Make it yourself: What you need to know about the food industry

In the food manufacturing industry, it’s crucial to find the “bliss point” — the point at which sugar, salt and fat levels are most deliciously balanced. But interestingly, when the sugar, salt and fat contents have reached the bliss point, they’re barely perceptible to the taster’s palate. The primitive portions of our brains are hardwired to seek sugar and fat, because they’re the single most efficient source of energy that our ancestors could have found. Fat is energy-rich and easy to eat and store, and sugar is easily converted into fat.

When your body burns energy, its first line of defense consists of carbohydrates that are stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles. After that’s been depleted, your body resorts to burning fat. Beyond fat, your body will start burning your own muscle tissue. When you consume carbohydrates, your body first breaks them down and stores them as glycogen. After your glycogen reserves are full, carbohydrates are converted into fat through a process known as “de novo lipogenesis,” which means “new fat making.”

Having a rudimentary understanding of this process is what makes sugar such an interesting culprit for modern-day obesity. If the goals of dieting and exercise are to reduce body fat percentage and increase lean muscle mass, it doesn’t make sense to replenish your energy with a Gatorade or an energy bar, or even rice and potatoes. Sugar, the simplest carbohydrate, will easily fill up your body’s glycogen stores. If what you eat is constantly replenishing your glycogen stores, your glycogen stores will never deplete to the point that your body starts effectively burning fat.

Two hundred years ago, the average American only ate two pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes three pounds of sugar in one week. In 1992, food companies lobbied for and, eventually, helped create the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s famous food pyramid. Think about that for a second — the companies that sell you food are the ones that made the chart telling you what to eat.

Furthermore, industry-funded studies on the effects of sugar consumption continue to find “results” contrary to what independently funded science reports. A review in 2013 by the Public Library of Science reported that 83% of independent studies found direct links between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity. On the other hand, 83% of studies with a conflict of interest reported there to be insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion. Many experts have opined that the sugar industry’s attempts to discredit and dispute scientific findings are reminiscent of what Big Tobacco did in the 1990s when it attempted to dismantle the argument for the link between nicotine and addiction. 

Consider how pervasive sugar is in our diets: Of all the packaged foods sold in U.S. supermarkets, 74% of them contain added sugar. Dr. Robert Lustig states in his most recently published book, “If you don’t know how to cook, you’re hostage to the food industry for the rest of your life and unwittingly will pass this on to your children.” If you want to eat an entire cake or a plate of cookies, that’s fine. But try making it yourself at least once!

Don’t get me wrong — I love Betty Crocker’s canned chocolate frosting on just about anything, and Kraft Mac & Cheese with a glass of Dole juice was one of my staple childhood meals (as I’ve previously stated on this blog). I have a huge sweet tooth, so for me, chocolate is a necessary food. But being conscious of what ingredients go into my favorite foods is a fundamental right I really care about. And it’s a huge motivation for the reason I cook and for why I believe it’s important for others to cook as well. 

I hope this breakdown of what our bodies need, how our bodies process what we need, and how easy it is to get the few things we truly need in our diets has informed and inspired you. Be careful about the sources you’re listening to regarding the food industry, specifically, the sugar industry — many of their motivations do not involve your health. And when you can, make meals yourself. It has the power to make all the difference to your body’s health.

Contact Abhi Varma at [email protected].