Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed by a complex set of factors. These signs and symptoms of a disturbed metabolism travel together: fat accumulation, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, low HDL (”good cholesterol”) and high triglycerides. Taken together, they establish an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. They are also associated with cancer and Alzheimer’s. What goes wrong in our metabolism when we gain weight, and how can we get back on track?
Award-winning science writer Gary Taubes. Taubes, in his 2010 book Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, debunks the common theory that people gain weight because of character defects – because they eat too much and exercise too little. He shows why focusing on counting calories does not solve the underlying problem. He explores the science of how and why calories are stored in fat cells. He draws us in to the radical conclusion that the way to lose fat and correct our metabolism is to eat more fat and protein, avoiding carbohydrates, especially refined sugars and refined flours.
How can you lose weight by eating more butter and less potato?
Taubes explains that insulin is the carrier molecule that gets sugar into a cell, so that it can be used for energy. Carbs, and especially refined sugars and refined flours, flood the blood stream with sugar, which prompts the body to release a lot of insulin.
When the muscle and organ cells are threatened with an oversupply of sugar, they rebuild cell walls to “resist” accepting the insulin carrier. They become barricaded against the excess sugar – this is what is called “insulin resistant.” The fat cells, unlike the muscle cells, do not become insulin resistant. When the muscle cells are resistant (or when the blood is overloaded with sugars for any reason), the insulin carries the sugars into the fat cells, where they are converted to fatty acids. This is good in the short run, because high blood sugar is dangerous. But in the long run, we gain undesired weight.
Fat cells release fatty acids for the cells’ use as energy, but only when insulin levels are low. This normally happens at night, when we’re not eating and blood sugar levels dip. It also happens when we eat protein and fat, with few carbs to stimulate insulin. Unfortunately, when we are insulin resistant, the body begins to over-produce insulin in order to get enough sugar into the resistant muscle cells.
The underfed muscle cells (remember that the sugars are being swept up by the fat cells) clamor for food, resulting in hunger, more consumption of carbs, and another release of too much insulin. Then the cells respond in a vicious cycle with more insulin resistance, and more storage in the fat cells. The cycle is broken when we stop stimulating insulin release with carbohydrates. When insulin levels fall, the body can (and must) release fatty acids for energy use.
The push for a low-fat diet has been a national fiasco.
The emphasis on eating low fat appears to have contributed to the increase in obesity and diabetes we’ve seen in the last few decades. Eating low fat means eating more carbs, and we have replaced a lot of fat calories with calories from refined sugars. Our national per capita consumption of sugar has skyrocketed to over 150 pounds per year!
We owe a debt of gratitude to Gary Taubes for painstakingly reviewing over a century of research and clinical experience around issues of weight and disease risk in his previous book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It’s a fascinating story of how hypotheses, clothed in flimsy supporting data, were enshrined as public health doctrine. Public health doctrine then controlled funding of future research, preventing the exploration of other more plausible hypotheses.
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