Facts & FAQs

“Just the facts ‘Ma’am” - Joe Friday

Why “Ma’am?” We know women are key to solving the problems in our food system because 93% of all food is purchased by women. Even if you are in the other 7% of those who are buying food, we all need facts to inform our purchases - not bad science or marketing myths. What we buy should support our health and nutrition.

Our vision is to be recognized as a leading source of science-based information on nutrition.

If you have a question about nutrition, turn to the IRN. 

What is Real Food?

There are two ways to define “Real” food. The short and the long.

The short definition of “Real" Food is food that doesn’t have a Nutrition Facts label. If it has a label, something’s been done to the food. If it doesn’t, nothing’s been done, it’s “real”.

The long definition of “Real” Food is food that’s NOT “Processed” food. So what’s processed food?  

There are seven criteria:

  1. Has to be mass produced
  2. Has to be consistent batch to batch
  3. Has to be consistent country to country
  4. Specialized ingredients from specialized companies
  5. Virtually all macronutrients are pre-frozen, which means that the fiber is usually removed
  6. Has to stay emulsified (fat and water don’t separate)
  7. Has to have long shelf-life or freezer life

Ultimately processed food has three things too little (taken away), and seven things too much (added):

Too little:

  1. Fiber
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids (wild fish)
  3. Micronutrients

Too much:

  1. Trans-fats
  2. Branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine)
  3. Omega-6 fatty acids (plant oils, polyunsaturates)
  4. Additives
  5. Emulsifiers (polysorbate-80, carboxymethylcellulose)
  6. Salt
  7. And the big kahuna, sugar!

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates are the main energy source for humans, and are used for energy storage. They exist in different forms: monosaccharides (single molecules), disaccharides (two molecules together) or polysaccharides (long chain of molecules), each form contributing something different to the human metabolism. 

Sugars, starches, and fibers are all carbohydrates.

Sugars are found in the mono- and disaccharide form. Glucose, fructose, sucrose, and lactose are all examples of sugars. Sugars are easily broken down in the GI tract and provide quick energy. 

Starches are long chains of glucose molecules (a monosaccharide). They are the storage form of energy in plants and are also easily broken down in the human GI tract. Glycogen is a type of starch that is produced by the human metabolism and is found in the liver; it is used as a short-term storage form of glucose for quick energy. 

Fiber is is the structural portion of plants and the most complex form of carbohydrate. It cannot be broken down in the human GI tract. There are two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and ferments in the colon; it slows down digestion. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, provides bulk to the stool and speeds up digestion. 

How much daily sugar is enough?


This is a controversial question as it is multifaceted in nature. Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no nutritional need to eat sugar.

We have no physiological need for refined sugar: before the 16th century we managed with tiny amounts of it. In fact, all the glories of Renaissance art and thought were created on just a teaspoonful of sugar per head per year. We must end this sweet madness of excess sugar consumption, The Guardian.

Sugar intrinsic to real foods, like whole fruit, is not a problem because these foods provide healthy amounts of fiber, micronutrients, and bio-active substances in proportion to the dose of sugar they provide.

However, the effects of free sugar on the body are harmful. Free sugar is concentrated sugar unbound to fiber that can be

  1. added to food in processing,
  2. produced by the removal of fiber in processing (juicing whole fruit, for example), or
  3. naturally occurring in sweeteners such as honey.

Consuming free sugar contributes to liver fat, insulin resistance, increased triglycerides, increased LDL, increased uric acid, weight gain and subsequent increased risks for diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

The effects of free sugar are dose-dependent, meaning the more you eat, the more damage is done.

On January 8, 2016, the latest edition of the USDA Dietary Guidelines were released recommending, for the first time, limiting added sugar consumption to no more than 10 percent of total calories, in alignment with the American Heart Association recommendation. 

The World Health Organization agrees we should limit our calories from free sugar to 10 percent of total calories, but also encourages an even more conservative 5 percent limit for additional health benefits. 

Scientists in the U.K. recommend limiting free sugar to no more than 5 percent of total calories. The guidance reflects concerns about the growing prevalences of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

The studies that we looked at clearly show that once you hit 18 percent compared to just 5 percent of your total calories from sugar, there’s significant metabolic harm promoting prediabetes and diabetes. In fact, there’s a two-fold increase. Dr. James DiNicolantonio

At the IRN, we recommend limiting your free sugar intake to as close as 0 grams as possible.

We admit it is challenging, but it's worth it.

Reducing sugar intake conveys measurable health benefits quickly.  A recent study published by our founder, Dr. Robert Lustig, found that reducing dietary fructose (the sweet molecule in sugar) for just 10 days improved every marker of metabolic health listed above in obese, metabolically ill children.

One challenge in reducing our sugar intake is that sugar is often hidden, especially in processed foods and beverages.

Over the next ten years, a primary goal of the IRN is to create the public groundswell necessary to understand that high levels of sugar in our diet are dangerous. In keeping with this understanding, the IRN would like fructose removed from the GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) list and to have sugar labeled as a food additive, not as a food.


Sugar is an industrial food additive - it is usually produced in factories, is highly processed, and devoid of nutritional benefits. It has over 56 different names

As this chart depicts, eliminating processed foods and beverages would reduce our added sugar intake by 83 percent.

Graphic from Sweet Revenge – Turning the Tables on Processed Food © 2014 Advise & Consent LLC

How does the metabolic system work?

Our bodies are complex, powerful machines. All machines need energy to do work. Every single cell in our body serves some function, and each cell needs this energy in order to fulfill their unique function. How we utilize this energy is through our metabolism; it is how we take the energy from the food we eat (and drink) and convert it into energy that our bodies can use. The main source of energy in the human body is glucose. 


 Major players in the human metabolic system include: 

  • The gastrointestinal tract is a long, hollow tube with specialized sections that each serve different functions. It begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. The mouth manually breaks down food, the stomach begins to digest and chemically break down food, the small intestine finishes digesting and begins absorbing food, and the large intestine absorbs the final nutrients, water, and sends the waste to the anus for excretion. 
  • The pancreas provides the enzymes needed for the GI tract to digest different macronutrients. The pancreas also produces several essential hormones, two of which are glucagon and insulin. Glucagon is released when our blood sugars are low (when we are fasting). It tells our bodies that we need energy, and begins breaking down fat, muscle, and glycogen (the short-term storage form of glucose) to use for energy. Insulin is the opposite; it is produced when we are in a fed state. It tells our bodies that we are full, and to store the excess glucose (as glycogen or fat). 
  • The liver is a multifunctional organ. It stores and breaks down glucose (in glycogen or triglyceride form), produces bile (the fluid needed to absorb cholesterol), produces and breaks down proteins, manages the cholesterol, triglycerides and lipoproteins (transporters of fat) found in our blood, detoxifies, and stores several vitamins, among many other functions.
  • The gallbladder stores and excretes the bile that was produced in the liver. Bile is essential to digest and absorb fats. 
  • The thyroid produces T3 and T4, the hormones that affect the rate of our metabolism. 
  • The cardiovascular system delivers blood (with nutrients) to all of the cells in our body. The heart pumps the blood, the veins and arteries are the highways that deliver the blood throughout the body, and the capillaries disperse the blood to each individual cell. 
  • The hypothalamus receives the hormonal signals that alarm us when we are hungry or full. Leptin tells us that we are full and speeds up our metabolic rate. Ghrelin tells us that we are hungry and prompts us to eat; it also slows down our metabolic rate. 

When any of these major players are not working harmoniously, our metabolic health is affected. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, high LDL levels, plaque formation in the arteries, and insulin blockage of the leptin pathway are all examples of metabolic disharmony. 

Want to learn more? Check out What is Metabolic Syndrome and Why are Children Getting It?

How many people are affected by diabetes or pre-diabetes?

Fact: 115 million people in the US are insulin-resistant

"In the United States, 29 million adults (1 in 11) have type 2 diabetes and another 86 million (more than 1 in 3) have prediabetes.

86 million + 29 million = 115 million people out of about 300 million in the U.S.
In other terms, approximately 40% of US adults already have some degree of insulin resistance."
-Dr. James DiNiconlantonio

Other References

122m (pre-diabetics & diabetics (=49% of adults) -Journal of the American Medical Association 

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Fact: added sugar is the leading cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes

“The studies that we looked at clearly show that once you hit 18 percent compared to just 5 percent of your total calories from sugar, there’s significant metabolic harms promoting prediabetes and diabetes,” says Dr. James DiNicolantonio. “In fact, there’s a two-fold increase... We need to understand that it isn’t the overconsuming of calories that leads to obesity and leads to diabetes. We need to totally change that around,” says DiNicolantonio. “It’s refined carbs and added sugars that lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, which leads to high insulin levels, which drives obesity.”

Read the Time Magazine article featuring the research of Dr. DiNicolantonio by clicking here.

Why aren't all calories the same?

Dr. Lustig's famous statement "a calorie is not a calorie" has baffled many. Most people have lived their entire lives believing that calorie counting and exercise are the be-all and end-all for weight loss. However, you may have been eating too many of the wrong calories. Review our infographic that explains why all calories are NOT equal. 

en Français

en Español

in Italiano

What about fruit juice?

Fruit juice products are exploding and it seems like most people believe fruit juices are healthy…they come from fruit, so they must be OK? Wrong. Fruit juices are just basically liquid sugar. 

Unfortunately, many of the “fruit” juice products you find in the supermarket aren’t even fruit juice, just fruit flavored beverages imbued with chemicals that taste like fruit. Many of these products are basically fruit-flavored sugar water.

Even if you’re drinking 100% fruit juice (organic, natural, made in your own juicer, blah, blah, blah), it is still a problem. Fruit juice often has had the fiber taken out and the main thing left is the sugar, now concentrated. Despite their healthy image and brilliant marketing, many fruit juice products contain the same amount of sugar as sugar-sweetened beverages.

A typical glass of orange juice contains 4 oranges. One serving of orange juice (an 8-ounce glass) contains 22 grams of sugar. By comparison, 8-ounces of Dr. Pepper (pick your soda) contains 27 grams of sugar. 

One simple solution is not to drink your calories. Eat whole fruit – with the fiber. Try “spa water” recipes that use small amounts of fruit for flavoring. And when you absolutely need some juice, than make it a small glass.

How many oranges have you consumed in one sitting? The fiber in whole fruit increases satiety and also helps to metabolize the sugar in healthy ways. Since our diet is already so overloaded with sugar, big blasts of sugar tend to be bad for our metabolic health.

And what about blending up your own fruit smoothie at home?

Despite the popularity of smoothies, there’s surprisingly little research about the effects of smoothie fruit on the body versus whole fruit. But Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco, and author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, thinks smoothies are a no-no.

“The blades destroy the insoluble fiber, which means that the ‘gel’ that forms on the inside of the intestine has no structure,” he says. “The sugar is absorbed at a maximal rate, overwhelming the liver’s capacity to metabolize the sugar, and the excess sugar is turned into liver fat which is the precursor to metabolic syndrome.”

Dr. Lustig won’t begrudge you your glass of green slurry, provided it’s loaded with veggies. “The insoluble fiber is still destroyed, but so what?” he says. “If that’s the only way you can get your kale down your gullet, have at it.”

(Click here for a whole article on Smoothies in Time Magazine)

Below is a table showing the increase of sugar consumption from 1950 to 2000

Source: USDA Profiling Food Consumption in America


What is "Responsible Nutrition?"

“The obesity pandemic is due to our altered biochemistry, which is a result of our altered environment.” ― Robert H. Lustig, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

Nutrition should yield personal wellness. The global food system should confer societal wellness. Both are in a tailspin. Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are ravaging families and communities worldwide.

Who is responsible? The processed food industry says, “Simply eat less and exercise more.” They say consumers are to blame. But the science doesn’t support this myth.

In order for us to be “responsible,” we need knowledge, we need access, and we need affordable food.

The processed food industry has saturated our environment with consumable chemicals that are making us sick. Childhood obesity has become tragically common while the processed food industry generates $450 billion annually.

75% of health care costs are for preventable, diet-related illness, costing $1.4 trillion a year. A crisis of this magnitude demands a public response that involves scientific research, nutrition education, and changes in public policy and law.

We believe there needs to be a continuum of responsibility that includes consumers, government, the food and beverage industry, and the health care system.

The IRN exists to shape the way food is produced, marketed and distributed so we can end food-related illness and promote good health. 


What is Sugar?

Seems like a pretty simple question. But there are 56 different names for sugar. Sugar comes from many different sources: healthy - real foods like fruit, and added sugar, which is mostly made in factories - and highly processed. What about so-called natural sugars like honey, organic evaporated cane juice, or syrups from agave, brown rice or maple? What is sucrose, glucose, or fructose? Aren't they all the same?

Let's start with the chemical composition of sugar. Refined sucrose is commonly referred to as table sugar or just sugar. It plays a central role as a leading processed food additive and is consumed all over the World. The average person in the U.S.A. consumes over 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day.


The stuff we know as table sugar or sucrose is a molecule composed of 12 atoms of carbon, 22 atoms of hydrogen, and 11 atoms of oxygen (C12H22O11). Sucrose is actually two simpler sugars stuck together: fructose and glucose. *Fructose is the most harmful component of these two. In recipes, a little bit of acid (for example, some lemon juice or cream of tartar) will cause sucrose to break down into these two components. 


Modern industrial sugar involves processing in factories and typically involves bleaching and crystallization, producing a white, odorless, crystalline powder with a sweet taste of pure sucrose, devoid of vitamins and minerals.

About 175 million metric tons of sucrose sugar were produced worldwide in 2013.

Like all compounds made from these three elements, sugar is a carbohydrate. It’s found naturally in most plants, but most often in sugarcane and sugar beets—hence their names.

Another industrial sugar that is prevalent in our food supply is fructose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn starch that has been processed by glucose isomerase to convert some of its glucose into fructose. 

And what about the so-called "natural" sugars, like honey, organic evaporated cane juice, or syrups from agave, brown rice or maple? The chemical composition does vary slightly, but these sugars aren't really healthier for you, especially when your total sugar consumption is high. 

How much added sugar is too much?

Currently, the U.S. government does not require food manufacturers to quantify added sugar on food and beverage labels - only total sugar. The USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is in the process of recommending new guidelines which would recommend limiting added sugar consumption to no more than 10% of total calories for adults, in alignment with the American Heart Association recommendation. Here is a good summary of these new recommendations. The World Health Organization also recommends limiting added sugar to 10% of total calories and encourages a more conservative 5% of total calories for additional health benefits. Scientists in the U.K. recommend limiting added sugar to no more than 5% of total calories. Keep in mind these are the upper limits, and daily consumption should be kept as low as possible.

*Fructose: The heavy consumption of one particular type of sugar, the monosaccharide fructose, adversely impacts human health, beyond and unrelated to its caloric equivalent, in many ways paralleling the health harms associated with alcohol overconsumption. Fructose (50% of table sugar and typically 55% of high-fructose corn syrup, although concentrations range up to 90%) is a specific cause of increased energy intake, weight gain, and metabolic syndrome. The hepatic metabolism of fructose qualitatively and quantitatively resembles that of alcohol, by promoting: (1) hypertension via uric acid production and lowering nitric oxide; (2) dyslipidemia and hepatic steatosis through excessive de novo lipogenesis and defective lipid oxidation; (3) skeletal muscle insulin resistance and oxidative stress; (4) hepatic insulin resistance and inflammation; and (5) hyperglycemia via hepatic gluconeogenesis. Source: Towards Evidence Based Policies for the Reduction of Dietary Sugars: Lessons from the Alcohol Experience (click here to read the full story)




What is fat?

Fat is an essential energy source for humans. We eat fat and we also store energy in our bodies in the form of fat. Fat is utilized for energy, to build cell membranes, to transport fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals, to protect our organs from injury and our bones from pressure, and to insulate the body. Fats are also referred to as lipids.

Fats are named by their chemical structures

The simplest form of fat is the fatty acid (FA). 

Saturated fatty acids (SFA) have no double bonds between carbon atoms. Because of their structure, saturated fatty acids are able to pack closely together and are usually solid at room temperature. 

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MFA) contain one double bond between two carbon atoms. Double bonds create kinks in the shape of the molecule. Because of the kinking, unsaturated fatty acids are less able to pack tightly together and so are usually liquid at room temperature.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) contain two or more double bonds between carbon atoms. For the same reasons as MFAs, they are also usually liquid at room temperature.

Triglycerides (TGs) are the storage form of fatty acids. They consist of three fatty acids joined to a glycerol side chain. Free fatty acids are rare in nature because they react readily with other molecules. Packaging fatty acids into triglycerides neutralizes their reactivity and prevents cell damage. Most of the fat we consume is in the form of triglycerides.

Fat in food

Contrary to what you might have been told, “You don't get fat from eating fatty foods just as you don't turn green from eating green vegetables.” - Gary Taubes

Dietary fat constitutes about 34% of the energy in the human diet. It could be more or less depending on how you eat. It is a source of energy and also a conveyance for fat-soluble nutrients, including vitamins, A, D, E and K. Naturally occurring fats are mixtures of different types of fats (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated), although one type usually predominates in a food.

Sources of dietary fat:

  • plant oils
  • meat
  • seafood
  • dairy
  • nuts and seeds

95-97% of ingested fat is absorbed. Fat increases the satiety of a meal, as fat is the slowest macronutrient to leave the stomach, other than fiber. The fatty acid content in the diet of an organism determines the proportion of fatty acid in the animal itself. The diet of a chicken determines the fats present in its eggs and meat and thus, the fats that we eat. The same is true for fish and all other types of meat and dairy.

Fat in the body

Fat in the body is found in: adipose tissue, blood as circulating triglycerides and lipoproteins, and in the liver. Body fat is categorized as either essential or storage.

Essential fat is necessary for normal physiologic functioning, is stored in small amounts in bone marrow, heart, lung, liver, spleen, kidney, muscles, and lipid-rich tissues in the nervous system.

  • In men, 3% body fat is essential.
  • In women, 12% body fat is essential because of sex-specific fat stores in breasts, pelvic regions and thighs.

Storage fat accumulates under the skin and around internal organs to protect them from trauma. Our reserves of stored fat can vary extensively, thus allowing for changing requirements of growth, reproduction, and aging as well as fluctuations in availability of food and physical demands.

The range of total body fat (essential + storage) associated with optimal health is 8%-24% in men and 21%-35% in women.

Fat-related buzz

Trans fats

Hydrogenation of unsaturated fat is the process whereby hydrogen atoms are added to liquid oils by chemical methods to form stable, solid fats, such as margarine. Hydrogenation is used by the food industry to change the properties of fats. The process produces trans-fatty acids. Trans is a reference to the location of hydrogens in relation to a double bond. Trans fats are harmful because their structure/shape allows them to pack tightly into bio-membranes.

Consumption of trans fat increases risk for coronary heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases. Dietary sources of trans fats are hydrogenated margarine, shortening, commercial frying fats, high-fat baked goods, and salty snacks containing these fats.

Because of its harm, trans fat is noted on food labels; however, if a food contains less than 0.5 g trans fat per serving, the manufacturer doesn't have to mention it and can even label the food ias having “0 g trans fat.” A more reliable way to identify trans fat in a food is to look for “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. If present, then the food contains trans fat, even if the label reads “0 g trans fat.”

Omega 3 fats and omega 6 fats

Omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids are both families of polyunsaturated fats. Their nomenclature is a reference to their chemical structures. Both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are essential to humans, and unlike other types of fats, they cannot be synthesized in the body. Instead, they must be eaten.

Omega 3 fatty acids are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is beneficial. Our intake of omega 3 fatty acids has decreased over the years as our diet has changed from either fish-based (our predecessors living by the sea) or green plant-based (our predecessors living inland) to a largely meat and grain-based diet. Our modern diet is richer in omega 6 fatty acids from animal protein and grain oils. Omega 6 fatty acids, while essential to humans, can be inflammatory in large quantities. Omega 6 fatty acids are now over-abundant in our diets for our evolutionary preferences, while omega 3 fatty acids are too scarce.

Researchers believe the ratio of omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids is critical for optimal health. The optimal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is between 2:1 and 3:1. To achieve this, try eating more omega 3 fatty acids and fewer omega 6 fatty acids.

Eat more sources of omega 3 fatty acids: 

  • wild-caught fish: salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna and herring
  • nuts and nut oils: flax seeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, perilla oil
  • grass-fed meats
  • eggs from pastured chickens

Eat fewer sources omega 6 fatty acids:

  • meat, dairy and eggs from grain-fed animals
  • "vegetable" oil (usually a blend of some of the oils below)
  • sunflower oil
  • safflower oil
  • soybean oil
  • sesame oil
  • corn oil

Like to take a deeper dive into the world of fat and the new paradigm? Read Fat: The New Health Paradigm report by Credit Suisse. 

Need more evidence that Fat is Your Friend? Here's Dr. Aseem Malhotra to explain. 

What is nutritional biochemistry?

Nutritional biochemistry sounds like a "mouthful". However, adding these terms to your dietary lexicon could have a major impact on your health and well-being.

Nutritional biochemistry is the way of the future - and the future has arrived. Nutritional biochemistry is an integrative form of science as it incorporates sciences such as physiology, medicine, microbiology, endocrinology, chemistry and biology and applies these specifically to the study of health, diet, nutrition, disease, and the connections that exist among them. Unfortunately, this science has not yet been embraced in the mainstream *medical field.

The idea of shotgun nutrition - one size fits all nutrition - is not science, it is propaganda and a remnant of the dark ages of nutrition. Much of the debate now in nutrition is confusing - precisely because it is following the old paradigm that nutrition principles or rules apply to everyone equally. The current mudslinging wars on fat, protein, carbohydrates, etc., are all based on the idea that there is one right answer. Most of us are exasperated by this dialectical (oppositional) and simplistic thinking. Some people do very well on diets high in fat, and low in carbohydrates. Others do well with diets high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Some do well eating animal based diets and others do well eating plant based diets.

There are many questions we need to ask to determine what is the best nutrition for us, like what is the best macronutrient ratio for me? What forms of fat, protein, carbohydrates are best for me? What is my level of insulin resistance? To what extent is my metabolic system currently functioning (or not)? There is list of markers or data points that will help each of us determine the best path.

Nutritionism or reductionist nutrition is not helping us. Food is more than the sum of its parts. Nutritional Biochemistry is a complex system of thinking encompassing multiple sciences and is similar to other forms of advanced (integrative) science that are not always about providing yes/no answers, but also applying "fuzzy logic." a form of many-valued logic that delivers a range of possible solutions on a spectrum - all of which may be correct, depending on the subject, inputs, conditions, etc.

If the metabolic system is dysfunctional, then the ability to process the key elements of food will be severely compromised - especially if we are subsisting on processed food loaded with sugar, salt, fat, processed starches, and many other non-food additives. More than 50% of the U.S. population is new suffering from preventable metabolic disease, primarily due to the food we consume. Sadly, many "food scientists" and food industry chemists have been working hard to adulterate food, making it difficult to differentiate real food from food additives, and applying processes that rob food of it's life-giving properties.

As nutrition sciences and medicine evolve, we will see diets being selected based on actual, individualized data sets. An excellent way to get to a healthier state of nutrition, with a minimum of tests and data, is to eliminate or drastically reduce processed foods and additives (there are over 10,000 now in our food supply). Many, if not most of these additives are not even recognizable as food. The cellular dysfunction these chemical constituents cause begins at the level of our mitochondria and gut microbiome - and the consequences debilitate our metabolic system and cause chronic disease.

The unadulterated diet is called Real Food - and you don't have to be a scientist to know what that is. 

*Out of the 116 medical schools in America, 68 have no requirement for nutrition classes. The remaining schools require just an average of two credits, basically one course, about nutrition, according to John LaPuma, MD.

What does processed food really cost?

Some will say processed food is cheaper. Is it?

U.S. food business grossed $1 trillion

$450 billion in profit

$2 billion in marketing to children


U.S. health care costs $2.7 Trillion

75% of which is chronic metabolic disease

75% of which is preventable & diet related


$1.4 trillion is wasted

We lose triple what the food industry makes.

What chemicals are in my food?

And why should you care?

The information on any given food label is limited. What don't we know? Where can we go to find out what chemicals are being added to our food supply?

What the government wants us to know:

Everything Added to Food in the U.S. (EAFUS - Yes, this is a real database - with over 10,000 chemicals!)

Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS - Really?)

What we need to know:

Breast Cancer Fund - Chemicals in our Food

Persistent Toxic Chemical in our Food Supply - Study indicates that Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) residues are present in virtually all categories of foods, including baked goods, fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, and dairy products. 

Why Are Industrial Chemicals in Food Not Safety Tested? A senior scientist ponders the question in LiveScience.

Data gaps in toxicity testing of chemicals allowed in food in the U.S. Investigation shows that, in practice, almost 80% of chemical additives directly—intentionally—added to food lack the relevant information needed to estimate the amount that consumers can safely eat.

Conflicts of Interest in the Regulation of Food Safety - A Threat to Scientific Integrity. Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, exposes how conflicts of interest in medical research, education, and practice are well-known to increase the risk of undue influence by corporate sponsors.


Can 10 days make a difference in my health?


Researchers at UCSF and Touro University restricted added sugar in the diet of children with obesity and at least one other co-morbidity for a mere 10 days and nearly every indicator of metabolic health improved significantly. 



What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is the practice of bringing awareness to what you eat and drink by using all your senses to choose and experience food. Mindful eating changes your relationship with food by increasing your appreciation for each step in the production of food and by refamiliarizing yourself with hunger and satiety cues. The following infographic, borrowed with permission from Health Perch, demonstrates how to master mindful eating. 

How to Master Mindful Eating
"How to Master Mindful Eating" on Health Perch


Tasting Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Have you ever had the experience of stopping so completely,

of being in your body so completely,

of being in your life so completely,

that what you knew and what you didn’t know,

that what had been and what was yet to come,

and the way things are right now

no longer held even the slightest hint of anxiety or discord?

It would be a moment of complete presence, beyond striving, beyond

mere acceptance,

beyond the desire to escape or fix anything or plunge ahead,

a moment of pure being, no longer in time,

a moment of pure seeing, pure feeling,

a moment in which life simply is,

and that “is-ness” grabs you by all your senses,

all your memories, by your very genes,

by your loves, and

welcomes you home.

What's the difference between added sugar and free sugar?

We'll start with what the two have in common. 

Both added sugars and free sugars are dietary sugars that provide rapidly-absorbed, concentrated doses of fructose. When consumed, their large doses of fructose overwhelm the liver's ability to metabolize fructose. The liver responds by doing the most efficient thing it can do with fructose--it converts fructose to fat, which, over time, leads to metabolic syndrome by contributing to:

  • fatty liver disease (a precursor to diabetes)
  • liver insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes)
  • increased small, dense LDL cholesterol
  • increased triglycerides
  • increased uric acid (which contributes to hypertension)

Added sugars are sugars added to food during processing. Manufacturers add sugar to their products because it tastes good, consumers like it, and sugar is a preservative that extends the shelf life of processed foods.

You'll find added sugars in the ingredient list of a processed food. There are now more than 56 names for added sugars used by the food industry, and you will commonly find multiple added sugars in a single product.

The term "free sugars" is inclusive of added sugars, but also includes sugars found naturally in foods like fruit juice and honey. 

The naturally-occurring sugars are "freed" when fiber is removed during processing (such as juicing) or simply because fiber was never present in the first place (honey). Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar. When it is not present, free sugars are concentrated and act just like added sugars on the liver leading to the development of metabolic syndrome.

Under this definition lactose (milk sugar) when naturally present in milk and milk products and sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods (particularly whole fruits and vegetables) are excluded.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting your calories from added sugar to 10 percent of total calories or less.

Since free sugars are metabolically equivalent to added sugars, the 10 percent guideline applies to both--combined.

So calories from added sugars plus calories from free sugars should be less than 10 percent of your total daily calories, according to the Guidelines.

The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization make the same recommendation, but the World Health Organization takes their recommendation a step further and advises that limiting calories from free sugars to less than 5 percent provides additional health benefits.

We at the IRN suggested limiting your calories from free sugar to as close to 0 grams per day as you can. The metabolic consequences of sugar are dose-dependent, meaning the more you consume, the worse off you are.

Make most of your days sugar-free for maximum benefit. We understand that may be difficult to do overnight, but think of it as a progression. Start with one source of free sugar in your diet, and find a sugar-free alternative. Once you're comfortable with that change, address another source of sugar in your diet.

The simplest way to cut back on free sugar, is to eliminate processed foods and beverages. Focus on eating whole, real foods that don't have sugar added to them and don't have their protective fiber removed either.

When faced with a challenge, know that your efforts to reduce your sugar intake will convey health benefits. A recent study conducted by Dr. Robert Lustig and colleagues and published in the journal Obesity found that reducing free sugars in the diets of obese, metabolically ill children for just 10 days significantly improved all of their metabolic markers--blood glucose, insulin, liver fat, uric acid, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, and even their body weight.

What about the new USDA 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

The USDA 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released recently. What is new and important in the guidelines? Dr. Robert Lustig provides a few insights.



Correlation is not causation The USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, for the first time in 39 years, acknowledge the difference. There are three obvious shifts that make it clear that the DGAC, and indeed the USDA, finally learned that lesson.

A 10 percent limit (of total calories) for added sugars.

Sugar is one (if not the only) cause of the diseases of metabolic syndrome, apart from its calories and its effects on weight. Adults consume 15 percent of their calories in the form of added sugar, and kids consume 18 percent of their total calories as sugar.

Now that the USDA has pulled it out as a separate entity and defined the limit. Hopefully the FDA will add it to the food label. It should also influence what is available on the SNAP program, which should improve the health of the poor.

[One concern is that the USDA pie chart lists 78% of added sugar in beverages and desserts. Other analyses account for 51% of added sugar in these sources; the rest is hidden in other foods. This matters greatly.]

A 2300 mg limit for sodium. 

We were at 6900 mg/day. The UK has shown that reduction of salt consumption over time has led to reductions in hypertension and stroke. While only 15-20 percent of the population is salt-sensitive, no one needs 6900 mg.

The removal of cholesterol as a risk factor. 

Blood LDL-cholesterol only correlated with heart disease (never proven causative), there are many lipoproteins (some good for you) that contain cholesterol, and reductions in dietary cholesterol never proved to be remediative of heart disease in the general population.

These are all clear improvements. There are still some problems.

  1. equating dairy fat with red meat saturated fat
  2. not acknowledging fiber as an essential component of our diet (it feeds our microbiome!)
  3. equating all dairy as the same (milk vs. cheese vs. sweetened yogurt)

But there is one “glaring” omission. Not once in the document does it say anything about limiting processed food. Processed food is the killer. It has too little fiber, micronutrients, and omega-3’s, and too much omega-6’s, trans-fats, nitrates, branched chain amino acids, additives, emulsifiers, and of course salt and sugar.

In fact, we wouldn’t need the Dietary Guidelines if we got rid of processed food.

Robert Lustig, M.D., M.S.L.

Dept. of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology, Institute for Health Policy Studies, UCSF

President, Institute for Responsible Nutrition


What about sugar and children's dental health?

  • Dental caries, a preventable infectious disease, is the most common chronic disease of childhood.
  • One-quarter (25%) of children aged 2-5 and half (50%) of children 12-15 suffer from tooth decay.
  • Tooth decay is twice as common among poor or near-poor kindergarten aged children.
  • Untreated dental disease adversely impacts children’s ability to pay attention in school, eat nutritious food, and interact with their peers.
  • Tooth decay is caused by exposure to any kind of sugar or simple starches in foods and beverages.  
  • Eating or drinking meals, snacks or beverages more than 5 times a day significantly increases a child’s risk for tooth decay.  Consuming snacks or drinks right before bedtime is the most dangerous, because your saliva flow slows down when you go to sleep, so the acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth aren’t washed away or neutralized.
  • Children age 9 to 18 have the highest sugar intake – about 17% of their daily calories are from added sugar.  
  • The new USDA Dietary Guidelines have decreased the recommended limit for added sugars to no more than 10% of daily calorie intake.  If a child eats 1500 calories a day, that’s no more than 150 calories from sugar, or about 9 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Almost half of the added sugar in the diets of Americans over age 2 comes from beverages such as soda and fruit drinks, sports/energy drinks, and coffee or tea.  The next third comes from sweets, snacks and grains such as crackers, bread and cereal.  Condiments like ketchup or salad dressing can also add a few extra teaspoons of sugar to your diet each day.
  • An often overlooked source of sugar among small children is liquid medication for congestion, allergies, pain or fever.  Drinking water or brushing after taking liquid medicine reduces your child’s risk for tooth decay.
  • The amount of sugar in each serving of food or drink is listed on the nutrition facts label under the section “Total Carbohydrates” as “Sugars,” in grams (g).  One teaspoon of sugar is a little over 4 grams.  Also, look at the list of ingredients.  There are many different names for sugar, but you can learn to spot them all.  Use the number “3” as a guide:  If a word for sugar is one of the first three ingredients listed, or if there are more than three names for sugar on the list, then the product probably contains too much sugar.
  • Brushing for at least 2 minutes, 2 times a day reduces the bacteria that can cause decay.  An adult should always assist children under the age of 8 with tooth brushing. 
  • Using fluoride toothpaste the right way is the most important part of brushing.  Children 2-6 years old only need a small smear of fluoride toothpaste across the brush.  Brush the toothpaste on all surfaces of the teeth, then rinse the brush off and brush the tongue and the roof of the mouth.  Don’t rinse your mouth with water after brushing.  Just spit several times to remove the excess toothpaste.  Have small children say “Patooey!” very forcefully if they have difficulty spitting.  Don’t eat or drink for at least 20 minutes after brushing.  This lets the fluoride stay on the teeth longer and fight decay.  Brushing right before bedtime is particularly important to prevent decay.

What about Type 2 Diabetes and Sugar?

It would be pretty accurate to call Type 2 Diabetes the "Processed Food Disease"

Nearly 50% of adults living in the U.S. have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Diabetes is a costly disease in the U.S, racking up an estimated 245 billion in 2012, related to consumption and utilization of health care resources as well as lost productivity, according to the researchers in the study. Nearly 71,000 persons die annually due to complications associated with diabetes, based on recent statistics from the American Diabetes Association. A CDC study published in 2014 noted that 29 million persons in the U.S. had diabetes, with 86 million classified as having pre-diabetes–nearly a third of the U.S. adult population. During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 1,500 American soldiers lost a limb in combat. During that same period, 1.5 million Americans lost a limb in surgical amputation due to Type 2 diabetes.

There has been a sharp increase in Type 2 Diabetes during the same time period that processed foods have exploded in the Western Diet. Processed foods are the largest uncontrolled experiment ever unleashed on humanity. The processed food industry treats us like guinea pigs. For a quick primer on this subject, watch this video by Dr. Robert Lustig called Processed Food: The Experiment that Failed:

The leading marker for processed food is added sugar. Growing scientific evidence shows that eating too much added sugar is linked to serious diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. The UCSF SugarScience.Org site has established a comprehensive review of more than 8,000 scientific studies on the health impacts of sugar. The strongest research is summarized on the SugarScience.Org site.



Follow @ResponsibleFood on Twitter