Monday, February 14, 2011

another argument for whole foods

See this stuff? I think Dr. Lustig would approve.

veggie sampler

I woke up Saturday morning to an episode of The People's Pharmacy called "Sugar Hazards." It featured this Lustig man, and later a Dr. Teitelbaum, both of whom were discussing how harmful sugar-laden (read: "processed") foods are to our metabolisms and health.

This radio program happened to be one of Those Moments ... when a few truths that were already hinted at in my life suddenly found the ground they needed to stand on, firm.

what i came away with
One of the audio clips you'll find in that link above is an extended interview with Lustig. He's coming from a place of science and medicine (he's a pediatric neuroendocrinologist).

Following are some of the points he makes (paraphrased by me), ones that resonated.

» lustig likes to say that when god gave us the poison, he packaged it with the antedote. In this case, the poison is sugar, or fructose, and the antedote is fiber. Think of fruits. Even sugar cane, which is a plant -- mostly stalk -- that contains a relatively modest amount of sweet. (He adds that the only time that's not true is with honey, "and that's guarded by bees.")

Our bodies are refined systems and, as with so many things in nature, they rely on a particular balance. The level of sugars that nature provides are low, in addition to the fact that our bodies have to work pretty hard processing fiber to access them. This setup is how we evolved and how our bodies, when healthy, function optimally.

» sugar is readily available to us now, and it's messing with our insulin levels. and this is contributing to obesity. and low energy. and hunger. Here's something I didn't know: Sugar is two things: glucose and fructose. Glucose, as Lustig says, is metabolized into energy immediately. Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized only by the liver, which stores it immediately as fat and increases our level of insulin (which is "the energy storage hormone" ... something else I didn't know).

Basically, all the fructose we eat can never be anything but stored fat; consequently it can never be used toward our energy output, it's never given a chance!

So even if I eat as many calories as I burn, if some of those are fructose, those calories work against me in two ways by: 1) immediately turning into fat, and 2) putting me at an energy deficit. I've just gained weight but I'm still hungry. And I lack physical energy. And so I reach for more food. Which may contain fructose. And if this cycle goes far enough, I become a tired, hungry, fattened individual.

Lustig points to the sugars added to processed foods as a main culprit in the nation's increasing obesity problem. What's the best way to avoid them? According to him, shop the perimeter of a grocery store to buy produce and whole foods. If it's on a shelf, it's built for shelf-life by way of preservative sugars. ... Another argument for whole foods!

» don't exercise to lose weight. exercise because it makes you feel good. Lustig says "diet is about weight; exercise is about health. Diet is about pounds; exercise is about inches."

One incredible thing Lustig repeated throughout the interview: it is a false notion that if you *simply* burn more calories than you consume, you'll lose weight. One reason? If a diet continuously feeds you fructose, you'll immediately store it as fat and rob yourself of healthful, useful energy. Another: studies, he says, have shown that exercise does little in the way of "burning" fat. Instead, it converts it to muscle.

So, he says, "go out and get some exercise done, just don't look at the scale." Don't use exercise as a tool for weight loss, but as an absolutely necessary tool for good health. "The more exercise you do," he says, "the better you're gonna feel."

I've known that I wanted to stay away from processed foods, but I didn't have a full picture of why that was. I knew I liked the idea of eating things that came from the earth or wholly from animals (and I started a list of whole grains that are on my bucket list). It just seemed right. This radio program, though, put this idea in full focus.

I've known that too much sugar makes me feel off-kilter: hungry more quickly, irritable, tired. I even confessed that I needed to nix donuts from my breakfast options after a crabby weekend that should have been splendid. Now I know why, biochemically, I was right.

And I've just recently started understanding that activity can be a part of my life for the the damn *fun* of it. I'm determined to emphasize activities that bring me happiness (and aren't just an item on my list of daily chores). Now here's Lustig saying exactly that.

This radio show, man ... good timing.

but don't take my word for it!
There's so much more to get from this discussion. I truly think it's worth the hour to listen to it. The first ten minutes may require your undivided attention as they involve the most intense science, but if you don't have a full hour to spare, at least multi-task with this in the background.

... and let me know what else you get from it!


  1. Lindsay!

    I need to read things like this D-A-I-L-Y in order to survive. I read Mark Bittman for the kind of guidance and wisdom I expect Christians consult the bible for. Thank you for posting this!

    Also, this photo is inspirational! I love the notion of sharing photos more often on your blog, and I love the way food looks in your life. Tell me more about where you do your shopping. Have you found a lot of local vendors in Roanoke/what's the local scene like there?

    Here, there are many many choices, upon which I will expand on my own blog for your reading pleasure soon!

  2. Ms. S., you know that I haven't read any Bittman? Or Pollan? Or Waters?! But the more I listen to radio programs like this and try to pursue a healthy life, the more compelled I am to check those authors' books out from the library (or read their blogs, I suppose!).

    Is there a particular title you'd suggest as my first?

    And Patrick and I still shop mostly at Kroger and Fresh Market, though he was just talking the other night about how we could get bison meat from Big Pine Provisions (, and I'm gonna dig into this start info from the cooperative extention (

    I think I'll put a local-foods-blog-entry on my to-do list; thank you for the inspiration!

  3. Duh, that second link is supposed to be to the cooperative extention site: