Tag Archives: sugar

Eat Less

So here we are, 4 weeks into 2017 and I’m not entirely convinced that “Simplify” has been a very successful guiding principle so far! I increased my hours at work as of Jan 2nd and ran into problems with clashes between my two jobs in the first fortnight, meaning a bit of juggling and swapping things around and a couple of rather unpleasant stretches involving too much work and not enough sleep. But I survived.

I thought I’d try, partly inspired by The Happiness Project and partly by the Slow Home Experiment, a sort of sub-theme each month. For January I chose “sugar free”. After the calorie and sugar laden excess of Christmas, it seemed like an obvious choice. Until it didn’t. I have outlined some of my dieting views before and have previously identified that “Eat Less” is really the simplest, most effective underlying principle to lose weight. (It’s often accompanied by “Move More” which has merit but is not essential.) However, despite myself, I summoned (again) for Jan 1 great excitement and enthusiasm, all fired up about “No sugar.” I’ve also written about “No Sugar” approaches before, and although I am skeptical about the science behind them, I remain convinced that minimizing sugar is a good thing, for lots of reasons which have very little to do with Sarah Wilson.

But “No sugar” is not a simple as “Eat Less”. No sugar? Any sugar? Added sugar? Fruit sugar? What about dried fruit? What about a little bit of sugar? Well what about a little bit more (you’ve done well this week)? Well then why not a lot more, you may as well, now that you’ve had some today, but tomorrow you’re going back to no sugar…

And ok no sugar, so does that mean fat and protein are ok? They became my default indulgences… I can’t eat sugar but I feel like something, so I’ll eat half a jar of almonds….. not going to lose much weight or promote normal eating behaviours that way!!

Suddenly I found myself in that crazy diet mentality that I’ve been in so many times before. Eliminate something completely and it’s effective up to a point but when you slip up you write off the whole day/week etc and vastly overcompensate for what you’ve sacrificed up to that point. I spent my entire teenhood and twenties going round in circles like this, how can I be here again?

So. “Eat Less”. My diet mantra. Simplified.

(“Eat more vegetables” would be diet rule number two. We’ll leave “Move More” for another day.)

That Sugar Film

In spite of (or perhaps because of) my skepticism about “I Quit Sugar” and the whole anti-sugar movement, I was curious to watch That Sugar Film.

All in all, I found it to be a well put-together documentary presented by seemingly sensible and fairly intelligent (albeit lay) people.

Damon Gameau, a clean-eating (thanks to his girlfriend) hipster-cum-hippy decides to start consuming the sugar intake of the average Australian (apparently 40 tsp, or 160g per day). He undertakes to consume this sugar in the form of “non-junk” food- no fizzy drink, lollies, chocolate or ice-cream. In order to consume all this sugar he does eat a lot of food which I personally wouldn’t consider “healthy”, but your average Joe Blow probably would (low fat flavoured yoghurt, processed cereal, iced tea, muesli bars etc).

His “expert” panel, which he consults regularly, consists of David Gillespie, a lawyer who wrote “Sweet Poison” (hmmmm, conflict of interest maybe?), a nutritionist (fair enough), a pathologist (not entirely sure of his relevance except to recount Damon’s blood test results- he fizzles out toward the end anyway, as David Gillespie evidently earns himself a science, possibly even a medical degree over the course of the two month experiment) and an actual doctor whose exact role I was unsure of, I think they were too. Gary Taubes (author of “Why we get fat” and somewhat fanatical “investigative journalist”), is introduced early on and is consulted more and more frequently as the film goes on. Not an endocrinologist or a biochemist in sight.

Basically, the film does a good job of telling us sugar is bad for us and that it’s everywhere. Correction: it’s in just about every processed food you might buy. It’s added to a lot of foods many people don’t think of as unhealthy. It contributes to weight gain and diabetes and really has nothing good about it.

The film touches on the fructose debate with the argument about our livers converting it straight to fat. Happily, it doesn’t victimise poor old fruit or suggest we shouldn’t be eating that.

The film leaves the calorie issue until late. Damon claims to eat 2300 calories per day on his “normal” (low sugar diet). He then says he’s eating “pretty much” the same number on his high-sugar diet, although it’s pretty hard to count them, “obviously”. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to count calories when he’s counting grams of sugar without any problem. The nutritionist at the end, though, says he’s eating the same number. I’m slightly dubious about this, given his claims of being “unable” to count calories but anyway.

The film strays into an “us vs them” vein at one point, which started to annoy me. Damon questioned a “physician scientist” (whatever that is) who was the first to really talk about calories. The scientist very sensibly pointed out that if you obtained too many of your calories from any one source, such as French fries or white bread, not just sugar, you’d probably feel dreadful as well. Damon then asked him (apropros of nothing) if he received any funding from Coca Cola and he said “yes, they fund my research”. I just found this deliberately and annoyingly provocative. If they wanted an “unbiased” view why did they ask a Coca Cola beneficiary for their opinion, only to then pretend to “expose” them (as if it was some kind of conspiracy). Moreover, maybe the film makers should look at their own “experts’” unmade disclosures, rather than asking/paying two non-scientists who’ve made a career out of writing “anti-sugar” books to give an un-biased opinion in a film about sugar. David Gillespie, the lawyer, even takes it upon himself at the end of the film to diagnose Damon with “well established fatty liver, well on your way to full-blown cirrhosis” on the basis of a slight rise in Damon’s liver function tests. I think that’s a big call in the absence of an ultrasound- oh, and a doctor!!!

So it sort of ends with a “sugar is poison” feel to it. Earlier in the film, Damon takes 4 apples and juices them, and points out that most people would eat maybe one or two apples but that it’s easy to drink 4 juiced apples. Which is true. But I’m not sure that really says anything about sugar, it’s the processing which removes all the good stuff and leaves behind sugary water which we can “slam down fast”. (Speaking of which, I’d love a Solo right now…..)

So what can we/I/anyone take away from all this? At the end of the day, I think the film’s basic message is probably a good one. Eat less sugar by eating less processed food and more simple, natural, unprocessed food. Whether this makes us healthier by virtue of the sugar reduction, the calorie reduction or the increase in good fats and fibre, hardly matters. It’ll make me re-think my Saturday afternoon ice-cream, at any rate!!!!!

I Quit I Quit Sugar (Before I even started)

Recently I became interested in the I Quit Sugar program, made famous (?) by Sarah Wilson. I’d looked at it before, partly motivated by a friend of mine who’d lost quite a bit of weight by following it. She actually reviewed the book on her blog. My parents also lost quite a bit of weight by “giving up” sugar, although they didn’t do Sarah Wilson’s program.

Sarah maintains that the real enemy in the Western diet is fructose. Apparently (she’s sketchy on the biochemical explanations) fructose “cannot be utilised by the liver” and is converted straight to fat. Hmmmm. She quotes (repeatedly) a paediatric endocrinologist who is credited with this metabolic pearl of wisdom.

I’m not an endocrinologist and I didn’t do brilliantly at university biochemisty. I cannot draw the Krebs cycle or whatever cycle it is that fructose features in. But even if fructose IS “converted directly to fat”, this theory of it making us fat, to me, still seems highly flawed.

This is my reasoning as to why this is rubbish:

Our bodies burn energy (calories) through a) intentional activity ie exercise and b) metabolic processes such as generating body heat and digesting our food, which add up to a figure known as our basal metabolic rate, or BMR. Our BMR is mainly determined by our gender, our age, our weight, our body composition, disease states and medications and is far more significant than voluntary activity when it comes to burning calories. In the short term, we have no voluntary control over our BMR (we can change it in the long term by altering our body mass or composition or by taking drugs, but we can’t decide to “ramp up our BMR” one day and slow it down the next.)

Our bodies obtain energy to fuel these processes through the food, or calories, we eat (and drink).

If we consume more calories than we expend, we store the surplus as excess body weight. If we consume less than we expend, we obtain the deficit by burning off body weight, and if the two are equal, we are in equilibrium and we stay the same.

Now, Sarah Wilson maintains that all the fructose we eat gets turned into fat because our bodies can’t “use” the calories in that fructose. Ok, let’s assume that she’s right. So, take a person who consumes the same number of calories as they expend. Assume none of it comes from fructose. Great. They burn what they eat, and stay the same weight. Now take someone who consumes, say, 30% of their calories in the form of fructose. Their livers can’t use those calories and covert it to fat. But then they are short that 30% of their caloric requirement. So what happens? Surely that person obtains the shortfall from their glycogen and then fat stores? So they may be “putting on” weight from the fructose calories, but they ought to be burning an equal amount of weight to obtain what they supposedly can’t get from the fructose. So it balances out.

Critics of the CICO (calories in calories out) model will say “Oh but not all calories are equal, some foods require more energy to digest so they actually don’t give your body all the calories they contain.” Yes that’s probably true, but I am very doubtful it makes a significant difference, especially in a balanced diet. The same would also potentially be an argument for this whole fructose theory- if fructose is effortlessly converted to fat while other substrates use up a lot more energy in that conversion then perhaps Sarah’s onto something. But I doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think sugar is way too prevalent in our diet and I am not for a minute suggesting a high sugar diet is good, or even “not bad” for us. But I don’t think there’s anything magical about fructose. I am extremely cynical about all those other “natural” sweeteners too- stevia, agave, rice bran syrup (like, HELLO!!! cane sugar grows naturally and abundantly in far north Queensland- I’m not sure why it’s considered “unnatural”)

But this is why I think we should minimise our sugar intake:

  • Sugar is high in calories
  • Sugar has no other nutritional value, ie it provides us with no good stuff apart from energy (sure if you were starving this wouldn’t matter so much but there are other more nutritious sources of energy for most of us)
  • You rarely eat sugar by itself. It’s usually combined with other calorie dense, nutritionally sketchy ingredients, like fat and white flour, to make tasty “treats” that are ok to eat from time to time, but most of us indulge in a bit too often, in quantities which are too large.

The final nail in the IQS coffin (for me) is Sarah banging on about other pseudo-scientific rubbish (actually there’s nothing pseudo about it, it’s just un-scientific). She advocates “activating” nuts and seeds, “sprouting” legumes, “fermenting” vegetables and drinking apple cider vinegar which allegedly helps “alkalinise” our bodies yet somehow also gives the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs a helping hand with digestion. (Never mind university biochemistry, it doesn’t sound to me like she did much high school chemistry either). All these processes are supposed to “help” our bodies digest and absorb the goodness from these foods. Seriously? How did the human race ever manage to evolve without the assistance of sprouts and kombucha?? It’s a miracle we’re alive at all, thank god for Sarah and other proponents of this twaddle.

In summary, all I’ve taken away from Sarah’s 2 books (borrowed from the library) is that:

  • I actually don’t eat much sugar when I think about it- no soft drink, no (well not many) lollies, no store-bought baked goods, no store-bought sauces (thanks zero waste!)
  • I should eat more fruit, not less, I don’t care which ones are high fructose
  • I should eat fewer cakes and pastries (which I do bake too many of), not because of the fructose but because I am a greedy guts who can’t seem to stop at just a tiny, calorie-controlled, nibble!!

I’m not sure I really needed her to figure any of that out!!