Everything in moderation: 1


In EATING LESS I mention the idea of asking a fish what water is like, to which the fish replies, “what’s water?” It’s like that; we are all so submerged in that water we don’t see it. Whenever there’s any discussion about anything that might be a problem (entirely in terms of weight, of course), limited courses of action tend to be considered because a more radical strategy wouldn’t fit the status quo.

What we often hear is some form of, “eat anything you want to eat – just eat it in moderation.”

You might think it would be impossible for ‘moderation’ to be the same as ‘overeating’, but I wonder if this could be the sneakiest of all addictive thinking.


What is ‘moderation’? How could you possibly define it if it isn’t through assumptions that have become normal in our culture? Could eating some refined sugar every day be considered moderate, so long as it’s ‘not too much’? What is ‘not too much’? Do you see the problem?

Richard J. Johnson MD has been conducting research, funded by the US National Institute of Health, on the causes of high blood pressure since the late 1980s. With over 500 papers published, he could know more than anyone what sugar does in our bodies.

According to Johnson, the component in sugar that causes problems is the fructose molecule, and what he’s done is to zero in on the precise mechanism that causes the trouble. Fructose increases our appetite, it blocks the fat burning ability of the cell and, simultaneously, it drains our energy and upsets the balance of our appetite hormones.

There are two especially interesting findings from this work. One is that some people don’t absorb fructose, so even when they eat it this chain of events doesn’t occur. They are all those dreadful people who eat tons of rubbish, don’t put on an ounce of extra fat, and have limitless energy. (The undigested fructose, however, does end up in the intestines, and promotes the growth of pathogenic bacteria, leading to other kinds of problems later.)

The other finding is that many people manufacture fructose from starches. So perhaps they ate wheat, for example, which doesn’t contain fructose, but their bodies create fructose from that, leading to the same problems.

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  1. Gillian K

    I found this very interesting. Increasingly these last two years I have learned to listen very carefully how I feel after a range of foods which at one time my mind automatically labelled Very Bad but it never stopped me eating them after a period of deprivation! But now I’m in a place where I don’t eat mindlessly, and consciously choose as often as I can what makes me feel as great as it’s possible to feel. I have pretty much eliminated sugar from my everyday diet through choice now. I don’t like how it reduces my resistance to good choices the following day and I hate how it kills my appetite for vegetables and good things. I feel great on loads of non starchy veg, but less good on most starchy veg and grains. Occasionally I have these things but I no longer like them as I once did. They disappoint after one bite. I don’t spiral down afterwards because I know what to eat the next day. I accept what’s ok for others may not work so well for me and that’s ok.

  2. Nicola

    I have a quick question about the fructose metabolism info which was fascinating! Is there a group of people who absorb the fructose eaten directly but don’t create it from starches. you only mentioned 2 scenarios?

    • Yes, Nicola, absolutely. This would be by far the largest group (pun intended!) and I was thinking it would go without saying… but thanks for helping me to be more clear with that.

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