Last year, through a combination of hard work and no food, I was able to lose 60 pounds. I was lighter than I had been in years and felt great. I got rid of all my “fat” clothes and got some new duds more fitting for the, well, more fit me. Unfortunately, through a combination of factors not entirely under my control (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter) and some I have total control over (I’m the one who buys the groceries), I put back on 15 of those hard-lost 60. I tried to tell myself I was responding poorly to stress, or that I deserved a treat, but the fact is, I (mindlessly) just ate more calories than I burned. Simple math, right?
Maybe not. An intriguing article in the April 17 New York Times by Gary Taubes on the toxicity of sugar linked an increase in sugar consumption in this decade in the U.S. with the rise in obesity and diabetes. I was appalled to read that the average American consumes about 90 pounds of sugar per year. For me, that usually comes in scant 1 tablespoon “doses” – I use two “heavy” teaspoons (the regular spoons, not the measuring spoons) in every cup of tea I drink, and I drink them all day.
Taubes talked about research done and presented by pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, MD at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine in a 2009 lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, now a hugely popular YouTube video. Lustig lumps all processed sugar – both refined (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup – into the same toxic bin. They all have the same affect on the body, and it’s not good.
I had been pretty smug about no longer drinking “real” Coca Cola (my drink of choice for most of my life) and only occasionally drink “poison pop,” as my father referred to anything diet. I had never really considered the sugar I was getting in other beverages, especially tea, which I dislike plain or with artificial sweeteners (a topic for another post). I also never really thought about the sugar that was hidden in most everything else I ate – bread, salad dressing, pasta sauce, processed foods. During my months of semi-starvation, er, dieting, this wasn’t an issue, because I only ate lettuce and grilled chicken, but as soon as I went back to the dark side, er, stopped dieting, it became a big problem.
I come from a chubby family. My father was able to keep weight off after losing nearly 100 pounds by handling food the same way I did – not eating. Because I’ve always been on the round side of average (OK, well past pleasingly plump), I may have metabolic syndrome, also known as insulin resistance. This can impact heart health, elevate triglycerides and blood pressure and lower HDLs, which leads to greater insulin resistance. It’s a vicious circle.
So what causes insulin resistance in the first place? According to research, more fat in the liver. And what causes a fatty liver? You guessed it – sugar. Colorado State University researchers found if you feed lab animals enough fructose, their livers convert it into fat, and the animals develop insulin resistance. This can take as little as a week if they’re fed fructose in very high amounts, or up to several months if they eat a typical American diet. Take away the sugar and the liver returns to normal and the insulin resistance goes away.
If the muffin top in my jeans didn’t convince me, this research sure did – it’s time to hit the diet trail again. This time, sugar will be at the top of my NO list, and I’ll have to learn to drink tea on its own or drink plain water. If you’re concerned about what you eat, take the time to read the Times story and do a little research on your own. Who knows? Changing one habit may lead to better health.