(This is Part 3 of my commentary about a book titled The Great Cholesterol Myth, written by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., and Stephen Sinatra, M.D.)
Chapter 4: SUGAR, THE REAL DEMON IN THE DIET
Bowden/Sinatra’s book focuses mainly on dietary fats, cholesterol, heart disease, and statins, but sugar has its very own chapter—and rightfully so. In my view, this chapter is the most important because many people are still unconvinced that sugar is a serious danger to health. Keep in mind that the book was published in 2012, when most of us non-medical folks still viewed dietary fat as the main killer. For decades, dietary fat and cholesterol was referred to as the “artery clogger.”
Another book that covered fats, cholesterol, and sugar, was published in 2012, and was written by Dr. Robert Lustig, titled Fat Chance. Much like The Great Cholesterol Myth, this book broke through as a major turning point for me. I was fascinated with his view on different types of sugar and their effect on human health. Dr. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, ushered in a new and important topic for discussion. He proposed a convincing argument, based on biochemistry, that all calories are not equal. The old saying that “A calorie is a calorie,” isn’t true and he explained why in gory detail. He thinks that the new mantra should be stated as “A calorie burned is a calorie burned, but a calorie eaten is not a calorie eaten.” So a 200 calorie cookie isn’t the same as a 200 calorie piece of cheese, metabolically speaking. Throughout his book, he vigorously shakes his finger at fructose. This is the real bully in sugary foods and I think that Bowden/Sinatra would agree. “Our environment is toxic because it is insulinogenic,” he wrote. The goal is to get insulin levels down. If you are diabetic, you are intimately familiar with insulin. If not, we’ll define and discuss it in the following section.
Sugar has since earned the Golden Crown as the real dietary demon. In fact, its ascension to the top of the list of unhealthy foods is explained in Gary Taubes’ new book titled The Case Against Sugar. His book was released in December, 2016. As sugar’s reign gained solid footing, dietary fat gradually lost its glory. Thanks to the work of investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, the clouds began to part with the message of her 2015 book, The Big Fat Surprise, as she welcomed healthy fats back into the diet. So after decades of being told lies about fats and cholesterol, we now can enjoy foods that we love…meat, whole milk, and full-fat cheese. But not sugar. Not processed, highly refined carbohydrates. Not white flour. But why?
Let’s start with three important terms:
Endocrinology: Wikipedia defines it as a branch of biology and medicine dealing with the endocrine system, its diseases, and its specific secretions known as hormones.
Hormones are signaling molecules dedicated to regulate physiology and behavior. MedicineNet.com defines them as chemical substances that are produced in the body with the purpose of controlling and regulating the activities of certain cells or organs.
Insulin is a natural hormone made by the pancreas that controls the level of the sugar glucose in the blood. Insulin permits cells to use glucose for energy. Cells cannot utilize glucose without insulin. Source: medicinenet.com. On page 56, Bowden/Sinatra describe it as “an anabolic hormone, which means it is responsible for building things up—putting compounds like glucose (sugar and amino acids) inside storage units (such as cells.)”
Bowden/Sinatra point out that some foods boost levels of hormones that store fat while other foods do not. Insulin is our energy storage hormone. Without it, energy cannot be stored. Simply put…insulin increases fat accumulation and the more insulin that is circulating in the blood, the more fat is stored.
What foods cause the release of high levels of insulin? Anything that contains sugar. Additionally, food made with mainly white flour: bread, rice cakes, cookies, crackers, bagels, cakes, doughnuts, croissants, breakfast cereals, and candy. Many of the commonly consumed grains are also on the list. The following are known to produce a low insulin response, compared to wheat, corn, and rice: Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, freekah, kamut, quinoa, millet, and rye.
Refined or highly processed carbohydrates are useless. They cause uncontrolled insulin levels and are linked to a number of illness, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, and heart disease. Just remember, the more the grains are industrially pulverized, the less healthy they are for human health. The list of illnesses is long, but the point is clear, isn’t it?
The Insulin-Cholesterol Connection is discussed on page 59. In the words of the authors, “Insulin has a profound effect on cholesterol,” and you can lower your cholesterol numbers by controlling insulin levels. How? Eliminate sugars and highly processed carbohydrates. Unless you’re lacing your workout shoes and headed out for a vigorous workout, your muscles probably won’t need the energy provided by a stack of flour-based pancakes and syrup.
Bowden/Sinatra mention an Italian study titled Normal Values in Extreme Old Age, where the subjects were centenarians. Researchers identified three commonalities among the groups. Apparently, the 100+ folks had low levels of triglycerides, high levels of HDL cholesterol, and low levels of fasting insulin. Which are influenced by diet? Triglycerides and insulin. A diet low in sugar and refined, processed carbohydrates will drastically improve these numbers. (See Reference below) This is a repetitive theme, so I’ll stop saying it…for now.
The Insulin-Inflammation Connection is brilliantly explained by the authors. Did you know that insulin is anti-inflammatory in people with normal insulin? In contrast, it is pro-inflammatory in people who have insulin resistance. This topic deserves its own blog post, so I’ll discuss it in Part 4 of my commentary. Chapter 4 is lengthy, but enormously important.
I scanned the index of The Great Cholesterol Myth for “cheese,” and didn’t find it mentioned. I can’t speak for the authors, but I bet they view high-quality, artisan cheese as “good, healthy food.” When I attend the Paleo fx Conference in Austin, Texas, in May, I’ll ask him (Dr. Bowden) personally and report back to you.
Most cheeses don’t contain sugar, other than the small amount of lactose found in milk. The natural aging process of cheesemaking breaks down the lactose in milk. Aged cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, and Gruyere have little or no lactose, whereas soft, fresh cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, and Mozzarella, contain small amounts. That’s good news for those who are lactose intolerant. Even better…sheep cheese has the smallest amount of lactose!
BUY THE BOOK: The Great Cholesterol Myth is just $15.80. Worth every cent.
Reference: MARIGLIANO, V., BAUCO, C., CAMPANA, F., CACCIAFESTA, M., BAGAGLINI, E., FRITZ, C. and ETTORRE, E. (1992), Normal Values in Extreme Old Age. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 673: 23–28.