Thursday, May 5, 2011


These days I'm all about the liver -- my liver, my kids' livers, your liver. Since I watched Sugar the Bitter Truth as recommended by Gary Taubes in his NY Times Magazine article Is Sugar Toxic?I can't stop thinking about the liver.  You can't live without one, you know, and having one that isn't functioning well can make you feel and look like hell.

Sugar the Bitter Truth is a lecture by Robert H. Lustig, MD, a specialist in childhood obesity.  It's an hour and a half and very sciency, but I've watched it twice and taken notes. Basically it's about how sugar effects the liver to create fat. And most of us consume way too much sugar (a lot of it hidden in processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup) without enough fiber, so most of us have weight issues or more serious issues (metabolic syndrome, gout, heart disease, diabetes) caused by a fatty liver.

Note: it's possible to have a fatty liver and not be fat.  

It turns out our bodies don't process all sugars the same way and that almost 100% of the fructose we consume goes directly to our liver, and eventually the liver gets overwhelmed and starts converting the fructose to fat.  30% of fructose converts to fat.  That's more fat than we can burn.  Particularly if we're not eating the fructose with fiber like in fruit. That's why little fat kids who drink lots of juices and sodas have big bellies just like people who drink too much beer. (Alcohol also goes almost 100% to the liver.) Belly fat is a particularly good indicator of a toxic liver.

I don't have a big belly. Anymore.  I've been living a food-healthy lifestyle for the past ten months and have gotten rid of a lot of it. That is until last week when I volunteered for an over-night, week-long camp for girls and started eating their meals.

First, let me say, the camp experience was wonderful -- horseback riding, swimming, kayaking, water fights, sleeping in a bunk bed.  I even liked and admired the cooks.  Three women cooked outside in a small space three meals a day for 35 people. They made beans, rice, meat, chopped salad, and brought in hot handmade corn tortillas.  There was cut up fruit or bananas with each breakfast.  The problem was the additional breads, pastas, sweet rolls and sugary juices that were served with every meal, the hot chocolate at night.  Plus every girl had a private candy stash.  It was quite heavy on the sugars and refined carbohydrates.  I ate it all with gusto!

Statistic: Women today eat 335 calories more than women 20 years ago and ALL of that additional is in carbohydrates.

Other statistic: Women today weigh 25 lbs. more on average than they did 25 years ago.

Here is how I looked and felt the day after I got home:  distended belly, flaring rosacea, aching legs, fatigue, depression, and I was unable to sleep through the night.

This was hardly the first time in my life I'd over-indulged with food. On the contrary, I used to do it a lot more often, but this time I thought of it as abusing my liver, whereas I used to think about my liver only when alcohol was involved. Dr. Lustig has changed my perception of that.

The good news is: it's easy to restore an abused liver. After three days of hardly any sugar, including no alcohol, I feel like a new person.  My mood is stable, I don't look pregnant, I've had three good night's sleep, and a lot of the redness has left my face. Also, between meals I feel full and don't think about food all the time.  I wonder, WHY DO I EVER EAT SUGAR?  I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT IT! And because I better understand liver function and how sugar works on the liver it makes more sense than ever. Knowledge is power!

Unless you're a kid.

My impression is that if you're a kid and you're addicted to sweets -- and you are because you're fed sugar starting from the first bite or sip you take in the morning (cereal, juice, toast) and throughout the day -- knowledge is something to be avoided.

I thought a lot about that at camp watching the scene. How, I wondered, could I convince any of these 6-17 year olds that what they were chowing down on so heartily would make them sick and fat? What about the cooks, could I convince them? The other volunteers?  I didn't even try, who needs a Debbie Downer at camp? No, I decided, camp was not the place to bring up the liver-sugar-fat connection.

This is the place.

Are you abusing your liver?  Your kids livers?  You may be surprised.  Watch this:


  1. Thanks for this info, Cyndie. No wonder women today are 25 pounds heavier than 20-25 years ago. If we eat 335 more calories and our lifestyle is much more sedentary, then we gain weight. And when sugar turns to belly fat, we are risking heart attacks and liver problems, as you mentioned. And don't forget the huge increase in diabetes. Soda pop and other sugar-laden foods sold in schools so they can pay teachers add to the problem. The US and Mexican diets are all messed it, and it won't be easy to turn them around.

    1. It's not just soda pop either. A lot of drinks that "look" healthy and are sold as juices are as bad or worse than sodas.


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