Sweet and loaded

SweetenersArtificial sweeteners are typically off the list of foods recommended by holistic nutritionists for many reasons. Historically these have largely been to do with neurological, metabolic or carcinogenic concerns.

Here’s a new mouse study on Sucralose (trade names Splenda, Zerocal, Sukrana, SucraPlus, Candys, Cukren, Nevella) which says that it probably does cause or contribute to tumour growth. As we have been learning in recent years, gut bacteria in the human microbiome are instrumental in protecting us from pathogens, including carcinogens.

We’re also finding that artificial sweeteners are causing glucose intolerance – meaning they likely play a role in actually causing Type 2 Diabetes. This is due to their role in altering the gut microbiome.  In a troubling irony, artificial sweeteners remain in the dietary recommendations of the Canadian Diabetes Association, declared safe by Health Canada.

Which is one of the problems with the speed of knowledge advancement in science. We’ve only been aware of the importance of the human microbiome for a matter of years, not even decades, so it’s no surprise that public health policy can’t keep up.

But it’s not just our health we’re risking. Some of these sweeteners pass through the human digestive system – which is one way they don’t affect our blood sugar – and end up in our water systems, through the wastewater treatment system, which doesn’t screen them out. This means they’ll also end up in soil and groundwater.

So really. If these synthetic substances are probable carcinogens, cause glucose intolerance, and are harmful to our own gut bacteria, it seems pretty irresponsible to be sharing them with the wild aquatic and bacterial populations in our environments. A failure of holistic thinking, as usual, at work here, as we also don’t know to what extent these substances will work their way through the food chain, or what effects there may be upon the ecosystems affected.

The only viable alternative to artificial sweeteners, so far, is stevia extract, but even here there are cautions. Avoid highly processed, flavoured or alcohol-based versions: go for the purest version you can find. You may even wish to grow it yourself, and dry and grind the leaves.

Carbs, cholesterol and the lipid hypothesis

One of the most entertaining depictions I’ve seen of the whole cholesterol debate, from Fat Head. It explains how the lipid hypothesis (saturated fat = heart disease) gained popularity, and shows how inflammation in arteries causes plaque, not cholesterol. Essential viewing for those being told to cut fat from their diets.


Excellent as this segment is, I found the film as a whole  disappointing. Too much of it is a somewhat clumsy diatribe against Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me. It does make good and important point: how did Spurlock manage to consume 5000+ cal/day eating McDonalds? Even eating 3x day super-sized meals (which he ate 9x in the month covered by the film) doesn’t add up to the daily total. A Double Quarter Pounder with cheese is ‘only’ 730 calories (there’s no mention that I could see in either film of the Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips, which clocks in at 1270 calories, or the Deluxe Breakfast at 1220). Tom Naughton, Fat Head’s film-maker, was unable to access Spurlock’s food log, but suggests that the balance was made up by adding sugary drinks – and in the film Spurlock indeed seems to be carrying two cups with many of his purchases (Chocolate Triple Thick Milkshakes between meals would certainly do it: 1,160 cals each). Which makes sugar the culprit rather than the more photogenic burgers.

Naughton did, it must be said, succeed in losing weight over the course of his film by eating only McDonald’s. That doesn’t make it a recommended diet, but it raises uncomfortable questions, as the film says, for people who blame fast foods – and the people who eat them – for the cultural rise in obesity. It offers a few alternative theories for that trend: the downward change in the US definition of ‘obese’, the percentage rise in the US of populations genetically prone to higher body fat, the increase in sedentary behaviour (this after previously citing Gary Taubes’ finding that exercise – though recommended for all kinds of reasons – does not play a part in weight loss), the higher average age of the population,  the increase in snacking, and the increase in consumption of sugary drinks. And both films rightly point to carbs and sugar as being in excess in fast foods.

 

Obesity: So many causes, so few solutions

SugarGood to see The Lancet looking critically at obesity – which will cripple public health systems in the years to come, through its association with diabetes, cancers and other chronic conditions.  Sugar taxes, the article notes, are not the only solution. (Personally I think they’d be a helpful start, given the rampant consumption of needlessly sweetened foods and beverages in the Western world. On the other hand, added sugars are only part of what the body metabolizes as sugar: processed carbohydrates are surely having an equal effect, and are harder for consumers to recognize as problematic.) Clearly dietary, environmental, commercial, metabolic, microbial and lifestyle causes and solutions need urgent study by government funders and health researchers.

The UK report referenced in The Lancet’s article, Sugar Reduction: The Evidence for Action (October 2015) lays bare a number of relevant issues and is worth a read. But even it ultimately bangs its head on the desk in dismay: no easy solution, it says. “No single action will be effective in reducing sugar intakes. This is too serious a problem to be solved by approaches that rely only on individuals changing their behaviour in response to health education and marketing, or the better provision of information on our food.”

To put it mildly, as the Lancet does:
“Obesity needs much more serious attention than countries and global health organisations are currently prepared to give.”