Monday, August 27, 2012


Guess what. Researchers have identified something that ramps up appetite, slows down metabolism, and is addictive! Guess what else. You’ll probably be eating it today. It’s fructose!

Researchers at the University of Colorado believe fructose is responsible for many modern ailments: obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and possibly some cancers. They’ve been doing loads of experiments that prove this. You can read about their discovery process in the book The Fat Switch.

You can also listen to an interview with the author and research leader Dr. Richard Johnson, Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado. Here’s my brief summary of what he says: 

Fructose is a sugar commonly found in nature, in fruit for example, where it’s bound up with lots of minerals, nutrients, and fiber so it’s released slowly into the body (less slowly if the fruit has been dried or made into juice).

Fructose is also in table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. It’s one molecule of fructose joined to one molecule of glucose. 

Glucose is the body’s main source of energy and is metabolized immediately by our cells. Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized first by the liver. The liver turns fructose into glucose but releases it only if the body needs glucose, otherwise it turns the newly created glucose into triglycerides (fat) and stores it for later. For some of us, however, later never comes because we keep throwing fructose in faster than our bodies can use it. 

Evolution has taught our bodies that fat stores are important for a rainy day -- or a blizzard -- or a drought -- when we’ll be stuck without food indefinitely. In other words, our bodies are designed similarly to the bodies of bears and squirrels and birds -- to stock our fat cells for use later.  When we trip the fat switch by eating too much fructose, our bodies go into store-fat-and-conserve-it mode thinking they’re doing us a favor.

Enter high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)  was introduced to the food industry in the 70’s and has become its favorite for sweetening just about everything --  soft drinks, condiments, cereals, baked goods, meats, yogurt, soups, you name it. The problem it presents for us as consumers is that because the fructose in HFCS is not bound to the glucose, it gets into our systems Really Fast, overwhelming our livers, and triggering fat build up, constant hunger, and energy conservation (laziness). After a while the fat build-up leads to disease, because our bodies weren’t meant to store all that fat indefinitely. 

So if you’re in fat storage mode, how do you get out of it? 

1) Stop consuming high fructose corn syrup.

2) Limit your consumption of table sugar.

3) Eat fruit, but avoid juice and dried fruit.

4) Stay away from refined carbohydrates -- breads/pasta/cereals. Your body converts them to glucose very quickly and if you’re in fat storage mode, the liver can and will convert that glucose to fat. 

5) Eat more nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, meat, eggs, fish, seeds & nuts. The body will feel nourished and, hopefully, stop preparing for famine.
6) Stretch out the time between your last meal of the day and your first meal of the next day -- the longer you can “fast” in between, the more likely you are to start burning fat.

7) If you have enough energy, try to do some exercise in the morning on an empty stomach, further triggering fat burning.  If you don’t have the energy to do this though, you may just trigger an extra big appetite, so be cautious.

8) Once you’ve changed your eating habits, look in the mirror, smile,  and tell your body: “Good news! The blizzard is over!” 

Actually, Dr. Johnson does not cover #8. Also, he does not discuss artificial sweeteners in his interview. However, there’s lots of evidence that artificial sweeteners induce hunger and fat build up around the waist, so if you’re in fat storage mode, avoid them.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Early fall in New Hampshire means pickups on the road delivering cords of wood. They bring back fond memories of the years I heated an old house with a wood burning stove.  I loved the completeness of it -- doing everything from contacting the guy who cut the wood, to handling each piece as I stacked it, to filling my arms with logs when I came in the house, to rekindling the fire in the mornings so the kitchen would be warm when the kids got up. It was a lot of work, but I felt such a strong connection backward in time and to cultures all around the globe that it was worth it. It’s a feeling I also get by cooking local foods from scratch, and lately it’s occured to me that feeding a body is very similar to feeding a wood stove. 

If you own a wood stove in NH you’re on the lookout for vendors of maple, beech, or oak. Those are trees that grow slowly so their cells are small and tight making them burn long and slow as opposed to pine which grows fast, burns fast, and gums up your chimney with sap. Burning good wood is very similar to eating nutrient-dense whole foods. I think of this when I eat the organic vegetables I buy at the farmers’ market. It’s easy to imagine while eating carrots and eggplant how minerals and nutrients pulled from the soil are being transferred to my body. They’re like good wood in my stove, giving me energy and producing a clean burn.

There’s also homemade coffee cake at the farmers’ market. Cake is made from refined flour. Refined flour is to wheat as paper is to trees. Paper is made from trees, but it burns way too fast to be good fuel. Refined foods (cereals, breads, pastas) are the same. Because our bodies need to do very little to break them down, their nutrient value -- what little there is -- is quickly absorbed and then they are just waste for our bodies to get rid of -- like ash in our stoves. Too much ash is always a bad thing -- any wood stove owner will get mad if you start burning a bunch of paper in her stove!  

Sugar is also a very refined food and in liquid form (soft drink or juice)  it’s like lighter fluid -- a little goes a long way. Drinking a 20 oz. Coke is like standing in front of a fire and squirting a long stream of lighter fluid at it -- sure it’s fun, but it serves no useful purpose -- and don’t try it in anyone’s wood stove or you’ll be hauled off to the wood SHED.  

Then there’s packaged junk food and artificial sweeteners. They too have an analogy in the fire building metaphor. They would be called trash. When you put trash in a fire all kinds of things happen -- the flame changes color and jumps erratically; there’s nasty smoke; and it stinks. The waste it leaves behind is a molten glop.  Similar things happen to us when we eat non-food things (read some labels and you’ll see lots of ingredients you can’t call food). We get heartburn, agitation, allergies, insomnia, lethargy, or even more undesirable conditions such as chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

Just as you would replace pine and paper with maple, beech and oak for a clean and healthy-burning fire, if you suffer from any health problems, big or small, try replacing the sugar, refined foods, and artificial ingredients in your diet with whole foods from good sources. I assure you, you’ll notice a glowing improvement!