One thing on which we both can agree: sugar is bad and high fructose corn syrup is worse

Alec Baldwin has undergone an amazing transformation in the last few months.  This is Baldwin at peak pudgy:

And this is Alec Baldwin today:

What’s even more impressive than this transformation is Baldwin’s claim that he dropped all the weight in four months, primarily by leaving sugar out of his diet:

Baldwin, who’s dating yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas, tells “Access Hollywood,” “I gave up sugar. I lost 30 pounds in four months. It’s amazing.

“(I do) Pilates, spin, not as much yoga as I’d like. When we’re shooting (‘30 Rock’) it’s tough… When we’re shooting and I can’t work out, I just have to eat less. So, I’m very conscious of that. But sugar was the real killer for me – that was the problem.”

In one of those frequent coincidences I so often see in the internet world, within minutes after reading about Baldwin’s weight loss, I returned to an email thread in a conservative group to which I belong.  The thread had made a fascinating journey, traveling from poor grammar (specifically, the loss of the declaratory in favor of the interrogative), to the feminization of speech, and then to chemicals in food that may affect boys’ hormonal development.  The last email in the thread, the one that arrived immediately after I read about Alec’s “I gave up sugar” statement, was about the dangers of sugar generally and, more specifically, high fructose corn syrup.  The author of the email made his argument against sugar compelling by including pictures that precisely echo Baldwin’s photos:  he went from middle-aged plump to trim and muscular, not through surgery and time travel, but through sugar control and exercise.

My friend linked to Peter Attia’s War on Insulin site, and said that it changed his world.  I have to admit to being intrigued.  Last year, I gave up flour (which transforms into sugar in the body) and felt better, although I lost at most three pounds.  By the end of the year, though, I’d slipped back into my old ways.  The War on Insulin approach, however, is better rounded than just giving up foods, and that may be what I need.  It’s not even so much about the weight gain, although I’d be happy to drop the last baby fat (13 years after the baby was born).  It’s also about feeling better.  I feel draggy, and draggy people don’t get black belts.

Aside from finding the whole thing very intriguing, I thought it was incredibly funny that, in a country that is currently experiencing a very deep, rancorous political divide, one that splits it pretty much straight down the middle numerically, two people from opposite ends of the spectrum (my conservative friend and the liberal Alec Baldwin) can find common ground in the world of low-glycemic diets.


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  • Charles Martel

    I have an acquaintance back east, a scientist who studies nutrition at a university in New Jersey. He’s deeply involved in a controversy now raging in the diabetes community: Are low-fat diets a crock that, ironically, have contributed mightily to America’s rash of obesity and heart disease?
    He thinks they have. In a nutshell he says, along with a growing number of scientists, that high carbohydrate consumption leads far more quickly to insulin resistance and vascular inflammation than high-protein or even high-fat diets do. He says that the American Diabetes Association, a group he thinks long ago became ossified, reasons in a cognitively dissonant manner: “Why would a medical group that knows that diabetes is a disease where the ‘poison’ is carbohydrates advocate that the disease’s victims consume at least 130 grams of the poison daily?”
    What Baldwin and Book did by cutting out sugar was to eliminate the greatest source of carbohydrates in the western diet. The amount of sugar in many of our foods is shocking. In India and China, adult-onset diabetes (“type 2”) is popping up at epidemic levels, thanks to growing consumption of western-style foods high in carbs.
    Two thought-provoking books on the topic of carbs versus fat are by Gary Taubes: “Good Calories, Bad Calories” (2007), and “Why We Get Fat” (2011).   

  • Ymarsakar

    They are correct that sugar and carbohydrates turn into excess imbalance if you don’t actually use it up. It’s mostly because glucose from carbs and sugar, MUST be burned up using either chi gong, exercise, or some other energy output or else the body will strain itself turning it into stored energy. What Westerners have problems with is 1. eating too much of it and 2. not burning enough of it off by doing something.

    Protein simply breaks down into enzyme chains and is a complex molecule that is not easily turned into energy and then fat. That’s why the body burns carbs first, then fat, then proteins last (muscle). Fat is energy rich and pure, after it has been produced by the body and purified by the liver. Fat was the best source of energy in the winter and for those on starvation trips. That’s why having a big belly in Medieval Europe was a sign of success and economic security. Other people ate potato and burned that energy up as soon as they used it, working 14 hour days farming.

     As for scientists making things worse, that’s a combination of politicians and scientist cultists. Basically the same as global warming. If it sells, the government is going to regulate it and tax it. If it doesn’t sell, they’ll just find a scientist to say that it should sell, and it’ll then sell if the government stomps on anyone that says otherwise. The collusion between fascist government, fascist science, and fascist religion, didn’t start up recently. It’s been around for awhile. People just don’t know the truth, thus cannot detect the difference.

     The whole saturated fats and unsaturated fats were meaningless. Milk has a lot of fat in it, but drinking it never did anything compared to eating too much pasta and things like that.

  • Mike Devx

    I read Book’s article and Martel’s comment #1 with great interest.  I have Type II diabetes.  The information out there as to the cause of it is confusing.  In general, though, the consensus was that diet doesn’t matter.  Since I am a skeptic of consensus arguments, I kept an open mind.  The more I read, the more suspicious I became.  My diet for thirty years was atrocious and HIGH in processed food and sugars – exactly the kinds of food that would put immense pressure on the pancreas to produce insulin at widely variant levels.  I concluded that my diet was at least partly and probably strongly to blame:  I wore out my damn pancreas!  I was also a very inconsistent dieter, which led to rapid yo-yo weight loss and then gain.  I suspect that will be found to be a major culprit as well.

    I think REAL scientific studies will eventually agree with my anecdote- and experience-based conclusions.

  • Earl

    It’s REALLY important to distinguish between processed and unprocessed carbohydrates.  Not at all the same thing.
    The very best book I’ve read on diet was written some time ago by a guy who practiced medicine in Hawaii, and saw what Martel mentioned about China — the Asians he treated there who had come over from their home countries were healthy even as they aged….while their children had all of the typical American diseases.  He began to explore the reasons, and the result was The McDougall Plan  Note that if you’re willing to buy it used, you can get it for a penny (plus $3.99 shipping).
    Being a college professor, I love that he cites all of his statements of fact to the scientific literature.  You can look up the reference in the journals.  It’s an education in practical nutrition that’s easy to read, and there are even recipes in the back. 
    For the cynical, I have NO financial interest in the sale of John McDougall’s books – they’re just the best out there, in my opinion.

  • Ymarsakar

    Devx, the pancreas has to moderate sugar levels because muscles can only store so much glucose. Almost any kind of sugar can or will be converted into glucose in your blood. If your muscles don’t use it up via glycogen, that glucose “doesn’t disappear”, and is thus up to the pancrease and liver to filter out. After a few years of this, things malfunction depending on genetics and overall maintenance. When I activate and use my muscles, it uses up glucose. When it is entirely out of glucose, it feels tired and is now metabolizing fat or proteins to feed the activity. Or simply absorbing glucose from the blood and updating the reserves of the glycogen in muscles.

    Asian medical technology and expertise have long found ways to regulate people’s health in different fashions. Including the use or preservation of excess fat/glucose. I personally prefer the chi gong method, but many others use herbal external/internal solutions to regulate their metabolism and organs.

    The average American will not use up the glycogen in their muscles, yet they continue to eat carbs, sugars, and the body first turns it into glucose, which means toxins are produced via the manufacturing stage. Then it has to get rid of the excess glucose, so you get double the wear and tear. And if you go into a diet, that will shock your system and cause even more damage. Like putting sugar or water into your gas tank.


  • Danny Lemieux

    Although I think there is a lot to be said for a low-glycemic diet, the whole story isn’t very clear. One thing to look out for is that, when you take digestible carbs out of the diet, you replace it with fat and protein (which is the basis for the Atkins diet). However, elevated protein consumption results in inflammatory gout in old age, which is a very painful condition. The other point is that whole grains have phenomenal nutritional value that is only now becoming evident to the consuming public – including antioxidants that may have a very important role in anti-inflammatory protection and the prolonging of life.

    Hammer, I am familiar with the studies on the rapid onset of Type II diabetes in China, especially among the ruling classes. However, the traditional Chinese diet is very rich in digestible carbs – namely, rice. So, there’s something far more complex going on here that people don’t understand.

    As far as sugar versus high-fructose corn syrup, there really isn’t any different compositionally or metabolically. The problem with these two ingredients is that they can be hidden in products at very high levels because of the solubility.
    If one can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar or the equivalent in high-fructose corn syrup, that’s an awful lot of calories consumed for absolutely zero nutritional value. Think about how many cans are consumed by some people over the course of a day.


  • Earl

    Every major culture in the world (with exceptions like the Maasai and a few others) center their diet on complex carbohydrates.  Brown rice, whole wheat, corn, etc.  We did the same for a LONG time and the levels of obesity were quite low.  So, eating complex carbs isn’t a “problem”….it’s what we add to that dietary core…or in many cases, substitute for it….that causes the pathology we’re seeing.
    Again (and not to be repetitive), you can read all about this in The McDougall Plan.  Excellent book, and it holds up well after all these years.