I recently read an interview with Laurie David about her new documentary “Fed Up” (co-produced with Katie Couric) that explores sugar in our diet and raises the question: are all calories created equal?
According to Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the obesity program at Boston Children’s Hospital, they are not. An article about the documentary published on The New York Times wellness blog, summarizes some of the findings in the film by saying that in recent studies, Dr. Ludwig has shown that high-carbohydrate diets appear to slow metabolic rates compared to diets higher in fat and protein, so that people expend less energy even when consuming the same number of calories. Dr. Ludwig has found that unlike calories from so-called low glycemic foods (like beans, nuts and non-starchy vegetables), those from high glycemic foods (such as sugar, bread and potatoes) spike blood sugar and stimulate hunger and cravings, which can drive people to overeat.
While people can certainly lose weight in the short term by focusing on calories, Dr. Ludwig said, studies show that the majority of people on calorie-restricted diets eventually fail. “The common explanation is that people have difficulty resisting temptation,” he said. “But another possibility is that highly processed foods undermine our metabolism and overwhelm our behavior.”
Furthermore, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School whose research was cited by experts in the film, said that the long-held idea that we get fat solely because we consume more calories than we expend is based on outdated science.
Apparently, the jury is still out on this one though. The article sites a 2012 study conducted by Dr. Y Claire Wang of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, that found that the average child must eliminate 64 calories a day in order for the childhood obesity rate to fall to 14.6 percent by 2020, a goal set by the federal government. While studies consistently show that sugary beverages, potato chips and other high-glycemic foods are indeed associated with weight gain, she suggests that this could be because they are rapidly digested and easy to consume in large amounts, “not because they bypass our energy balance.”
I hope more research is devoted to nutrition and the effect of processed foods on the human body. In the mean time, I will do my best to update you on all new research that comes out on the subject. My rule of thumb? Avoid processed food and added sugars completely. While there has yet to be a study that conclusively finds that processed foods and added sugars cause weight gain, cancer, etc., I have yet to find a study that suggests any of these “fake” foods are good for you.
Have any of my FIT friends seen this documentary? Have any of you removed processed foods from your diet in an effort to lose weight? What have the results been? I know I can’t wait to see “Fed Up” and look forward to updating you all on my thoughts.