May 17, 2011 § 3 Comments
Recently, I finished reading David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat, and it’s a good thing too- my highlighters are all running out of ink. Pretty much my whole book is saturated now in pretty shades of florescent pink, orange and yellow, depending on which pen I was near in the house when I sat down to read.
In it Gillespie weaves the story of his own personal journey to escape the effects of fructose with his research on the history of sugar, the biochemistry of fructose, and the attempts in the last century to understand the connections between Western diet and Western disease. If all this sounds dry or clinical, it isn’t. Honestly, I was sucked in from page one, and there weren’t even any vampires or anything.
As I’ve mentioned before, biochemistry isn’t exactly my bag. I can make it through Dr. Robert Lustig’s “The Bitter Truth”- even that brief hardcore science-y bit, but that doesn’t mean I can turn around and replicate the argument. In fact, prior to watching “The Bitter Truth” on YouTube I was pretty much on the opposite side of the spectrum. I was one of the many people whose reaction to the idea of giving up sugar was: “What?” and “Oh sure, why not just give up all the fun in life? I mean really.” I was an avid dessert baker, devoted canner of jams (talk about sugar!), and all-around lover of sweets. Not junk, of course, but wonderful treats made with caring, love, and the occasional french pastry chef.
Nonetheless, I always suspected there had to be an answer out there to the problem of Western disease that was eluding us in plain sight- like Waldo. There had to be an “Aha!” out there somewhere. Once I watched Dr, Lustig explain it, it was as if a lightbulb had been turned on in my head. Fructose was the “Aha!”
Reading Gillespie has been like that again. Sweet Poison turns on a second lightbulb, one that fills in the details where before there had been shadow. A non-doctor, he has a knack for translating all the various medical findings and research into accurate but comprehensible lay-person-speak. He is also, incidentally, very funny, which can be helpful when you’re hanging in there talking about phosphofructokinase 1 and the islets of Langerhans. Here are a few of my favorite passages (all emphases are mine):
“There is one substance that does not stimulate the release of any of the ‘enough to eat’ hormones. That substance is fructose… We can eat as much fructose as we can shove down our throats and never feel full for long. Every gram of the fructose we eat is directly converted to fat. There is no mystery to the obesity epidemic when you know these simple facts. It is impossible not to get fat on a diet infused with fructose.”
“If you look at BMI calculations over time you quickly realize that the obesity epidemic is very real and is a very recent phenomenon… In 1910, just over one in five US adults was overweight and fewer than one in five of those people was obese (one in 25 for the whole population). Less than a century later, two out of every three US adults are overweight and half of those people are now obese (one-third of the whole population). In less than 100 years, the chances of a given US adult being overweight have gone from very unlikely to highly probable, and the trend is accelerating.”
“If obesity was a disease like bird flu, we’d be bunkered down with a shotgun and three years’ supply of baked beans in the garage. But nobody actually dies from obesity itself. You never hear of anyone being pronounced dead from being fat. No, people die from other diseases that may or may not be related to being fat, like cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), kidney failure or various cancers. Obesity is a symptom, not a disease.”
“A lot of the people conducting experiments on rats had been criticized for giving the animals unrealistically high doses of fructose. ‘Of course the rat would die. Look how much fructose you gave it,’ would be the cry. ‘No person actually eats that much fructose.’ These figures tell a different story. Every man, woman and child in the United States (and Australia) is eating that much fructose and more. The USDA rats were actually on lower fructose diets than most of the people feeding them.”
“(Prior to omitting fructose) I was just as trapped in the dieting-with-no-visible-results treadmill as I had ever been. Free access to the biggest medical library in the world (the web), however, allowed me to read my way to a conclusion that, now that I see it, seems blindingly obvious. Fructose was killing me and everyone else as surely as if arsenic was being poured into the water supply.”
Gillespie plays connect-the-dots between fructose consumption, the resultant circulating fatty acids in the bloodstream and all the nasty consequences thereafter: heart attack, stroke, type II diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), as well as some of the most prevalent and deadly cancers today: colorectal, prostate, pancreatic. He even goes through and explains exactly how tooth decay works: fed specifically by sucrose, or table sugar, a manmade combination of fructose and glucose. Turns out, the bacteria that causes tooth decay thrives not on large amounts of sucrose, but rather a steady consistent supply of it over time. Well, hell-o-o-o, soda!
He explains why low fat diets don’t work, and why the Atkins diet will work but why no one can stay on it for very long. He explains why exercise- while good for you in other ways- won’t help you lose weight. He explains how he gradually stepped away from fructose, in particular a soda habit, by first switching to diet soda, then seltzer, and finally simply water, and describes the consequent palate change that took place over the course of a few weeks. He lists five deceptively simple rules to live by, including: “Party foods are for parties,” and “There is no such thing as good sugar.”
What Lustig and Gillespie are trying to tell us is not to never have dessert again, but to understand that “dessert” is a phenomenon that our bodies are not evolved to understand or process effectively, much less the onslaught of non-dessert sugar that is, in the Western diet, omnipresent and getting worse. We have to understand this dietary “loophole” in our digestive system and act accordingly.
“The results are in,” Gillespie writes, “If you feed humans fructose for the first 40 years of their lives you get an obesity epidemic, and massive health system costs associated with treating cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, oral health, cancer and miscellaneous other problems. It’s time to stop.”
Special thanks to the Year of No Sugar reader who recommended this book!
All quotations above are from Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat. For more information on David Gillespie visit his website: http://sweetpoison.com.au/