If you have wondered about the health consequences of the sugar-saturated Western diet, Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar by Dr Robert Lustig should be your next read. Most people already know that sugar is bad for us, but this book outlines the exact reasons why sugar is a toxin to our body and why the average weight of the population in America is steadily going upwards. If you’ve ever wondered about obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, this needs to go on your reading list.
The first few chapters open by blowing many of the myths about weight control out of the water; the assumption that obese people are greedy and lazy and the industry built around this assumption. These chapters are quickly followed by an outlining of the various biochemical issues which lead to weight gain, from misfiring hormones to how fructose is stored in our bodies. I have to admit that I did struggle through certain parts of these chapters but it does make sense eventually.
Fructose is seen as the real toxin in the obesity battle, as the liver processes it to be stored as fat. While fruit contains fructose, Lustig emphasises that eating fruit which is full of fibre, slowing down the rate at which the liver processes the fructose. It is fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup and fast food which is the focus of Lustig’s ire. At one point, Lustig defines fast food as fibreless food, and it is clear that fibre is championed as one of the solutions to the dietary ailments faced by many people.
There is a feeling throughout the book that people’s health and weight are at the mercy of their genetics and hormones, but Lustig is eager to emphasise that it is better to be healthy and overweight, than genetically blessed with a slim frame but many underlying health issues because of a high-sugar diet.
I do feel that there is a vital point missed in the book which maybe needs to be made to international readers whose soft drinks are flavoured with sucrose rather than HFCS. Sucrose is a disaccharide which breaks down into glucose (dealt with by insulin) and fructose. Just because it’s not HFCS doesn’t meant that it’s not bad for you as well.
What makes this book a really worthwhile read is that it’s not just about biochemistry, it also examines how the Western diet changed and the socioeconomic factors which have led to an obesity crisis in many Western countries. The writing is very approachable with the exception of a couple of chapters, and the book ends with many suggestions of the ways anyone can improve their diet regardless of the genetic and hormonal hand they were dealt at birth.