Today, we shall discuss the sensational book of The New York Times Magazine columnist, Gary Taubes, who made a name for himself on the scientific and popular articles about healthy eating and weight loss.
The strength of the Taubes’ journalistic approach lies in the fact that setting out the information in a simple and fun way, he never forgets about the strong argument and comprehensive evidence. Sometimes, he presents well-known facts to the reader from a completely new angle.
His work “Why we get fat. And what to do about it” opens up many paradoxes of the nature of excess weight and how to combat it. We publish a fragment of Gary Taubes’ book. After reading it, you will learn about the fatal link between insulin and obesity.
Why we get fat
The well-known American scholar of the obesity nature, Gary Taubes, comes to a sudden conclusion:
- workouts in the gym are not only capable of saving from excess weight, but sometimes can also make the problem worse, since vigorous physical activity only boosts our appetite.
- And even the most charismatic coach will not help you get slimmer, if you do not change your approach to nutrition.
Pop quiz: what do carbs and cigarettes have in common?
It is not you to decide, whether or not you are born with a predisposition to obesity. However, this predisposition is activated with the carbs you get with food, depending on their quantity and quality.
Ultimately, namely the carbs determine the amount of insulin released, which controls the process of body fat accumulation. Not all of us gain weight because of carbs, but those who gain weight, should blame namely the carbs. The less carbs you consume, the thinner you stay.
We can draw the best comparison with cigarettes.
Not every smoker develops lung cancer: only one out of six men and one out of nine women.
However, in those who eventually do get lung cancer, smoking is, undoubtedly, the most common cause of it. In a world without cigarettes, lung cancer would be a rare disease, which it used to be sometimes. In a world without a carbohydrate-rich diet, obesity would also be a rare condition.
Not all foods that contain carbs equally contribute to weight gain. This is a very important point. The food that most strongly affects blood levels of sugar and insulin is the one that most of all contributes to the gain of extra kilos.
Such foods include concentrated carbs sources, especially those that are easily and quickly absorbed:
- Any foods made with refined flour (bread, cereal, pasta)
- Liquid carbs (beer, fruit juices, sodas)
- Starch (potatoes , rice and corn).
These foods instantly fills our blood with glucose. Blood sugar level jumps up and the insulin gets off scale. We are getting fatter. Not surprisingly, this food is perceived as the most excellent way to gain weight for almost two centuries.
Change in blood sugar level, depending on the type of food consumed, is determined by the so-called “glycemic index”, which is the correct measure for determining, how exactly the insulin will response to each particular product.
The higher the glycemic index of a product, the more it will affect your blood sugar level.
Entire books have been dedicated to the idea of reducing the glycemic index of the diet to reduce the amount of insulin produced by the body and the deposited fat.
- Such food, among other things, is, almost without exception, the cheapest way to get the required amount of calories.
This fact is a clear explanation of why human poverty increases his chances of becoming fat. It also explains why there existed and still exist poor peoples with levels of obesity and diabetes high enough to compete with the ratio of modern US and Europe.
This is exactly the explanation that was suggested by doctors, who worked with these people in the sixties and the seventies of the last century, and now we know that it is fully supported by the science.
“In most Third World countries, the level of carbohydrate consumption is very high, wrote in 1974 Rolf Richards, the British-Jamaican specialist in diabetes. It is possible that the greater availability of starch than animal protein, leads to an increased lipogenesis (fat formation) and the development of obesity”.
Representatives of these people are fat not because they eat too much or exercise too little, but because of the food that makes the basis of their diet, such as starch, refined grains and sugars, which literally make them thicker.
Carbohydrates, contained in leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, on the other hand, are connected to the indigestible fiber, and the process of their digestion and entering the blood takes considerably more time. Such vegetables contain more water, and the relative carbohydrate content in them is lower, than in starchy vegetables, such as potatoes.
We have to eat a much larger portion to get the same dose of carbohydrates, and these carbs are digested much longer.
As a result, blood sugar remains relatively low in the digestion of these vegetables. They cause a much more discreet release of insulin, and, thus, contribute to weight gain at a smaller extent.
However, it does happen with some people so that they are so sensitive to carbohydrates in their diet, that even greens can be a problem for them.
Fruits – wolves in sheep’s clothing
Carbs in fruits, even though they are digested relatively easily and quickly, are also considerably diluted with water. Thus, their concentration is significantly lower, than in starch.
- If you take an apple and potato of the same weight, then this potato will have a considerably greater impact on your blood sugar level, which means that it is likely to be more conducive to extra kilos.
- This does not mean that no one gains weight from the fruits.
However, fruits are a cause for concern.
Their sweet taste comes from the kind of sugar called fructose. If contributes to fat gain no less than the carbs. When the nutritionists and health authorities got desperate to contain the growing epidemic of obesity, they started to insist more and more on the need to eat fruits and greens.
- fruits do not need cooking before consumption;
- they contain no fat or cholesterol;
- they are rich in vitamins (in particular vitamin C) and anti-oxidants;
- Therefore, it is logical to assume that they are good for health.
It might be right. However, if we have a predisposition to weight gain, we can safely assume that fruit will only aggravate this problem, rather than help to cope with it.
The most harmful food for us in this regard is sugar itself, especially sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup. Health bodies and journalists have recently started to attack the high-fructose corn syrup, calling it a cause of the obesity epidemic.
It was proposed in 1978 and by the mid-1980s has replaced sugar in most refreshment drinks in the United States.
The total consumption of sugar (“high-caloric sweeteners”, as they were called by the US Department of Agriculture to distinguish them from artificial “zero-calorie” sweeteners) rapidly increased from 55 kilograms per person per year to 68 kg, because the Americans did not realize that high-fructose corn syrup is just another kind of sugar.
While it is exactly this way. I’m going to further refer to it as sugar, because it differs from it at a very small extent. Sucrose, the white granular substance that we add to our coffee or tea, contains half glucose and half fructose.
High-fructose corn syrup in the form, in which it we usually get it in juices, soda, fruit yogurt, consists of:
- Fructose by 55% (which is why it is called in the food industry HFCS- 55)
- Glucose by 42 %
- 3% – of other types of carbohydrates.
Namely the fructose in these sweeteners in these and makes them sweet, just the same as it makes fruit sweet.
This fructose, apparently, promotes the most body fat gain, being so destructive to our health.
The American Association for heart disease, along with other health authorities, recently – better late than never – started to view the fructose, and, hence, table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup as a cause of obesity, and, possibly, even of cardiovascular diseases. Yet, they did this, basing only on the idea that these sweeteners are “empty calories”, which means that they contain no vitamins, minerals or antioxidants.
Whatever it was, this approach can not be considered correct.
Fructose does have adverse effects on human health, including a fast weight gain, but it has little to do with the lack of vitamins and antioxidants, and has much more to do with how your body metabolizes it.
- The fact that the sugar approximately consists of 50% of fructose and 50% of glucose, makes it likely a particularly effective tool in weight gain.
When we digest the carbohydrates, contained in the starch, they eventually get into the blood in the form of glucose. Sugar level increases, insulin is released, and the calories are deposited as fat.
When we digest sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, most of the glucose gets into the circulation in the body, thereby increasing blood sugar levels. The difference of fructose, however, lies in the fact that it is processed primarily in the liver, in which the necessary enzymes form.
Thus, fructose does not have any immediate effects on blood sugar and insulin levels, but the keyword is “instant”, since it has many long-term effects.
The human body, particularly the liver, didn’t manage to evolve sufficiently to cope with huge doses of fructose, which we encounter in modern eating systems.
The content of fructose in fruit is relatively low – only thirty calories in a glass of blueberries, for example. (Some fruits, however, have been subject to selection over many generations to increase the fructose content.)
In a small jar of cola, eighty calories go for the fructose.
In the same amount of fruit juice, these are eighty-five. Our liver responds to such a flow of fructose by converting more of its part in fat and by transferring it into fat tissue.
That’s why, even forty years ago most biochemists called fructose the most “lipogenic” carbohydrate. We convert it into fat the fastest.
Simultaneously, glucose found in the sucrose with fructose:
- Increases blood sugar level and stimulates the insulin secretion
- Switches fat cells in the mode of gathering any calories that come across them, including fat produced in the liver from fructose.
The more such sugar we consume and the longer it is present in our nutrition, the more our bodies adapt to it by setting up mechanisms for converting it to fat. Our “fructose metabolism models” change over time, as it is explained by the British biochemist and expert on fructose, Peter Mayes.
This not only contributes to the deposition of fat directly into the liver – a disease known as “the disease of fatty liver” – but, apparently, it develops the resistance to insulin in our muscular tissue due to a number factors, interconnected by domino effect, which take their beginning in the insulin resistance of the liver cells.
Thus, even though fructose does not have any instantaneous influence on blood sugar and insulin levels, perhaps, in a few years already, it may become a cause of insulin intolerance.
Thus, it may contribute to the increase of the calories that deposit in the form of fat.
The indicator of our fuel distribution scale, thus, begins to lean towards fat depositing, even if initially it was not so. It is possible that if we never ate all the sugar, we would never become fat or diabetic, even despite the abundance of starch carbohydrates and flour in our nutrition.
- This could explain, why some nations of the third world eat a lot of carbohydrates, and yet do not get fat and do not suffer from diabetes, while others are less lucky in this respect.
- The nutrition of peoples, who are not thick (at least, were not), is traditionally very low in sugar. If you start to get fat and want to stop it and get back to being fit, you should start with giving up sugar.
Alcohol deserves a separate discussion. Digestion of alcohol mostly takes place in the liver. For example, a glass of vodka contains about 80 calories.
They are sent directly to the liver, where they are converted into:
- A small amount of energy
- A large number of molecules called “citrates”.
Citrates then serve as fuel for the process, during which fatty acids are released from glucose.
Thus, alcohol increases the production of fat in the liver, which can be an excellent explanation of alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- It can also make us thicker in other locations.
This depends on whether we eat or drink carbohydrates together with this alcohol, as we, generally, do.
Approximately one third of the calories in beer, for example, initially falls on maltose (refined sugar), and only two-thirds of the total calories fall on the alcohol itself. A clear result of this process is the famous beer belly.
We get fat even from thinking about food
If you are predisposed to excess weight gain and at the same time want to be thin to not harm your health, you need to limit the consumption of carbohydrates, thus maintaining low blood sugar and insulin levels.
However, it is worth remembering that you lose fat not because you limit yourself in calories.
- You lose weight due to the fact that you limiting the use of food that makes you fat – carbohydrates.
If you will achieve your desired weight loss result and then return to your previous diet rich in carbohydrates, you will gain the lost weight back.
The fact that only some people get fat because of carbs (just like not all people develop cancer because of smoking) does not change the fact that the only way to get rid of it, if you are one of them, is the rejection of such foods.
This is not the only injustice, involved in this case.
It is not even the worst of them. From what I have written, it doesn’t result that you will manage to lose or maintain weight without any sacrifice. So far, we have only talked about the fact that carbohydrates make us fat and don’t let us get rid of extra kilos.
However, it is those products which are responsible for our body folds, head the list of food that we like the most and without which we can not imagine our lives:
- French fries
It is not a play of chance. Experiments on animals have shown that they eat with the greatest pleasure – or even overeat – food that provides in the fastest way the cells of their body with energy – easily digestible carbohydrates.
- However, another important factor is the extent to which we are hungry.
It is another indicator of how much time passed since the last meal, and how much energy we have spent during this period. The longer the interval between meals, the more energy we use during this time, the hungrier we eventually find ourselves, the tastier the food will seem to us. Wow! That was great. I was so hungry. Often, and not without a reason, they say that hunger is the best sauce.
- Even before we started the meal, insulin already stimulates hunger.
Remember that insulin starts to release because of only thoughts about food (especially after thinking about carbohydrate-rich foods and sweets), and at the very moment when we bite off the first piece, the amount of insulin released increases.
- French fries
This process occurs even before the food begins to be digested, and long before the appearance of glucose in the blood. This insulin is designed to prepare the body for the expected flow of glucose by putting aside all other nutrients that are present in blood now, in particular fatty acids.
Not surprisingly, the feeling of hunger is amplified by only simple thinking about food, then it is amplified even more after the first bitten off pieces (remember the proverb “appetite comes with eating”?).
During the meal, this “metabolic precondition of hunger”, as it called by the French scientist Jacques Le Magnin, starts to recede, we gradually quench our appetite, and our perception of the palatability of the food is also beginning to gradually come to naught.
- Now, insulin got to the brain, where it is working on appetite suppression and the desire to gnaw on something.
As a result, the first few bites of our lunch seem to be much tastier than the rest of meal. This is the most plausible physiological explanation of the fact why many of us – both thick and thin – eat pasta, biscuits and other foods rich in carbohydrates with such a huge pleasure. Just the thought of them makes our body produce insulin.
Insulin makes us hungrier, since it temporarily removes nutrients from the blood and removes them in storage, which, in turn, makes the first pieces of our food much tastier than they actually are.
The greater the increase in blood levels of insulin and sugar in response to the use of a particular product, the more we like it and the tastier it seems to us.
Such a relationship of palatability with insulin and sugar blood levels is almost certainly enhanced by many times in obese people and those, who are predisposed to gain of extra kilos.
The thicker they are, the more they food, rich in carbohydrates.
This is explained by the fact that their insulin contributes to a more active depositing of fat in adipose tissue and protein in muscles, where they can not be used as fuel for the body.
When we develop resistance to insulin, which ultimately is inevitable, for most part of the day, if not all day, its excessive amount begins to dabble through our veins.
As a result, for most part of the day, the only fuel available in the body becomes glucose that comes from carbohydrates. Insulin, as you remember, makes it so that proteins and fats, and even glycogen (the form, in which carbohydrates are deposited in the body) are put aside for their later use.
- It tells the cells of our body that they can use as fuel excess blood sugar, which in reality is simply absent.
This is why we want glucose so much. Even if you eat protein or fat food, like a piece of meat or cheese, insulin will ensure that the nutrients contained in them are deposited as a reserve, rather than allowing the body use them.
You will not be attracted so much to such foods. At least you’ll dream about them in company with some carbohydrates, like a piece of bread. This is because your body at this moment is very little interested in burning proteins or fats.
Sweets, again, are a totally different story, which does not surprise a sweet tooth (or the one who has ever raised a child). Firstly, the only fact of fructose processing in the liver, coupled with the glucose effect of insulin secretion stimulation, can be enough to trigger sugar cravings in people prone to extra kilos gain.
However, one more process occurs in the brain, when you eat sugar.
According to the research of Bartley Hoebel from Princeton University, it causes a reaction of the same area of the brain, known as the “pleasure center”, on which the action of cocaine, alcohol, nicotine and other addictive substances is directed.
Same thing happens with the food, because, apparently, the pleasure center appeared during the revolution namely for this purpose. It stimulates such activities (eating and sex) that are essential for the survival of the species.
However, sugar, apparently, found a way to outsmart this mechanism in an unnatural to our body manner, the same as did cocaine and nicotine.
According to the results of the animal studies, sugar and high-fructose syrup cause addiction by the same biochemical reasons that this happens with drugs.
So how do you get out of this vicious circle?
Food, due to which we get fat, makes us covet that same meal, which makes us gain weight. (Again, this is not very different from smoking: cigarettes, because of which lung cancer develops, make us want even more cigarettes, because of which lung cancer the develops.)
The more this food contributes to the formation of fatty folds and the more we are predisposed to overweight, the more we will want it. There is a way out of this cycle, even though it requires overcoming our dependence:
The same way as alcoholics can quit drinking, and smokers give up cigarettes, if you really want and will put all the necessary efforts, you can do it.