The Big Fat Lie, Part Four
The story I’m trying to relate here is enormously complex — far too complex, really, for an underfunded reporter like myself to take on. But I’m going to give it the college try, nevertheless.
Here’s the meat of the problem, as I see it. We human beings like to feel satisfied; in particular, we enjoy the experience of satisfaction when we finish a meal. It’s simply human nature.
Because of our human physiology and digestive chemistry, dietary fat is a key element in causing us to feel a sense of contentment and satiety at the conclusion of a meal. When you remove dietary fat from a person’s dinner, the person will naturally feel less than fully satisfied. If you convince the person that fat is a harmful nutrient — as Americans have been told since the early 1980s — an unsatisfied person will naturally attempt to generate a feeling of contentment by eating more food, and the added food, here in America, will be some combination of carbohydrates.
Sugars and starches, that is. Sugars and starches are easily digested and converted to blood glucose, which causes the pancreas to produce insulin in an attempt to control the glucose levels, according to a 2007 article by Dr. Barry Groves, writing for DiabetesHealth.com According to Dr. Groves, insulin controls blood glucose by converting it into glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. But when the glucose levels are excessive, the excess is stored as body fat — in various places that we wish it weren’t stored.
Stored body fat is created by high blood glucose levels, says Dr. Groves. Eating excessive fat, meanwhile, does not generate glucose, and thus does not cause a fat-storing insulin reaction.
When your blood glucose level returns to normal after about 90 minutes, the insulin level in your bloodstream is still near maximum. As a result, the insulin continues to stack glucose away in the form of fat. Ultimately, the level of glucose in your blood falls below normal, and you feel hungry again. So you have a snack of more carbohydrates, and the whole process starts over again.
I was inspired to write this article series, as I noted in Part One, when I saw the 10-ounce candy bars waiting for me at the checkout line at City Market. (No, I did not buy one. But I confess I’ve occasionally purchased these giant bars in the past.)
Startled by the thought that my friends and neighbors were regularly purchasing these monster carbohydrate-infested treats, I decided to find out how well stocked the rest of the City Market aisles were — with carbohydrates.
Here are the numbers of aisle-feet of each type of food, based on my rough estimation. (I paced off the aisles last week, hopefully without being too intrusive.)
Sugary drinks, 292 aisle-feet
Breads, sugars, flour, crackers, 414 aisle-feet
Cereals, snack bars, pastas, rice, beans, 246 aisle-feet
Ice creams, sugared fruits, candies, jams, 220 aisle-feet
Total aisle-feet of carbohydrates: 1,172
Oils, butter, cheeses, 127 aisle-feet
Meats, 91 aisle-feet
Vegetables, fruits, 194 aisle-feet
Total aisle-feet of non-carbohydrates: 412
I assume the product selection at City Market is fairly representative of grocery stores in Colorado — the state with the lowest obesity rate of all the 50 states. Only 22 percent of Coloradans are ranked as “obese” in a recent report by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.
An obesity epidemic has overtaken the country. In 1990, not a single U.S. state had an obesity rate above 15 percent, but by 2010, not a single state had an obesity rate below 20 percent.
Here’s a chart taken from a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Figure 1 shows the percentage increase in carbohydrate consumption in American men; Figure 2 shows a similar increase among American women.
The charts are based on data from four national surveys. I hope I’m not being presumptuous when I note that our increase in carbohydrate consumption and our relative decline in fat consumption both seem to take a noticeable turn around 1980 — around the time that our government started telling us not to eat fat.
But a disclaimer here. The two charts shown above summarize the average American diet. Two out of three Americans are not clinically obese — we are merely overweight. I have been unable to locate a chart that specifically shows the carbohydrate consumption of clinically obese Americans.
Statistically speaking, the group most afflicted by the obesity epidemic are the nation’s poor, those who earn less than $15,000 a year. Here’s a map from the Washington Post illustrating the epidemic. You might note that the five “most obsese” states in the Union are West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. Those also happen to be the five states with the lowest median household incomes, according to 2012 U.S. Census estimates (under $42,000 per year.).
Perhaps this is not surprising; the poor are often hit hardest by any misfortune that comes along.
Based upon bad science and misleading theories, we were told to cut down on fat, and were assured that our health would improve as a result. We took the bait. But it was a big, fat lie. And now America has become big and fat.