The Impact of Ultra-Processed Foods and Fructose on Metabolic Health With Dr. Robert Lustig

By Longevity by Design, July 10, 2024

Dr. Robert Lustig

Listen to this episode of Longevity by Design on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

In this episode of Longevity by Design, our host Dr. Gil Blander talks with Dr. Robert Lustig, an emeritus professor of pediatrics at UCSF, a renowned neuroendocrinologist, obesity expert, and anti-sugar advocate. Dr. Lustig dives into the impact of ultra-processed foods and fructose on metabolism, emphasizing how these contribute to obesity and metabolic diseases. He also discusses his journey from academia to public health advocacy, aiming to reform the food industry and reduce chronic diseases.

Episode highlights:

  • Introduction: 00:00
  • The Role of Insulin in Obesity and Metabolism 00:08:00
  • The Influence of Big Food Industries on Public Health Policies 00:29:16
  • The Misconception of Dietary Fats 00:40:0
  • The Impact of Stress on Visceral Fat 00:49:27

About Dr. Robert Lustig

Dr. Lusting is a Professor emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He specializes in the field of neuroendocrinology, with an emphasis on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system. His research and clinical practice has focused on childhood obesity and diabetes. Dr. Lustig holds a Bachelor’s in Science from MIT and a Doctorate in Medicine from Cornell University. Medical College, and a Master’s of Studies in Law from U.C. Hastings College of the Law.

Dr. Lustig has fostered a global discussion of metabolic health and nutrition, exposing some of the leading myths that underlie the current pandemic of diet-related disease. He believes the food business, by pushing processed food loaded with sugar, has hacked our bodies and minds to pursue pleasure instead of happiness; fostering today’s epidemics of addiction and depression. Yet by focusing on real food, we can beat the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity, and disease.

Ultra-processed foods are detrimental to health

Ultra-processed foods, especially those high in fructose, have significant negative impacts on metabolic health. These foods contribute to obesity, fatty liver disease, and other chronic conditions by disrupting normal metabolic processes. They are typically high in sugar, low in fiber, and contain many additives and preservatives that harm the body's ability to regulate weight and insulin levels. The NOVA classification system highlights the degree of food processing, showing that the more processed a food is, the more it is associated with metabolic diseases. Consuming minimally unprocessed foods (NOVA 1) is crucial for maintaining good health, as they are free from the harmful additives found in ultra-processed foods.

A calorie is not just a calorie

The concept that all calories are equal is misleading. Different types of calories have varying effects on the body. For example, calories from processed food high in fructose and other sugars can lead to increased fat storage and metabolic problems, unlike calories from whole foods that contain fiber and other nutrients to offset the effect of sugar. The body's response to calories depends on factors like insulin response, satiety signals, and the presence of micronutrients. Studies have shown that ultra-processed foods cause people to consume more calories and gain weight compared to non-processed foods, despite having the same caloric content. Understanding this difference is essential for addressing obesity and metabolic diseases.

Fructose is a major contributor to fatty liver disease

Fructose, a type of sugar found in many processed foods and sweetened beverages, is a primary driver of fatty liver disease. Unlike glucose, which is metabolized by every cell in the body, fructose is mainly processed by the liver. Excessive consumption of processed fructose overwhelms the liver's ability to metabolize it properly, leading to the production of fat within the liver. This process, known as de novo lipogenesis, contributes to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is increasingly common even among children. Limiting the intake of fructose by avoiding sugary drinks and processed foods is crucial for preventing and managing fatty liver disease.

The role of insulin in obesity and metabolism

The podcast dives into the critical role of insulin in obesity and metabolism. Insulin is a hormone that regulates fat storage and blood sugar levels. Elevated insulin levels can drive weight gain and metabolic disorders. Dr. Lustig explains how certain individuals have a specific pathology where their bodies produce too much insulin, leading to obesity. This condition can be treated by suppressing insulin levels, which has shown significant results in weight loss and improved health outcomes. Understanding and managing insulin levels is vital for tackling obesity and related metabolic issues.

The impact of stress on visceral fat

The discussion highlights the significant impact of stress on the accumulation of visceral fat, which is the fat stored around internal organs. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is stored under the skin and is relatively harmless, visceral fat is linked to serious health risks, including insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Stress-induced cortisol levels contribute to the storage of fat in the visceral region, increasing the risk of chronic diseases. This insight emphasizes the importance of managing stress to maintain a healthy distribution of body fat and prevent metabolic disorders.

The influence of big food industries on public health policies

The conversation addresses how major food industries influence public health policies, often hindering efforts to improve dietary guidelines and reduce the prevalence of ultra-processed foods. Despite the clear evidence linking these foods to various health problems, food companies continue to lobby against regulations that would limit their production and consumption. The discussion underscores the need for stronger policies and public health initiatives to combat the adverse effects of ultra-processed foods and promote healthier eating habits on a broader scale.

The misconception of dietary fats

The episode clarifies common misconceptions about dietary fats, explaining the different types and their effects on health. Not all fats are harmful; in fact, some are essential for good health. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in wild fish, are highly beneficial, while trans fats are the most harmful. The conversation differentiates between saturated fats, which are neutral, and polyunsaturated fats, which can be beneficial unless overheated. This part of the discussion aims to educate listeners on making informed choices about fat consumption and understanding the diverse impacts of various fats on the body.

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Longevity by Design

Longevity by Design is a podcast for individuals looking to experience longer, healthier lives. In each episode, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver join an industry expert to explore a personalized health journey. The show helps you access science-backed information, unpack complicated concepts, learn what’s on the cutting edge of longevity research and the scientists behind them. Tune into Longevity by Design and see how to add years to your life, and life to your years.

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