Carbs - Good & Bad
In his 1972 book, Pure, White and Deadly, John Yudkin (1910-1995) was one of the first scientists to claim that sugar was a major cause of obesity and heart disease. But, with the UK refined sugar market worth nearly £1billion, and with worldwide production of some 180 million tonnes per year, it is little wonder that no one listened. He was ignored by the majority of the medical profession, and rubbished by the food industry. But Yudkin was right and we should have heeded his warning. Our love affair with sugar is an addiction. Sugar activates similar neural pathways to illegal addictive drugs. No one needs it, and it is killing us.
Perhaps owing to the influence of wartime rationing, as a child, Geoff - HETN's onetime CEO - was never given sugar, apart from what was used in baking. He still does not want it or need it, and he is grateful to his mother for this kindness. Sugar consumption has dramatically increased since World War II, and there is an epidemic of obesity in adults and children. Sadly, obesity is no longer confined to the Western World and, as a major consumer of healthcare costs, it is an epidemic that we cannot afford.
Sugar, or sucrose, is a disaccharide made up of two monosaccharides - glucose and fructose - in equal proportions. Many people believe that:
- Sucrose is healthy, because it is a natural substance
- Fructose is even healthier, because it is found in fruit.
Neither statement is true. Firstly, there are many natural substances that are toxic, and some are extremely toxic. It is true that fruit contains fructose, but when we eat fruit, rather than fruit juices, the amount of fructose we consume is modest. Whereas every cell in the human body can use glucose as an energy source, only one organ - the liver - can handle fructose. This fact alone should alert us to its foreign nature. And what does the liver do with all the surplus fructose? Well - surprise, surprise - it turns it into fat. This is then shipped off to other parts of the body for storage.
So, fructose makes us fat? It does indeed, but the bad news does not stop there.
Leptin is a hormone that regulates appetite and plays a key role in energy regulation. It is produced in fatty tissue in direct proportion to the amount of stored fat, and it acts on receptors in the brain to inhibit appetite. It is now clear that consumption of high amounts of fructose causes leptin resistance. The result is that an ever increasing accumulation of fat does not curb appetite.
We also know that, when consumed in excess, fructose causes an increase in blood fat levels - triglycerides, total blood cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL) - the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal blood clotting and heart disease.
The irony here is that, as the food industry succumbed to pressure to reduce the fat content of their products, the taste deteriorated, so sugars were added in increasing amounts to counteract this.
Today, the average US citizen consumes twenty teaspoons of added sugars per day. For teenage males the figure is thirty four teaspoons. This equates to some twenty five percent of total calorie intake - empty calories that not only fail to provide food value, but actually rob the body of essential nutrients. Seventy percent of the consumed sugars come from manufactured foods, where the label may describe them as corn sweeteners, dextrose, glucose or high fructose corn syrup. Other countries are catching up fast. Indians in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, consume nine times the amount of sugar that Indians consume in India, and they have suffered a veritable explosion of diabetes, believed to be the highest in the world.
We Should Tax Sugar
So serious is this health problem that urgent consideration should be given to taxing sugar in the same way we tax alcohol and tobacco. Activists wax lyrical on the issue of tobacco and liquor advertising, and argue that tobacco products should be kept out of sight in supermarkets. For the sake of our children’s health and longevity, we should be applying these restrictions to any food and drink that contains added sugar, because sugar has killed more people than alcohol and tobacco combined. Sugar is also an addictive drug. Sugar consumption releases endogenous opiates and dopamine - brain chemicals that make you feel high.
Over the last few years, there has been a worldwide explosion in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes - the third leading cause of death in the US. Type 2 diabetes already afflicts four million people in the UK. This is expected to rise to six million by 2020, when its ‘management’ will account for 25 percent of the health budget. Type 2 diabetes occurs in the presence of sufficient insulin, but where insulin receptors have become less sensitive. This insulin resistance is the common factor in a cluster of cardiovascular disease risk factors known as metabolic syndrome. Twenty percent of adult Americans have it, and it affects up to forty percent of those over sixty.
The role of sugar in this epidemic is not in doubt. The role of chromium is still debated. As a component of Glucose Tolerance Factor (GTF), chromium assists insulin in reducing blood glucose, by stimulating glucose uptake by the muscles and other tissues. When chromium levels are low, the circulating level of GTF is low, and insulin is then less effective in reducing blood sugar. Blood sugar levels remain high, stimulating further insulin release. This is known as insulin resistance.
Chromium also helps to control hunger by reducing cravings for sweetness, and raw sugar is rich in chromium. So nature has provided its sweetener with the cofactor that facilitates its handling and reduces craving. But this essential mineral is removed in the refining process, so not only is the resulting product pure, white and deadly, it does not even satisfy a craving for sweetness.
Other side effects of sugar consumption include reduced immune function, increased fat production, fatty liver, heart palpitations, high blood pressure and anxiety.
Add most vegetable oils to your sugary diet, and you are a calamity waiting to happen.
What of the other disaccharides, maltose and lactose? Maltose, which is found in honey, consists of two glucose molecules. Lactose - milk sugar - consists of glucose and galactose in equal parts. Neither of these is poisonous.
All the other carbs we are likely to encounter are polysaccharides, made up of strings of glucose molecules. So here is the rub. Although, it is certainly preferable to consume complex carbs rather than simple sugars, they are all ultimately broken down to glucose. It is certainly true that every cell in the human body can use glucose as an energy source, but if our consumption of calories exceeds our energy expenditure, then the excess is stored as fat. So think of this when eating bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, noodles, sweetcorn and breakfast cereals. Limiting yourself to one or two servings of carbs per day will quickly get your metabolism into shape.
So, which are the good carbs?
- Today’s medical advice is that the ideal, balanced diet should contain at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
- Fruit and vegetables are important because they provide 90 percent of our antioxidants.
- So fruit is good, but vegetables are even better, particularly if you have grown them yourself.
- With the exception of tomato, where the nutrient content improves with cooking, fruit and vegetables are best eaten raw, wherever possible.
- We should try to become locavores, and eat fresh, local and seasonal food. Buying local helps to ensure freshness, and buying seasonal helps to promote a more varied diet.
- The carbohydrate we eat should be whole food and unrefined. This is why beans and root vegetables are so nutritious. They are also rich in protein. We used to be taught that animal protein was better than vegetable protein, but this was yet another myth.
What about fruit juices - otherwise known as liquid cake? The issue here should by now be clear. It is wonderfully healthy to eat an apple. If it is truly delicious, you might eat a second apple, but this is unlikely. One apple would probably satisfy. One glass of pure apple juice contains five to eight apples, depending on the size. This does not mean that it is five to eight times better for you, because what you are now getting in excess is sugar. And it is all too easy. If you are thirsty, you might down another glass.
And the problem does not stop there. Some commercial apple juice is not made from apples at all. It contains apple flavouring and sugar water.
Fruit juices on the supermarket shelves often contain the slogan, ‘No added sugar’. This is designed to make us think they are healthy, but the juice is already full of sugar, and sometimes more is added in the form of denatured grape juice. If you are determined to drink fruit juice, then one small wine glass per day is more than enough.
The same advice applies to smoothies, which are best described as bottled obesity, even though they may contain some of the fruit fibre.