4. The Energy Balance
Llualarth: There are four parts to the message that I wish to share with you about the energy balance in the human body. The first part contains information about sugar, the second is about fats, the third is about how to find a happy, healthy balance as regards your diet and in the fourth part we will discuss some remedies for some of the diseases that result from deep imbalance of these systems. So let us begin with the first part:
4.1 Sugar's Sticky Story
The core message of this section is quite a simple one, but since I don't wish to simply lecture at you with a list of do's and don'ts - since I would far rather have you understand the import and impact of your choices and then let you make your choices accordingly - this simple message becomes quite complex to communicate. It is, however, really worth the effort it will take me to share this with you and worth the effort it will take you to receive and understand all of this because the information is, quite literally, a life-saver.
Not only can you avert all manner of terrible diseases; not only can you live a much longer healthier life; not only can you feel much more vital and energetic for all the years that you live; but you will also find your body weight moving directly to its optimal state for your body.
Arn: Lose weight, look good, feel good, be strong and live long? Sounds too good to be true! What is this magic formula?
L: It is neither a magic formula nor anything esoteric or arcane. It is actually simple, common sense. And every Body-Spirit knows this and has been, in every way available, communicating this message to every Body-Host on the planet but, in the main, you have quite simply been ignoring this message and listening instead to an erroneous message sponsored by corporations with vested interests.
Now, as I have indicated, if you are to make better choices, you must understand the impact of the choices you are making. And this is complicated to explain. So, after much thought I have hit upon a metaphor to get the ideas I need to share across to you.
The 'Space Car' Metaphor
Imagine, for a moment, it became possible to travel with relative ease to a neighbouring planet. Venus or Mars perhaps. Imagine the problem is not so much getting there, but staying there since these other planets are utterly inhospitable to your life form. And so, to continue our little fantasy, imagine that gifted scientists and engineers designed and built the ultimate all-terrain super Space Car. Once inside one of these vehicles, you can travel and explore the surface of the planet of your choice to your heart's content.
Now it is so that your vehicle will need fuel. And this is the first problem as these new, uncolonised planets do not have convenient fuel stations anywhere. But our design geniuses are undaunted. They simply invent a superbly elegant, compact, on-board refinery plant for the Space Car. You can load any number of a vast array of materials that are readily found upon the planet's surface into the refinery's processing plant and it will manufacture the perfect fuel for your Space Car. And not only fuel! The refinery will produce, as by-products, all the many compounds needed by the vehicle's other systems. Oil for lubrication, for example. And since the vehicle has built-in self-repair systems, the refinery also produces the massive multitude of compounds the vehicle will need to stay in perfect order for the full duration of your life-time sojourn on that planet's surface. Imagine never needing to replace tyres since they are constantly repaired and rebuilt, even as they are worn by use.
Now, as I am sure you could imagine, such a beautiful and elegant solution to the problem of visiting neighbouring planets would result in many people becoming interested in doing so. There would be a constant queue of people wishing to be allocated a vehicle. However fast they could be produced, there would always be a backlog of people wishing to “get in”. And, so wondrous and amazing would the experience be, that at the end of their tour of adventure on the planet, people would come home just long enough to prepare and plan for their next tour in their next vehicle.
It is an obvious metaphor, is it not? Clearly the Space Car is a metaphor for the human body and the drivers are you, the Body-Hosts. And the situation, as described, is the way things have been for all the aeons that the human body has existed upon planet Earth. I won't complicate matters by talking about other life forms on other planets at this point (Llualarth laughs mischievously).
So, to unpack this metaphor: the fuel that your body runs upon is glucose and glycerol. Every single cell in your body needs a fairly constant supply of either glucose or glycerol to continue to function. And if you cut off the supply long enough, those cells will die. Eventually the whole organism would grind to a halt and die. So this is the crucial fuel that your body needs.
But there have never been fuel stations on Earth with ready supplies of either of these substances. You had to eat things like fresh, ripe fruit or starchy roots or grains and from these the “refinery” of the body would extract the glucose it needs. And you had to eat fats and oils mainly sourced from animals, seeds and nuts, and from these the body would extract and synthesise glycerol.
And, of course, while the body was producing the glucose and glycerol, it would also extract and synthesize a truly dizzying array of other necessary compounds from the same food sources that also contained these two essential fuel sources. But really, you had to be “programmed” to search for and recognise the kinds of things in the environment that would fuel the vehicle. Because, as mentioned, without fuel the vehicle would come to a stop. And that would be the end of your journey.
So there are two things that make your taste buds explode with delight: sweetness and fats. If you are tasting either of these, then your vehicle is going to chug along happily for a while still. Hooray!
Of course there are other things that the body must have as well. If you have fuel, then you will survive long enough to need other things too, and so you are also “programmed” to look for these things in the flavours you will seek out. And we will address some of these other essential compounds in subsequent chapters. For now we are talking about the two fuel sources and the foods you can eat to obtain them.
Where Did it All Go Wrong?
Now, without getting into an argument about how long human beings have existed upon planet Earth... without even needing to invoke the existence of human upon other planets, I can make the contention that the kinds of systems I am talking about here, namely digestion of plant and animal matter to provide glucose and glycerol, have been working perfectly and without a glitch in all manner of animals upon Earth for many, many millions of years. So much so that this awesomely successful model of energy extraction has yielded a flowering of animal life on planet Earth that has been constantly successful. Animals have been able to create and inhabit ego-system niches everywhere on Earth despite the vast array of challenges posed by differing climactic and environmental challenges due, in great measure, to the powerful adaptability of the brilliantly elegant refinery system that extracts the fuel and nutrients that each body needs from the foods available to it.
So, if this system has worked perfectly for all of these animals for all of this time why, suddenly, in the last few moments in the existence of only one species – humanity – have things suddenly stumbled and broken? How can it be that the machinery can be so faultlessly perfect that it can support everything and everyone for aeons, but for the last blink in time, and for just one species, it fails dismally? For humans and for only the last, perhaps, few decades, it is suddenly as if the car was put together by idiot amateurs bent upon making the lives of their drivers a nightmare. Suddenly the human species is racked with a surge in metabolic diseases of all kinds. Despite everyone trying all kinds of diets, obesity is rampant in first-world countries. And all kinds of related diseases are stealing years from your lives and quality of life from the years that you do live: diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease... and all kinds of other disease conditions such as cancer, auto-immune diseases and allergies that you don't even know are being at least encouraged, if not actually caused, by metabolic irregularities.
How did this happen?
The answer is actually quite simple. You started building fuel stations where before there were none. It was an obvious thing to do. As there came to be more and more of you upon the planet, so you became more efficient at altering your environment to suit yourselves. As improved farming methods began to put an end to starvation and famine, industrialisation allowed you to extract the compounds you wanted from the foods that farming provided in abundance. You could, in essence, obtain all the fats and sugars you wanted and then, marvels upon marvels, produce whole new artificial foods that you liked. Instead of needing to go foraging all morning to find a handful of fruits, instead of needing to hunt all day to kill and then prepare animal flesh for eating, you could simply reach into your pantry cupboard and pull out not just the means of survival but indeed any number of options for the delectation of your taste-buds. And since you could have anything you wanted, you ended up making many choices that the human body's machinery was simply never designed to cope with.
Let's understand this by looking at one of the fuels: glucose. There is a “happy zone” for the amount of glucose in the blood. Less than this quotient and you have too little fuel for the cells. You become dizzy, then you lose consciousness, then you fall into coma and die. So there must be a minimum amount of glucose in your blood stream for you to function optimally. Since it is so important, your Space Car refinery, the digestive system, can extract glucose very easily from starches because starches are, essentially, chains of glucose. Now it really doesn't take very much at all. A small amount of fruit or a little starchy food and you have all the glucose you need for the day. In point of fact, if you studiously avoided all sweetness and all starchiness you would still get enough of the sources for glucose from non-starchy vegetables and the like. The body is that efficient at obtaining the glucose it needs from your food. In fact, and you probably don't know this, your body can actually synthesize glucose from foods that contain no starch whatsoever. But I don't need to get technical with you. Here is the take-home message: You must have a little glucose in your blood stream, it is true. But almost everything you eat will result in your body providing you with some glucose. You do not need to eat starches and sugars to get the glucose you need. A very little is fine. But... and here comes the important bit... too much glucose is not good. And too much all the time is really very bad. Which is what I will tell you about next. And it is important that you understand this because, essentially, too much sugar and, by extension, too much carbohydrate (starchy foods) is making you sick, stealing your life energy, making you fat and killing you early.
Now I want you to understand how and why this is so.
Glucose: Too Much of a Good Thing is...
While too-low blood glucose will cause immediate problems, constantly high blood glucose levels will cause many, slowly-damaging, long-term problems.
Glucose, you see, has an oxidising effect on body tissues. Now, without getting too technical – you have almost certainly heard that you must consume “healthy antioxidants” in your diet, and perhaps you even take anti-oxidant supplements? Perhaps you have understood that anti-oxidants protect you from cancer? Well, while this is true, this is also an over-simplification. Oxidative stress can cause many diseases, not just cancer. The list of diseases that result from oxidation of the body's tissues is as long as it is frightening. But we will not now be addressing this general problem. We will be talking about a specific kind of oxidative stress that can be caused by glucose, called “glycation”. This is a complex topic but I'll simplify it and say that, if not protected and if exposed to excess glucose, over time, the proteins and fats of your body can become degraded and dysfunctional as a result of glycation. We are talking about nerve cells becoming damaged leading to Alzheimer's disease and sensory loss such as deafness and blindness as well as other serious complications such as the loss of the sense of touch, movement and organ function. And to make matters much worse, the specialised cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are particularly susceptible to glycation. Which is a massive irony when you consider that it is the very insulin that they produce that reduces levels of blood glucose in the first place! The walls of your veins and arteries are also susceptible to glycation. They become hard and inflexible and this leads to high blood pressure, which again leads to many other health concerns. And those blood-vessel walls can eventually become so weakened that this high-pressure blood can cause breaks, leading to aneurysm and stroke.
Glucose and Obesity
Obesity is such an awful word. It is redolent with images of weak-willed, lazy, gluttonous individuals who gorge themselves without a care for their health or for how they look. And if this word conjures such images up for me, then this is because this is the image held in human society. And as such, this is terribly, terribly unfair. A great many people suffer judgement from those around them for being over-weight while, at the same time, fighting a constant losing battle to control their weight. Most, quite simply, have deeply misunderstood their own bodies (and more specifically their nutrition). And when you consider the misinformation with which you are bombarded – and not just from advertisers, but also from nutritional “authorities” - then it is no wonder that there is such misunderstanding!
So, let us now come to an understanding about body fat.
First of all, body fat, per se, is not a bad thing. You must in point of fact have a certain percentage of body fat to be healthy. Each body is unique and each has a different optimal fat percentage, but I wish to impress upon you that the “ideal” represented to you in your present day media of “six-pack” abdomens and chiselled musculature is only possible if your body fat falls below what is healthy. And I won't even speak to the actual self-abuse required of most fashion industry models. The point is that, almost universally, those held to be paragons of beauty are, in fact, unhealthy. In order to look as they do they wage a constant war upon their bodies to force the body into an inability to retain the quotient of body fat it was designed for. And, if you fight against your body, you will lose. In the short term you will be more prone to illness and in the long term you will suffer all manner of health problems. So you really do want just a little “softening” of a small amount of body fat. This is what the human body was designed for.
Body fat fulfils many important functions but the one I wish to address right now is its role as fuel store.
As previously mentioned, there is a “happy band” of blood glucose. When levels rise to the upper reaches of this band, the body releases a hormone called insulin. This causes the muscles and fat cells to take up glucose from the blood. At the same time it also causes fats and oils to be taken up from the blood. And it also stops the liver from making more glucose.
Now this would be totally fine if a little insulin was released now and again with large windows in between when the blood sugar level dropped below the threshold and it was not being released. That is how it is meant to be. In such a case you'd have moments when the body would “pack away” energy stores and then longer moments in between when the body would use those resources. That is the good, natural and healthy purpose of the fat cells. To be little “batteries” that you can charge, and then discharge, as needed.
You see, your Space Car was designed to keep you alive, well and strong even through periods of famine when there was nothing to eat for long periods. So, when you do not eat for a few hours, first the cells of your body use the glucose and glycerol that is already in those cells, then they draw these fuels from the blood. Then, as the blood-glucose level drops, the body stops releasing insulin and the liver fires up its engines and starts to make glucose from the raw materials at its disposal. And so the blood-glucose level is maintained.
If you still don't eat (or if you eat less than your body is using) then your blood glucose level continues to fall below the “happy band”. Then something different happens. Something that would be quite a unique experience for some of you. The body releases a hormone called glucagon. When glucagon hits the blood stream it does the opposite of insulin. It calls on the cells of the body that are storing energy in the form of sugars and fats to release them to the blood so that all the cells of the body can once again be fuelled.
So here are the two things you need to remember regarding glucose and body fat:
1. Whenever your blood-glucose levels drop too low, your body releases glucagon. Whenever glucagon is released you are busy getting thinner.
2. Whenever there is excess glucose in your blood stream, your body releases insulin. Whenever insulin is released you are busy getting fatter.
Simple, right? It really means that you simply need to drastically cut back on refined sugars – or preferably cut them out entirely – and strictly moderate your intake of starches and you will lose weight.
And if you only ever had access to the kinds of foods for which your body was designed, you would not even have to try. It would be automatic.
The Body Should Self-Regulate Perfectly
You see, by design, whenever the body begins to “plump up” it has marvellously clever mechanisms that it uses to “count the kilojoules” so that you only eat enough to get your body-fat percentage to its ideal. Your taste buds will “dull” so that foods taste less exciting. You find yourself less hungry and you find yourself more sated, even with a small meal. And the body will also burn more energy by raising the metabolism. In this way the body manages itself – and you – into losing the extra weight you are carrying.
And if you eat too little, the opposite happens. First you will get hungrier more often. And then, if it drops further and you become emaciated, you will begin to crave those foods that will raise your body fat as quickly as possible – especially sugary and fatty things like chocolates and so forth. And when you do eat those much-desired foods, you will find your taste-buds super sensitized and so experience these foods to be almost orgasmically good. And the metabolism will also slow to a crawl so that every bit of energy is saved.
So, you see, it works both ways. Your body will strive to always maintain its ideal fat percentage. And if you fight against your body, you are fighting systems that are stronger than your will power. You have to be psychologically ill to be able to resist the body's drives towards balance.
Does that mean that those who are obese are psychologically ill?
It most certainly does not!
It means that those of you who are over-weight have managed to “break the machine”. You have managed to not only switch the body's intelligence off, but to cause it to so badly malfunction that all of that coercive power that it has to down-regulate its body fat is now being used to constantly up-regulate! Your body believes it is emaciated, no matter how fat it gets. And in its confusion it is forcing you to desire all the things that cause you to get fatter! You and your body are each others' victims.
I'll tell you in a moment how you broke the machine. And there is nothing in here for you to feel guilty or wrong about. It was a very understandable mistake. And the result of this mistake is that you use the agri-industrial systems that are in place to open a tap of glucose, and it pours into your body and causes untold destruction. And you never get enough. And as you get fatter, you get more miserable. As you try to fight it and diet and exercise, so you lose and find yourself falling back to “bad” foods. And you binge and hate yourself for your “weakness”, as you believe you should be able to control yourself better. And you can't, so you hate yourself for that. And then you find your quality of life being negatively affected. You can't move as you should. Your knees begin to give trouble. You are easily out of breath. You don't sleep well at night. And, of course, your doctor informs you that you are “morbidly obese” and that you must lose weight or else it will kill you. As if you didn’t know that already. But now you feel doubly bad. So you fight doubly hard. And you lose the fight doubly badly. And then the obesity diseases and the sugar diseases begin to bite.
I'll talk a bit about these diseases later in this chapter. But I'll be talking from the perspective of what to do about them... not giving you a laundry list of health disasters to scare you off your food.
But before we get to that, I want to tell you what broke the machine.
The Impact of Refined Sugar
Can you imagine: for the whole of the existence of the human body, the only truly sweet things you knew were honey and perfectly ripe fruits. And while honey took some effort, expertise and risk to obtain, perfectly ripe, unspoiled fruits were quite seldom available. So both of these things were a luxury that many people would only seldom sample. Sweetness was therefore a rare pleasure to be sought and enjoyed wherever it could be found. And in the quantities it was available, it went hand-in-hand with a feeling of vitality and well-being.
And that was how it was for hundreds of thousands of years... until sugar began to be refined from sugar cane. In the 1600's sugar was a luxury that began to appear in the homes of the wealthy. Perhaps the average child might, if she was lucky, get a small sugar-cane once a year on her birthday as a very special treat. What I am saying is that, even into the 1600's, sugar was not in any significant way a part of the human diet.
Then industrialisation happened and it massively increased the availability – and lowered the price – of sugar such that by 1800 the average American could enjoy a whole 4 pounds (1.8kg) of sugar per year. That's about 1 teaspoon of sugar per person per day. In practice this probably meant that most days were sugar-free with, perhaps, a slice of sticky, sweet pie for desert on Sunday.
Since then sugar consumption has risen steadily and dramatically. Today the average American consumes more than 100 pounds (45kg) of sugar per year1! That's a 25-fold increase! And that's the average! When you include the health-conscious and those who, for other reasons don't consume much sugar, you realise there are some people eating their own body-weight in sugar each year! Now, not only does the average person eat a lot of sugar, not only are you eating it every day, but you are likely having a near-constant river of it flowing down your gullet. For the average person eating a “normal” western diet, sugar in every single meal and often hidden in every single part of that meal. And between meals you go nowhere without a mega-sized cup of sugary soda-pop to drink. About the only break the body has from sugar is when you are actually sleeping!
So? What do you think? If you take a compound that the body was designed to only rarely encounter and then you extract that compound from the foods it naturally occurs in, removing it from the context of the other health-giving compounds it normally comes packaged with, and then pump it into the body in such prodigious quantities that it becomes the new primary source of energy... don't you think things might get a little out of balance? Just maybe?
Of course they would! And now I would like to tell you how the consumption of refined sugar has damaged and distressed the magnificent machinery that is the human body to the point that it has become dysfunctional and self-destructive.
I will tell you how sugar broke the machine.
The correct, scientific name for granulated table sugar is “sucrose”. Sucrose is a disaccharide. That really means that it's a complex sugar, made up of equal parts of the two simple sugars, glucose and fructose. And the first thing that the body does with sucrose, is to break it down into those simple sugars. For years and years sucrose was the sugar you consumed and continues to be so in most countries of the world. In some countries, the USA in particular, sucrose is now being replaced in ever greater quantities by the much cheaper High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS is, as the name indicates, a syrupy solution of fructose and glucose dissolved in water. The noteworthy difference between sucrose and HFCS is that the latter has a higher ratio of fructose to glucose.
What I am saying here is that almost all of the “sweetness” you now taste in your food and drink comes at the cost of your body being dosed with fructose and glucose. And since your taste buds have become down-regulated from being constantly bombarded with sweetness, you are probably blithely unaware of just how badly you are glutting your body with these two chemicals.
So the important thing to understand is that sugar is not one thing. It is two things. And each of these two things have their own challenges for the body.
The Fructose Problem
We have dealt with glucose. Now let me tell you about fructose. Because though excess glucose can cause you harm, you do need some in your body. And if you limit your consumption of glucose sources your body will do just fine. Fructose is a whole other kettle of fish. Firstly the body does not need any fructose anywhere for anything. It is, in point of fact, not just useless but actually toxic to the body. Whilst all the cells of the body can use glucose, the only part of your body that can do anything with fructose is the liver.
I need to take a small detour now with fructose to explain something. There is something healthy that the liver can do with fructose.
If you ingest a small amount of fructose, for example from a few fresh fruits, then this fructose is readily converted to glycogen by the liver. And, yes, I know all these words sound familiar and can be confusing if you are not familiar with them but it is important enough to stay with this to get the message!
Glycogen is a special form of sugar that is well suited to storage in the liver and muscle tissues of the body. And then, when you next exercised, then this wonderful energy source would be instantly available inside the muscles themselves where it is needed. It is also stored in the liver for rapid release when you need it.
Glycogen can be made from various sources, including both glucose and fructose. What is great about it is that is doesn't cause glycation. So it can be safely stored and converted back to glucose whenever needed.
So, if you regularly exercised and if you kept your consumption of fructose to the modest amounts found in fruit, then you would be absolutely fine. The fructose would be converted to glycogen and burned when needed and then replaced at your next meal.
And, lest we forget, those fruits would also be packed with exactly the anti-oxidants the body needs to protect against glycation too. And not only anti-oxidants but all manner of other wonderful, necessary nutrients.
So please don't get confused. Fructose is a problem. But it is only a problem in its highly refined and unnatural forms. Don't, in the name of all that is good, misunderstand this to mean that you must stop eating fresh whole fruits!
But why is fructose a problem? Quite simply because the cells of the body cannot use it in its raw form. And fructose in the blood stream is a dangerous thing. Actually a toxin. Not only can it not be used by the cells, but it is actually ten times as aggressively oxidising as glucose! The longer it stays in your blood stream, the more likely it is to damage and destroy the sensitive tissues in your body. And the liver can only convert it to glycogen so fast. And there is only a limited amount that can be stored as glycogen. Athletes can store a great deal more glycogen than couch potatoes can. And if you are sitting on your derrière all day, never exercising, then you are not using your glycogen stores. And if, on top of that, you are glutting yourself on fructose by eating refined sugars (rather than raw, whole fruits) then your glycogen stores are going to be constantly full. And when your glycogen stores are full... then your body has a problem. Bearing in mind how aggressively it causes glycation, the body must do something with it. And then the only thing the liver can do with all that excess fructose is to convert it to fats. And this is seriously bad news for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the fats produced from fructose metabolism are Very Low Density Lipids more commonly known as VLDL cholesterol. There is “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. VLDLs are the worst. They directly cause heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. And because it's hard to test for, your doctor probably can't even tell you that your VLDL levels are soaring. Which they almost certainly are if you are overloading your liver with fructose and not getting regular exercise.
And it gets worse. The liver can only dump so much of those problematic fats into the blood stream so fast. Much of it will stay behind in the liver, potentially leading to Fatty Liver Disease (FLD). There are two main ways to get FLD: chronic alcohol abuse and chronic fructose abuse. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is rampant in societies, such as yours, where vast quantities of sugar are consumed. Almost a third of all adults in the USA have it and it's not much better in other modern, westernised societies.
And the effects of FLD are quite problematic because, of course, the liver is perhaps the most important part of your Space Car's refinery. As it becomes diseased, so your refinery becomes less efficient. The problem is that you can go years with FLD without actually feeling ill effects. By the time you notice symptoms, the problem is usually quite far gone. And the symptoms you could notice include becoming easily fatigued and weak. If it progresses further, you could even experience cognitive impairment beginning to take hold. You may or may not actually feel pain in your abdomen where your liver is situated.
Now I wish to be clear: there are many possible causes for FLD. Over-consumption of fructose is just one of them. Or perhaps one possible major contributing factor. But what I am saying here is that you simply cannot take the laissez-faire approach of, “Oh, my body will deal with it”, with respect to fructose. Too much fructose is a killer!
And, if aggressive glycation of the bodies tissues and causing the liver to produce VLDL cholesterol is not bad enough, fructose also:
Increases the levels of uric acid in the blood that results in complications such as elevated blood pressure and gout.
Stimulates the inflammatory response leading to various complications such as allergies, congestion and water retention.
Leads directly to insulin resistance (which will be discussed shortly) and the release of IGF-1, a growth hormone, that can cause, or at least encourage, the growth of cancer cells.
Feeds the “enemy”. There are numerous micro-organisms that live in and on your body. When you are healthy and your diet is in balance then these little organisms are your friends. They help you to ward off pathogens (disease-causing organisms) and help you to extract nutrients from food. They are your little friends living in your digestive tract (and also to a lesser extent all over your skin). When you eat too much sugar too often you cause imbalances in these organisms. Some grow in your mouth and release acids that rot your teeth. Which, though problematic, is nothing compared to the disaster of Candidiasis – the overgrowth of the Candida Albicans yeast. And this latter issue is such a serious (and common) issue that I will be addressing it later as an issue on its own.
… And bad as that list is, it is by no means all! But since some of the worst problems with fructose are also directly involved with the way it confuses the body (and by extension you, the Host), I have grouped those together under the next heading:
How Fructose Breaks the Machine
I have repeatedly indicated that the body would correctly modulate itself but for “something” that breaks its intelligent feedback and control mechanisms. And that something is fructose. Now I want to tell you how this happens.
1. Ever Fatter
As fat cells get plumped up they begin to send a message. They release a hormone called leptin. This is the mechanism by which the body knows to start reducing intake, as previously discussed. Quite simply, the body knows it is getting a little plump when the leptin flows. That is when you stop wanting to eat so much. It is when you lose interest in food more quickly. And it is when the body raises its metabolism to slim down.
When the fat cells are empty then they don't release leptin. No leptin in the blood stream and you fell pretty much constantly hungry. And the body conserves its stores.
And here is the problem. Fructose causes leptin resistance. What this means is that the fat cells will release their leptin but the hypothalamus, the part of the brain concerned with interpreting these messages, is confused by the fructose. The hypothalamus responds as if there was much less leptin that there is. The more fructose there is in the blood, the more the hypothalamus resists the presence of the leptin. If there is sufficient fructose in your blood you could be as large as a house and still your body could be sending you urgent “I am starving” messages!
For most of you what this means is that you should be feeling less hungry and more sated more often than you do. And as well fed as you probably are, you should not be getting the food cravings that you do. The fructose in your diet is, quite simply, confusing the mechanisms available to your body for understanding its own situation. And, as a result it is communicating erroneous information to you. You may be overweight and getting fatter but your body acts as if it is starving. You should be feeling sated but instead you just crave more and more fatty, sweet foods. And the more sugary foods you consume, the more the fructose confuses your body into thinking it is dying of starvation and the more you eat.
You see? It is actually a classic addiction! You crave something, and the more of it you get, the more you crave, right the way to your very death from a surfeit of that substance. It is not less true of fructose than it is of cocaine or heroine.
And so it is. Those who regularly consume too much fructose (which is pretty much all of you) have structural changes in your brain similar to those of drug addicts.
2. Always Hungry
There is another hormone I want to introduce you to, called “ghrelin”. This is very nearly leptin's “opposite” in that leptin is released by the fat cells when they are full and ghrelin is released by the digestive tract when there is no food in it. In a nutshell, leptin says, “I am fat” and ghrelin says, “I am hungry”.
So, when ghrelin is released into the blood stream, you begin to think about food. Your sense of smell and taste elevates. In short, you feel hungry.
And here is the interesting bit. Glucose (and other foods) cause an appropriate reduction in the release of ghrelin, where fructose does not. Quite simply, the receptor cells that release the ghrelin poorly recognise fructose. It does not cause you to stop feeling hungry as it should. You can over-stuff yourself on a fructose-rich meal and still feel hungry in a way that you cannot do on a fructose-free meal.
When you combine the way fructose confuses both the leptin and ghrelin systems what you get is such a powerful combination that one must almost wonder why there is not an even greater pandemic of obesity and sugar-related disease!
3. No Pleasure, No Joy, No Energy
One of the ways in which the body retains balance (and therefore health) is by down-regulating sensitivity to anything that there is an over-supply of. So, if you eat too much sugar, your taste-buds down-regulate and it begins to taste less sweet to you. In a normal, healthy environment this would make the sweet foods less attractive to you (since they no longer taste so sweet) and you would eat less of them. Instead you would seek out other foods that gave you other pleasant taste sensations. This is the healthy and positive effect of down-regulation.
This system did not take into account your ability to simply up your sugar intake to the insane levels that are now available to you thanks to the industrialisation of food. Now you can just pour more and more and more sugar over everything. The body can never down-regulate enough to cope. But that doesn't stop it from trying!
The effect is that industrial manufacturers of food-like products very quickly realised that they must add more and more sugar to everything in order for their product to remain tasty to their clientèle. So you now find sugar in what should otherwise be savoury foods. It is, in fact, in everything. And still these foods do not taste sweet to you. They taste “normal” to you when they should actually taste sweet.
But that's not actually the worst of it. As mentioned earlier, you are programmed to seek sweet and fatty foods since, in a sane world, these are what will keep you healthy and energised. The way this programming works is that the brain releases the pleasure chemicals (natural opiates) and the energising chemical (dopamine) when you eat sugars. This is the happy, energetic high that you should get from sugar. This is why children go ape when, at parties for example, they are given too much sugar.
The problem with this is down-regulation. Eat too much sugar and your brain begins to become insensitive to the release of its own dopamine and opiates. And this is a disaster. Now you find your “normal” state becoming joyless and listless. You feel flat, fat and unhappy all the time. Or you do until you get your next “fix”. Then you feel almost human again.
You see? It's the same as it is for an alcoholic or a junky. The addiction begins with an awesome happy high that you just can't get enough of. Whatever your drug of choice... it just feels so good to do it that you keep doing it. Then your brain begins to down-regulate and pretty soon you are a disastrous mess without your drug of choice. Then you must re-dose just to feel human and normal.
So? Let's take a moment to feel compassion for drug addicts of every kind. Including the self that is addicted to sugar (and fructose in particular).
4. ...And Dying of it...
Before we can talk about the solution to this fructose disaster, we need to be aware of one other important negative effect: insulin resistance.
By now you should understand that insulin is released when blood glucose levels increase. So, after a healthy meal including perhaps, a small starchy content, that starch is broken down and releases glucose into the blood. Insulin is released and the glucose is moved into the cells where they can be used for energy.
There are a number of ways in which this system can malfunction. Those born with diabetes are born without the ability to produce enough (or any) insulin and must inject it into themselves. Another way is to break the mechanism. If you flood your body with sugars constantly, the cells become resistant to insulin. It is another down-regulation at play. As the cells become resistant, they stop taking up the glucose when signalled to do so. Blood glucose levels do not drop. The pancreas must continue to make more and more and more insulin to get blood glucose levels down to a healthy level.
In this process two things happen: firstly, the pancreas becomes exhausted. It is, quite simply, worked at a level so far above and beyond that which it was ever designed for that it simply cannot cope with the load. And secondly, as soon as there is more glucose – and especially fructose – in the blood than is healthy, glycation begins to occur. And one of the areas most acutely afflicted by glycation are the insulin-releasing cells of the pancreas. If the pancreas is not simply exhausted by the load, then it is destroyed by glycation. Either way, you can actually cause diabetes in a healthy body by eating too much sugar. Indeed this is usually the way Type II (or adult-onset) diabetes is caused. And it is this type of diabetes that is now soaring in numbers.
And here is what you need to understand: yes, this whole disaster begins with insulin resistance and because of the way fructose is metabolised in the liver rather than by the whole body like glucose is, excess fructose is a major cause of insulin resistance!
Not So Sweet After All
And so, now you understand the problem of sugar and, in particular, of fructose. It is not something that the body was designed to cope with. Certainly not in anything like the quantities even the average person is consuming (to say nothing of those who consume to excess). And when you do consume more fructose than is healthy it begins to destroy your body. It leads directly to obesity and to a whole host of very serious diseases. And it is addictive and causes you to behave as if you are starving even when you are gaining weight by the day.
It's a real problem!
So what is the solution?
Obviously you must cut the sugar! But there is more to understand before we leap to conclusions about lifestyle choices...
A Starchy Problem
So, sugar is bad. We've got that now. But did you know that, gram for gram, wheat flour raises blood-glucose levels as much (and sometimes even more) than actual sugar does? Which means that we have to revise our calculations. Remember I said that the average American consumes more than a hundred pounds of sugar a year? Well, Joe Average is also consuming more than a hundred pounds of what flour a year! So it's twice as bad as we thought! And that doesn't even include the other sources of processed starches!
When we are trying to understand the massive and endemic problem of metabolic disorders, we can't stop at added sugar. Refined starches are very nearly as bad. Remember that each starch molecule is really just a chain of glucose molecules bonded together. And the first thing the body does with that chain is to break it to release the glucose. And, as soon as that happens, we are back to square one with spiking blood glucose levels and all the attendant problems outlined above.
If fructose is a Category 1 offender.... the worst kind... then glucose and refined starch are Category 2 offenders. Not as bad as fructose but still very problematic in the quantities that we are typically consuming them.
Just as the body was not designed for purified sucrose, in just the same way there were never bread trees, pasta bushes or wild pizza-fruit to be found in nature!
Now, if your diet were to be based upon a staple of naturally-occurring starches such as sweet potatoes, plantains, corn-on-the-cob, cassava roots or brown rice... and if you ate a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and meats with these natural starches... then this could constitute a wonderfully healthy diet. But instead, the pure starches are typically refined right out of their natural setting and you eat highly refined wheat and corn flours non-stop with every meal.
So much so that many people have developed intolerances to wheat and corn. Many of you have an irritable bowel as a result of this sensitivity... and you probably don't even know it. Cut out wheat and corn for a few days and notice if your belly doesn't suddenly slim right down as the bloating reduces. Notice if your digestion doesn't suddenly become altogether more healthy.
But, before I digress. What I am saying is that the problem with starch is similar to the problem with fructose. If you eat it as nature offers it to you, then it is not just not a problem, but actually wonderfully good for you. Eat a ripe, sweet fruit and it is richly beneficial and your body will very happily cope with the fructose. Bake a sweet potato and serve it with vegetables and a sour cream and you have a meal that is both delicious for you and for your body. The starches are slowly released as a result of the wholeness of the meal and the meal includes all manner of other wonderful nutrients that will make a body sing with joy.
But instead of this, Joe Average drinks Frootee Pop. No actual fruit in there. Just fruit flavoured chemicals and insane quantities of fructose and glucose. And also no antioxidants to protect the body from glycation. And to complement his “frootee feast”, Joe chomps down on a maxi-bag of potato or corn crisps. Which are about 45% refined starch, 45% trans fats (more about that in the next part of this chapter) and 10% fake chemical flavours.
It's crack-cocaine for the taste buds and Joe thinks he loves it. But it is slowly killing him. Literally.
There is not much more to say about starch than this: if modern society's pandemic metabolic problems are caused by sugar (and they are!) then we should remember that starch is actually just another sugar. The more refined the starch and the further it is from its natural, whole-food state, the more problematic it is. Starch flours (and the products made from them) should be considered in almost the same light as granulated table sugar.
The problem with many of the diets that are proposed is that they are really all about taking things out of the diet. Don't eat this, don't eat that.. and eat less of everything. And therein lies the root of their failure. Instead of telling you what to eat and what not to eat, I prefer to tell you what the foods you have available to you mean to your body. And then you can decide. That said, I am acutely aware that the preceding section does read like a strong appeal to cut out sugar and to cut back and moderate the carbs. But before you begin to radically revise your diet, there is additional information that I would like to offer. In the next part of this chapter I would like to tell you a little more about the other source of energy available to your body: fats. And here I have some good news. If the story of sugar is (probably) worse than you thought, then the story of fats is (almost certainly) better than you thought.
When we have correctly understood both of these energy sources, sugars and fats, then we can begin to understand how we can make choices that will constantly seek an optimal energy balance for the body. That will be the third part of this chapter.
The fourth part of this chapter will discuss some of the most prevalent disorders of the energy balance and how to moderate your lifestyle in order to cope with them.
And then, finally, the fifth part of this chapter will feature an addendum in which Arn and Lisa share their personal stories of “walking the talk” of the lifestyle changes discussed in this chapter.
1Arn: I found a source that corroborates this here: