Real Food is your best defense against dying from coronavirus

Real Food is your best defense against dying from coronavirus

Like everyone else in California this week, I made an emergency provisions trip to the supermarket in response to our state’s “shelter in place” order to try to flatten the coronavirus infection curve. What I saw amazed me. All the produce, all the meat, all the milk, all the nuts, all the dairy, were fully stocked. What was gone from the shelves? Pasta, breakfast cereal, and candy. Really?

Now, I understand that these consumables last a long time. I understand that people are not sure about the resilience of the food supply. I understand that people are worried that the fresh food somewhere along the food chain might have been handled by a virus carrier. And, as an obesity researcher, I understand that they are “tasty”, and right now, everyone is just a little bit stressed which drives the brain’s need for some form of “reward”. Parents are using sugar as the reward for good behavior while cooped up in the house, while the mom is guzzling Ben and Jerry’s.

But this is the exact WRONG formulation. This isn’t going away soon. We’re in this for the long haul, and what we eat matters. Who dies from coronavirus? The elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and kidney disease — and these affect young people as well. The current thinking is that these people don’t have the resilience to stand up to the virus. This is partially true, they don’t. But why not? Because these groups are already in a state of chronic inflammation, which stems from their prior poor nutrition.

The elderly lose muscle and brain function as they age. Is this just from aging? Not specifically — there is a subset of octogenarians who are doing just fine, and there are centenarians who can run rings around you. Rather, most of the elderly fall prey to malnutrition, which can be due to any one of the Nine D’s: Depression, Dementia, Diarrhea, Drugs, Dentition, Dysgeusia (inability to taste), Dysfunction (specifically immune), Dysphagia (inability to swallow), and Disease (the same diseases that younger people get).

And what are these diseases that serve as risk factors for dying from COVID-19? They are the diseases of metabolic syndrome. Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease — these are the diseases that travel with obesity. But obesity is not a cause, because 20% of obese people don’t have them, while 40% of normal weight people do. Rather, obesity is a marker for the two underlying cellular pathologies — mitochondrial dysfunction (the inability to utilize energy properly) and insulin resistance (the inability of cells, especially the liver, to respond to the insulin signal). Because of these two problems, people with metabolic syndrome are already in a high cytokine (inflammation) state, which is what drives these chronic diseases.

Then throw COVID-19 on top, and you have the makings of a tsunami of inflammation. You’ve heard that this virus causes pneumonia. That’s true, because pneumonia just means lung inflammation. But it’s not due to the virus itself. It’s due to the ensuing cytokine response, known as Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which destroys normal lung tissue.

Your inflammatory status is the single best predictor of survival. What worsens your inflammation? Processed food, because of three inherent problems: 1) excess omega-6 fatty acids (seed oils like soybean oil) which are pro-inflammatory; 2) lack of omega-3’s (oily fish), which are anti-inflammatory; and 3) excess sugar (virtually all processed food), as the fructose (sweet) molecule in sugar poisons mitochondria and induces insulin resistance directly.  Conversely, improving your inflammatory status is the single best way to improve your chance for survival. Flavonoids, polyphenols, vitamin C, vitamin D, all of which have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune strengthening capacities. That’s called REAL FOOD — the stuff that’s still in the supermarket!

But what about food-borne viral transmission, you ask? While it is true that COVID-19 is very resourceful and can bind to intestinal epithelial cells, no one appears to have contracted the virus through the oral route. This is a droplet disease. My UCSF colleagues have posted a full assessment of the virus’ transmission and epidemiology, and the gut is not a route of infection. If you’re still worried, cook the hell out of it; it’s still better than eating the crap out of the box.

The big problem is that 33% of Americans today don’t know how to cook; because a whole generation has grown up on processed food. To this end, my non-profit Eat REAL <> is posting food guides on how to eat immune system-boosting food, and the contents of my Fat Chance Cookbook is online so that adults can make easy quick recipes using real food; and the only extra piece of cooking equipment you would need is a blender.

Processed food kills. It kills by causing chronic disease. But chronic disease puts you at risk for acute disease as well. Real Food won’t prevent you from becoming infected with COVID-19. But it certainly can help you to survive it.

– Robert H. Lustig, M.D., M.S.L.

Robert H. Lustig, M.D., M.S.L. is Emeritus Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology in the Division of Endocrinology and member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also Chief Science Officer of the non-profit Eat REAL and Medical Advisor for the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation. He takes no money from the food industry.

Eat Real Food Poster by Joe Wirtheim.



You may be aware that I am Chief Science Officer for a nonprofit called Eat REAL (
Eat REAL is seeking emergency funds, resources (donations/food/masks) and tools (worker safety video guides) for schools that are now acting like food banks for vulnerable families.
Please consider making a small donation to help their response to the current #CoronavirusPandemic.
Fat vs. Sugar Saga Continues

Fat vs. Sugar Saga Continues

The fascinating story of fat vs sugar and how it’s still misinforming what we eat today.

All Hail to the Kail podcast featuring the fascinating story of fat vs. sugar and how it’s still misinforming what we eat today, featuring Nina Teicholz, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, and Professor Michael Yudkin, son of John Yudkin, author of Pure White and Deadly.

Future of the world’s children

Future of the world’s children

A future for the world’s children?

A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission

Resource Page:

Executive Summary

The health and wellbeing of children now and in the future depends on overcoming new challenges that are escalating at such speed as to threaten the progress and successes of the past two decades in child health. The climate emergency is rapidly undermining the future survival of all species, and the likelihood of a world in which all children enjoy their right to health appears increasingly out of reach. A second existential threat that is more insidious has emerged: predatory commercial exploitation that is encouraging harmful and addictive activities that are extremely deleterious to young people’s health.

The WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission lays the foundations for a new global movement for child health that addresses these two crises and presents high-level recommendations that position children at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


A future for the world’s children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission

Richard Horton, Sarah Dalglish, and Grace Gatera talk about the future for children alive today, alongside findings from the new Commission

A future for the world’s children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission

by Richard Horton, Sarah Dalglish, and Grace Gatera talk about the future for children alive today, alongside findings from the new Commission.


“Currently children around the world are unprotected from commercial predatory interests…”

“Our report chose to focus in on the commercial marketing of harmful products to children and their caregivers. We saw that this has taken on a fairly sinister new aspect in the area of social media and algorithmic targeting. There is a lot of evidence that children are specifically targeted with advertisements for alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and other unhealthy products. At the same time, their parents are targeted for ads for breast milk substitutes – all of which can be very unhealthy for children. The amount of these ads is just staggering. Children and adolescents, for example, in Australia, view some 51 million ads for alcohol during sports programs in a single year, mostly during daytime hours. That’s just one example. In an era like today where non-communicable diseases kill some 41 million people globally each year, we thought this issue is not getting nearly enough attention that it requires because people’s health trajectories, in terms of their behaviors, what they eat, drink, whether they smoke, are often set during childhood and adolescence.”
– Sarah Dalglish

“Overnutrition is causing disease on a vast scale and is almost impossible to stamp out…”

Richard Horton explains why and what we can do about it:

“There’s not one country in the world that’s successfully introduced policies to address overnutrition and the driving forces of overnutrition are the commercial determinants of health. The predatory behavior of food manufacturers who use marketing and advertising techniques to deliberately target vulnerable young people, and nobody is defending the interests of those vulnerable young people. We think the public health community, the medical community, should be one of those forces in society to protect the interests of children and young people, and that’s what this commission is trying to do…to lay out the evidence, to signpost the challenge, and to begin the action necessary to do so.  I think it’s going to be very challenging to commercial determinants of child and adolescent health because we underestimate the force of these predatory food companies in our society. They are huge, the cross transnational borders, they have enormously successful political lobbying, capacities and efforts, and to take the medical and health communities and try and defeat their work is a challenge that seems of superhuman proportions, but the medical community is also transnational, it is its own network, it has enormous and evidential moral force. I think that we can persuade the public that we need to be putting our children first and their interests first. No parent, no family, no community wants to see their children in twenty or thirty or forty years time, living with, suffering from, the kinds of diseases that they are beginning to suffer from because they have become victims of this predatory corporate behavior. So, I think the challenge is great, but the prize is great too, and the prize is the health of our children and young people.”

Link to the report:

A future for the world’s children? A WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission

Food Literacy for All

Food Literacy for All

Presentation to Food Literacy for All – University of Michigan, February 4, 2020

“Corporate Wealth or Public Health?”


“It’s not the fat that you can see. It’s not about obesity, it never was. It’s about metabolic dysfunction. 88% of adult Americans have metabolic dysfunction of some sort.” -Dr. Robert Lustig #FoodLiteracyforAll

“This is Food Literacy for All. The problem of course is that we are quite food illiterate. Why is that? The argument that I’m going to make tonight is that it is planned. They want you to be food illiterate.” – Dr. Robert Lustig  #FoodLiteracyforAll

Sugar and Disease – Causation and Correlation

Who invented personal responsibility?

It is difficult for a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.

IMMH Conference

Very pleased to be supporting IMMH at the 11th annual Integrative Medicine for Mental Health Conference, August 20-23, at the historic Hilton Chicago on Michigan Avenue. This four-day international conference will give practitioners a holistic approach to successfully diagnose and treat underlying issues contributing to the symptoms of neurological, behavioral, and psychiatric disorders.

IMMH is the only conference annually dedicated to integrative medicine for mental health, which is brain health.

IMMH will soon be announcing all of the speakers for IMMH 2020. Details, including registration available at Stay tuned for updates.

In the meantime, check out the highlight video from this year’s IMMH Conference:


Sugar in 2020

Sugar in 2020

Happy New Year!

Hopefully, your new year is off to a healthy start.

You may have seen the New York Time article by By :

and her follow-up piece:

This recent interview with Robin Young (@hereandnowrobin) on Here and Now (@hereandnow/@NPR) references Tara Parker-Pope’s story:

Addicted To Sugar? This Doctor Says It’s ‘The New Tobacco’

I’m in Paris on sabbatical, but if you happen to be in or near San Francisco on January 15th, don’t miss this event at UCSF with my colleagues:

Blood Sugar Health Salon Discussion
1-15-20, 7-8:30pm
Using new tech to prevent chronic
#MetabolicDisease rather than just manage it.
Dr. Aaron Neinstein @AaronNeinstein (@UCSF
Dr. Carolyn Jasik / @DrJasik (@omadahealth)
Jessie Inchauspe @jessie_inc_

Hosted by: Hypoglycemia Support Foundation (@Hypoglycemia101) & the UCSF AME Center (@UCSFAME)


All the best to you in this new year.




Sabbatical 2020

Sabbatical 2020

Happy New Decade, everyone!

It’s not a secret that children (and really all of society) this past decade have become addicted, depressed, anxious, distracted, and angry.

The question is why. I’m going out on a limb here. We now have two dopamine stimulators that we freely and willingly give to kids — sugar and technology. But the genie is out of the bottle. We have to find a way to peacefully co-exist with these problems, and we have to teach children how to manage them.

For the next six-months, I’m going on sabbatical in Paris, where I will be bridging two academic units — the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity ( and the neurocybernetics lab of ETIS (Information Processing and Systems Teams) at the Université de Cergy-Pontoise  ( to develop a curriculum and materials to help combat addiction in 9-11 year old children.

Wish me luck! I’ll need it! 

Hyper-Palatable Foods

Hyper-Palatable Foods

“betcha can’t eat just one!”

“A popular U.S. brand of potato chips once promoted itself with the slogan, “betcha can’t eat just one!” Maybe that’s because potato chips, like so many foods in the American diet, can pack a mix of ingredients apt to light up people’s brain-reward neural circuitry and overpower mechanisms that are supposed to signal when we’ve had enough to eat. Researchers call this class of foods — often processed foods or sweets with alluring combinations of fat, sugar, carbohydrates and sodium — “hyper-palatable.” While a slew of films, popular books and academic studies have addressed hyper-palatable foods over the past 15 or so years, none has yet to offer a broadly accepted quantitative definition of just what constitutes a hyper-palatable food.”

New research offers specific metrics that might qualify foods as hyper-palatable — and finds most foods consumed in the United States meet these criteria.

Article: Data-driven definition of unhealthy yet pervasive ‘hyper-palatable’ foods

Research Paper in Obesity: Hyper‐Palatable Foods: Development of a Quantitative Definition and Application to the US Food System Database

“Extensive research has focused on hyper‐palatable foods (HPF); however, HPF are defined using descriptive terms (e.g., fast foods, sweets), which are not standardized and lack specificity. The study purpose was to develop a quantitative definition of HPF and apply the definition to the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) to determine HPF prevalence in the US food system.”

“The study is the first to provide a quantitative definition of HPF to be used as a starting point for future research. Given the immense contributions of HPF to obesity risk and related health conditions, it is imperative that the research community develop and validate a specific, quantitative definition of HPF that will advance the field’s understanding of potential mechanisms that may drive overeating and obesity. The HPF definition may also be an asset to inform future food policy work. A major barrier to policy legislation on HPF is that there is no precise definition to inform regulation, and it is not feasible to limit or restrict entire categories of foods (e.g., desserts). Given the ways in which HPF are integrated into our existing food system, strong and specific scientific evidence will be needed to dislodge and eventually regulate some of the most problematic foods that are associated with extensive disease and disability in the US. The HPF definition and quantitative criteria presented in this study represent a crucial first step in this process.”

Article: Study offers data-driven definition of unhealthy yet pervasive ‘hyper-palatable’ foods

“Fazzino and her KU coauthors — Kaitlyn Rohde, research assistant at the Cofrin Logan Center and Debra K. Sullivan of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center — sought to define criteria for hyperpalatable foods by conducting a literature review, and then using nutrition software and applying their definition to 7,757 food items in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS).”

Subscribe for news and updates...

Join this mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from Dr. Robert Lustig.

You have Successfully Subscribed!