TROY — Processed foods and the added sugar in them were at the forefront of the Upper Valley Medical Center’s (UVMC) annual McGraw Cancer Awareness Symposium held on Monday evening at the Crystal Room in Troy.
Dr. Robert Lustig, MD, MSL, author of “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease,” was the keynote speaker, discussing how processed foods and added sugar contribute to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
“I’m going to ask you all to imagine that for the 50 years, you have all been unwitting, research participants in a grand experiment that you did not give your consent for,” Lustig said. “And this was conducted by 10 principle investment leaders around the world to pose the following hypothesis: processed food is better than real food.”
While factors of cost, convenience, storability, shelf life, and a “cool-ness” aspect may contribute to the idea that processed food is better than real food, Lustig explained that processed food and the added sugar within it pose significant health risks.
“Processed food is a failed experiment,” Lustig said.
Lustig began with discussing the differences between processed food and real food, starting with the fact that processed food has “too little fiber.”
“It feeds your gut, it feeds your microbiome,” Lustig said. “Each of us is really just a big bag of bacteria with legs.”
Processed food has “too little omega-3 fatty acids” and “too little micronutrients.”
Lustig then went on to explain what processed foods have too much of, starting with “too much trans fat.”
“Trans fats are the devil incarnate … the consumable poison,” Lustig said. It is what contributes to the processed foods’ shelf life, though.
“Trans fats make food last forever,” Lustig said. “The bacteria can’t chew it up.”
According to Lustig, processed foods also contain too many branched chain amino acids (Eucine, isoleucine, valine), too many omega-6 fatty acids, too many food additives, too many emulsifiers, too much salt, too many nitrates, and too much sugar.
Lustig stated that of 600,000 American food items, 74 percent have added sugar.
“Sugar is the marker for processed food,” Lustig said. “The reason that fruits are okay is because fruit has fiber.”
Lustig stated that “sugar is toxic unrelated to calories or weight,” explaining that sugar calories metabolize differently than other calories.
“The last 20 years, we’ve been consuming an average 18 percent of our calories as added sugar,” Lustig explained. Lustig compared this statistic to the prevalence of heart disease over those 20 years. He pointed out that the infliction point, the point at which consuming added sugar appeared to contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, was at 15 percent.
“More than half the U.S. population has an increased risk of dying of heart disease because of their consumption of added sugar,” Lustig said.
Lustig pointed out that teenagers consume 30-32 percent of their calories as added sugar.
“Their hazard to risk ratio is four fold greater,” Lustig said. When they reach 40 years old, Lustig stated that they will be facing a high risk of heart disease.
“We’ve got 20 years, and our emergency rooms will have nothing but heart disease victims shortly,” Lustig said.
Lustig then referenced a study done in Europe that stated that every sugar or sweetened beverage per day increases a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes by 29 percent. Lustig pointed that Americans consume approximately two and a half such drinks per day.
Lustig explained that his organization compared statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Diabetes Foundation database, and the World Bank Gross National Income database to come to a similar conclusion.
Lustig explained that they compared those databases to ask the question, “What about the world’s health predicts diabetes around the world?”
“Only sugar,” Lustig said. Lustig explained that in places where people had one sugar or sweetened drink a day, diabetes went up elevenfold or 1.1 percent. Lustig increased the percentage for Americans to 2.4 percent as they drink approximately two and a half sugar drinks a day.
“Basically sugar explains 29 percent of the diabetes in America all by itself,” Lustig said, pointing out that 9.3 percent of Americans have diabetes.
Lustig brought up five proposals to help combat the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic, which include:
• A healthy beverage initiative
• Renaming type 2 diabetes as the processed food disease
• Roll back the subsidies for processed foods, such as on corn, wheat, soy, and sugar
• Creating a special seal on the front of food that states “real food approved”
• Remove sugar from the FDA’s generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list
Taking sugar off the GRAS would make the FDA regulate how much sugar companies can put into their food products.
“I’m for dessert,” Lustig said. “I am not for dessert for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.”
Lustig is a neuroendocrinologist, pediatric endocrinologist, professor, researcher, author, and lecturer. As a neuroendocrinologist, his research focuses on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system.
Lustig is professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology and member of the Institute of Health Policies Study at the University of California, San Francisco. He previously worked at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
He is a graduate of MIT and received his MD from Cornell University Medical College and masters of studies of law from UC Hastings College of the Law.
Lustig also is president of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, a non-profit organization aimed at eradicating childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The annual symposium, sponsored by the UVMC Foundation and the UVMC Cancer Care Center, is named in honor of Bill and Ruth McGraw, parents of Bill McGraw, III, and his sisters, Karen McGraw and Chris Grilliot.
Together, Bill and Ruth McGraw had cancer five times. Neither died from the disease.
The program is made possible by a gift from the McGraw Family Fund of The Troy Foundation and a grant from the UVMC Foundation.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall