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Avoid sugar and processed foods for weight loss and health: Beware food politics

Step away from that sugary soda.
Step away from that sugary soda.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Do you know what's in your canned soup, bottled ketchup or packaged crackers? The odds are high that sugar is listed on the easily-ignored list of ingredients, and that's what to blame for our nation's rising rate of obesity and weight loss woes, says Dr. Robert Lustig. He has become a leader in highlighting the toxic, addictive nature of the sweet stuff, reported KQED on August 6.

An endocrinologist at the University of California and participant in the film "Fed Up," Dr. Lustig contends that the increasing amounts of sugar in processed foods result from the desire of food corporations to lure us to buy more and eat more. He wants to educate consumers about the difference between good fats and bad fats as well as good carbohydrates and bad carbohydrates.

Good fats include wild-caught fish and flax,while bad fats include corn-fed beef. Good carbohydrates include fiber-rich foods such as whole grains and vegetables. And the ultimate bad carb: Sugar. With 77 percent of processed foods containing added sugar, Dr. Lustig says that simple changes such as eliminating sugar completely from your diet can make a dramatic difference in your health and weight.

Dr. Lustig recommends eliminating soda and juice, and increasing your intake of whole grains and vegetables. Eat real food, not processed food. He emphasizes that juice is just as bad as sugar.

As for the debate among the low-fat diet advocates, low carb diet proponents and Paleo diet believers? Dr. Lustig focuses more on the sugar and fiber content than on the percentage of fat or protein in your diet. However, he does agree with the Paleo principle of eliminating all processed foods.

Dr. Lustig's concern about the fact that food corporations continue to pour sugar into our foods is echoed by Andy Bellatti, Strategic Director and co-founder of the Dietitians For Professional Integrity. Bellatti is also perturbed about the link between corporations and some non-profit health organizations.

Imagine that your doctor's paycheck came from a company that makes sugar cookies with inch-high chocolate frosting. When you ask him for help with your weight, he gives you a diet handout that urges moderation in the form of a "cookie a day to keep the doctor away." Sounds absurd, but in reality, many health organizations that provide diet advice have hidden funding from food corporations, said Bellatti in an exclusive interview on August 6.

"Dietitians For Professional Integrity was created in February of 2013, a few weeks after the release of a fantastic report by public health lawyer Michele Simon of Eat Drink Politics titled 'AND Now A Word From Our Sponsors,' which closely examined the ties between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the food industry," he explained. After criticizing those partnerships previously, he chose the opportunity to create the group.

"I had been a vocal critic of these partnerships for a few years, and felt that the release of that report -- which gained national attention -- set up the perfect platform for the conversation to continue," he said. He contacted other dietitians who agreed with him.

"We thought it was time to create a group, keep the conversation alive, and raise awareness," he said. Bellatti is quick to emphasize that the reference to integrity refers to the profession overall and the organization, "not dietitians' individual sense of integrity."

He expressed concern that the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics partners with and accepts funding from food companies. Those companies engage in activities such as "battling public health policy, marketing to children, tapping limited natural resources from developing nations and deceptive marketing."

But that organization is not alone in cuddling up to corporations. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a family physician and author of "The Diet Fix," has become a sleuth in detecting and publicizing such links. He noted that the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), for example, has established a new ad campaign, which Dr. Freedhoff slammed in an August 6 posting.

The ad campaign from the odd couple team of Denny's restaurants and the JDRF reads: "$1 from every Deep Fried Cheesecake sold will be donated to the JDRF, the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes research. Our goal is to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people's lives until we achieve a world without T1D."

Although it might sound like a spoof, the JDRF is spreading the word that people who want to battle against type one diabetes should head to Denny's and buy deep-fried cheesecake. Just how bad is that dish? Deep-fried cheesecake contains more than 650 calories and 47 grams of fat, according to Fitness Together.

What will it take to make a difference? In Cape Town, Professor Tim Noakes' high fat low carb diet has persuaded both consumers and food companies to make the shift, reported the Times Live.

Noakes echoes Dr. Ludwig's view that sugar and processed foods cause obesity. He advocates increasing fat and protein while drastically slashing carbohydrates in what some refer to as the Banting diet (a pre-Atkins plan). It's a message that has made a difference in his country.

The diet has even impacted restaurants. Stephen and Eileen Cross own a Cape Town restaurant famed for sandwiches. But when they created menus featuring Banting-friendly meals, business soared.

"We've never been quiet, but the results were remarkable," Stephen said. "It's too big a movement not to incorporate it into our menu."