By Margaret Wilkes, NTP
If you ask the average American what they think a healthy diet consists of, chances are they will mention something involving the reduction of dietary fat intake. People say, “Oh, well a healthy diet means I should eat less fat!” or “It’s been shown that it’s beneficial to eliminate overall fat consumption and choose low fat or fat free products.” This just shows you how ingrained this paradigm is in our culture, the paradigm that says that eating fat will make you fat, but not only that, that it will make you unhealthy. Of course, our food processing companies happily hopped aboard the low fat craze and now there are a plethora of items to choose from in the modern supermarket bearing the catchy, reassuring titles of “Fat Free!” or “Reduced Fat.” Are you on a low fat diet but still want to have your afternoon Oreo break? No problem. We have lowfat Oreos just for you! In an attempt to “slim down” and “cut down on fats,” people will choose the lowfat or fat free processed food items thinking that, by doing so, they are making the healthy choice for their body and their health by cutting out those pesky fats that supposedly cause weight gain and health problems.
Unfortunately, this fat phobia has led individuals to think they need only worry about the fat quantity and not the fat quality. So now, not only are individuals vigilant about cutting fat out of their diet, they don’t even give a second thought to the integrity of the fats being ingested. This leads to essential fatty acid deficiencies and the myriad of health difficulties accompanying such a state.
I’d like to briefly discuss the history of the “fat phobia” paradigm that our country still clings to all these years later. Heart attacks were extremely rare until the late 1920’s. By 1950, heart disease accounted for 30% of all deaths in Western Countries. That number has now risen to 45%. Five to six decades later, it is the number one killer. Interestingly enough, animal fat consumption has actually declined steadily since the turn of the century. In 1909, people ate an average of 104 grams of animal fats per day compared to 97 grams per day in 1972, whilevegetable fat intake (from corn, soy, safflower and canola oil) had increased from a low 21 grams in 1909 to almost 60 grams per person in 1972. In 1956, the American Heart Association (AHA) presented the lipid hypothesis to the public and the introduction of the “prudent diet”, a diet in which you swapped transfat filled margarine for butter, skinless chicken for beef, cereal and toast for bacon and eggs, low fat milk for whole milk and cream, and corn oil for tallow and lard. During this time when saturated fat and cholesterol were being demonized here in America, in England, Dr. John Yudkin published conclusive findings that excessive refined sugar consumption was strongly correlated with elevated blood cholesterol levels, elevated triglycerides (blood fats), enlargement of the liver, increased corticosteroid levels in the blood,hypertrophy of the adrenal glands, and shrinkage of the pancreas. Other researches, following his lead, looked into refined sugar’s role in disease and discovered that refined sugar, among other refined carbohydrates, was one of the main causes of heart disease. These studies were once again ignored, and our country continued their detrimental course.*
If you look at the ingredients on these lowfat, reduced fat, or fat free products, you’ll see, in plain view, the secret ingredient that makes these foods palatable: sugar. High fructose corn syrup, sugar, and other refined sweeteners are proudly emblazoned on the labels of these so called healthy foods. Oftentimes, there are two or three different kinds of sugar within a single product. But is this healthy? What happens to these foods beyond the flashy label and supposed health claims? More importantly, what happens when these foods actually get inside our bodies? Let’s take a closer look. Our body’s innate intelligence continually monitors the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. Too much or too little glucose will lead to the release of hormones to get our levels back in balance. When we consume large amounts of refined sugars, our pancreas secretes the hormone insulin to help us lower our blood sugar levels. Insulin is an important hormone in the process of blood sugar regulation. Secreted by the Beta cells in the Pancreas, it ushers the glucose floating in our bloodstream directly into the cells for them to burn as energy. It also brings glucose into the liver cells that are responsible for turning glucose into glycogen (glycogenesis.)
When we consume a diet high in sugars, the cumulative effects of these sugars places an undue burden on all of the organs of our blood sugar regulation system that includes the pancreas, adrenals, and the liver. In particular, it wears out our pancreas, as it must continue to secrete more and more insulin in order to bring our blood sugar levels down to normal.
Our cells are created with this wonderful innate intelligence. They can sense when they do not need any more glucose, and will down regulate their glucose acceptance. Basically, if th ese tiny cells had arms, they’d cross them and say, “Sorry! No more glucose allowed here!” Here’s an analogy. Let’s say your phone rings. You jump up and look at the caller ID and then see that it’s your daughter. You want to talk to her, and so you take the call. A few minutes later, the phone rings again and you get up, and, judging by the caller ID, you realize it’s a telemarketer. You let it ring out. Then, since the salesperson is a persistent one, the phone rings again later and you look and see that it’sthe same telemarketer. You may roll your eyes this time, and then you let it ring out. You are probably a bit annoyed by now. At dinner, the phone rings again and you say, rather angrily, “That’s it. I’m done with getting the phone!” and you let it ring out and don’ t even bother screening the call, regardless of whether or not it was a call you needed to get.
So it is with our cells. Their receptor sites get hit up so many times with the insulin that they eventually won’t respond and they say “NO” and refuse to take in any more glucose, no matter how many times they are asked. Insulin resistance starts in the liver, then moves to the next glycogen storage center, the muscles, and finally reaches the fat cells. It’s as if the little glucose molecules are travelers looking for a place to stay for the time being. They hop over to the liver, no vacancy. Then the muscles, and again, they are turned down, no room there either. Finally, as a last resort, the glucose molecules find a place in the fat cells, into which they take up residence. The next sentence just might just frighten you out of your next donut. If you are in this state of insulin resistance, anything you eat will go into fat storage, because that excess glucose produced by the food you are eating has nowhere to go. Normally, it would enter the cells, supplying energy to your body. With insulin resistance, there is an abundance of energy (glucose) in the bloodstream from the amount of sugars and carbs being ingested, but it cannot get burned for energy because the cell will not let any more glucose inside. And so, this glucose floats around in our bloodstream, causing abnormally high blood sugar levels in the sufferer.
Adding insult to injury, having lots of excess glucose floating around in the blood also causes glycation of the proteins in the bloodstream. Glycation is when these proteins get “sticky” with glucose and they harden and bond together. These AGEs (damaged proteins) have been implicated in many degenerative diseases and have been shown to cause the hardening and irritation of arteries, inflammation of joints, the hardening of cell membranes, and a host of other detrimental effects. Basically, when you are insulin resistant, anything you eat will turn into stored fat, because there is “NO VACANCY” anywhere else in the body for it to go. Insulin resistance often appears in conjunction with other symptoms such as high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol. These four symptoms form a condition referred to as Metabolic Syndrome.
A century ago, before the advent of “modern convenience foods,” at a time when we consumed our fructose from whole fruits as we were created to do, the average person consumed approximately 15 grams (about 3 teaspoons) of sugars per day, or the amount of sugar contained in an apple. Today, the average adolescent consumes 73 grams of fructose per day from sweetened drinks alone. Not only that, but all of those sugars come, not from "natural" sugar sources, but from highly processed, GMO-laden HFCS (high fructose corn syrup.)
If that’s not shocking enough, consider this: for every 120 calories of fructose consumed, 40 of those calories go directly into fat storage. In our bodies, fat supplies more energy per molecule than glucose. Per molecule, glucose gives us 36 ATP (energy) molecules, while each molecule of Fat gives us 48 molecules of ATP. In addition, processing glucose requires one additional step of preparation before it can be burned for energy, whilst fat has a quicker pathway to energy production. Fat is also the preferred energy source of our cells. If our primary fuel is glucose (i.e. we are “sugar burners”), we cannot burn fat for energy, and we are limited to only glucose. In contrast, if we burn fat for fuel, (i.e. we are “fat burners”), we can have the flexibility of switching, when necessary, to burn glucose for fuel. It is ideal for us to strike a balance between using glucose for fuel and fat (as well as ketones) for fuel.
Furthermore, it is shown that eating a bit of fat with our carbs and/or sugars will slow the entry of the sugars into our bloodstream, blunting the inevitable spike in blood sugar that would otherwise occur when eating a food item low in fat and high in glucose and/or sucrose. Remove the fat from the mix and you will have blood sugar levels that skyrocket even faster than if you had consumed fat with your food. So, which is the real enemy to our waistlines and health he re, fat or sugars? Look at the evidence and decide for yourself. Instead of rejecting the fats that have nourished us for thousands of years, it would be much more accurate to say that the blame rests upon these processed ‘foods of commerce’ and their far reaching effects on our health and well being.
*Statistic numbers from Diet and Heart Disease: It’s Not What You Think by Stephen Byrnes