For quite some time now I’ve been bashing the very simple idea that low-carbohydrate proponents get repeatedly tripped up on. Everyone from Barry Sears to Gary Taubes lives under the false idea that:
1) Insulin is bad.
2) Carbohydrates are bad because they cause temporary spikes in insulin levels.
3) Eating too many carbohydrates over many years causes insulin to not work very well anymore, “wearing out the mechanism,” known as insulin resistance.
Trouble is, there are some major illogical glitches in this nonsense. The first and foremost glitch is that many, if not most human beings throughout history have been found to eat lots of carbohydrates and have excellent health. In no shape or form did any of the groups that Weston A. Price observed eating loads of carbohydrates exemplify any of the telltale signs of being insulin resistant. T.L. Cleave echoes this perfectly in his books, which is ironic seeing that his work is often used to support low-carb lunacy. He supported the idea that “truckloads” of unrefined carbohydrates can do the body “nothing but good.” His primary conclusion had nothing to do with the carbohydrate itself, but refined sugar – something totally different. He said simply:
“The chief problem in the present diet, however, concerns how to avoid eating ordinary sugar, and all the sweet things containing it.”
Insulin is certainly not “bad” either. It is just as essential and beneficial as any other hormone in the human body. Yes, there is an epidemic of excessive insulin levels in the modern world, but that doesn’t make insulin bad. That just makes excessive insulin bad. Excessive anything is bad when it comes to any biochemical. There’s no such thing as a “more the better” when it comes to any physiological component. The human organism depends on a synergistic balance.
So carbohydrates raise insulin levels temporarily to store away glucose into cells. Is that a bad thing? Of course it’s not. The rise and fall of insulin is no different than the rise and fall of your chest as your breathe.
The biggest flaw; however, is the idea that repeatedly raising insulin levels will somehow trigger insulin resistance over time. This is nonsense. The rural Zulu’s and modern day Kitavans, who both eat insulin-raising carbohydrates at every meal never went on to show signs of insulin resistance. They didn’t show signs of it because THEY WEREN’T INSULIN RESISTANT! Insulin resistance is something that appears to be triggered only in a reduced metabolic state – something I’ve reasonably concluded by following the work of Broda Barnes and Mark Starr – two men who reported never seeing a case of type II diabetes (severe insulin resistance) occur in someone with a closely monitored metabolism.
Since the only known substance that can reliably trigger insulin resistance in humans and animal subjects – something that was also introduced at the onset of modern disease – and something that has been associated with insulin resistance syndromes such as hypoglycemia, poor glucose tolerance testing, cavities and so on for going on a century is sugar. Not just any sugar, as straight glucose from starchy foods absolutely cannot induce insulin resistance – but fructose. Not surprisingly, the consumption of fructose is one of the two largest dietary changes to take place during mankind’s “ascent” to modernism.
Now it’s understood that fructose is uniquely capable of exhausting cellular ATP. Looking for a pathway that fructose could slow down someone’s metabolism? Look no further. Maybe this is why the endless list of health problems associated with a low basal metabolism didn’t emerge en masse until the abuse of fructose-laden refined sugars, devoid of elements that counteract many of the metabolic harms that fructose inflicts, became widespread in the late 1800’s. Are these all just coincidences? Ha.
The only problem is that it’s just too simple for most people to believe – that modern diseases that are on the rise are almost 100% attributable, at the core, to sugar consumption. Well, um, sorry that it’s not more complicated and that you don’t need a couple of advanced degrees to understand it.
William Dufty put it best in 1975 health legend-that-everybody-ignored, Sugar Blues, when he said:
“The mind truly boggles when one glances over what passes for medical history. Through the centuries, troubled souls have been barbecued for bewitchment, exorcised for possession, locked up for insanity, tortured for masturbatory madness, psychiatrized for psychoses, lobotomized for schizophrenia. How many patients would have listened if the local healer had told them that the only thing ailing them was sugar blues?”
Anyway, before I get too carried away with this tangent, here is my collection of quotes from the recently-released The Sugar Fix, by Richard Johnson. But first, in a recent book review that I wrote, I had this to say:
“Overall, this book is a complete disgrace to anyone of intellect. At the same time, it contains some of the most important information on human health that is circulating in the world today. Go figure. I’ll have to make some amendments and come out with something far better someday. Can I get an amen?!”
So maybe some of these cliff notes will save you the trouble of reading about low-calorie diets and “low fat dairy products” and “artery-clogging saturated fat.”
But pay close attention to them indeed, particularly in terms of what’s written above. It obliterates one of the key fundamentals of low-carb science dogma:
Johnson, Richard J. The Sugar Fix. Pocket Books: New York, NY, 2008.
“As it became increasingly clear that eating too much fructose could make you gain weight and get sick, some people involved in our project began to experiment with their diets by cutting back on sugar, HFCS, and other sources of fructose. All of them lost a significant amount of weight.”
“…fructose has unusual metabolic qualities that truly set it apart from other types of sugar, rarely for the better.”
“…animals gain weight very quickly and develop other unhealthy symptoms when they eat too much fructose. Yet the same thing does not occur when animals are fed equal amounts of other sugars. In fact, eating fructose causes far more accumulation of abdominal fat – the most dangerous kind – than other forms of sugar, even if the same number of calories is consumed.”
“…the typical American drinks 56 gallons of soft drinks per year. That’s an increase of 70 percent since 1977.”
“The case against sugar – and against fructose in particular – as a major health threat has been building for years. Much of the preliminary evidence comes from the field of epidemiology, the branch of medicine that examines the incidence and prevalence of disease in large populations, with an eye toward ferreting out potential causes.”
“Many parents continue to believe that it’s better to give their children fruit juice instead of soda, even though compelling evidence suggests that consuming too much fructose from any source expands waistlines. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 32 percent of preschool children who drank more than 12 ounces of fruit juice per day were obese. Among children who drank less fruit juice just 9 percent were dramatically overweight.”
“…we have powerful direct evidence to show that consuming too much fructose-rich sugar and HFCS causes the toxic brew of conditions known as metabolic syndrome. Moreover, this same body of research suggests that starchy foods do not induce metabolic syndrome.”
“This much is not open to debate: Consuming sugar can trigger all of the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome. And the element in sugar that contributes to weight gain, raises blood pressure, elevates blood fats, and causes other dangerous symptoms appear to be fructose… Studies directly comparing fructose and glucose show that fructose produces symptoms of metabolic syndrome, while glucose generally does not.”
“A number of other studies have shown that eating a high-fructose diet makes cells resist insulin. For example, Dr. Yudkin found that about one-third of his study subjects who consumed high-sugar diets became insulin resistant. In another especially interesting study, Danish researchers asked seven men to eat their normal diets for 1 week, with an additional 1,000 calories of pure glucose each day. The result? Nothing. Their insulin worked fine. A high intake of glucose had no effect on cells and their ability to use insulin. When the men switched from glucose to 1,000 calories of extra fructose every day, however, the results were much different: Special blood tests showed that the participants’ insulin became 25 percent less effective over the course of 1 week.”
“Consuming highly palatable food such as fructose appears to cause many of the same behaviors and neurochemical changes in the brain that occur in the brains of people who use addictive drugs. For example, in a study from researchers at Princeton University, laboratory rats that had grown accustomed to consuming sugar-laced water and chow became anxious and developed withdrawal-like symptoms such as chattering teeth and tremors – when deprived of sweets for an extended period. When these foods were returned to the rats’ diets, they ate and drank nonstop, greedily filling themselves. The Princeton group also found that during these sugar binges, the rats produced high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in a region of the brain believed to govern pleasure – the same thing that happens in the brains of people who use amphetamines and cocaine. In addition, sugar bingeing seems to produce brain changes similar to those caused by opiate drugs, such as heroin and morphine.”
“It’s worth noting here that the glucose in starchy foods may cause blood glucose levels to rise, which stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. But this is normal and healthy. Dietary glucose does not cause insulin resistance; fructose does.”
“If you struggle with gastrointestinal problems, adopting a low-fructose diet may help. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that 74 percent of IBS patients who cut back on their fructose consumption experienced a significant drop in gastrointestinal symptoms.”
“And so begins a vicious cycle caused by eating high-GI foods, which overstimulate the pancreas. It’s an interesting theory, but it is not well supported by the metabolic facts. Stimulating the pancreas to produce insulin is not the problem. Your body is supposed to produce insulin when blood glucose levels rise, so that’s normal and healthy. It is insulin resistance that is closely linked to metabolic syndrome and weight gain. Glucose does not cause insulin resistance. Fructose does. Glucose does not trick your body into persistent hunger. Fructose does.”