Pure, white and deadly by John Yudkin (revised edition)
Harmondsworth: Viking, 1986 ISBN 0670808199
Fat chance : beating the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity, and disease
by Robert H. Lustig
New York: Hudson Street Press, 2012 ISBN 9781594631009
Sugar. Seems so harmless doesn't it? These two books go a long way to debunking that idea. Some readers may be aware of Robert Lustig from his famed YouTube video "Sugar, the bitter truth", which has become somewhat of a seminal moment in the current "anti-sugar movement", if we want to call it that.
Lustig in fact was inspired by John Yudkin's book. Yudkin was a Professor of Nutrition at London University, where he set up the department of nutrition in the 1950s. During his research into nutrition and obesity he was led more and more to sugar consumption as the root cause of many of the ills besetting modern man.
Pure, white and deadly is a synthesis of his discoveries up to the early 1980s. His main contentions are that sugar is quite probably one of the main sources for the symptoms leading to heart disease, but he also looks at sugar's role in diabetes and other conditions. Further research undertaken after this book's publication, and recent insights and discoveries about how the body actually metabolises food, have added weight to the conclusions Yudkin makes in this book.
Which brings us to Robert Lustig. Diet science and endocrinology have come a very long way since the first edition of Yudkin's book (1972), and has progressed since the updated 1986 edition that I read. Lustig uses much of the new research on the interaction of food with the body to write a convincing, chilling polemic against the current state of the food industry, including government (in)action, and medical dithering.
Lustig takes us through the advances in understanding how the body processes the food that it consumes. The complex process is explained as simply as possible by Lustig, and leads to the inescapable conclusion that we need to let our bodies do the processing of the food, rather than let industry do the processing for us. So, we should, as much as possible, eat unprocessed food and avoid sugar.
The latest research shows the long-term dangers of sugar - raising insulin levels, which block leptin signals to the brain, so satiety signals are not triggered - meaning you keep eating. The fructose in sugar (50%), and High Fructose Corn Syrup, bypasses the body's processes for dealing with sugars, creating more damage, being one of the major contributors to visceral fat, which is a big danger, leading to metabolic syndrome.
Lustig posits that throughout history, man has eaten mainly proteins or carbohydrates, mostly on separate occasions - it is only relatively recently that we have been able to combine them in one meal, and that tends to overwhelm the body. Fructose is doubly bad as it acts as a carb and a fat at the same time. Fibre's necessity for the body is more fully understood now as well - it slows the release into the body of sugars in the food, helping to maintain blood glucose at a better level: that's why fruit is good for you, while fruit juice is bad.
The low-fat paradigm, begun in the 1980s, targeted the wrong issue in reducing heart disease - too much fat is bad, but too much sugar is much worse - and fat combined with sugar is disastrous. The amount of sugar someone on the Western diet consumes can be up to 10 times the recommended amount: much of the sugar coming "hidden" in processed food.
So, what should we do? Lustig strongly believes that it is up to governments to regulate the food industry for long-term improvement in our diets, but there is much an individual can do as well. Fortunately, the insidious effects of sugar on the metabolism can be reversed in a relatively short time it seems, once off the sugar bandwagon. The advice is simple, and nothing you haven't heard before - don't drink sugared beverages (including fruit juice and flavoured milk), avoid processed food as much as possible, and increase consumption of "real" food - "if your grandmother wouldn't recognise it as food, don't eat it".
Fat Chance is required reading for those concerned about the health of our society in the twenty-first century.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell