Food & Water featured

Robert Lustig: “Processed Food, Metabolism, and The Ills of Society”

May 3, 2023

(Conversation recorded on April 11th, 2022)

Show Summary

In this episode, Dr. Robert Lustig joins Nate to dive into the metabolism of the micro level of human systems – the humans ourselves. Over the last century, accompanying the transformation of our energy systems, our food and consumption patterns have been massively transformed. One of the biggest areas of change is the dramatic increase in sugar consumption. But are our bodies adapted to eating such high sugar, processed foods? What are the health effects connected to this way of eating? And, writ large, how does our metabolic dysfunction as individuals contribute to the energy hungry global Superorganism? What are the systemic drivers that currently prevent a shift towards healthier food systems? Can changing how we eat make us healthier – and thus better equipped to face the complex challenges of the metacrisis?

About Robert Lustig

Robert H. Lustig, M.D., M.S.L. is Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, and Member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF. Dr. Lustig is a neuroendocrinologist, with expertise in metabolism, obesity, and nutrition. He is one of the leaders of the current “anti-sugar” movement that is changing the food industry. He has dedicated his retirement from clinical medicine to help to fix the food supply any way he can, to reduce human suffering and to salvage the environment. Dr. Lustig graduated from MIT in 1976, and received his M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in 1980. He also received his Masters of Studies in Law (MSL) degree at University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 2013. He is the author of the popular books Fat Chance (2012), The Hacking of the American Mind (2017), and Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine (2021).

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Show Notes & Links to Learn More:

00:10 – Robert Lustig Works + Info + Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine

03:03 – Chronic Disease

03:17 – Chronic diseases accounts for 75% of healthcare costs and none of them have a cure

04:34 – Mitochondria

05:32 – Food and climate

07:09 – Fructose

07:49 – Organism fat storage strategies to survive famine

08:50 – We are consuming 25x the amount of sugar than our ancestors did 200 years ago

09:49 – Declining lifespan in America

10:35 – Glucose

10:42 – AMP-Kinase

11:06 – HADH

11:46 – Original GatoradeDr. Robert Cade

13:48 – [20%] of our GDP is the healthcare system

14:12 – Carbon Pulse

16:18 – Trans-fats

17:15 – Bacteria can’t digest trans-fats

17:08 – Mitochondria are ‘repurposed’ bacteria

18:57 – Fred Kummerow 1957 paper on dangers of trans-fats

19:38 – FDA banned trans-fats

19:47 – Olive oil (oleic acid) heated past its smoking point will become a trans-fat

21:13 – PFAS

21:15 – Teflon

21:32 – Obesogens 

21:45 – Martin Scheringer + TGS Episode

23:05 – Average American body temperature is 1.5℉ lower than 150 years ago

24:12 – Whole30

24:20 – Larabars

25:02 – Dr. Carlos Monteiro (Sao Paulo University)

25:12 – NOVA system of categorizing processing of foods

26:12 – 63% of the food consumed in the U.S. is in the ultra-processed category

26:30 – Percentages of food consumed in the ultra-processed category in other countries

27:57 – Dr. Monica Dus (U. Michigan) and tongue desensitization to sugar

28:48 – Supernormal stimuli

29:07 – Anything that stimulates the dopamine reward system in the extreme is addictive

30:50 – Eric Clapton and Ed Bradley Clip

31:35 – Fructose and alcohol are metabolized in the mitochondria in the same way

31:51 – Type 2 diabetes & fatty liver disease were the diseases of alcoholics, and now children get them

32:12 – NIEHS

35:29 – Relative Value Units

38:26 – Mitochondria are recycled – Autophagy

39:10 – Ubiquitin

40:50 – Ways to increase autophagy

41:15 – Spermidine

41:47 – Intermittent fasting

43:12 – ICD-9 and ICD-11 codes

44:44 – Blue Cross

45:08 – Casino model of insurance

45:31 – Obamacare 15% cap on insurance company profit

47:27 – Epidemic of obese newborns 

48:13 – Anthony Cashmore, The Lucretian Swerve

50:38 – The first food subsidy was in 1790 as a sugar tariff

51:49 – 1933 Farm Bill

52:07 – The Dust Bowl

54:20 – [Updated 1995-2021] US subsidies to food and agriculture

54:48 – Giannini Foundation of UC Berkeley/UC Davis study on what the price of food would be without any subsidies

57:50 – Nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane as greenhouse gasses

1:00:09 – CAFO’s

1:00:30 – Antibiotic resistance and industrial animal agriculture

1:02:56 – Antibiotics, vaccination, and hygiene as primary drivers of increase in lifespan

1:04:11 – Superbugs

1:04:18 – The earlier antibiotics get introduced into an infant’s gut, the more likely the gut will change and produce obesity in the future

1:05:12 – Importance of microbial diversity in the gut

1:06:45 – Fiber is a prebiotic for the bacteria in your gut

1:08:25 – IFIC
1:12:02 – 93% of Americans have some metabolic dysfunction (Tufts)

1:13:25 – Increased warmth is increasing plant growth but reducing micronutrients

1:13:53 – Soil vs dirt

1:15:15 – We have artificially selected for foods high in sugar and low in micronutrients

1:17:34 – Food deserts and the cost of real food is 4x higher than processed food

1:21:15 – The power of educating children (generational change)

1:21:45 – Rainbow Chefs Academy

1:25:06 – Elissa Epel – The Stress Prescription, The Telomere Effect

1:25:30 – Amygdala


Teaser photo credit: Red huckleberries Author Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: building resilient food systems, healthy eating, processed food