Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

Robert Lustig’s 90-minute YouTube video Sugar: The Bitter Truth, has been viewed more than two million times. Now, in this much anticipated book, he documents the science and the politics that has led to the pandemic of chronic disease over the last 30 years.In the late 1970s when the government mandated we get the fat out of our food, the food industry responded by...

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Title:Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease
Author:Robert H. Lustig
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Edition Language:English

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease Reviews

  • Roger

    I watched Dr. Lustig's now famous lecture last year, Sugar: The Bitter Truth (find it on YouTube) and just finished his book - Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar.

    Read it and you will come to understand why he says "a calorie is not a calorie" and "not all calories are equal".

    Learn how we metabolize our food when we eat real food and what makes things go wrong in that process when we eat processed foods - stripped of much or their nutritional content and fiber that are replaced with sug

    I watched Dr. Lustig's now famous lecture last year, Sugar: The Bitter Truth (find it on YouTube) and just finished his book - Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar.

    Read it and you will come to understand why he says "a calorie is not a calorie" and "not all calories are equal".

    Learn how we metabolize our food when we eat real food and what makes things go wrong in that process when we eat processed foods - stripped of much or their nutritional content and fiber that are replaced with sugars and other additives to make them taste so good that we buy and eat more and more. Understand what this does to our biochemistry and how it short circuits not one but two pathways to the brain that normally tell us we've had enough. Ultimately this overrules the will, driving disordered eating behaviors no matter how hard we try to resist.

    Dr. Lustig shows how overdosing on sugar in any form (as nearly all Americans and much of the rest of the World now does - on a daily and ever increasing bases) is toxic, reeking havoc on the body, and is manifested in ever growing rates of metabolic diseases that are killing huge numbers of people and driving billions of dollars into healthcare costs we all bare.

    This is a book for all who are concerned about the food supply, nutrition, the ever growing epidemic of metabolic diseases (diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, etc.) and the toll these are taking on the health of too many, including the epidemic of obesity rates in 6-month old babies, and the associated costs to society.

    There are solutions, but in Dr. Lustig's view they need to be pushed for, demanded by all of us in order to overcome the political and big business forces against them.

    I believe Dr. Lustig underestimates, or at least understates the power of the will in effecting long term personal changes in what people choose to eat - for those who have true choices available and possess the economic means to implement them. But this clearly leaves many people out, especially those effectively addicted, whose food environments are devoid of fresh whole food choices and the economic means to afford them.

    This book is important in that it informs and arms us with the knowledge of how and why our biochemistry works the way it does, and that of the continually emerging picture nutritional science is bringing into clearer and clearer focus. With understanding of the principles, long term changes can result.

    The science is clear, our diets need to be overwhelmingly based on real, unprocessed, whole foods, that includes both high quality proteins and lots of insoluble fiber that comes along with the sugars in those whole foods (not added sugars) to limit the absorption of the toxin fructose into the body. This along with moderate lifestyle changes to get us more physically active are the antidote to much of metabolic disease. Economic means and real, available food choices are also necessary, and these go beyond personal choice for may - especially the children of the poor.

    Dr. Lustig rightly argues that metabolic syndrome is a national and global public health epidemic that will never get turned around with out political will, leadership, and public policy changes.

    If you are a skeptic as I was - read this book. I believe Dr. Lustig will convince you and you'll be glad he did. It's that important.

  • Clayton

    This book is a must read for anyone concerned about his or her health. Lustig knew he'd take knife and arrow attacks that's why he walked into this battle against processed food wearing an armor of excellent research and experience. If this book doesn't change your habits then you're head isn't hooked up right.

  • John Braine

    This is getting 5 stars not because it I loved it so much, some of it was a bit of a chore. But it's one of those books that you wish everyone would read, or that it was on the school curriculum, as the content is so important.

    I don't hold much truck with news headlines that say this food or that food, is bad for you, or good for you, and then next week it's bad for you again. I prefer to get my facts from scientific books, like this based around the life work and knowledge of a whole career.

  • Todd

    This was a great book about the hormonal chains and effects of eating, and explains it in ways that are both thorough and accessible. Some of the information I had read before in my obsessive reading about fat/weight loss, but here it was put together in a systematic way to make sense of what your body is doing with what you put into it. Because I'm a social scientist, I got a bit bogged down in the last section about social policy, because his understanding of large social policies and politics

    This was a great book about the hormonal chains and effects of eating, and explains it in ways that are both thorough and accessible. Some of the information I had read before in my obsessive reading about fat/weight loss, but here it was put together in a systematic way to make sense of what your body is doing with what you put into it. Because I'm a social scientist, I got a bit bogged down in the last section about social policy, because his understanding of large social policies and politics is simplistic; yet I agree with his overall critique of the food industry and governmental policies on nutrition.

    For me the real eye openers were: the chapter about stress and cortisol and its connection to obesity and metabolic disorders; the explanation of the liver's role in digesting both sugar & fat; the role that sedentism plays in increasing metabolic disorder and the relative miracle that daily exercise can have in reversing it; and the complexity of fructose vs. glucose.

    He also busts several nutritional/weight loss myths: a calorie is not a calorie; you cannot lose weight by exercising; and all diets that eliminate sugar are successful (most successful are complete opposites, Atkins diet and Veganism, because they both eliminate sugar completely and focus the liver on one form of digestion).

    One problem for me in the book is that he talks a lot about how losing weight is actually impossible, and that we should focus on health rather than weight loss. I actually agree with him, mostly, and am pleased that the negative effects of obesity on health and well-being and longevity can be eliminated by eating healthy foods—basically you should switch to whole foods, eating sugar only in the form of fruit and real whole grains (no processed grain at all, because it's just sugar)—and exercising. But I also think that he underestimates the value of something else he emphasizes, which is to change your food environment. That is one of the things that the research shows that people who are successful at weight loss do consistently. The trick is to change your food environment in a world of food abundance. I'm not quite ready to let go of my own fantasy of losing weight, although I probably should.

    I was also a bit more dubious about the anti-oxidant chapters, but if I ate how he suggests, I would get plenty of them anyway, so if it turned out that we need them and in high quantities, I'd be getting them regardless.

    So yeah, if you're interested in health, nutrition, obesity, or weight loss, read this book.

    The fact that the food industry hates it should be endorsement enough.

  • JA

    I am giving this book a high rating with mixed feelings.

    On the one hand, I was really interested in the information, and his explanations of the science seem solid and at a good level of detail. Fundamentally, I found it compelling and convincing enough that I am making some changes in my eating habits based on it. So, that's pretty good.

    But several things about the way this was written annoyed me.

    The major problem:

    In some places he is very clear and specific that being overweight is one thi

    I am giving this book a high rating with mixed feelings.

    On the one hand, I was really interested in the information, and his explanations of the science seem solid and at a good level of detail. Fundamentally, I found it compelling and convincing enough that I am making some changes in my eating habits based on it. So, that's pretty good.

    But several things about the way this was written annoyed me.

    The major problem:

    In some places he is very clear and specific that being overweight is one thing, and metabolic syndrome (the cluster of diseases that are correlated with overweight) is something else. He even gives specific numbers: 20% of "morbidly obese" individuals are metabolically healthy, 40% of "normal weight" individuals have metabolic syndrome. OK, that makes sense, and fits with the information I have from other sources (such as Health at Every Size). However, having stated that and given the numbers, he then goes right back to talking about obesity as a disease ("the obesity epidemic", etc). How can you teach people about the distinction if you keep using the words interchangeably?

    Minor issues:

    He starts every section with an anecdote about an obese child from his practice. On the one hand, it certainly catches your attention. But it felt overly sensationalist to me.

    When it comes to the section where he gives advice on diet, some of the recommendations are clearly based on the science he explained earlier -- but other bits are not really explained. For instance, I would have liked to know the science behind the recommendation not to eat after dinner. Just stating that it has something to do with one of the hormones previously referenced is not sufficiently convincing.

    Overall: If you drink sugared soda or juice, this book is likely to convince you to stop (or at least cut back substantially!). Similarly, if you are a couch potato, or eat a lot of fast food, he gives some compelling reasons to change your ways. But if you happen (like myself), to be a (healthy, fat) person who already has fairly reasonable eating and exercise habits, at best this may make you rethink a few details (in my case, I'm going to try to get out of the habit of eating sugar-sweetened yogurt and cut back on some of my previously habitual breakfast cereals) but it won't necessarily be life-changing.

    Nevertheless, I am glad to have read it.

  • Vivian

    Okay, I'm convinced: sugar is the devil incarnate! Now that I've gone off gluten (with some success), looks like I'll have to add sugar to the list of edible things to avoid. Which isn't much of a stretch: considering sugar adds no value to one's daily diet, and can provoke a host of major illnesses. Lustig makes a strong case for sugar being the culprit in the American society's march toward obesity, and the fact that sugar is extremely hard to resist, especially for children, means this is one

    Okay, I'm convinced: sugar is the devil incarnate! Now that I've gone off gluten (with some success), looks like I'll have to add sugar to the list of edible things to avoid. Which isn't much of a stretch: considering sugar adds no value to one's daily diet, and can provoke a host of major illnesses. Lustig makes a strong case for sugar being the culprit in the American society's march toward obesity, and the fact that sugar is extremely hard to resist, especially for children, means this is one issue which is not going away any time soon. While I've been reading about the dangers of too much sugar for years, it is sobering to realize that American supermarkets are becoming repositories for processed foods, most, if not all, containing sugar (as well as salt and fat) added to increase their addictive qualities. Eating natural foods is so much easier in Europe, since the supermarket shelves here are not stocked with majority processed foods, and the advertisements for such foods are not nearly as prevalent. An interesting book for those trying to figure out what to eat for health.

  • Nigeyb

    Annoyingly verbose, with far too many rhetorical questions, and it's exclusively US-centric, however it is also chock full of very helpful information. A good editor could have halved the length without compromising the message or the scientific explanations however I still recommend this book to everyone.

    contains important nutritional information that is not being given the prominence it deserves by many policy makers and health professionals, and certainly not by the food industry. My assessment is that the food industry is where the tobacco industry was around fifty years ago. Those that are selling processed foods, most of which have added sugar, know their addictive products are indirectly increasing their customer's risk of all the major life threatening diseases but, due to their high profits, will do nothing unless compelled by legislation. Consumers are on their own.

    This book explains why obesity has become such an issue in most developed countries. The reasons are too wide and varied to summarise here however by far and away the biggest culprit is added sugar, particularly in the form of fructose.

    's key message is that a healthy diet is high fibre and low sugar. Low sugar means you should avoid processed foods, fast foods and soft drinks, and prioritise real, unprocessed, whole foods, including high quality proteins. Increasing physical activity will further maximise your health and well being. That's my distillation of what I took to be the key message. There is a lot more useful and interesting information in the wide ranging, interesting and important book.

  • Nat

    “The 2008 movie Wall-E is a prophecy: that’s where we’re all headed.”

  • Thomas Ray

    The enemy is insulin resistance. Causes liver disease, diabetes, other metabolic disease.

    Exercise.

    Avoid sugar. Avoid processed food (anything nonperishable).

    Get your plant-based foods in fresh intact form: nutrients encased in a protective sheath of fiber. Slows absorption, reduces overeating, protects liver from rush of nutrients. Fresh intact fruits, vegetables, nuts, intact whole grains. If the fiber has been polished out or juiced or frozen, it can't do it

    The enemy is insulin resistance. Causes liver disease, diabetes, other metabolic disease.

    Exercise.

    Avoid sugar. Avoid processed food (anything nonperishable).

    Get your plant-based foods in fresh intact form: nutrients encased in a protective sheath of fiber. Slows absorption, reduces overeating, protects liver from rush of nutrients. Fresh intact fruits, vegetables, nuts, intact whole grains. If the fiber has been polished out or juiced or frozen, it can't do its job.

    Every page of the first half of the book drips with revulsion for fat people.

    Author admits medical doctors are one-trick ponies: "take a pill!"--and there's no pill. Doctors can do nothing.

    Author comes close to acknowledging that doctors' advice--eat less, go on a diet, starve yourself to lose weight--is actively harmful: energy expenditure falls to match reduced intake. Book doesn't say this, but what's striking about very fat people is how very still they are. They got this way by being very diligent about starvation dieting. They've trained their bodies to conserve every calorie. The body preferentially consumes its own muscle, rather than fat, when starving: muscle burns fuel 24/7: the body destroys it, to stay alive.

    The book is also self-contradictory, sloppy, glib, elitist.

  • John Wiltshire

    I came to this book through a recommendation by Mike of Six Pack Shortcuts on YouTube. I haven't eaten sugar for a very long time now. I don't do carbs, so it's easier for me to avoid most of the places where sugar can be found. But it does get really, really tiresome constantly going through the spiel when people offer you something to eat that's got sugar in, so I thought a little science to back up my, "Sorry, I don't do sugar," routine might help. There's nothing that makes people shut up li

    I came to this book through a recommendation by Mike of Six Pack Shortcuts on YouTube. I haven't eaten sugar for a very long time now. I don't do carbs, so it's easier for me to avoid most of the places where sugar can be found. But it does get really, really tiresome constantly going through the spiel when people offer you something to eat that's got sugar in, so I thought a little science to back up my, "Sorry, I don't do sugar," routine might help. There's nothing that makes people shut up like throwing a little science at them, is there? And I seem to be living in a world where everyone is getting fatter around me. And yet portions are getting smaller (can you remember having a Mars Bar when you were a kid and hardly being able to get your jaw wide enough to chomp around it?) and everything is supposedly "low fat". What the heck is happening? Hopefully I'm about to find out. (Well, I actually do know the answer to this, but I'm curious to see what Robert Lustig makes of it).

    I'll update when I'm done.

    Hmm. I finished this one today. I think my aim of being able to throw some science to back up my (always irritating to family and friends) "I don't eat sugar" claim was a little optimistic. The book is packed with science. It's the most science-y thing I've ever read, but it's way over my head. Interesting, but not stuck in the old noodle enough to quote or use.

    For the first two thirds of this book I was seething. I'll explain.

    Basically, doctors writing about obesity have a bit of a problem. If they say what they probably think, no one is going to read their book, and they'd eventually be quietly sidelined from the scientific community as being a bit "toxic". ie, no doctor these days is going to say that people are fat and getting fatter because they eat too much of the wrong food and don't take enough exercise. Lustig spends a huge proportion of the book claiming that obesity is nothing to do with individuals--that we are victims of the toxicity of our food. We have no choices about what we eat, about our portion size, etc. So, hence the seething from yours truly. It seemed to me that he completely and deliberately ignored the fact that there is a significant portion of the population out there who religiously make healthy food choices and take exercise to the detriment of social norms, and thus keep their weight low and stay healthy.

    He also went on at some length to show that fat does not necessarily equate to ill-health, or thinness to well being. And he backed this up by talking about pregnant women and babies who need some extra fat. This seemed totally disingenuous to me. Does he not realise that the fat lobby (health at any size, the thin privilege, fat is beautiful) take books like his and subjectively quote them to promote their dangerous agendas? They fasten on any evidence that it's not their personal responsibility that they are fat (and anyway, what's wrong with being fat?) that it's genes, lack of access to real food...whatever. Well, we all realise that in some circumstances humans lay down fat stores. Yes, we were once all hunter gathers facing times of starvation. But that is far removed from the crisis of obesity that is plaguing this planet now, and his defence of obesity in terms of "it's not your fault" really pissed me off, not to put too finer point on it.

    He was definitely one of the "diets don't work" supporters. Sure, diets don't work if you take diet to be "the short term horrible thing I'm going to stick to until I've lost the weight and then I can go happily back to eating and sitting on the couch just like before". Diet means lifestyle choice and, no, it's not easy to change a lifestyle, but it can be done. By taking away anyone's motivation before they've even begun by telling them they have no hope, they're victims of international conspiracies to keep them fat, seems really wrong to me. Indefensible.

    I'm going to quote from a fat-activist site post which went up the other day complaining about a re-write of the song It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year to It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year:

    (emphasis mine)

    So, according to this poor soul, food is her only enjoyment in life? Wow. Doesn't that just about sum up the obesity crisis of our time?

    The last third of the book got into the politics of obesity and set out quite succinctly how the food industry is deliberately conspiring with politicians to make us fat by pricing policies, marketing etc. Lustig advocates interventions by law to enforce public health issues such as no soda in schools, a soda tax, better access to real food for the poor. All worthy initiatives. But it seems to me (and yeah, what do I know in the face of all that science he quotes that I didn't even understand) that if you've already confirmed in people's minds that being fat isn't their fault, that if they try to do something about it they will inevitably fail, then no public health message is going to make a blind bit of difference anyway.

    I had a bit of an epiphany whilst I was mulling over this review out running yesterday. The words of that sad woman I've quoted above kept playing in my mind.

    .

    This was my epiphany:

    I've been doing something called a core challenge for a last few months. It's very simple: you hold in a plank position every day for as long as you can, then up the time the next day and the next... To anyone watching it looks very easy. You don't move. You just hold yourself on arms and toes. Trust me, it's one of the most difficult physical things you can do and it strengthens every single part of your body. I've seen huge benefits from this challenge in my weight training, my HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions and in my running. It's CORE strength. I can't emphasise that too highly. The

    of your being.

    being anyway.

    So, it seemed to me whilst out running, couldn't that somehow be transferred over to the

    side of "dieting" (I put that in quotes because I hate that term. It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle change. For LIFE). Core strength for the mind. Wow. Find the things that make life worth living outside of food... I desperately want to take that woman who found a song offensive because it threatened her relationship with food and show her all the wonderful things life has to offer when you free yourself from the addiction to food.

    Run, cycle, swim, lift weights, lie like a bloody plank, dance, make love...it doesn't really matter what, it's all movement of the human body and it's fantastic, addictive, the best drug in the world. And it's all yours and it's entirely free.

    I want to devise a core challenge to build motivation daily in little steps, so that people can lose weight and keep it off because they've changed the very way they think. According to Lustig no one keeps weight off. It's impossible.

    Really?

    I beg to differ.

    So, no, I'm not all that impressed with Dr Lustig.

    I had to laugh. I was recovering from my run, sitting on the deck (don't pronounce that the Kiwi way, please) drinking a freshly juiced carrot juice (I've been reading Joe Cross) and actually read in Lustig's book as I was drinking it how dangerous juice is. It's got more sugar in than soda. So, core, weights, cardio and then a run and then some carrot juice. Shit. I'm doomed.

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