Is Sugar REALLY That Bad For You? An Honest Answer

added sugar

Sugar.  Everyone loves to hate it. But is it REALLY all that bad?

With the exception of fat, no other single nutrient has been more maligned and misrepresented than carbohydrate.

Sugar, as it’s commonly known, has been singularly scapegoated as the culprit behind our expanding waistlines, chronic diseases, and child hyperactivity disorders – among others.

The mass media, ever thirsty for a sensationalized headline, has muddled fact and fiction, referring to sugar as a metabolic poison. 

Popular diet book authors and purveyors of potions and pills have profited by feeding a confused public small portions of the truth that are meant to serve their sales agendas.

But the question that nobody seems to be asking is, can something that tastes so good REALLY be so bad for health?

Why does everyone believe sugar is bad?

Sugar has been demonised by alarmist book titles like “Sweet Poison” and “I Quit Sugar,” social media, anti-sugar websites, popular magazines, and the personal trainer at your local gym.

When lies and half-truths get repeated often enough, they become true in everyone’s minds (much like old wive’s tales).

But to understand what sugar has done to earn its unsavory reputation, you have to first understand what food processing has done to carbohydrate.

Food science technology allows manufacturers to isolate, extract, and manipulate starches and simple sugars, which can then be added to foods to enhance:

  • Flavor
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Sweetness
  • Shelf life

The knee-jerk public reaction is that ALL added sugar is bad news. 

However, this view does not take into consideration that sugary foods consumed in moderation as part of a healthy, nutrient-rich diet are unlikely to pose any significant harm.

What exactly does “in moderation” mean anyway? 

The word moderation can mean different things to different people so it’s important to draw some lines in the sand and set limits for a frame of reference.

The World Health Organisation recommends adults and children reduce their added sugar intake to less than 10% of their daily calorie intake, but suggests that a further reduction to 5% (about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons) per day would confer additional health benefits.

Sounds easy enough, but how does our sugar intake ACTUALLY measure up?

Added sugar: recommended vs. actual intakes

Unfortunately, added sugar intake in the United States and Australia far exceeds these recommendations. In the US, added sugar accounts for almost 270 calories, or 13% of daily energy intake.

The highest sugar intakes were found in children, adolescents, and young adults and ranged between 15 and 17% of daily energy intake.

added sugar
Sugar Intake: Recommended versus actual intake. Source: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/

According to recent health survey data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians are consuming 60 grams of added sugar per day (14 level teaspoons of white sugar).

Children, adolescents, and young adults were most likely to exceed the WHO recommendations, with males aged 14-18 years found to be consuming 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day (and the top 10% of male teenagers consuming as high as 38 teaspoons of free sugars per day).

In both countries, beverage intake was responsible for the highest intakes (including soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, fruit and vegetable juices). Leading food sources included muffins, cakes, and confectionary.

Is sugar making us fat?

711 big gulp sugar

While all the alarmists would have you believe that a single granule of the sweet stuff on your tongue will make your ass wider than an axe handle, the evidence clearly shows that the devil is in the dose – and we’re chowing it down by the truckload.

Foods high in refined sugar are also high in calories and low in nutrient density so it’s easy to eat a lot of them.

They are less satisfying which can leave you feeling hungrier sooner and more likely to reach for the next doughnut and can of Coke.

Further reading: Check out these articles on satiety and nutrient/energy density.

Before we start pointing fingers, remember that the current obesity epidemic is due to not only the overconsumption of refined, high sugar, high fat, high calorie junk foods, but also the epidemic levels of physical inactivity (i.e., long hours chained to a desk, playing video games, using messaging apps, etc). 

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 4 adults is not physically active and 80% of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.

Translation: we’re easily putting down the calories, but we’re not doing enough to burn them off. Sugar is at the scene of the obesity crime, but it clearly isn’t a “lone shooter.”

Sugar 101: back to basics

So what is sugar anyway?

Time to get back to basics.

There are six nutrients, three of which provide calories.

They are: protein, fat, and carbohydrate.

You might be thinking, “hey, wait! Where’s sugar?”

Simply put, sugar IS carbohydrate, but in its most basic form.

Monosaccharides

The simplest of carbohydrates are called “monosaccharides.” They are:

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose

Disaccharides

Carbohydrates that contain two monosaccharides are called “disaccharides.”  Common examples are:

  • Sucrose (table sugar) – formed from glucose and fructose
  • Lactose (milk sugar) – formed from glucose and galactose

Both monosaccharides and disaccharides are commonly referred to as sugars. In general, the smaller the molecule, the sweeter the taste.

Polysaccharides

Long-chain complex carbohydrates (known as polysaccharides) are comparatively less refined and therefore less sweet on your tongue. Examples of polysaccharides include:

  • Starch – this is the carbohydrate stored in plants. Humans have an enzyme called amylase that allows us to break down starch into glucose.
  • Glycogen – this is the storage form of carbohydrate in humans and animals.
  • Cellulose – this is the strong, thick fiber that gives vegetables and fruits their rigid shape and structure. Humans cannot digest it since our enzymes are unable to break the chemical bonds that hold it together.

What are the different types of sugars?

Natural sugars

Natural sugars are “naturally” present in foods. 

Fructose, for example, is the naturally occurring sugar that gives fruit its sweetness.

As a fruit ripens, longer chain carbohydrates called starches break down into simpler, sweeter sugar molecules. Honey also derives its sweetness from fructose.

Refined sugars

Refined sugars are made via the processing and refining of starches. 

In the case of sucrose, the processing of starches in sugar cane or sugar beets produces the sweet tasting white crystals most people recognize as table sugar.

Added sugars

“Added sugars” can be either natural or refined such as those added to foods.

Commonly added sugars include table sugar, high fructose corn syrup (controversial and frequently maligned), as well as supposedly healthier sweeteners like agave nectar and honey.

Whoa!  Supposedly healthier?

What does that mean? 

Are honey and agave nectar REALLY healthier than sucrose or high fructose corn syrup?

Is honey healthy?

While it is true that honey, especially raw honey, contains trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and even amino acids to varying degrees depending on the type, the contribution of these nutrients to a healthful diet if consumed regularly has not been well established.

A current review of the scientific literature shows that the health benefits attributed to honey are often associated with ingesting large amounts (50-80 grams).

Thus, the supposed benefits of honey could be due to the additive effect of these trace elements. 

If this is true, then honey’s benefits come at a relatively high caloric cost (i.e., high energy, low nutrient density).

A recent report by the Food Safety News found that about two-thirds of commercially produced honey has been filtered to the point that it no longer contains any traces of pollen and can’t be identified as true honey.

Is agave nectar healthier than sugar?

Agave nectar has been shown in mice to moderate weight gain, glucose, and insulin levels compared to sucrose.

In a human study of adults aged 20 to 45, consumption of 50 grams of agave nectar elicited a lower blood glucose response compared to the equivalent amount of sucrose.

However, a greater level of nausea was reported in the agave nectar group.

Agave nectar is very high in fructose, almost 85%, which would explain its beneficial effects on blood glucose response, but in the high doses found in many junk foods, it can contribute to obesity and poor health.

Despite some early positive press, agave nectar has lost its shine as a media darling.

It’s now been trashed and tossed onto same heap as other refined sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

Once you get past all the marketing hype, most sweeteners, including honey, are surprisingly more alike than they are different. 

You need only look at their chemical composition to understand why.

Chemical composition of different types of sugar

Chemically speaking, table sugar, the dissacharide derived from sugar cane, is composed of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose where glucose and fructose occur in equal amounts.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), also a glucose and fructose solution, is made from corn. It is produced as HFCS-42, HFCS-55 or HFCS-90, which contain 42 percent, 55 percent or 90 percent of fructose, respectively.

Likewise, agave nectar is a mixture of glucose and fructose obtained by refining the agave plant.

Even honey is little more than a solution of glucose and fructose, with the exact ratio of glucose to fructose varying from product to product, though often occurring at or near a 1:1 ratio.

Pollen is filtered to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

Unfortunately, the sweet-tasting end products offer comparatively little nutritional value.

Natural sugar guilty by association

In our zeal to slay the sugar monster, we have thrown out the natural sugar baby with the added sugar bathwater.

Some self-styled nutrition experts have slammed fruit by naively reasoning that because it contains fruit sugar, and fruit sugar contains fructose, it must therefore be bad for you.

What critics consistently neglect to acknowledge is that an orange (which contains fructose the way nature intended) also provides valuable fiber, vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and a whole slew of other important micronutrients and phytonutrients.

Because of these other food constituents (fiber in particular), the food leaves the stomach slower and leads to a slower rise in blood sugar (as opposed to a can of Coke).

For more information, check out this article on fruit sugar and health on this site.

Right, so refined sugar may not be good for me, but is it BAD for me?

Based on the current science the best answer to this question is kinda, sorta, maybe, but this ambiguity must be put into context.

Commercially-produced sweeteners are derived from whole foods. 

At their core, they possess some combination of the naturally occurring sugars, fructose and glucose.

The difference is, when eaten in the original unprocessed whole foods, these sugars and the starches they come from are diluted, distributed, and evenly balanced out by a combination of other healthy nutrients (i.e., fiber, phytonutrients, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals).

The refining process distorts this balance and comes at a high nutritional cost – very high in calories and low in nutrient density.

Still, the fact that refined sugar isn’t a chock full of wholesome nutrition does not necessarily make it bad for us.

Fructose intake and fatty liver?

Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized in the liver.

There are conflicting opinions, but research on fructose suggests that consuming very LARGE AMOUNTS of this monosaccharide may have a negative impact on your health and contribute to conditions like fatty liver in some people. 

Nearly anything in moderation can potentially be harmful in excess – and sugar is no different (excessive water intake can kill you too).

It is important to note that many of the fructose studies were conducted in rats or on small groups of obese individuals.

Therefore, these results may not readily apply to healthy weight or mildly overweight people.

Much of the research to date included the ingestion of pure fructose solutions at very high levels, which are not representative of the amounts consumed in the average diet.

The real take home message here is that findings from available fructose studies do not provide any compelling evidence against moderate consumption against a backdrop of an otherwise diverse and healthy diet.

Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that the facts have been misrepresented by the mainstream media and self-styled nutrition “experts,” usually for a sensationalized story line or as marketing fodder.

So sugar is not a bad, rotten, evil poison after all?

Sugar is sugar is sugar – empty calories that aren’t necessary.

For those who are eating a diverse and nutrient dense diet, occasionally drizzling your favorite whole wheat pancakes in a little syrup is probably okay and does not pose any clear or well-established risk to your health.

However, routinely drenching pancakes made from refined white flour in agave nectar and washing it down with a 2-liter bottle of Coke is clearly not going to do your health any favors.

Bottom line: sugar redeemed

The issue with sugar may not be one of “good versus bad” but rather one of “some versus too much.”

It has been my experience that people who cut down the added sugar from their diet don’t miss it (this nutritionist included).

So, while accustomed to the sweetness of added sugars, when given the chance, tastes buds happily and naturally recalibrate.

This strategy, by default, results in a more nutrient-dense diet which leaves the stomach slower, leaving you feeling fuller for longer, and therefore less likely to overeat.

People who lose weight and keep it off through a diet low in refined sugar do so mainly as a result of continued calorie control – and less so because “sugar is a poison.”

Additional Reading

Schneider, Andrew. “Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey.” Food Safety Network. November 1, 2011. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/(link)

Hooshmand Shirin, Holloway Brittany, Nemoseck Tricia, Cole Sarah, Petrisko Yumi, Hong Mee Young, and Kern Mark. Effects of Agave Nectar Versus Sucrose on Weight Gain, Adiposity, Blood Glucose, Insulin, and Lipid Responses in Mice. Journal of Medicinal Food. September 2014, 17(9): 1017-1021. doi:10.1089/jmf.2013.0162. (link)

Cravinho,A, Hammon, M, Rieger, K, Kern, M. Acute Ingestive Effects of Agave Nectar Versus Sucrose in Healthy Young Adults. The FASEB Journal. 29(1) Supplement 596.17. (link)

Willems, JL & Low, NH. Major Carbohydrate, Polyol, and Oligosaccharide Profiles of Agave Syrup. Application of this Data to Authenticity Analysis. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2012, 60(35): 8745–8754. DOI: 10.1021/jf3027342.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22909406 (link)

Bogdanov, S., Jurendic, T., Sieber, R., Gallmann, P. Honey for Nutrition and Health: A Review.  J Am. Coll Nutr 2008, 27:677-689.  http://www.jacn.org/content/27/6/677.long (link)

Rizkalla, S. Health implication of fructose consumption:  A recent review of data.  Nutrition and Metabolism 2010, 7:82. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991323/pdf/1743-7075-7-82.pdf (link)

Stanhope, K., Havel, P. Fructose Consumption:  Recent results and their potential implication.  Ann NY Acad Sci. 2010; 1190: 15-24.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3075927/pdf/nihms279303.pdf (link)

Dolan, L., Potter, S., Burdock, G.  Evidence-Based Review on the Effect of Normal Dietary Consumption of Fructose on Blood Lipids and Body Weight of Overweight and Obese Individuals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2010; 50 (10): 889-918. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21108071 (link)

43 thoughts on “Is Sugar REALLY That Bad For You? An Honest Answer”

  1. Hi Bill,
    I did see that whole drama and attack on Joanna McMillan and think that it was in very poor taste and a complete train wreck.

    From where I stand (as an ex phys), the ‘science’ behind David Gillespie’s book doesn’t stand up. However, I seem to counsel a myriad of clients who have trouble with what I’d loosely coin “sugar sensitivity” or maybe “processed food sensitivity” – ie one bite seems to trigger cravings for more and more”. I realize everyone is different but it seems to hold true in my case – when I stick to a less processed diet which incorporates all food groups (no, I don’t avoid grains), I feel much better and the cravings dissipate.

    I wonder if the current trend of a “paleo” diet stems from this – there are some positives in it with the emphasis on fruit, vegetables and lean protein – but it’s not a way of eating I could sustain for the long term.

    I’d like to see more discussion about sugar and more discussion about the flaws in the Paleo way of eating.

    Thanks Bill!

    1. Thanks for your comments Liz. I certainly didn’t mince words in my own response to the initial attack on Joanna and I could probably be criticised for its tone, but having been in the health field for so long, it’s just gotten so old to see such all-or-none alarmist books, posts, etc. For example, the battle cries that “fructose makes us fat” might seem logical on the surface, but this does not take into consideration the quantity. Reports in the medical literature state that in 2005, Americans were consuming over 60 kilos of high fructose corn syrup. Using basic critical thinking, obesity is the only logical result given the sheer volume of energy intake. While fructose is “linked” to insulin resistance in mice, it still begs the question, “just how much fructose would you have to eat to induce insulin resistance?” And inter-individual differences in genetics and metabolism influence peripheral insulin sensitivity and pancreatic beta-cell function. Then you have factors like exercise training status, gender, menopause status, etc and you see just how intricate it can all get. So to make sweeping statements that “eating fructose or table sugar is fattening” clearly do not consider all the extraneous physiological variables that could account for how each individual is impacted by sugar.

      You wrote: “when I stick to a less processed diet which incorporates all food groups (no, I don’t avoid grains), I feel much better and the cravings dissipate.”

      I think you make an important point and, reiterating what I wrote in my post, simply minimising processed foods in the diet would do a lot of people a lot of good. Also, reading between the lines, you mention your cravings dissipate. This may be reflected in a delay in gastric emptying which leaves you feeling fuller for longer and therefore less likely to eat sooner (and perhaps more times per day leading to greater caloric intake).

      As for the paleo suggestion that we should eat more fruit, vegetables and lean protein, I think this is actually good advice. Though it’s one of those situations where its proponents get too excited and then go overboard by slamming every food that doesn’t fit into their little box. Such extremism actually takes the enjoyment out of eating and creates a situation where people become neurotic about food.

      And as I said in my post, there is often very little consideration (by and large) for the role of physical activity. Clearly I’d like to see everyone eating healthy and clean diets, though I think for those who are quite active, they can probably get away with a few “danger” foods. Look at elite athletes like the Tour de France cyclists who can put down 10,000 calories in a day and actually burn it off due to the high energy demands of the event.

      As I’ve said numerous times in many posts and in my lectures, the goal is to keep an open mind but not so open that our brains fall out!

      Thanks again for your post! I’m just finishing off a couple pressing work projects so will be doing more blogging on a regular basis when things free up a bit. Stay tuned!

      Cheers,
      Bill

  2. The no-sugar way of eating isn’t a strange way of eating at all. In fact, I’ve eaten more normally on this in the last 4 months than I have in the last 5 years of trying to sustain a 30 kg weight loss. But the only thing is, now I am not hungry all the time. If I want to make a sweet treat I will, using dextrose, which is glucose, so it contains no fructose. Being a medical person myself I have access to the research sites and the evidence is becoming more and more compelling. “Experts” hate it when scientific truths change and it can’t be comfortable to be in that position, so of course nutritionists, dieticians and government health bodies are going to defend their position. But inevitably it will change.

    1. Dear Nadine, Thank you for taking the time out to leave a comment. I think we both agree and are talking about the same thing (though worded differently). Your mention of a no-sugar diet is likely one which refers to a diet of either little or no refined sugar. However it is virtually impossible to avoid carbohydrate (sugar) unless you’re living exclusively on protein and fat. I absolutely agree that people should be reducing their refined sugar intake, though I’m admittedly not convinced that it needs to be completely eliminated 110%. Provided you’re living an otherwise healthy lifestyle which includes regular exercise training and additional incidental movement, I’m sure a little refined sugar here and there isn’t going to have any appreciable impact on health. Eat it by the bucketload (as most consumers do) and then you’re in for a world of hurt.

      Your comment that you’re not hungry all the time is perfectly logical. As I stated in my blog post and my response to Lizzy above, it stands to reason that a less refined diet will take longer to digest and consequently leave the stomach more slowly (hence, you don’t feel hungry so soon and are therefore less likely to overeat).

      I will disagree with you that “experts” hate it when scientific truths change. On the contrary, most health professionals I know continually monitor the medical literature and are aware that any theories must be tentatively held until a more substantive body of new evidence knocks it off its pedestal. During my PhD I literally had a stack of articles 64cm high on obesity and diabetes, and even so, those papers represented the tip of the iceberg. There is SOOO much information out there and what we “know” is only the tip of the iceberg. So naturally when I see people with no background whatsoever in nutrition or health science writing alarmist books reasoning their points in black and white, right/wrong terms, then I can’t help but think that a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. I am incredibly humbled by the human body and am fully aware that for as much as we know, there is still a LOT of information that we don’t know.

      In my seminars on obesity and diabetes, I discuss a number of novel developments in epigenetic influences on body weight regulation, futile cycles of metabolism, and metabolic efficiency. These things are not yet mainstream but are now garnering more and more momentum as the wider scientific community wakes up to it. In short, be it nutrition, exercise, or a combination of the two, there are a tremendous number of factors which influence body weight and I assure you “eating sugar” alone is not the cause of obesity and all its sinister offspring.

      Thanks again for visiting and for your comment.
      Kind regards,
      Bill

  3. Bill thanks for posting this work. It has been a long time since I’ve heard anything from the “sugar makes you fat” people. I thought they all died out like the dinosaurs. I guess I was wrong.

  4. Bill, what can I say. You have so eloquently hit the proverbial nail on the head, it is scary. This morning I was sent an article that highlights a new finding where miRNA from rice was not broken down during digestion and actually isolated in blood and found circulating and acting on human genes. While excited to hear about this discovery, I immediately cringed as I can only imagine the sweeping generalizations that will emerge from this little piece of contextually insignificant and preliminary research.

    I have long believed that the strength of diets like the paleo diet is not the result of their exclusive philosophy or the foods they eliminates or favor, but more the result of an emphasis on removing processed food and eating more wholesome foods (albeit not necessarily exclusively). But that strategy isn’t exclusive to any one diet.

    I have read and investigated Paleo claims that grains, specifically grains containing gluten are the cause of autoimmune disorders, and while there seems to be some relationship between some people with some autoimmune disorders and gluten, it is highly unlikely gluten is the evil they are making it out to be.

    It seems to be that exclusive plans sell best. The “I got the secret, you don’t, therefore I am special” mentality. (hmmm…kind of like my God is the only God and everyone is destined to burn in hell…) The paleo camps claim grains and carbs are our downfall, and the strict vegans reserve that honor for animal and animal products. Surprisingly both extremes have the “science” on their side.

    So if we listen to all the extreme groups out there…sugar/carbs, fructose, fat, protein/animal based products, any fruit or vegetable that is not locally grown or organic, milk, eggs, legumes (because of lectins and anti-nutrients), are all evil. And to top it off, we can’t possibly be healthy unless we are taking an expensive “whole-food supplement”. It is crazy, yet everyone swears the science is on their side and their way is superior.

    Everyone is an expert these days and the internet has given them all a platform from which to share this expertise.

    In my opinion, the “real” experts realize that there is a lot we don’t know but that science dictates we must adhere to what we do know, acknowledging that even that changes and is limited in its scope and applicability. Still, common sense goes a long way. None of us can be experts on all areas of nutrition or health and therefore it is up to us to look to true experts within each field for some guidance.

    I heard a cardio-thoracic surgeon the other day discussing the evils of grains as they relate to autoimmune disorders because we all know that if you have an MD you magically become an expert in all areas of medicine and all areas of lifestyle that affect health.

    I personally have no problem with someone cutting carbs or eating less protein. If the diet works for you, great. I do have a problem with people making “scientific claims” that are anything but scientific and then dismissing any other theory citing flaws in the science.

    Science might not be perfect, it might be slow, it is sure to change or at least get fine-tuned, but it is meant to be objective and follow a tedious method. It is one thing to challenge the status quo…it is another to challenge the status quo by offering a “new” unsubstantiated alternative that often offers much less scientific support than the premise you are challenging.

    Again, great post.

  5. I followed the links you provided and actually didn’t find that Dr. McMillan was “being attacked in various online forums (Facebook, blogs, etc) by rabid nutrition zealots” and surely it’s with some irony that you yourself attack those same people with that kind of wording. In the facebook comment Dr. McMillan appeared quite capable of discussing the issue without resorting to personal attacks.

    It’s also surprising that you dismiss the opinions of those not bearing the qualifications of a “nutrition expert”. Surely you must have, at one time, faced the very same dismissive attitude from students of the higher sciences (e.g. biochemistry) that look down on the study of nutrition?

    I expect you’ve read Michael Pollan’s work and I’d expect that you’d probably not rank him amongst the “alarmist brigade”? This whole Goodness Superfoods topic rang his “nutritionism” alarm bell for me and so I partly followed the discussion. Their packaging is a great example of up-selling a product on the basis of a perceived nutritional benefit [1] and, as their face of authority on the subject, it is surely part of Dr McMillan’s paid job to take on that part of public relations. Yet you rush to her defence as if she was completely unaware that a nutritionist standing up for a product that is 30% sugar wouldn’t be contentious. I’m just an ordinary, unqualified person and even I know that I wouldn’t need to be at a gathering of particularly smart people to get some raised eyebrows at a “superfood” cereal that is almost 1/3 sugar! That amount of sugar in a product purporting to be a health food doesn’t strike you as another kind of extreme?

    Finally, I can’t help but bring attention to your final comment asking “why are you so down on a food company making a buck?”. I suspect you are saying this to add to the entertainment/link-baiting but surely, surely, surely, as a nutritionist with your experience and qualifications you have a list of food companies that you’d like to have a quiet word with?

    [1] I posted a question about that health benefit on the Goodness Superfoods site that has been awaiting moderation for the last two weeks. I mentioned the topic on http://thatpaleoguy.com/2011/09/14/follow-the-money-iiia/

    1. Hi Nick,
      Thanks for taking a moment out to leave such a thoughtful comment. In all honesty, I think I was probably a bit over the top in my approach and am mildly regretful for the tone I chose to use in my writing. I was admittedly quite exhausted after a delivering a seminar over a long weekend and wrote this close to midnight.

      It is not my intention to arbitrarily dismiss the opinions of those who do not hold university qualifications in nutrition. Independent of anyone’s credentials, I object to the inflexible ideas put forth that “sugar is poison,” that any sugar is bad sugar, and eating it will unequivocally lead to obesity and associated comorbidities. This line of black/white, right/wrong thinking does not take into consideration the quantity of sugar consumed, inter-individual variations in genetics, exercise training status (central and peripheral adaptations), and many other factors which will impact how an individual’s body processes sugar (and what kind of sugar?).

      I agree that by and large consumers eat far too much refined food, and reducing how much of it they eat would certainly do them a world of good. However, weight loss and associated health improvements stemming from a reduction in refined food consumption (sugar in particular) would likely be due to a reduction in overall energy intake. Yet much of what I see out there across the internet and in popular magazines is that refined sugar even in small doses is a metabolic poison. I think this constitutes extreme thinking and does not take into consideration that all things, even a candy bar once in a while, can safely fit into a healthy diet (i.e., moderation).

      Research I conducted for my masters degree years ago looked at nutrition knowledge, beliefs, and information sources of active individuals. In general, people with no nutrition education or those who relied on fringe information sources (muscle magazines, diet books, etc) got more of the knowledge questions incorrect and were more likely to believe that “carbohydrates are fattening.”

      As for food companies and their “superfoods,” I do agree that many are over the top and are probably stretching things to meet their marketing objectives. With regards to the food in question being 1/3 sugar, I think it’s important to consider the overall nutritional profile of the product. The product’s main ingredient is wholegrain barley flakes and it also contains gluten and soy (protein sources). The combination of ingredients (independent of the 1/3 sugar argument) would yield a low-GI option which would result in a more modest rise in blood sugar. Also consider we do not live on one single food alone and must consider the overall dietary landscape of each person.

      I am not defending the company or its product. Rather, I’m making the point that most sugar critics do not look at the broader picture beyond the “argh, it has sugar” argument.

      With regards to my comment about a food company making a buck, this stems from my discussion above, where all foods can fit into a healthy diet. Sure, I’d love to see Coke and McDonalds put out of business, but it’s not because I think soda and fast food can’t potentially fit into a healthy diet once in a while. The main issue is the sheer VOLUME of it that people drink and eat – and then erroneously claim sugar makes us fat when in fact it’s excess calories, no physical activity, and a big heaping of bad genes don’t help matters. These types of companies need to be put down simply to save people from themselves (but that won’t happen any time soon).

      In closing, I’d just like to stress that a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. I get the gist of what people like David Gillespie are saying and we both agree that people should be eating less refined sugar, but I contend that it’s an alarmist position to be calling it a poison without looking at the larger picture (i.e., how it can fit into a healthy diet). Again, my coming off as a bit heavy handed was borne more out of frustration for hearing the same tired “sugar is fattening” mantra over the past two decades. I’d just like to see a more balanced view which considers all nutritional, physiological, psychological, and environmental factors relevant to weight control.

      Thanks again for taking a moment to leave a comment.
      Kind regards,
      Bill

      1. Hi Bill,

        Sounds like you’ll be holding those frustrated posts in draft state for a little while longer after this. What’s that advice again? When frustrated or angry write down the letter/email/blog post/etc with exactly what you want to say, then trash it the next morning and write the one you should write. Anyway, glad to give you an opportunity to ease off the throttle a bit.

        I completely agree that the the emphasis should surely be on “balanced”, the problem there is the word has been so manipulated as to be almost meaningless. How many dubious food products claim benefit “as part of a balanced diet”? This was part of my contention with this particular “superfood” product; it’s yet another that may well be occasionally fine for people in the context of a balanced diet, but, by marketing itself as a health product it becomes a “fringe information source”. Particularly when, as mentioned on their site and that I questioned, the “beneficial effects of resistant starch consumption is strong enough to advise Australians to aim for 20g per day” suggests a more-is-better approach to the consumption of their resistant starch rich product despite that being at the expense of a lot of refined sugar.

        Our kids come home having discussed diet at school and talk about other kids having had toast/packaged cereal for breakfast, vegemite sandwich (this is Australia after all) for lunch, some kind of pasta or pizza dinner, sweet treats, etc, clearly that isn’t a particularly balanced intake of carbohydrate rich foods. Ironically it’s the overemphasis (largely by fringe information sources) on low-fat that seems to excuse eating that quantity of carbohydrates.

        I do think your post and others I’ve read tend to unfairly paint paleo/primal/ancestral/evolutionary diet proponents with the same brush: Low carb, high fat, high meat, etc. For sure there are some but a couple I like to read/listen to, Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf, do not take such a stance. Mark Sisson for example joked about there being a potential “shock horror” reaction to his having a bit of sugar in his coffee and pointed out that in context to his overall intake, a bit of sugar in his coffee was nothing to get excited about. Robb Wolf on his podcast and site loves to talk about how much he loves sweet potatoes. Recently I’ve noticed both of them trying to emphasise avoiding a dogmatic zealous approach to diet. I’m actually very grateful to both of these information sources for helping improve our family’s diet considerably (we were equally caught up in the low-fat, yet relatively high carb diet and our energy levels and waistlines were not seeing the benefit). However, having previously been a “vegetarian” for many years I’m no longer interested in labelling myself with, nor dogmatically following, any flag-waving type allegiance.

        Anyway, I’m pleased this calmed down a bit, in the end surely you’re all attempting to do the same thing, improve health. That will of course involve some dispute and frustration on what works and what doesn’t, but as long as that is genuinely the main focus and not just cynically “making a buck”.

        1. Hi Nick,
          Thanks again for taking time out to so eloquently share your views. Before I go on, yes, I’ve thrown my toys and have shaved 30 points off my blood pressure. While I’m not making any excuses for losing my cool, I think my best explanation is that after seeing nutritional science perverted into a cult-like religion over so many years that the moment got the better of me. It doesn’t justify my reaction, though I guess on a positive note, it certainly has generated a fair bit of lively jousting.

          As I’ve said before, I’m no puppet of any organisation nor the so-called nutrition establishment – I’m an equal opportunity rock thrower! I certainly don’t need to defend any food company, as they’re clearly not all good samaritans. Sure, I can find plenty of things to hang them on and I do not think any single food is a “superfood.” We live on a varied diet (or should), so the potential health benefits of any “superfood” is diluted by the remaining garbage in one’s diet. Kind of like eating birdseed and tofu, doing regular exercise, and still smoking three packs of ciggies a day. Taking it one step further, they’re still in business with the purpose of turning a profit, and naturally that is reflected in advertising which could potentially hoodwink the general public.

          Having said that, I think we can both agree to delve deeper and find common ground on the idea that someone eating a sweetened cardboard cereal is comparatively healthier than someone who is living on a steady diet of Maccas, Coca-Cola, chips, ice cream, and a candy bar. Fair dinkum, I’ve been in the biz for over two decades and have seen such diets in clinical practice on more occasions than I care to count (not including the obese people I see at Woolies with a trolley packed to the hilt with sugar-laden garbage, and with their little consumer trainee children in tow). Again, I’m not saying that the company’s cereal is some sort of superfood, but I’m saying in the larger context, I don’t think it warrants the red lights and sirens.

          With regards to your kids, clearly they’re light-years ahead of the rest of their classmates. They must be the same kids I saw in Woolies in the above example. You raise a couple of important points that actually highlight a much larger issue. First, the foods you mentioned (pasta, pizza, sweets etc) may very well be high in carbohydrate, but the smoking gun here is that they’re high in refined white flour and simple sugar, respectively. By default, they may be low in fat, but this is not what public health recommendations are referring to when they refer to carbohydrates. Usually the operative word is complex carbohydrates of the unmilled variety. Unfortunately, the multinational food companies give the people what they want and, en masse, they want the very same garbage foods that your children’s classmates are bringing to school. Perhaps a beneficial dictatorship would be the way to go, where all food is unprocessed or you have to go out and hunt/kill your own animals and plow your own field to harvest grains!

          I can see why you might think I’m sweeping all diets into the same bin, but this is not quite the case. There are a number of considerations to bear in mind. In my lectures, I talk about some of the research from journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine which show that a higher protein diet wins out both in terms of weight loss and metabolic normalisation (re: glucose, lipids, etc). Sounds great and these kinds of results are often used as “evidence” of superiority. But this is only up to the 6-month mark. When you look at studies which carried out interventions for longer time periods (i.e., up to a year), there tended to be a convergence where all diets resulted in about the same improvements in the long-term. The deciding factor is actually adherence. If you stay on a reduced calorie diet long enough, you’ll probably lose weight and see an improved metabolic profile.

          On that note, I do not think that diet is a one-size fits all sort of thing. I am aware that there are inter-individual differences between people and what is right for one may not be for another. I am certain that obese people can get away with a reduced carbohydrate, higher protein (low GI) regimen and probably not have any adverse events provided they’re monitored by their GP.

          Though I’m not the president or a card carrying member of the carbohydrate society, I don’t think standard recommendations are evil either. IF people are consuming a diet that is rich in whole grain complex carbohydrates, lean cuts of meat, fruits/veggies, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, AND the calories are properly controlled, they will also result in weight loss.

          One of the things that people often neglect to acknowledge is that any reducing diet can potentially induce a famine response, particularly in those with a stronger genetic predisposition towards obesity (in a sedentary environment rich in high fat, refined foods). As such, people may inadvertently eat more or conserve energy at other times of the day which protects the body’s set point for weight. These very same people will walk away discouraged because they think they’re following the diet to the letter. This can happen on any diet and is not limited to either high carb or high protein.

          I think another massive point that nobody seems to be addressing in the paleo camp (or at least not that I’ve seen) is the fact that physical activity levels in most industrialised nations are woefully inadequate. So forget about cardboard cereals for a moment, you have people who do ZERO and less than zero activity and are binging on Maccas, KFC, Coke, chips, and all that garbage. Consequently, they’re getting fat because they’re eating a very high calorie diet and are doing nothing whatsoever to counteract this.

          Steve Stannard is an Aussie I know through a uni in New Zealand. He authored a great article with Nathan Johnson a few years back (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14608009) which discusses intramuscular triglyceride in a modern day obese person versus an athlete (the paleolithic hunter-gatherer archetype). In short, the smoking gun really comes down to physical training status and the level of muscular contractile activity. It’s interesting food for thought because many proponents of whatever diet du jour pops up on the scene often blame diet as the single cause of obesity, when in fact obesity is caused by a combination of factors, one of which is exercise/physical activity levels. Unfortunately, I don’t often see all the other factors addressed. This narrow focus can obscure a much larger but important picture which stresses the overall relevance of lifestyle over one single component.

          I am not all that familiar with Mark Sisson or Rob Wolf because there are more people out there promoting diets these days that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all. But a bit of sensibility goes a long way, and if that’s what they’re espousing, then that’s probably not a bad thing. I’m sure David Gillespie is even a nice enough guy and I’m sure we could probably kick back and enjoy a low-carb beer together. But my main gripe is simply that his book demonises fructose and fires it off to the sin bin without fully considering the overarching nutritional milieu (and physical activity factors as discussed above).

          In closing, I don’t deny that people lose weight and feel better when they reduce their intake of refined fructose, but it’s likely a product of inadvertent calorie reduction than any special dietary mix. If this is what moves people in the right direction, then I’m ok with this. But it is the dogmatic and polarised views that tend to skew the picture and can mislead people into believing “sugar is poison,” with no consideration for the vast quantities that are being consumed on a large scale.

          I recognise that I’m not going to convince everyone to see things my way. I’m just trying to get the general public to assume a more holistic, level-headed approach that does not demonise any single food and looks at the broader considerations.

          Thanks again for your comments and for your cordial tone.
          kind regards,
          Bill

  6. Bill, I have to add this as this is my personal soap box these days and why I will share this post with everyone I can. I think it is important to mention as well…that it is no longer just “sugar makes you fat” or “sugar is poison”. There is a war being waged on carbohydrates as a whole, even complex carbohydrates.

    I don’t think anyone argues that refined sugars need to be limited, just like highly processed meat and or fats. I also believe most people can appreciate you have to look at foods in the context of a complete meal and a complete diet.

    Unfortunately, “sugar” is often a broad term that is being used synonymously with fructose, with carbs, and even with complex carbs etc, etc. That is a huge problem. In that respect, anti-carb and anti-sugar campaigns are no better then the anti-fat campaigns of the 80 and 90s. Ironically many of the carb/sugar bashers are the same people who want to bad mouth the “establishment” for its recommendation to limit fats with arguments like not all fats are created equal, and the recommendations limiting saturated fats were made on questionable science. Talk about the pendulum swinging. So where is the compelling science conclusively linking sugar and or carbs with anything.

    What bothers me is people aren’t focusing on eating healthier. I don’t think this anti-carb campaign has increased fruit or veggie consumption. I think many people are simply substituting protein sources for carbs without any real appreciation for whether it is real quality protein or not or the overall nutrient density of their complete diet.

    This is exactly what happened with the anti-fat campaign. People didn’t hear we need to restrict fat to a whopping 30% of our dietary intact because it is a dense source of calories and too many calories contributes to gaining weight (and even though are ancestors may have eaten more fat…we eat a lot more total calories and in most cases are nowhere near as active). People heard fat is bad and therefore substituting it with sugar laden foods is okay. That wasn’t the message, but that is how nutrition gets distorted and what many of us see as a big part of the problem. Meanwhile, at the same time health advocates were warning against too much fat they were also encouraging people to eat more fruits and veggies, eat more fish, choose leaner cuts of meat, limit refined carbs and yes refined and added sugars. That was the popular message 20 years ago. We don’t hear about that.

    Nutrition experts are still telling people to eat more fruits and veggies, to eat more fish, to chose lean cuts of meat…yet the focus is not there. The focus has shifted from avoiding fats to avoiding carbs in any form. People have to understand why this approach is futile. Don’t we learn anything from history?

  7. Hello Bill, I’m not a health expert either, I’m an Aircraft Technician. All I know about David Gillespie is from what I have seen on television and read in his books ‘Sweet Poison- Why sugar makes us fat’ and ‘Sweet Poison – The Quit Plan’. I would like to express my concerns about your obvious disdain for David Gillespie.

    I read David’s two books because I saw his presentations on the Channel 7 ‘Sunrise’ program and became curious in what he had to say, not because I was ‘alarmed’ by the title. David from the outset has openly explained that he is a Lawyer, not a health expert, and that he wrote the book after he set out on “evidence” gathering mission to discover for himself why he was obese and the reasons he couldn’t sustain a healthy weight. He also repeatedly states that he has based the effects of cutting out FRUCTOSE on a study of just one person, himself.

    I have seen nutritionists after being referred by doctors because I am obese. Not once have they clearly explained the role sugar plays in weight gain. David clearly outlined to me that there are 3 main types of sugar we deal with in our diets everyday and it is indeed FRUCTOSE that is the problem here, not Glucose or Galactose. So maybe you’re right about being an alarmist. Maybe his title should read “Sweet Poison, Why the FRUCTOSE in Sucrose/Honey/HFCS/Fruit Juice/Inulin/Golden Syrup/Agave Syrup/Maple Syrup & numerous others makes us fat”. A lot less alarming don’t you think?

    His logic (and a fact that is undisputed) is that up until the early 1900’s fructose was consumed in very low quantities, but these days it has been incorporated in practically everything and we consume vast amounts of it in comparison. Since that time, the WORLD population has experienced massive increases in ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ and other nasties that simply weren’t prevalent 120 years ago. That logic, to me, is sound and David has compelling evidence to suggest that FRUCTOSE is the most likely culprit.

    He also clearly states that we cannot possibly eliminate fructose entirely from our diets as it is present in fruit and other whole foods. Not once has he said “You cannot eat fructose, ever!” What he actually says is on the contrary, if it is consumed with fibre (as in the whole fruit) that it’s OK. Overall he suggests that fructose intake should be limited to around 15g per day. This information makes sense to everyday, non-medical/health educated people like me. It’s solid advice, not just nondescript “Eat sugar in MODERATION” garbage… how am I supposed to work with that? Exactly how much is “moderation”?

    I have taken David Gillespie’s advice and cleaned out the house of products and processed foods that contain more than 1.5% of FRUCTOSE. There are a couple of exceptions to this of course (things like tinned diced tomatoes) but if it goes over 5% FRUCTOSE then it definitely stays on the supermarket shelf. My whole family is now as FRUCTOSE free as we can manage. My wife and I have lost a considerable amount of weight in the 4 weeks we have started this. Everyone is now content after eating and stay that way for several hours. The kids are happy to have dessert once every weekend, but these desserts are made with DEXTROSE (pure Glucose) and the portions they eat are far less than what they would have consumed when we were on the (what I call now), “High FRUCTOSE” lifestyle. David also advised that ‘Party’ food (Cakes, Chocolate, lollies etc) is for parties! My kids know they can go nuts on their birthdays and have whatever they want to eat. I’m confident that they will discover that stuff is going to taste sickly sweet after being on a ‘LOW FRUCTOSE’ lifestyle for a year. So I am not denying them FRUCTOSE entirely, just severely limiting their consumption of it as I now believe that FRUCTOSE is damaging to the human body when it is constantly consumed at levels above 15g/day… and I thank David for highlighting that.

    If anything, David Gillespie should be commended for writing that book in a way that average people can understand. I’m actually confused (not just by all the ‘greater than thou’ terminology you use), as to why you have a problem with him because you basically agree with what he has to say in all your responses above!! My problem with you is that you got all hot under the collar and had a spray at ordinary people trying to get a food company and their nutritionist to explain why they think adding sugar (and therefore, FRUCTOSE) to a healthy product is a good thing? In my opinion, the logic given in the responses from the company, your friend the nutritionist and YOUR responses, says to me that it’s OK; it’s OK to add 30% sugar to healthy food. It’s OK to add 15% FRUCTOSE to Broccoli, brussel sprouts, broad beans and spinach to make them more palatable to my kids!! That way they will benefit from all the good fibre and stuff in the greens…. are you serious?? That is illogical and contradictory, especially when you also agree that we should cut down our sugar intake.

    I agree with you that there are heaps of celebrities and sport personalities out there peddling their diets and products, (I’ve actually tried some of them) for pure profit making purposes only. In there not also some medical/health professionals doing the same? What I’d like to see is a study carried out by the health profession to absolutely refute what David has written. If the results of that study can be written in a way that the average Australian can relate to it (without all the unnecessary medical jargon and terminology) then that will change my mind, because quite frankly all the information I have been given in the past hasn’t worked, but David’s advice has.

    I don’t believe David Gillespie is a zealot any more than I believe Alan John Miller is Jesus.

    1. Hi Kirby,
      I appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment on what has quickly become a very popular and contentious blog post. Before I go on, I should state that my dissenting thoughts on David Gillespie’s books are purely professional and I’m sure he’s probably a friendly, likeable guy. As I stated above in my responses to Nick, I am admittedly regretful that I lost my cool and threw my toys and it probably didn’t win me any converts. Anyway, I’ll do my best to address the points you’ve raised in your comment.

      With regards to David’s self-experimentation with diet and weight loss, I think it’s important to note that this is not actually a scientific study. However, either reducing or cutting out refined fructose from the diet would likely result in weight loss and an improvement in other metabolic parameters (blood sugar, cholesterol, etc) by way of reducing overall calorie intake – not because fructose alone is sweet poison. The one key thing that people seem to be neglecting to acknowledge is the quantity of refined sugar in the diet. Sure, I think people need to cut back on refined foods, processed meats, etc and replacing them with anything that resembles a lower GI regimen will likely result in a feeling of fullness for longer and a reduced likelihood of overeating.

      With regards to the role sugar plays in weight gain, it is not accurate to say that the mere presence of fructose in the diet will automatically produce obesity and health problems. Still, we have to consider just HOW MUCH fructose is being consumed. Sure, a diet that is loaded with refined fructose is also likely to be high in calories and likely to crowd out other healthier foods from the diet. Weight gain is a likely culprit, but not because fructose alone is causing obesity, but rather the sheer volume of fructose (i.e., excess calories).

      And as I stated in my original post and my replies above, one must ABSOLUTELY consider physical activity levels in all this. Those who do regular activity have a higher metabolic rate which justifies those excess calories and helps to maintain body weight.

      You mention that metabolic syndrome and other degenerative diseases weren’t prevalent 120 years ago and fructose was not on the scene. Following on from the above paragraph, I kindly ask you to also consider that 120 years ago the car wasn’t on the scene so people were comparatively more physically active. Modern milling technologies were not yet in effect so foods would likely have been less refined and presumably “healthier.” And finally, have you considered that life expectancy was quite low back in those days? By and large, people didn’t live long enough to acquire all the metabolic disease issues. Though I still think it’s noteworthy that obese people did still exist back in those days and, yes, believe it or not, so did type 2 diabetes. I actually did my PhD on diabetes and morbid obesity and can assure you diabetes as a disease goes way back before modern times. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that David is dismissing a lot of critical thinking en route to coming to his conclusions. Again, please don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to bet David believes what he believes, but for a multitude of reasons, I simply feel he is mistaken.

      With regards to the moderation conundrum, I agree that it can be cumbersome to decipher all the information out there. Though I can tell you from my experience of working in a hospital cardiac rehabilitation department that many patients, when questioned about their diet, intuitively know they should not be overdosing on Maccas, KFC, Hungry Jacks, Coke, and candy bars. A moderate diet for them would simply mean replacing the garbage food with something that comes out of the ground or grows on a tree.

      Here in Australia, there are a number of Accredited Practising Dietitians who can help you with developing a diet. Also, a friend of mine, dietitian Matt O’Neill has launched Metabolic Jumpstart(http://www.metabolicjumpstart.com) which gives you a customised eating plan. Saying that, I should also mention that I do NOT receive any commission for that plug. Rather, I’ve seen the inner workings of his program and it is healthy, balanced, and nutritionally sound (and very low in fructose).

      I’d also like to commend you and your wife on your weight loss. I think this is wonderful news. It also underscores an important point that I’ve been repeated numerous times in this debate:

      1) By reducing the volume of fructose in your diet, you’ve reduced your calorie (or kJ) intake
      2) By reducing refined foods, you’ve likely replaced them with a lower GI food which therefore keeps you feeling fuller for those several hours after eating
      3) Because you’re feeling fuller for longer, you are reducing the number of meals per day and therefore less likely to overeat (see #1 above).

      I think you may have misunderstood the point I was trying to make regarding the cereal company. I’m not defending them, but I’m using the example to illustrate that the food itself, even with a bit of honey on it, is far less sinister than gorging on Maccas and milkshakes. Please also consider that this is only one single food, that in the context of one’s daily overall diet, may in fact not be much of a metabolic villain.

      Using your own example, David says you can have party foods at parties. I would agree with that (yay us, we agree!). Clearly overdosing on cake and sweets is not a good thing, but if you do it once in a while and it is done against a backdrop of an otherwise reasonable diet (high in unrefined grains, vegetables, lean meats, etc), then the possible negative health effects would be diluted by all the good stuff. I’m not defending junk food, but am just making the point that it “can” fit into a sensible and prudent diet.

      Do the above two paragraphs seem unreasonable? Again, I’m trying to divert your attention away from looking at one single aspect of diet and get you to assume a more broad, holistic view which says, ‘yeah, ok, I can get away with a bit of refined food here and there, but I probably shouldn’t be living on it as a main dietary staple.’

      You are right there are a lot of celebs and sports stars pushing diets and gimmicks (read my ab circle pro review), and yes, there are medical people doing precisely the same. In fact, you raise a VERY important point. I hold doctors and other medical professionals to a MUCH higher standard because they know (or should know) better than to push hokey diets and gadgets. They are out there and yes, I have taken them to task and called them out on their ethics.

      I know I might seem like the enemy of the state in all this, but I assure you, my intentions are altruistic and I genuinely do have the public’s best interest in mind. Would it interest you to know that I get routinely bombarded by companies (usually supplement pushers) wanting me to back their products? Seriously, I’d probably be a millionaire right now if I wanted to sell out my credentials and go to bat for them. But I won’t do it.

      With regards to your final comment, as I said, I probably didn’t use the best choice of words in my description of Joanna McMillan’s detractors, though I do stand by my views that David is mistaken by not taking into consideration the much larger overarching nutrition consideration in their relationship to obesity and health issues.

      Thanks again for your comment, Kirby. I hope we can still be friends after my little tantrum-induced wobbly. And if we happen to cross paths in the aisles at Woolies, I’ll be glad to shout you a fructose-free beer.

      Cheers,
      Bill

      1. PS: I should also note that the media may be complicit in the diet misinformation wars. The minute someone pops up on the market with a “miracle diet,” the media gives them far too much exposure without actually vetting whether or not their theories are scientifically valid. I agree it makes for great television viewing, but it’s only confusing people and confounding the health and nutrition messages people are ending up with.

        I have often heard the complaint from the general public, “why can’t you nutrition/exercise guys all get your stories straight?” But the truth is that most dietitians and exercise physiologists are on the same page, it’s just that the media gives far too much attention to fringe nonsense which contradicts more comparably prudent nutrition guidelines.

        I do not think people are stupid by any means, but not everyone is walking around with a PhD in a health science discipline and so cannot evaluate the big picture in all this. And the misinformation battles rage on….

  8. Hi Bill

    I am 26 years old and very overweight. I have struggled with my weight since long term illness as a young child, and now heading towards 30 I am terrified of the effects on my health. I have tried visiting a nutritionist, weight watchers, shake plans, sheer willpower to eat ‘good’ foods and countless other diets. I tried doing as much exercise as I could. I tried, for at least 15 years, to shake off the guilt cycle I was stuck in with food. Depression, low self esteem, severe anxiety, trouble forming relationships and an overwhelming sense that I was ‘bad’ because I couldn’t just stop eating the wrong foods and be a ‘good’ person.
    The media told me that I needed a BALANCED diet, that i needed to cut out starchy carbs, eat more protein, exercise everyday, have more willpower. But still, all that these messages did was tell me that my whole life I was failing at eating. Of course this has spread over into other parts of my life.

    I couldn’t see a way out of this guilt ridden life, and I was desperate and close to giving up. Then 4 weeks ago, someone leant me a copy of David Gillespie’s Book. I came home, read it in a few hours. It scared me senseless and shocked me to the core. It wasn’t just the content, it was an idea that began to take hold in my being. How come I was putting things in my body all day without any idea of what my body was doing with this food. I know nothing engineering, but I am not an engineer. I knew nothing about how the body works, but I have a body. This was the idea that seemed to jumpstart me.

    Since then I have not consumed anything with a ‘sugars’ level higher than 3% aside from the odd piece of fruit. This is the only change I have made to my diet and the results seem amazing to me. After 5 days of headaches and intense withdrawals (fructose can’t be just a food if it is this addictive, can it?) I have felt clear headed and more alive than I have in years. I have more energy, don’t get as many headaches as I used to. I have lost roughly 3kg, which isn’t much but an excellent start.

    All the other diets I have tried have left me feeling foggy, tired, starving and generally unhappy. I think this is why they are so hard to sustain, leaving so many, including myself, feeling although we have failed once again.

    In the past 4 weeks I have eaten ‘bad’ food such as chips. I have not exercised anymore than I usually do (a couple of short walks a day and a few bush walks) This feels easy, and for the first time in my life I am not feeling guilty about what I eat AT ALL. I have changed the way I look at food and feel no desire whatsoever to eat fructose laden foods, aside from fruit. I am angry at food companies putting in sugar when it is not needed, and I think the biggest change for me has been avoiding the hidden sucrose added to savoury foods that I had no idea i was eating.

    After feeling a failure for so long, you have no idea the relief that I now feel about food. Davids message is simple, take fructose out of the equation and let your body take care of the rest. I now trust in my body to do it’s job, to tell me when I am full and to tell me what it needs. And you know what? It isn’t telling me to eat anything sweet. In taking fructose out of the equation, I have taken guilt out too.

    I understand that you are someone who is trained in this area and that you understand much more about the body than I ever will. But as someone who works in nutrition, isn’t your ultimate goal to get people healthy and at a healthy weight? David’s book is helping me get healthy, and countless others as well. Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss an idea that could have a profound effect on peoples lives, because even if you don’t agree with his science, don’t you share the same goals?

    Samantha

  9. Dear Samantha, I’ve sent you an email with more specific information, but in the intermediate, I would suggest having a read through my last few responses to comments, as these may address some of the points you’ve brought up. Will respond at length when I have time, but am tied up at the moment. Kind regards, Bil

  10. Hi again Bill,
    I agree with ALMOST everything you have written in response to my post… what are the exceptions? Firstly, you are still suggesting that David Gillespie’s synopsis is wrong; even though if people follow the guidelines set out in Sweet Poison they will in fact achieve your “MORE BALANCED” diet criteria.

    Do you not agree that by actively reducing their FRUCTOSE intake to less than 15g/day (30g of sugar) they will effectively:
    1) Cut out a massive amount of processed foods,
    2) reduce their volume of empty calories by cutting their consumption of fruit juices & sweetened drinks,
    3) increase their consumption of whole foods, and
    4) make wiser choices when considering eating out?

    I know I can attest to this because my diet has improved to that extent, a far cry from what it was a month ago. Once again, don’t you think David should be commended for encouraging people to do that?

    For argument sake, let’s just say that the theory that FRUCTOSE is a toxin is incorrect, and David blatantly interpreted all those research papers and studies with ‘tunnel vision’ just to ‘prove’ this theory and make some money out of it. Surely you would have to agree that absolutely no harm will come to anyone if they take David’s advice and just reduce their sugar consumption to a maximum of 30g/day? (This is assuming that they are not being silly and just living on packets of crisps alone of course).

    As for unqualified people doing experiments, that argument doesn’t wash with me either. There are dozens of examples of very famous people that have experimented on themselves, or put their lives on the line to test a theory. An example close to my heart? The Wright Brothers! They were bicycle makers/repairers that managed getting a heavier than air machine to fly under it own power. They did that by using past research, conducting a massive amount of their own research and then ultimately risking their lives to test their theories. They got it right (pardon the pun) after all the ‘educated experts’ decreed it wasn’t possible.

    What happened after the Wright brothers proved controlled, powered flight was possible? Every Sopwith, Fokker & Curtis under the sun started building aircraft… 50 years later, the even more educated experts professed that breaking the sound barrier in an aircraft would be catastrophic… Chuck Yeager risked his life to put the new research and theories to the test and now they are looking at building aircraft powered by scram jets that will fly from Sydney to London in 3 hours.

    Now I know that Aircraft and Nutrition are completely foreign to each other, but the research and theories used to govern both are identical. If a theory derived from extensive research is tested and works, then that is progress! I am putting David’s theory and research to the test and IT WORKS!

    I am obese… pure and simple… have been all my adult life. When someone tells me that they lost 40kgs in about 18 months and have KEPT IT OFF for SEVERAL YEARS, I’m going to take notice because I don’t want to be obese for the rest of my life. I want to achieve the same result. All the other methods I have tried in the past haven’t worked because as soon as I am unable to continue with an exercise regime or ‘diet’ the weight comes back on, along with feelings of failure and resignation that there is nothing you can do about it. If you haven’t been obese for a long period then you can’t possibly realise how frustrating it is to have healthy weight people waving fingers at you and saying: “You simply need to stop eating fat, reduce your portion size and calorie intake and exercise more!”

    In conclusion I’d like to use my Aircraft analogy again: I see Nutritionists, Dieticians, Health professionals as ‘Leonardo DaVinci’, they are well educated and have a good idea on how things should work. David Gillespie is like the ‘Wright Brothers’, he has taken the same information available at the time and tweaked it to make it work!! I’m sure, like the aviation industry, that all the nutritionists, dieticians and health professionals will run with the Low Fructose lifestyle soon, because that is PROGRESS!!

    I’m still your friend Bill, I will be quite happy to share the results of my test of David Gillespie’s advice with you anytime… maybe when a substantial number of obese people can lose their weight, and keep it off for years after by going low fructose, you will give David Gillespie the due credit he deserves?

    1. Hi Kirby,
      Thanks again for your follow up message and for the impromptu tutorial on aviation history (seriously, that’s cool stuff).

      Before I go on, I call your attention to Alan Aragon’s blog which very elegantly points out many of the shortcomings of the alarmist brigade: http://www.alanaragonblog.com/2010/01/29/the-bitter-truth-about-fructose-alarmism/

      With regards to reducing fructose content in the diet, see my comments above in previous posts. I think my main point was that it’s not rocket science that if you reduce refined sugar in the diet (and minimise processed foods in general) that you will inadvertently replace them with more wholesome foods which leads to a reduced calorie intake and, consequently, a healthier you.

      I’m trying to underscore the point that fructose is not a poison in and of itself. No sugar is a poison. It becomes an opportunistic poison if consumed in MASSIVE quantities, as most consumers do in this day and age of processed/refined foods. Again, it is HOW MUCH of it you’re eating. I’m not sure why that’s been such a difficult concept for people to consider.

      REGARDING FRUCTOSE ALARMISM
      I also take particular issue with David’s book title that pretty much shouts from the rooftops that sugar makes us fat. Carbohydrates and any subgroup subsumed under its banner are not “fattening” unless eaten in excess (as with any other macronutrient). Again, consider the above comments regarding HOW MUCH fructose is being consumed.

      Fructose is NOT a toxin in and of itself. Let me say that again. Fructose alone is NOT a toxin. See above paragraph regarding quantity being a massive contributing factor as opposed to its mere presence in the diet. It is very narrow focused to slam one single nutrient without looking at the big picture.

      This is a mere case of guilty by association. People just so happen to eat a lot of calories, the bulk of which are comprised of fructose. So you have to ask yourself the important question: Am I gaining weight because I’ve eaten too many calories or too much fructose? We must separate out cause and effect from coincidence. It is cause and effect that you’d gain weight from too many calories and mere coincidence that fructose happened to be a bystander at the scene of the crime. Making any sense here?

      In all, I’d just like to see a bit of order restored and less of this dietary extremism that is so pervasive across the world. Everyone’s looking for “the secret” but the honest to god “secret” is that there is no secret. The best available evidence still supports the age old advice to reduce processed/refined high calorie foods (as you have successfully done), get more exercise, and engage in a lot of background physical activity (i.e., less television time, walk instead of driving, etc).

      I don’t think I’d go as far as putting David in the same group as the Wright brothers, but if his alarmist views terrify the hell out of people and instill the fear of God in them enough to reduce their consumption of refined/processed foods, then ok, “Yay David, good onya mate, big fan of your work.”

      As for us evil and conspiring nutritionists and health professionals etc going with the low fructose program, I have news for you. We’ve all been preaching not to eat case loads of refined/processed foods for decades, though admittedly, part of our problem is that science has a shitty marketing team, doesn’t sell itself very well, and alarmists who trumpet that sugar is poison usually get most of the limelight on Current Affair. So I guess it’s safe to say that we all do have the same objectives, but how we get there is what matters. Reiterating my point above, if David scared the hell out of you and that works to get you healthier, then more power to ya. Seriously, I’m cheering up a storm for you and anyone else that succeeds in losing weight.

      Bottom line: Less alarmism and dietary extremism, more balanced views on nutrition, and less processed/refined foods.

      Sending you positive vibes and wishing you all the best in your health endeavours.

      Kind regards,
      Bill

  11. When you have the time I would respectfully ask you to watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM&feature=related

    It is presented by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, and he explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.

    I would be interested in what parts of his presentation you do not agree with and scientifically justify why.

    After all, this was one of the things discussed and I emphasize discussed in the above mentioned posts. I did not see any personal attached just healthy debate, after all if you put yourself out to earn money promoting a product you need to back up your recommendations.

    She even stated, and I am paraphrasing as the post has been conveniently deleted “she agrees that HFCS is damaging”

    My response to that post was “Sucrose is 50% fructose & HFCS is 55%. Seems to be a no brainer to me. If HFCS is as you state “HCFS which has the most damning evidence against it” does 5% less fructose make sugar safe?”

    I await your response in the interest if good informed debate as I am yet to find any medical/ dietitian professional that is prepared to discredit his findings.

    1. Hi Bruce,
      I am aware of and have viewed Dr. Lustig’s video, as have some 1.6 million others. I call your attention to Alan Aragon’s webpage which specifically addresses all of your concerns. The title is The Bitter Truth About Fructose Alarmism. You can view it at: http://www.alanaragonblog.com/2010/01/29/the-bitter-truth-about-fructose-alarmism/. Alan points out a number of key things that I have been echoing in my own posts and which have repeatedly been ignored by those who so desperately want to paint fructose (or any other sugar for that matter) as a metabolic demon, independent of consideration for dosage and/or context. You will also note the more relevant references which are based on adult humans as opposed to rats or human children.

      I gotta tell you, it is one heck of a complex debate, but there are some key underpinnings which most health professionals tend to agree on and that is that fructose (or any other sugar) must be considered in the grander scheme of things (re genetics, activity levels, dosage, etc as stated above). To not do this is very narrow focused and does not give an ample and wide perspective on the broader understanding.

      We may have to agree to disagree on some things if you choose not to consider other independent peer-reviewed evidence which may contradict your views, which appear to be influenced predominantly by Lustig or David Gillespie. A good well-rounded, responsible scientific perspective is one that says, “ok, show me ALL the evidence, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and let’s consider everything, put it into context, and then make some sort of meaningful, cohesive conclusion on all this. What does the preponderance of evidence when put into context indicate?” Once you go down that path, then you’re minimising the likelihood of extremist all-or-none beliefs which may not actually serve much value in the grander scheme of things. As Alan notes, everyone is debating over how many grams of fructose, but this is likely going to vary from person to person and will be influenced by things such as their physical conditioning status, which will influence their overall metabolism (among so many other factors).

      In conclusion, if these guys and their views get people to reduce how much processed and refined garbage foods people are eating, then I say “yay, a ticker tape parade for them down George Street in Sydney and fireworks off the Harbour Bridge.” But based upon independent peer-reviewed evidence, I will never believe that fructose alone is a metabolic villain in small quantities. Eat it by the bucketload on a daily basis and sure, no surprise there, you’ll have weight and health problems.

      Thanks again for taking the time to write and I am hopeful that this at least provides an alternate perspective for your consideration.

      Kind regards,
      Bill

      PS, sorry for getting HFCS letters transposed as HCFS. I type faster than the speed of sound and sometimes make typos. Bugger!

        1. Hi Bruce, I’m just coming off another extremely long day, so excuse my brevity here (at 10pm). I did have a quick flip through the abstract and the following sentence caught my eye:

          “In this report, we demonstrate that a high-fructose diet in rhesus monkeys produces insulin resistance and many features of the metabolic syndrome, including central obesity, dyslipidemia, and inflammation within a short period of time; moreover, a subset of monkeys developed type 2 diabetes.”

          The operative phrase here is high-fructose diet…etc. As I’ve indicated and consistent with Alan’s message in my response above, we’re still looking at a dose-response relationship. In other words, you overload a rat, monkey, or human with high quantities of fructose and their health deteriorates. It’s seemingly proving the obvious. It has long been known for quite some time in the nutrition community that sweets can raise triglycerides and induce a cascade of negative metabolic health effects. But when put into context, the person who is eating a diet generally higher in whole grains, fruits, veggies, etc and who has the occasional sweet is probably not going to be poisoned by a sugary snack.

          I would also like to point out to some of the others on the Sweet Poison Facebook page that have said something along the lines that carbohydrates, fructose, and sugar are all different things (and saying I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about). This is particularly relevant because I think the confusion over basic nutrition terminology might be part of the misunderstanding here. See Jaybee Janelle’s comment from Tuesday on the FB page.

          There are three energy-containing macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Underneath of the carbohydrate heading, you have your monosaccharides (one sugar molecule), disaccharides (two sugar molecules), and polysaccharides (many sugar molecules). Fructose and glucose are chemically similar but different monosaccharides and are the two main ones that garner the most attention and, as we’re all well aware, can have different physiological effects in the body. The idea that sugars are chemically distinct from carbohydrate is not correct, as they are used synonymously. I can see how this would be confusing for most people unless having taken a nutrition course, but we can thank the media for this one. Carbohydrate is a big bad scary word, so sugar seems to roll off newsreaders’ lips on the 6pm news! “Sugars” as listed on food nutrition panels include naturally occurring sugar in fruits and milk and also them darn added sugars. Obviously, for optimal weight control and health, it is best reduce the intake of refined sugar (empty calories, easy to overeat, reduced feeling of fullness, etc). You might want to pass this on to Jaybee.

          In all, it seems this debate has reached a point where we believe what we want to believe and may need to agree to disagree. I’m at a point where I don’t know what else to say to everyone because it just seems like everyone is so tenaciously gripping onto the Sweet Poison mantra. This is not a case of me HAVING to be right for the sake of being right.

          Anyway Bruce, I do appreciate your kind demeanour and courteous comments and have done my best to be as honest and straight-forward as possible (and non-inflammatory) in my communications, so hopefully nothing I’ve written here has come off in that light. I also hope you enjoy and consider some of Alan’s content as well.

          Kind regards,
          Bill

          1. Hi Bruce, one last thing. With regards to that study, it looks like a fine piece of research, but again, it has to be put into context. No need to slam it. But always remember that one single journal article is just that – one single journal article. Evidence is good and it is relevant, but it speaks more to those who are slamming down the sugary fruit drinks, sodas, etc with no other real quality nutrition in their day. Most responsible scientists would not go making recommendations for sweeping changes in public health nutrition unless a substantive body of evidence emerges. Not sexy and not convenient, but it’s a way forward based for evidence-supported nutrition.

  12. OK Bill, I’ve spent nearly two hours going through Mr Aragon’s debate. My resolve to stay committed to David Gillespie’s camp has been strengthened…. purely for the reasons that it is a) working for me and b) 90% of the people challenging the fact that fructose is a toxin are arrogant, abusive and have clearly never been obese. Disgraceful.

    1. Hi Kirby,
      It’s unfortunate you feel that way and we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I think we can agree that fructose is a toxin, but my caveat is that it’s toxic only in large doses. Drinking excessive water can be toxic too, that very same essential for life element. As for arrogant and abusive, I’ve been nothing but cordial in this debate, but my fear is that perhaps you wanted to read into my words and ascribe some sort of condescending tone to them. This was not my intention at any time and I’m really very sorry that you feel that way. Bottom line: if you’re eating less refined/processed food and you’re losing weight and feeling better, then I can only wish you well in your pursuits.

      Just as an aside from the diet debate, I’d also recommend a very good site out of a US university called the National Weight Control Registry. Some good info there which might be of use: http://www.nwcr.ws

      Kind regards,
      Bill

  13. Not having read, or knowing much about David Gillespie I was going to mention the Lustig video. Since that’s been covered I think it’s worth drawing attention to videos [1] and slides [2] from the 2011 Ancestral Health Symposium which include another presentation by Dr Lustig.

    However, I think it’s important to point out that the symposium also included talks that dispute the carbohydrate hypothesis as a single reason for obesity. As an example Stephan Guyenet put forward the theory of “food reward”, which turned into a bit of a tussle between him and the author of “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why we get fat”, Gary Taubes.

    There are several reasons for mentioning this: First it demonstrates that the paleo/primal/ancestral/evolutionary/whatever name you feel the need to call it/etc community is actually much less dogmatic than may appear and is really just seeking out a good knowledge base for modern nutrition and health. This was part of the reason I called Bill out on his “alarmist” and “zealots” comments in the first place as in my opinion those can apply to the fringe elements of any food culture.

    Another reason to mention it slightly sides with Bill in that, sure, there are going to be people that have fantastic success with just cutting out sugar but there are also many that have success with different diets. As I suggested in an earlier comment, our family have been doing very well removing wheat (though if we find one of those authentic freshly baked wood fired Italian style loaves at a one of the local farmers market and some good cheese, olives…), reducing carbohydrates, etc BUT using our own experience, fantastic as we may feel it is, is still anecdotal. There are still conflicting examples, such as that of the often cited Kitavans [3] who show no signs of obesity on their relatively high carbohydrate diets [4].

    I’d expect Bill would agree that it’s not worth getting dogmatic about diet and nutrition as it’s way too complex a subject which isn’t limited to the food alone. Take context for example: As much as I was willing to rant about the above mentioned “superfood” I’m pretty sure if I was starving even fairy bread [5] would be a super food, though I certainly wouldn’t be eating it every day thereafter.

    Anyway, for those frustrated readers whose cortisol levels are throwing their blood sugars into a tailspin here’s some light hearted finger poking at the whole paleo thing (note it does include rude words and stuff so please cover your eyes while reading it if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing. Aussie readers in contrast can argue about whether those words are actually rude or not as they heard worse on the radio this morning, TV at 6pm, ad in paper, etc!):

    http://beastmodaldomains.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/my-take-on-nutrition-paleo-brownies-are-dumb/

    P.S. For Bill: To underline the lack of paleolithic zealotry, if I haven’t already done so endlessly, Robb Wolf (author of The Paleo Solution) retweeted the above link calling it “GENIUS”.

    [1] http://vimeo.com/ancestralhealthsymposium/videos
    [2] http://www.slideshare.net/ancestralhealth/presentations )
    [3] http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/08/kitava-wrapping-it-up.html
    [4] Note their diet is not however composed of highly processed wheat, sugars, etc.
    [5] Translation for non-Aussies: Hundreds and Thousands sugar sprinkles on buttered (or worse, margarine) white bread and served at kids parties.

  14. I watched the Lustig video recently and was blown away by it. I have always felt that sugar was a “drug” ie addictive and gives a high, (just watch kids at a party) but I had never considered it was a poison (despite tooth cavities) or thought to compare it to alcohol as Lustig does. Even so I don’t see Lustig giving up beer or advocating total denial to kids parties – he’s just pissed because he is shocked to see kids so obese – from starting with formulas and growing up with TVs for babysitters blaring out ads for takeaway foods with parents who never learned to cook. Who wouldn’t be.

    As to losing weight, my recent experience has been to remove sugar, wheat and dairy from my diet, due to illness. Leaving vegetables, meat and fish and a few carbs (nuts and seeds)and fruits. I have eaten really well in this time, cooked more, and included fats on bacon and pork in the diet as well as fats from plenty of nuts and advocadoes.

    I have lost 10 kg in 2 months. Without feeling hungry all the time, (in fact I eat as much as I want so long as it isn’t sugar or wheat)and without increasing exercise. I don’t know how anyone could can refute what Lustig says.

    1. Please read my earlier comments regarding replacing a diet high in refined, processed foods with more “real food.” You should remember that virtually anything consumed in excess can be a “poison.” While I have no vested interest in any sugar cane fields, eating a small amount of refined sugar is not going to do any harm unless you overdose on it on a regular basis….and a LOT of people do this on a daily basis with gulping down 2 liter bottles of coke, candy bars, etc and then wonder why they’re getting fat. They quickly assign blame to sugar when in fact they’re simply eating far too many calories. On top of that, Lustig does not adequately addressed the fact that physical activity levels are at an all-time low on a global scale, so there is insufficient energy expenditure to justify these excess calories coming from refined foods. Congrats on your weight loss and for moving more towards a sensible eating regimen.

  15. Appreciate the no-nonsense information. I am also curious, since he’s not listed in the references, if you read any data/presentations from Dr. Robert Lustig? If not, I think you would find it very interesting and might even have to write a follow-up comment. Thanks!

    1. Hi Shana,
      Thank you for your post. I am familiar with Lustig and I chose not to provide a platform for his alarmist views which selectively cherry pick data to support his views. Rather than rewrite it here, I would suggest you read Alan Aragon’s point by point argument (click here: http://www.alanaragonblog.com/2010/01/29/the-bitter-truth-about-fructose-alarmism/). While Lustig has clearly made some waves with his views, I believe that many are lulled into a false sense of submission because he is a medical doctor.

      It is also interesting that the general public (brainwashed by the media) and other self-styled nutritionists (not dietitians) claim that doctors know nothing about nutrition. Yet the minute a doctor writes a book on nutrition or comes out with some theory of their own, everyone goes out and spouts off their ideas as if they were the gospel. I do think it is good to challenge paradigms, though there should also be more rigorous scrutiny to ensure that some obscure theory does not become regurgitated dogma by the masses.

      Kind regards,
      Bill

  16. Just wanted to add my 10 cents in response to Shana’s comment. I think one point many of “us” would like to stress is there is a difference between saying something is innately bad and saying that too much of something combined with other variables has the potential to contribute to bad outcomes.

    No one here is arguing that sugar is a super food, but to call it poison (unequivocally), IMO, misses the mark. Pointing the finger at one food or even one behavior is naive and potentially dangerous in the sense that it can prevent us from addressing the real problem(s).

    When it comes to obesity there are likely a number of contributing factors, factors that include: stress, poor sleeping habits, a sedentary lifestyle, too many processed foods (meat, fats, and carbs), too many calories, and maybe even genetics and other environmental factors that haven’t been identified.

    Unfortunately, common sense and moderate views don’t sell books.

    Most nutritionists I know would agree that people are eating way too much refined sugar…but that doesn’t make sugar innately bad. Splitting hairs? Not when you consider that this kind of alarmist view is used to vilify foods like fruits.

    The other thing that happens is marketing gurus are all too happy to exploit these alarmist views…think agave nectar…or honey…or even rice syrup. All these sugars have chemical structures that are similar to high fructose corn syrup. There are some minor differences, but not enough to make them substantially different, yet people get duped into thinking brownies made with agave nectar are “healthier” than those made with white sugar.

    Historically, when it comes to diet, these extreme/alarmist views get attention, but the wrong kind. One need only to look at the no-fat craze of not so long ago to see how demonizing a nutrient outside the context of a complete diet only makes things worse. I personally try to get people to cut back on sugar…not because I think it is poison, but because most of us are eating too much, period.

    Last point…there is nothing wrong with trying to understand the impact of sugar/fructose on the body. Nutrition is a science, and science changes and grows. But anyone who understands the science, understands you can’t simply look at one, two, or even three studies to get a true understanding of the impact of a single nutrient. It is really a gradual building of information that over time allows us to draw conclusions with some level of confidence. I can appreciate Dr. Lustig’s view even if I don’t agree with the extreme nature of those views. At the end of the day, we’d both like to see people eat less sugar.

    Most nutritionists are happy to follow the science where it leads, but only when there is compelling evidence to support the science.

  17. This was a delightful article. I’m glad to have here a summary of the dozen hours of research I did for a paper on the American diet I recently wrote.

    I am a pre-med student. I am sad to admit that it’s nearly impossible for the average American to attain reliable information about their health. We live in a corrupt and declining country with fascist tendencies where war and exploitation are prioritized over people’s lives and well being.

  18. Hi Bill, started reading some of these posts & I understand what you’re saying about not demonising sugar or carbs etc however I do feel the medical community has to take some responsibility for demonising fat in the past, it is the medical community that helps to police our supermarket food & if you look at the labels at a lot of low fat food it is often high in other nasties to make it taste good (recently came back from US & thought a lot of their food was diabolical in this regard, they add honey, syrup etc to whole grain bread which is totally unnecessary & it’s still called ‘healthy’) people thought ‘oh ok it’s low in fat so it’s healthy’ & then might occasionally have a full fat ice cream not realising that they’re overloading their bodies with carbs – low fat high carb diet most of the time & occasional high fat diet does not overall add up to a good diet. I had gestational diabetes while pregnant & ppl were in shock thinking I was so healthy (& im pretty skinny) but it did make me look at my diet & realise that while I wldnt have junk or mcdonalds in a pink fit, I did have pumpkin & potato in the same meal & I didn’t & I’m sure lots of people don’t realise how small a portion of cereal they should be having (just look at the recommended serving size on the box, it’s small). Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti carb or anti any food group they all have their place but I feel the current ‘fads’ are unfortunately a correction to previous extremes (the pendulum may swing back to low fat again in 5 yrs!). Cereal is an everyday food so people won’t stop & think constantly ‘gosh I better go easy on this’ the way they do about eating fast food or a cake. By demonising fat in the past, people became complacent about what else might be lurking in their low fat everyday food. Seriously it can take hours trying to read & decipher food labels these days & the consumer needs more help rather than feeling like they need a science or nutrition degree to understand what they’re eating. I understand why many people are searching for their own answers or are sceptical about what they’re told. They need help not criticism, the sheer amount of info about food is overwhelming.

  19. Iam no expert and their does seem to be many views on this post.

    But I dont think sugar or anything can be the only cause of weight gain.

    What can be said its caused nearly as much addiction as some banned drugs and the excess actions of people with that addiction have increased obseisty in the western world.

    1. Hi Lee, yes, the cause of obesity is clearly multifactorial. Regarding addiction, this is not a simple case of try-sugar-get-addicted. Plenty of people can walk away from it and have no ill effects. When discussing physiological addiction to food in the brain, there are much more deep-seated issues that often span back to a person’s childhood and are tied into the brain’s reward pathways (i.e., parents giving the child sweets as comfort food). They grow up and have adult problems which are then remedied by those lifelong habits (stress = eat something sweet). The question is, is it sugar addiction per se, or is it more that the brain is craving sweets as a means to simply achieve the comfort? What came first, the chicken or the egg? In all fairness, I’ll admit I don’t have all the answers (because no one does), but I think the great sugar debate has been blown way out of proportion by the mass media and oversimplified for the masses.

  20. May need to rethink this one with the recent revelation of sugar industry’s research payoff to conceal the truth that sugar is bad for us!!! And to think they let good old salt take the wrap all these years!

  21. Some of us gave up reading food labels altogether. We went back to cooking from scratch, sourcing our ingredients from the most reputable and smallest producers we could find (amish, etc.), and growing our own. Many countries do not have truth in food labeling. Daniels comment is right on.

  22. I probably eat about fifteen teaspoons of added sugar three to four times a week. I am still healthy.

    But, I am also active — walking a couple of hours a day, not sitting at my desk all day, and then watching TV all night. I also go to the gym four times a week.

    Sugar isn’t the problem for most (not all) people). It’s overeating and sitting around.

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