Dr. Robert Lustig’s Metabolical*


Not since Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring (1962) has a book so alarmed and awakened me. Dr. Robert Lustig is Professor Emeritus of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. He first came on the national scene when in 2009 on YouTube he posted a lecture, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” It went viral, still can be seen. Two years later, Gary Taubes wrote an article about him for The New York Times Magazine, “Is Sugar Toxic?” The article caused so much attention he was invited to speak to President Obama’s cabinet about the dangers of sugar. More about that meeting in a moment.

The book tells four interrelated stories.

The first describes the chemistry of the body, particularly the related functions of the liver and the pancreas. His basic message comes down to “six words: 1) protect the liver, 2) feed the gut.” Dr. Lustig does not promote a diet. To him all diets are good to the degree that they avoid sugar and processed food. Along the way he explodes the former received opinion that animal fat produces fat in the arteries. Dr. Robert Atkins was right!

The second story explains how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health in conjunction with the powerful lobbying of the primary food corporations have prevented reform of the disaster of failing health. For instance, poor families have the highest rate of obesity in part because they use their food stamps on soft drinks, a super-high sugar product, a chief contributor to childhood obesity. An attempt to prevent food stamps from buying such soft drinks never got out of Congress. Likewise, attempts to reform school lunches by excluding sugar-laden fruit juices from the category of “fruits and vegetables” have been blocked at every turn. These governmental regulatory boards are populated by former food corporation executives still committed to the profit motive. (For example, just try to find a cold breakfast cereal without sugar in it.) Thus when Dr. Lustig presented his findings to the Obama cabinet, members just shook their heads, presumably over the insurmountable political difficulties of confronting the food industry.

My conclusion? We live in a slow-motion-drug-cartel society.

The third story describes how the disaster of health care in the United States affects the national budget. Despite our spending more per capita on health than any nation in the world, we rank below almost all developed countries and actually below some developing countries in medical results. Medicare costs rise annually and will continue to rise until we can muster the political will to reform our dietary habits. Dr. Lustig, who is obviously no political conservative, says that under present conditions, by expanding national health we’d only make matters worse, as our doctors have no training in nutrition. Doctors are trained to treat symptoms rather than diseases. Again, the health crisis promotes the budget crisis. And yet, Congress continues to subsidize the sugar industry.

The fourth story deals with climate change. Vegan advocates have long claimed that meat-producing industries add more noxious gases to the environment than fossil fuel industries. Dr. Lustig supports this idea and supplements it with illustrations of negative land management such as the growing of corn for ethanol.

In conclusion, Dr. Lustig hopes that his book will persuade consumers to avoid the shelves of the supermarket and fill their carts in the perimeters of the store where one finds fresh fruits and vegetables. Dr Lustig’s best hope for change is the demands of consumers. Already, labels on most processed foods give information about the sugar content, although beware! food corporations have developed more than fifty sweetening products which have the same deleterious effect as cane sugar. Even the most natural of sweeteners have their drawbacks. But there has been progress: more and more producers of animal products now assure buyers of “pasture-raised,” “humanely raised,” “no drugs.” And the organic side of the food industry advances…

My mother told me that the first words I ever uttered were “ice cream.” In giving up a ninety-two-year favorite—along with Mrs. See’s Nuts and Chews—I now weigh less than when I graduated from college.

Please read this book and spread the good word.

*Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine.

Harper Wave, 2021

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