Poisoned by fructose


I just finished watching The Bitter Truth (video), and it really is as compelling, and frightening, as everyone says. In this lecture, Dr. Robert Lustig (Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF) gives us a pile of studies and a biochemistry analysis that point to this conclusion:

Fructose is a toxin.

I think we’ve all heard rumblings about how high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) might be bad for you, but Dr. Lustig lays it out in crisp detail. The video is long (1.5 hours) — it took me three sessions to finish — but it’s definitely worth watching. He explains how fructose (which sounds innocuous; after all, it comes from fruit!) is metabolized quite differently than glucose (our native sugar) is. In fact, fructose behaves more like a fat, which is why an ostensibly “low-fat” product, which has been pumped up with high-fructose corn syrup to make it palatable, often causes body fat to increase.

He also draws an interesting parallel between fructose and ethanol (another carbohydrate), which is metabolized like fructose in the liver (leading to fat deposition), with additional brain side effects (a buzz) lacking in fructose.

If you aren’t creeped out by his discussion of our country having obese *six-month-olds*, then you have a stronger constitution than I do.

He does offer a “lifestyle intervention” plan, which he uses to help obese kids:

1. Get rid of all sugared liquids — only water and milk
2. Eat your carbohydrate with fiber (fructose + fiber, which is how it manifests in actual fruit, is okay)
3. Wait 20 minutes for second portions
4. Trade screen time minute-for-minute with physical activity

He comments that #4 is the hardest one to achieve, which I can readily imagine! I don’t think I could do it myself, much as I might want to.

Now I’m compulsively checking labels on various foods and realizing a new limitation therein. While fats are now broken down into saturated and unsaturated fats, sugars are all lumped together (instead of breaking them down into glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, etc.). Dr. Lustig’s point is that different sugars affect the body differently. If the ingredients include HFCS, you know it contains fructose. Plain sugar is sucrose, which is fructose + glucose, so you’re getting some of each. But what if it contains “corn syrup”? How about “evaporated cane juice syrup”? Or my beloved Raisin Bran Crunch, which has sugar, brown sugar syrup, corn syrup, and honey? It doesn’t look good.

Awareness is the first step. With informative sources like Dr. Lustig’s talk, we can look at our options in a new light and consider whether changes are worth making in our individual lives. Take a look at his talk. I found it very compelling.

Pay $5 to nominate an exoplanet name?

I guess it’s not surprising that someone would find a way to monetize the exoplanet craze. A startup named Uwingu will now charge you $4.99 for the chance to nominate a name for an exoplanet (plus a downloadable certificate). Not a specific exoplanet, mind you. No, they’re simply compiling “a baby book of names” for astronomers to consult, should they choose to.

That’s right, there’s no guarantee that your suggestion will ever be used, and since it’s not associated with any particular planet, no chance for you to make it suit the planet’s characteristics. (That makes the baby-name analogy more apt, actually, since most parents choose names before the child is born.)

But if so, why should Uwingu get to collect $4.99 for it? And what will they do with the funds?

“Our goal is to award up to half of all Uwingu’s proceeds to The Uwingu Fund, which will provide grants to scientists and educators to conduct space research, education and exploration projects,” says Uwingu. Their first call for grant applications will happen in mid-2013.

But wait, there’s more!

You can pay them $0.99 to cast a vote for the best name, a contest that closes on April 22. Just $0.99 for each vote! What happens to the winning name? They want to assign it to Alpha Centauri Bb, but since they have no authority over official naming, nothing will actually happen. It would be like a band of people deciding to rename New York to be “The Big Apple.” Sure, you can use the name colloquially, but no one’s going to start changing road signs or the name over City Hall or birth records.

So far they’ve received 1230 nominations and 4933 votes, or $11,021. The most popular name is currently Rakhat.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which oversees the offical naming of astronomical bodies, is apparently not on board with this at all.

“Such certificates are misleading, as these campaigns have no bearing on the official naming process — they will not lead to an officially-recognised exoplanet name, despite the price paid or the number of votes accrued.”

Uwingu CEO Dr. Alan Stern stated, “This is a first step in democratizing planet naming.” . . . which should be democratic why?

Far be it from me to dissuade any popularizing of science and astronomy. But this seems overly opportunistic, reminiscent of those “Name a Star” scams (check out some words of wisdom from the IAU). It would be one thing if they were compiling a list of names as the outreach-based, public awareness effort they claim it is. But the charges they levy instead highlight it as a semi-deceptive money-making venture, playing on people’s desire to be involved but not delivering what most people think they’re paying for.

Seafaring libraries

At sea for ten months. What would you take on your Kindle?

Sailors in the 1800s, of course, had no such luxury.

The American Seamen’s Friend Society, starting in 1837, took it upon itself to package up book collections and ship them out on as many sailing vessels as possible. By 1930, they had distributed 30,040 libraries, which could be exchanged for a new set when the content was exhausted. Each library contained about 40 books, mostly religious or focused on self improvement.

Sailors wrote back with reports on the libraries they received. Here is one example:

“No. 3,095. — Books all read; ‘Four Pillars of Temperance,’ ‘Laurence Monroe,’ ‘Light on the Ocean,’ ‘Blind Tom,’ and ‘Alcohol’ were most read. The last named book I read aloud to the crew, with delightful results. All signed the pledge. The books have been a great blessing; better send ‘Alcohol’ in every library. It is just the thing for sailors.” — A. Morrill, Capt. schr. W.H.Rogers.

Because they were commonly provided in a standard wooden box, painted red, the libraries came to be known as “Little Red Box Libraries.” One has to wonder if there is any connection to today’s DVD provider, Redbox. I wasn’t able to dig up any details on how the company selected its name to find out. I wonder!