"Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Foods, and Disease" by Dr. Robert Lustig, M.D. is not a how-to diet book with menus, shopping lists and recipes. And, even though Lustig simplified his explanations to make it easier for nonmedical readers, it's also not the easiest of reads. In fact, it's a bit technical, with 21 pages of reference notes validating his concepts.
What "Fat Chance" has is solid, study-backed information about why there's a worldwide obesity epidemic and why, believe it or not, your weight issue may not be your fault after all.
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Lustig states clearly that our weight issues are not calorie- and exercise-driven. Here's why: scientifically a calorie's a calorie's; since a calorie is always a measurement of energy. That simplistic view lead most of us to believe in calories-in, calories-out thinking. Yet it turns out that the real issue is from where those calories come (refined carbs, fat or protein) and how we metabolize them.
Take the refined carbohydrate -- sugar, for example. Table sugar (sucrose) is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose. Lustig explains that our bodies process glucose differently than fructose; we need insulin to process glucose but for metabolizing fructose.
That may seem good, until you learn that fructose is processed in the liver and consuming too much fructose can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. It's too early to link high fructose consumption to other health issues, though statistically speaking, obesity, premature aging and cancer rank high in possibilities.
Another bomb Lustig drops involves leptin resistance. "This is the key to the obesity epidemic," he writes. Leptin, like insulin, is a hormone and when we have enough of it we have an appropriate appetite, our activity levels are normal and we feel good. When we have insufficient leptin our body thinks it's starving, our metabolism slows down, we conserve calories (store fat) and become inactive.
To reduce insulin and increase leptin Lustig says we need to reduce sugars consumption and he suggests eliminating sugared beverages from the house, especially soda and juice.
Next, increase fiber intake, and here Lustig suggests consuming more "brown" foods, such as beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and other legumes. And increase exercise, which improves muscle insulin sensitivity.
Lustig also suggests eating a high-protein breakfast (wave goodbye to Cap'n Crunch), stop nighttime bingeing and get plenty of rest.
Finally, he suggests waiting 20 minutes after dining on a standard portion-size meal before heading back for seconds, since it takes our bodies that long (20 minutes) to get the "I'm satisfied" signals that make seconds unappealing.
There's more, much more, in Lustig's book. Reducing his 300-page tome down to a couple hundred words is as impossible as losing weight on an all-sugar food plan so I've hit on a few of the highlights. If you want to see Lustig explain himself, head over to YouTube and watch his 90-minute, cleverly titled video: "Sugar: The Bitter Truth;" it has amassed more than 3 million views.
Try this recipe: I've enjoyed my Mom's version of Corn Pone Pie (a chili casserole topped with cornbread) for decades. I recently saw an updated version that included cilantro and cheddar in the cornbread; what a great idea!
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at email@example.com.