Archive for June, 2012

A Debate!

Which one do YOU trust to advise you on your health?

AHA (American Heart Association) VS ABA (American  Beverage Association)

As a result of countless recent attacks on soda, the American Beverage Association, an aggressive trade organization that represents the beverage industry, actually created a website specifically dedicated to “clearing up a few things about the products made”. The website is smartly called Their new website isn’t their first “counter-attack” to recent scientific findings and public policy either, they’ve had a history. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 when a New England Journal of Medicine study suggested a soda tax, the ABA responded promptly with an “Americans Against Food Taxes” coalition and website. They’ve also done quite a bit of lobbying the recent years as a response to all this populist pressure. In the 2010 election cycle, their lobbying costs rose 1000% to be about $8.67 million (talk about being a try hard).

On the front page of, the ABA has a five slide presentation that states a myth about soda, and then the real fact behind it, basically refuting the myth. What I’m going to do in this post is effectively refute each one of their “facts” word for word with an abstract from a scientific statement in an issue of Circulation, the association’s monthly journal.

I’ll present the exact text from the American Beverage Association first in italics, and then right underneath I’ll present a direct quote from the American Heart Association that refutes it.

Myth: The obesity epidemic can be reversed if people stop drinking soda.

Fact: Sugar-sweetened beverages account for only 7% of calories in the average American diet, according to government data. 

***From a 2004 article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (unaffiliated with any governments or lobbyists):

“Calories from beverages make up 21% of the total daily calories consumed by Americans over 2 years old” BAM! In your face ABA!

Okay, wait a minute, CHANGE OF PLANS: It’s a bit hard to directly refute cold hard facts armed with just a paragraph from the AHA, so instead, I will provide analysis that shows why the ABA’s claim, although true, is irresponsible and should not be taken to heart. (no pun intended)

“In 2001 to 2004, the usual intake of added sugars for Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day (355 calories per day).”

With some simple calculation, assuming that the average consumption of calories for everyone is 2,000 calories per day, 17.5% of our daily calories are coming from added sugars alone. Now, although I’m comparing an orange and an apple here and not really refuting the claim directly, this statistic does still have some weight. The AHA ” recommends  limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. ” So the percentage of discretionary allowed is about 10% of one’s total caloric intake. Already, the 7% of calories from soda alone is getting pretty close to that 10%. And then, considering that Americans’ consumption of added sugars is already 7.5% higher than the limit for discretionary calories (17.5-10) , cutting back on soda would actually allow us actually meet the recommendation. (that argument was a bit of a detour; I’m in debate, so I’m used to “sketchy” arguments like that, but if you have any questions, email me!)

Q: Does drinking diet soda cause weight gain?

A: No. In fact, diet sodas, which are 99% water, have been proven to be an effective tool for weight loss and weight maintenance.

evidence from observational studies indicates that a higher intake of soft drinks is associated with greater energy intake, higher body weight, and lower intake of essential nutrients.”

Even without the AHA quote, at first glance, the answer that the ABA gives is, although rooted in an actual statistic, plain out blasphemy. Even if “diet” soda’s are 99% water, they have not been an effective tool for weight loss. That is the central problem with all these claims. The ABA can somehow get around by having true premises (facts), but then bending their conclusion from the facts so much as to make one think that it is true. I’m not fooled by their tactics.

FACT: The CDC shows added sugar from soda is down 39% since the year 2000. 

 “sugars/added sugars increased by 19%, which added 76 calories to Americans’ average daily energy intake. Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the primary source of added sugars in Americans’ diets.”

Once again, ABA gets tricky with its claim here. The key phrase is “added sugar from soda” . It’s not claiming that people are drinking less sugary drinks, but that they themselves have lowered the amount of sugar in their sodas by 39%. It has nothing to do with consumption, rather, they are simply restating an independent factor that the manufacturers control. That statistic has basically no meaning at all. On the other hand, the AHA’s claim actually does have significance.

FACT: There has been a 23% reduction in the average calories per serving from beverages sold between 1998 and 2010.

Okay, same situation as above. Plus, consumption of soda has grown exponentially between 1998 and 2010, meaning that we could very well still be consuming the same number of calories even if each can has less, simply because we’re drinking more cans!

Anyways, I feel like I over-promised and under-delivered in this post. I said I would be making word for word refutations, but I didn’t, and I guess I owe you an apology for that. On the other hand, I think I did point out several flaws in the logic of the ABA and (hopefully) made you more aware of the glitches in the system. I feel like the whole AHA versus ABA didn’t have too much clash, so I can’t say that AHA won this debate, but I can say that ABA definitely lost.


Sugar is as Addictive as Cocaine?

Check this out from an article in the NY Daily News on April 2nd:

Dr. Robert Lustig thinks America needs to go to rehab for sugar addiction.

According to brain scans, sugar is as addictive as cocaine, the California-based endocrinologist told CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

It causes a euphoric effect that triggers dopamine, the chemical that controls pleasure in the brain.

The average America eats a third of a pound of sugar every day — 130 pounds a year.

Lustig says his research proves that the sweet stuff causes heart disease and cancer, as well as Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

I think I would definitely like to look into that!

The Highly Disputed Definition of Nutritious Food

I’ve been recently reading a lot of Mark Bittman’s articles on the Opinion pages of the New York Times and I definitely think that the topics he brings up are worth sharing here too.

First off, what actually, is food? According to the internet, it’s any nutritious substance that animals eat or drink in order to maintain life and growth. As we do in my SAT prep class, let’s reread the sentence again and identify key words: nutritious…well, that’ really all that I see, or care about right now for that matter.

With that in mind, let’s analyze some of the foods that are and are not nutritious.

Nutritious: Carrots, milk, whole grains, nuts, leafy greens

Not: French Fries, potato chips, candy, soda (hopefully you know that already)

Surprisingly however, according to Bittman’s article, cookie crisp cereal, kraft singles, and happy meals are part of the latter category. Why? Well, it’s because of a two part failure. The first one is called self regulation, in which the companies set nutrition goals for their products  that they then meet. I guess it’s sort of like changing the average weight to be ten pounds higher so that you would be normal weight if you were overweight. It’s changing the rules of the game. And frankly, companies are doing just that; promoting their products as part of a healthy diet, which they clearly are not. The second failure is a failure upon regulatory agencies. They let self regulation by the industry to slip by, and even praise them as being a step forward in the right direction.

So really, the next time you see a label on a cereal box that says something along the lines of “now with more fiber!” or “essential for a balanced breakfast!”, I beg you to just roll your eyes and say, “what have we become?” because I’ll be saying that right along with you.


I think that recently, with Bloomberg’s “ban” on soda, its been getting a lot of hype; whether positive or negative, it doesn’t matter, because the big thing is that this issue is finally getting some attention. With that in mind, I think right now is the perfect time to launch a public health awareness campaign.

So far, I’ve emailed a coupe of professionals and institutions, briefed them on my goals and what I’m doing, and sent them a link to this blog. My original goal was to get at least some response from one of them to at least know that one person cares besides me and the people I’ve personally told my project about to. That way, with some external support, I think that my project would carry a little bit more legitimacy. Despite no responses, I’m still going to continue to find contacts, because I know for sure that at least one person has to respond.

Now here is a great public health poster for soda awareness. It’s quite a lot to take in at first glance, but I think that that is the beauty of it. It’s so overwhelming with negative effects that I’m already convinced not to drink soda for the sake of preserving my body.


Why We Get Fat

I just finished watching another lecture by Gary Taubes called (if you haven’t guessed) “Why We Get Fat”. It was a poorly timed lecture, in that Mr. Taubes promised quite a lot at the beginning, but failed to deliver. He focused about 3/4 of the lecture on the problem, but failed to explain in depth the solution to the problem proposed, leaving me with more questions. Which can, arguably, be more beneficial.

Anyways, I was really glad I watched it, because it did tie up some loose ends for me. I can see now that all of the systems and processes, causes and reactions, are interrelated in our body. Here is a rough run down of his lecture.

Mr. Taubes introduces a fundamental problem in the current paradigm of how society perceives is the cause of obesity. Let”s begin with the conventional definition  which says that obesity occurs by putting more calories in than expending, otherwise known as a basic law of thermodynamics. Change in energy = energy in – energy out.

However, that doesn’t make sense if you really think about it. According to that definition, all of us would be obese, since we obviously don’t balance calories consumed with calories expended, that’s impossible. That right there, is problem #1 with our current paradigm.

Problem #2 can be brought into light when we examine people who are obese. Historically, one tends to think that nations that are wealthy, andhave that citizens have enough expendable income to buy processed foods and sit on the couch all day, should have more obese citizens. Just look at America. However, Taubes argues that populations that historically have been poor, such as certain native american populations in the early twentieth century, as well as “Nigerian fish ladies” or people living in Trinidad, have also had high levels of obesity. When one looks back on the hypothesis of calories in greater than calories out, things don’t quite match up. Moreover, many times, the mothers are obese, and the children are emaciated. Certainly, they are both consuming the same amount of food, so what is the missing variable?

Society’s current answer to obesity is clearly inadequate. Taubes likens the situation to an analogy to crystallize the situation even more. Lets say that when one asks, “Why do people get fat?”, it can be equated with when one asks, “Why are there so many people in the auditorium?” The current answer that dietitians and policy use for the obesity question is, “Well you’re just putting more in than you’re taking out.” Following that same logic, the answer to the auditorium question would be, “Well there are just more people coming in that going out.” Clearly, that doesn’t answer your fundamental question. It doesn’t give a reason for why so many people are in the auditorium (like because it is hot outside and the auditorium has AC). Thus, Taubes concludes that the answer to why we get fat lies not in the process, but the reason, and society hasn’t provided that yet.

The crux of Taubes’s argument lies in this fact: “We don’t get fat because we overeat, we overeat because our fat tissue is accumulating excess fat”. So if obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, what regulates fat accumulation? In other words, there must be a hormone regulating the production of fat. It’s seen in animals too. When they are denied food, their bodies adapt by storing fat, thus, hibernating animals get “fat” during the wintertime.

In humans, that hormone would be insulin. Insulin increases the use of glucose to make  glycerides, and then it increases the use of those glycerides to make fatty acids, which are then bonded into threes to make triglycerides, the principal storage form in adipose (fat) cells. So, there are three things that one must know coming away from this lengthy post:

1. When insulin is secreted or chronically elevated, fat accumulates in the fat tissue. (as explained above)

When glucose is produced/stored, insulin is released. That makes sense.

2. When insulin levels drop, fat escapes from the fat tissue and the fat depots shrink.

“Release of fatty acids from fat cells “requires only the negative stimulus of insulin deficiency” – Rosalyn Yalow (a respected pioneer in this field)

Moreover, when fructose is consumed and not metabolized by the liver, insulin levels drop. Wait, does this mean that fructose gives you diabetes?? (slightly confused here…)

3. We secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in our diet.   

“Carbohydrate is driving insulin is driving fat” George Cahill

Yes! That is because carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose! It all makes sense now!

Despite the above though, I’m still at a standstill and not too far from where I started (in terms of my understanding). If insulin regulation is the reason why we get fat, and carbs are driving insulin production, isn’t eating carbs making us fat? But then, isn’t that the Atkins diet, which is nonsensical (look at the Japanese diet…lots of carbs!) Hmmm….something’s a bit fishy here…

Sugary Drinks

This past week, I have been involved in a counselor training session for a camp. It’s basically one week out in the sun getting ready and prepared to handle to challenges of being a camp counselor for children with disabilities. It’s an outdoor facility located in Center Point, Texas, which is about an hour away from San Antonio. Being pretty hot there, especially during the summer months, camp encourages everyone to consume as much liquids as possible to stay hydrated. However, the water there tastes horrible, and camp oftentimes has a hard time getting its campers to drink plain water, which means that pretty much the only drink they offer there is sugary juice and sports drink mixes.

That right there, is problematic. In fact, I have a story to tell myself. For the entire week while I was there, I think I drank only one full cup of water. The rest was pretty much juice and sports drinks. As the week progressed, I noticed that my throat was becoming sore, and hurt whenever I swallowed. At first I thought I was just catching a cold, since there was a bug going around. But when I brought it up in a conversation with a couple of friends, they all complained of the same symptoms. One of my friends brought up the idea that it was because we were consuming so many sugary beverages. We all immediately agreed in unison, each serving of Gatorade probably had about 20 grams of sugar. Multiplied by the number of servings per day, that greatly exceeds recommended sugar intake.

So, my story is simple. If only one week of drinking sugary beverages can irritate my throat, imagine what a year of doing so could do to my body. We all know that sugar rots teeth, but sugar combined with the acidity in many sodas make it even worse, since the acid erodes enamel, which is a protective layer on the teeth that doesn’t grow back. Soda is also known to have severe effects on the esophagus, and most definitely the liver. I’ll talk more about it’s dangerous effects in a later post.

Bloomberg’s plan to ban soda

On May 30th, New York City Michael Bloomberg proposed a plan to place a ban on the sale of soda larger than 16 oz in restaurants, movie theaters, fast-food chains, and street vendors according to a New York Times article.  Mr. Bloomberg has gotten a reputation over the years from his critics as “Nanny Bloomberg” due to his campaigns against obesity, the soda ban being the most recent. Since his arrival in office, he has instituted bans on smoking in public areas, required restaurants to post calorie counts, and prohibitions against artificial trans fats, so props to Bloomberg this time!

Despite the effort though, there are still loopholes in his proposal. For example, it doesn’t regulate diet sodas, which contain aspertame which has been of questionable safety, nor does it regulate other high calorie, high sugar content drinks, which could very well be equally worse. However, overall, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

There have been mixed responses to he proposal too. The biggest critique so far has been that this ban has “just gone too far” and interferes with people’s personal freedom. However, I think that a.) it limits your personal freedom in no way; he isn’t banning soda- if you wanted a 16 oz, just buy two 8 oz. All the proposal is is symbolic of getting the message across. Personally, I don’t think it’s going to cause big practical change, but the shift in ideology is what counts. And b.) going back to my reasons, banning 16 oz sodas in restaurants is not different than making alcohol illegal to minors. It’s actually lot less constricting!

Some citizens are saying that simply banning the 16 oz won’t do much, and they’d much rather promote education instead. But the deal is though, the reason why he banned it was because education wasn’t working. It’s true, despite all of these campaigns, numbers have rarely decreased. The catch with the ban is that in order for it to really be effective and resonate with the public, it’s critical that people understand why the ban is happening, and perceive it to be a meaningful policy action, not just some arbitrary law.

Here are some reactions from New Yorkers posted on the New York Times website.

Soda has similar effects to alcohol, just without the buzz, according to Dr. Lustig, one of my new favorite professors. (read my first post to discover why) It has been proven to be a huge contributing factor to obesity, despite what the big companies and “public health” ads they put out. Trust me, I don’t think anyone can think of a better reason for the rising obesity rates in this country. It’s a fact, just like global warming is a fact now, having gone through much debate. And for that reason, I’m glad Mayor Bloomberg has decided to take this initial step, and I sincerely hope that his efforts will continue with minimal obstructions.