They do nothing for us nutritionally except add extra calories. As we’ve learned, any sugar that isn’t burned off or stored in the body ends up getting converted into fat. In other words, refined sugar is a nightmare.
Sugar is an addictive substance.
Something that I found extremely interesting was a recent study by graduate student Maglie Lenoir and her colleagues at the University of Bordeaux in France, which showed that rats given a choice between highly sweetened water and intravenous cocaine overwhelmingly picked the sugar water!
Alain Dagher, M.D., and colleagues from the Montreal Neurological Institute also found that Ghrelin, the appetite hormone, worked on regions of the brain involved with reward and motivation. These are the exact same regions implicated in drug addiction. In fact, cocaine and nicotine can affect the same areas of the brain as junk food.
Think about that next time you think about going through a drive through!
Other research has also shown that rats can become quite dependent on sugar and act exactly like addicts when it’s taken away – shivering and shaking and exhibiting typical symptoms of addiction and withdrawal.
Everyone knows sugary junk foods are bad for them, so why can’t they just give it up?
From studies such as these one can gather that sugar is clearly an addictive substance. This is one of the reasons why refined sugar is in so many products, and don’t think for one second that food manufactures don’t know this. They do, and they will continue to monetize human addictions.
For the record, my advice is always to go cold turkey on refined foods and sugar and give them up completely (if you hadn’t already guessed).
If you’re feeling like something sweet, at the very least, have it homemade or freshly made by someone. Packaged sugary foods are off limits. This includes the majority of breakfast cereals!