Don Mauer: Understanding the science behind weight loss

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 03:48 PM

“Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Foods, and Disease” by Dr. Robert Lustig, M.D. is not a how-to diet book with menus, shopping lists and recipes. And, even though Lustig simplified his explanations to make it easier for non-medical readers like me, it’s also not the easiest of reads. In fact, it’s a bit technical, with 21 pages of reference notes validating his concepts.
What “Fat Chance” has is solid, study-backed information about why there’s a worldwide obesity epidemic and why, believe it or not, your weight issue may not be your fault after all.
Lustig states clearly that our weight issues are not calorie- and exercise-driven. Here’s why: scientifically a calorie’s a calorie; since a calorie is always a measurement of energy. That simplistic view led most of us to believe in “calories-in, calories-out” thinking. Yet it turns out that the real issue is from where those calories come (refined carbs, fat or protein) and how we metabolize them.
Take the refined carbohydrate — sugar, for example. Table sugar (sucrose) is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose. Lustig explains that our bodies process glucose differently than fructose; we need insulin to process glucose but not for metabolizing fructose.
That may seem good, until you learn that fructose is processed in the liver and consuming too much fructose can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. It’s too early to link high fructose consumption to other health issues, though statistically speaking, obesity, premature aging and cancer rank high as possibilities.
Another bomb Lustig drops involves leptin resistance. “This is the key to the obesity epidemic,” he writes. Leptin, like insulin, is a hormone and when we have enough of it we have an appropriate appetite, our activity levels are normal and we feel good. When we have insufficient leptin our body thinks it’s starving, our metabolism slows down, and we conserve calories (store fat) and become inactive.
To reduce insulin and increase leptin, Lustig says we need to reduce sugars consumption and he suggests eliminating sugared beverages from the house, especially soda and juice.
Next, increase fiber intake, and here Lustig suggests consuming more “brown” foods, such as beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and other legumes. And increase exercise, which improves muscle insulin sensitivity.
Lustig also suggests eating a high-protein breakfast (give Cap’n Crunch a goodbye salute), stop nighttime bingeing and get plenty of rest.
Finally, he suggests waiting 20 minutes after dining on a standard portion-size meal before heading back for seconds, since it takes our bodies that long (20 minutes) to get the “I’m satisfied” signals that make seconds unappealing.
There’s more, much more, in Lustig’s book. Reducing his 300-page tome down to a couple hundred words is as impossible as losing weight on an all-sugar food plan so I’ve hit on a few of the highlights. If you want to see Lustig explain himself, head over to YouTube and watch his 90-minute, cleverly titled video: “Sugar: The Bitter Truth;” it has amassed more than 3 million views.
Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at

Try this recipe: I’ve enjoyed my Mom’s version of Cornpone Pie (a chili casserole topped with cornbread) for decades. I recently saw an updated version that included cilantro and cheddar in the cornbread; what a great idea!

Mom’s New and Improved Cornpone Pie
1 1/2 pounds 95-percent lean ground beef
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 can (16 ounces) whole tomatoes
1 can (15 ounces) red kidney beans, drained

Cornbread batter
1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large whole egg
1/2 cup drained unsweetened applesauce
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar

Lightly spray a large nonstick skillet with vegetable oil and place over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and onion and cook, flipping and breaking up the beef until the beef loses all its pink color and the onion is soft; drain any excess liquid from the skillet.
Return the skillet to the heat and add chili powder, salt, Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes with their juice; breaking up the tomatoes with the edge of a spatula or spoon. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans and remove the skillet from the heat.
Lightly spray the bottom and sides of a large casserole dish (3-quart) with vegetable oil. Place the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.
For the cornbread batter: While the chili simmers, in a small bowl, whisk or stir together cornmeal, flour and baking powder until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg, drained applesauce, milk, cilantro and cheese until the mixture is completely combined and the sugar dissolves. Add the cornmeal mixture to the bowl and stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened, 20-30 seconds.
Add the beef mixture to the prepared casserole, smoothing out the top. Top with the cornbread batter, spreading carefully with a wet knife. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until the cornbread is golden. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Serves six.
Nutrition values per serving: 560 calories (28 percent from fat), 17.4 g fat (8.8 g saturated), 60.3 g carbohydrates, 7.7 g fiber, 42 g protein, 88 mg cholesterol, 988 mg sodium.
Salt Sense: Using no-salt added tomatoes and omitting the added salt reduces sodium per serving to 628 mg.