Fat Fiction Fat, lies and measuring tape

7Feb/110

Sugar and the venus fly trap

Tempted? Of course you are

The sweet nectar of a venus fly trap that draws in bugs and insects so that it can trap you, eat you, and ultimately kill you can also be found everywhere in your local Aldi/Waitrose. While your choice of supermarket depends on how posh you are, or think you are, the effects of sugar show no deference to class, status or wealth. It’ll screw with you either way. And yet even knowing this, we call can’t get enough of the stuff and ram every single product with as much sugar as humanly possible.

So – saying eating sugar is bad for you is pretty much a no brainer. Isn’t it? But what do I know? Let’s have a look at some players in the sugar wars. One a PHD student who’s laboriously compiled 146 reasons, each backed by peer-reviewed science on why you shouldn’t eat sugar - Nancy Appleton - and another by the Dr John McDougall (MD) here.

Now, they both have invested interests with books: one fighting the evils of sugar, and McDougall proposing a meat-free diet and some diet program blah blah. However, it’s also worth pointing out we’re not a level playing field here –the sugar lobby is powerful, and have spent millions trying to prove the health benefits of sugar. The same effort hasn’t gone into proving why we shouldn’t eat sugar. And of course, there’s plenty of epidemiological evidence showing how sugar has caused obesity wherever it’s popped up, but again, put that to one side. And again, we know that the worldwide edict to eat  saturated fat gave license for food manufacturers to replace fat with sugar and that consequently turned everyone into a fat former lookalike of their teenage selves but again, put that to one side. I’m not biased. I’m just saying…

So. With that in mind.

The case against sugar

Given this entire site is about one single notion – why the world got fat - it’s worth repeating:

Lack of nutrients stops you burning fat. It drives hunger, which makes you eat more, which makes you fat.

Got that? Good. People get fat because of what they don’t have. Consuming too much is a natural side effect of not having enough nutrients. It’s not the problem in itself.

So with that in mind, why could sugar make you fat? Well the most obvious one is that it’s nutritionally devoid. It offers no vitamins or minerals, just energy. If you’re already overweight, you already have that energy in the form of fat stores and eating sugar just squeezes out food that could give you nutrients. However, it doesn’t end there. Appleton cites a number of dietary deficiencies, and don’t forget these are all backed by peer-reviewed studies (though in most cases the headlines aren’t quite as clear cut):

Sugar upsets mineral relationships in the body, causes chromium deficiency, copper deficiency, interferes with absorption of calcium/magnesium, lowers vitamin E levels in the blood.

No surprise.  Some of my own findings – unsurprisingly you frequently see magnesium, potassium and zinc deficiencies in type 2 diabetics and if you eat a lot of sugar, your risk for diabetes shoots up dramatically (one study here, there are dozens).

And these deficiencies materialise in ways you wouldn’t imagine. Teenage kids drinking lots of Coke have a lower mineral bone density. In short, they have more bone fractures than kids who don’t.

But that’s the tip of the illness iceberg. Back to Appleton, and well, here are just some edited highlights:

Sugar can cause cancer of the ovaries, premature aging, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, heart disease, appendicitis, MS, allergies, emphysema, raises LDL cholesterol, depression, kidney stones...

Had enough yet?

Sugar also feeds cancer, leads to biliary tract cancer, be addictive, cause cancer of the rectum and liver tumors.

I get it. And although she’s clearly jumped the gun on lots of those studies (correlation <> causation), I think the general message is clear. Stay off the stuff right?

The case for sugar

It tastes good. That pretty much sums it up for me, though there’s also a case for it as an energy source in some kinds of endurance sports. But step forward Dr McDougall, what have you got? Impartiality aside, his article has more holes in it than a colander. I of course, remain professionally impartial.  So:

1)      We are hard-wired to enjoy sugar.

OK I’ll give you this. It’s damn tasty.

2)      The human body does not turn sugar to fat

… the common belief that sugar turns to fat is scientifically incorrect—and there is no disagreement about this fact among scientists or their scientific research…. So where does all that fat come from? The fat you eat is the fat you wear.

That’s a pretty bold statement and total guff of course. The study he refers to in full is here, and it says nothing of the kind; they were studying the difference in fat storing between obese and lean subjects, not whether it makes you fat or not. As for the fat you eat = the fat you wear, very cute. Totally unsubstantiated of course.

3)      Sugar does not cause diabetes

…studies comparing sugar intake with risk of developing type-2 diabetes show people on high sugar diets are less likely to get diabetes.12

Less likely? Is this wilful ignorance or has been eating too many Snickers? The study states "intake of sugars does not appear to play a deleterious role in primary prevention of type 2 diabetes". This is one study against a number that shows a correlation. It absolutely doesn’t show less likelihood.

4)      Sugar does not cause obesity

A universally accepted mantra among dieters is, “Don’t eat starches—starches turn to sugar—sugar makes you fat.” If this were true then obesity would be rampant among rice-eating Japanese—obviously, the opposite is the case. Worldwide, populations with the highest consumption of carbohydrate are the trimmest and fittest

Sorry, we were talking about sugar? You seem to have drifted off to conversation about rice. Dismissed.

5)      The main reason sugar has a bad reputation is because of the company it keeps.

Along with their high intake of meat, dairy, and refined grains, they also eat a lot of simple sugars. In this caldron of malnutrition, sugar’s exact contribution becomes indistinct.

Speculation; doesn’t discount the multiple studies that have shown cause and effect.

Two lumps or none?

In short, does sugar among its many other talents, make you fat? There are plenty of studies relating obesity to fructose (found in everything from soft drinks to cereals), such as here or here. But the real issue in weight loss is the effect it has on your net nutrients. Like white flour, sugar is nutrient negative. You get short-term fuel in return for depletion of fat-burning vitamins and minerals, which also displaces other foods which do provide essential nutrients. If you’re not overweight, that might not matter as much, but if you are it’s a no-brainer.

You eat sugar, you’ll eat more. And you’ll get fat.

And if you’ve followed the whole argument so far (see 2 minute summary), next up is the conclusion. Hallelujah!

Venus fly trap from Darren Bertram

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