Last week, we noted a pretty common phenomenon: folks who will let their kids feast on sugary, hyper-processed junk all day, then strictly insist on brushing and flossing at bedtime, as if that could undo all the damage.
Of course, it’s not just an issue for parents and kids. Who hasn’t at least once done something we know is bad for our health while telling ourselves that we’ll “make up for it” somehow down the line?
Unfortunately, making up for less than healthful choices is actually really hard to do.
Consider sleep deficits. We short ourselves sleep during the week, getting far less than the 7 to 8 hours we need. We tell ourselves that we’ll make up for it on the weekend, when we can sleep in. If you’re only occasionally missing sleep a day or two, no problem. If you’re chronically sleep-deprived, it can take months to catch up.
Last week, scientists offered another reminder that our efforts to atone for health “sins” aren’t all we’d like them to be, busting the “myth that anyone…can outrun a bad diet.” The truth, they wrote in a British Journal of Sports Medicine commentary, is that it’s not just calories that count. The kind of calories matters. A lot.
Sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger. Fat calories induce fullness or ‘satiation’.
A large econometric analysis of world-wide sugar availability, revealed that for every excess 150 calories of sugar (say, one can of cola), there was an 11-fold increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, in comparison to an identical 150 calories obtained from fat or protein. And this was independent of the person’s weight and physical activity level; this study fulfills the Bradford Hill Criteria for causation. A recently published critical review in nutrition concluded that dietary carbohydrate restriction is the single most effective intervention for reducing all the features of the metabolic syndrome and should be the ﬁrst approach in diabetes management, with beneﬁts occurring even without weight loss. [emphasis added]
It’s not the carbs (or even the sugars) in whole vegetables and fruit that are the problem. It’s sugar and white flour and hyper-processed grains and starches: the backbone of processed food, fast food, convenience meals and other nutritionally poor products. All these are digested as sugar. (Artificial sweeteners, as we’ve noted before, bring along their own problems.)
Exercise, contend the authors, is not enough to counteract the damage these products do – at least with respect to obesity, the focus of their commentary.
Of course, this hardly means that exercise doesn’t matter. It matters, but for other reasons.
A recent report from the UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges described ‘the miracle cure’ of performing 30 min of moderate exercise, ﬁve times a week, as more powerful than many drugs administered for chronic disease prevention and management. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and some cancers by at least 30%.
And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Regular readers of this blog know that exercise also helps combat gum disease – like those mentioned in the quote above, an inflammatory condition. Eating a sugar-rich, low nutrient diet is directly counteractive to those benefits:
According to the Lancet global burden of disease reports, poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined. Up to 40% of those with a normal body mass index will harbour metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, which include hypertension, dyslipidaemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease. [emphasis added]
One step forward, two steps back.
Being healthy means making healthful choices the routine.
Image by Kulmalukko, via Wikimedia Commons