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Showing posts with label sugar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sugar. Show all posts

My Q&A regarding the "anti-sugar" pro-orthorexia movement.

Here's a Q&A I did a little while back with Shanna from the Body Acceptance Establishment about the current "anti-sugar" fad, and why it is so problematic.

The general public is getting a lot of advice from a whole range of sources, often with conflicting information, about what their diet should look like. What's your take on the rise of "experts" giving all of this information?
Well... I could talk about this all day but I'll try to go easy on your readers and cut straight to the chase, which is a bit of a challenge for me as you might be aware!
Here's the thing... in our society, other than in remote areas I guess, we really have access to an abundance of everything we need, as well as everything else that we don't really "need" but might find tempting or appealing.
So really, human nutrition is not something that's incredibly difficult to get right, but at the same thing it is something that's very easy to get wrong.

So the problem you have is that there is all of this conflicting information, which only further confuses people and results in them being less likely to have confidence in their choices, and less likely to establish appropriate and sustainable eating habits. A lot of these self appointed "experts" may have had some personal success via a particular change in habits, and then arrogantly assume they've found the answer to everyone's problems, and that anyone who can't make the same change or doesn't experience the same result is "just making excuses". It is highly problematic. Even more so when unscrupulous types start suggesting the particular diet they sell is the only way to avoid illness &/or can cure disease, dissuading people from following proper medical advice.
The anti-sugar movement has grown massively and you've been quite vocal against it, what is your reasoning for speaking out about it?
I am going to be diplomatic here and say I'm sure (or I'm prepared to consider the possibility) that some of these people started out with good intentions and thinking they were promoting a positive message to help people get healthier. Others though, without question they are just bad people, pushing bad information to exploit vulnerable people. In either case what you have to understand is that these people are marketers, first and foremost.
When you learn marketing, what you're taught is that "if people are prepared to buy it, how can you be wrong for selling it to them? if you don't, someone else will". So if the information is incorrect or inaccurate, the outcomes undesirable, the overall theme problematic... these aren't even concerns that a marketing mindset can acknowledge, it's simply business and if people are prepared to pay money for a product, a service, an approach or a belief... who are you to prevent them from doing so? You're just giving people what they want. You're a good person!

Well I think that's bullshit. A good person... I mean sure, we all need to make a living, but a good person would be in the business of helping and empowering people, by educating them honestly. Not in the business of exploiting people with damaging half truths or outright lies. And make no mistake, absolutely everything about the anti-sugar movement is at best a damaging half truth, and more often an outright, deliberate lie.

What people really need is assistance in establishing eating habits that are appropriate on an individual basis. Choices that suit their individual requirements, tastes and circumstances. An anti-sugar marketer informed me that this idea was "corporate gibberish" earlier last week, because all anyone needs to be told is "cut out sugar". I mean, really?
What is so dangerous about advising people cut sugar out of their diets?
Let's preface this by reminding everyone that ALL of the official dietary guidelines and any recommendation you're likely to get from your doctor or a dietitian include "limit added sugar". The anti-sugar marketers love to suggest that we're actually encouraged to consume loads and loads of the stuff, and nothing could be further from the truth. As I said earlier; outright deliberate lies.

So... let's take an extreme example. Obviously if you're not a very active person and you're in the habit of buying a big packet of lollies every day that you go through over the course of the afternoon at work or study, and then you wash that down with a 600ml bottle of sugar sweetened soft drink... that's way too much and I can't imagine a circumstance where you shouldn't cut that out in favour of some more healthful choices.

Having said that; I always think of an example like say your younger sibling or cousin's birthday party. A child's party. Would a handful of lollies there on that one special occasion do you any harm or be anything to feel guilty about, when you usually have an active lifestyle and appropriate eating habits? Absolutely not. But these are the sort of situations these anti-sugar marketers want you to be afraid of and to feel guilty about later. Well, I say they can jam that.
Here's the real danger though. Your average person who isn't in the habit of eating a lot of lollies and drinking a lot of sugary soft drinks, but maybe they're not feeling their healthiest, they've gained a little weight and being more active doesn't seem to be helping them lose it. They're encouraged to fear "hidden" sugars in normal, everyday foods. So all of a sudden they can't eat fruit anymore, can't eat muesli for breakfast, are encouraged to see other foods as "equivalent to this amount of sugar" based on the energy content. That's very bad, as people might be left with very few options that they're actually able to & enthusiastic about eating. Therefore they're in danger of being under nourished, underfueled in terms of being able to perform at training and produce changes in condition through training... and from there, people reading this are probably already well aware that it's not a great stretch to go from "food anxiety & restriction" to orthorexia nervosa, to binge eating disorder, to bulimia, and so on.

Make no mistake on this; I absolutely am saying without mitigation that these anti-sugar marketers and cult leaders are promoting eating disorder and profiting from doing so.
In your experience, what impact does banning a client from eating a certain food group have?
Well, I've never done it! But what I can tell you is that a lot of people come to me quite desperate for help after being made to cut out any number of quite nutritious, quite normal foods by a previous coach or on a previous diet program. The ones who don't end up with a binge eating problem still do end up failing to see the changes in athletic condition that they would expect from all of their hard work in the gym and sacrifices at meal time.

Let's talk about what happens when you ditch all of those restrictions and start fueling appropriately with the choices of foods that best suit you though! Because that's exciting. That's well worth doing.
What would you recommend instead?
Well I got ahead of myself a little there and spoiled it a little. I do a sports nutrition approach for the active people or the people who are enthusiastic about getting active, based on getting fueled up to meet their individual energy & other nutritional requirements with whatever choices best suit and most appeal to them. So I may have a client who reintroduces bread, cereal, fruit, ice cream, or whatever else... and because they're putting it all together into the context of dietary habits that meet (but do not exceed) their requirements to produce results from training... it turns out very nicely indeed!

That's one approach but it might not be the best approach for everyone. All of the Accredited Practicing Dietitians that I know seem to be very passionate about promoting body acceptance, and mindful, moderate eating rather than restrictive dieting. Although I'm not a dietitian myself and I have a different approach, it really bothers me how the unethical, e/d promoting marketers we talked aboute eariler disparage the dietetic profession and misinterpret their approaches and intentions. It is highly offensive.
What are your thoughts on the media's role in covering stories from high-profile people advocating a certain diet?
It's terrible. Channel 7 has Paleo Pete Evans. Channel 9 recently had Peter Fitzsimons interviewed by his personal friend in the guise of "news and current affairs". All of them stir up controversy, encourage mistrust in the qualified professionals, and promote restrictive approaches tantamount to orthorexia nervosa.

The mainstream media needs to step up ethically, and if they do feature a story about fad diets it needs to be in terms of exposing them as the dangerous scams that they are.
Do you think there is enough focus on the mental impact of advocating certain diets? Why do you think it is this way?
Amongst actual dietitians and qualified nutritionists, I do feel that is a focus. Within the fitness business, not so much. And amongst the anti-sugar, the paleo and assorted fad diet cults... it's the opposite. For some reason grown adults will feel entitled to bully others over their food choices, and see an inability to adhere to their rules as a sign of weakness and unworthiness. Honestly I find it disgusting.
The mental health implications of being made to feel somehow weak, unworthy, undisciplined for not being able to go hungry and omit palatable and nutritious foods that you have access to are a serious concern.
Any other comments more than welcome!
I just want to assure everyone that there isn't just "one way" of eating that means you're a good person who deserves health, happiness and to achieve you fitness & training related goals. Just because someone else finds a particular diet appealing and easy, doesn't mean it will suit you or that there is any reason you should be able to force yourself to follow it. I liken it to trying to force a square peg in a round hole, or swimming against the current rather than across the current. Enjoy being active, and include more of the nutrient rich choices of foods (veg, fruit, whole grains etc) if you can, but don't be afraid to indulge your tastebuds a little as well.

Your food choices, your weight & shape... none of this has anything to do with anyone else and no one has any right to tell you how you should be doing things unless they're a qualified professional who you've actually asked for advice. You don't owe anyone an explanation, justification or a damn thing else.
“Eating clean” doesn’t make you a better person. Being kind and compassionate does. Apply some of that kindness and compassion to how well you look after yourself, too.

Anti-sugar rhetoric is based on assumption about people's dietary habits, rather than data.
Here's what the actual data says according to this study, discussed here on my facebook page:
Adiposity among 132 479 UK Biobank participants; contribution of sugar intake vs other macronutrients.
"Fat is the largest contributor to overall energy. The proportion of energy from fat in the diet, but not sugar, is higher among overweight/obese individuals. Focusing public health messages on sugar may mislead on the need to reduce fat and overall energy consumption."

Sugar is not an addictive substance: masterpost

There's so much nonsense doing the rounds about how "sugar is addictive just like illegal drugs are addictive", usually coming from LCHF cultists. So here's a masterpost of all the information to put that myth to rest once and for all.

Also though; here's my collection of reviews of That Sugar Film, in case you missed it: That Sugar Film: Link Dump

Update: September 2018

Here's a great new article; Is Sugar Really Bad For You, by Jessica Brown via BBC Future. It's wonderful to see such good and factual content on a major platform for once.

You'll find much of the supporting evidence for the facts laid out in this article, below.

Studies on sugar addition, food addiction and eating addiction:

The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders.

  • The [above] predications have in common that on no occasion was the behaviour predicted by an animal model of sucrose addiction supported by human studies.
  • There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders.


The mesolimbic system and eating addiction: what sugar does and does not do.

  • Sucrose is reinforcing and it promotes dopamine release independent of its taste.
  • Drugs and sucrose have strong yet transient effects on the mesolimbic system.
  • Addictive drugs severely disrupt brain plasticity after long-term exposure.
  • No data currently suggest similar central adaptations following sucrose.


Eating is addictive but sugar and fat are not like drugs, study says.

  • People can become addicted to eating for its own sake but not to consuming specific foods such as those high in sugar or fat, research suggests.
  • An international team of scientists has found no strong evidence for people being addicted to the chemical substances in certain foods.
  • The brain does not respond to nutrients in the same way as it does to addictive drugs such as heroin or cocaine, the researchers say. 


“Eating addiction”, rather than “food addiction”, better captures addictive-like eating behavior.

  • “Eating addiction” describes a behavioral addiction.
  • An “eating addiction” is not necessarily associated with obesity.
  •  Consider “eating addiction” as a disorder in DSM-5 “Non-Substance-Related Disorders”.

Sugar addiction: the state of the science


  • Given the lack of evidence supporting it, we argue against a premature incorporation of sugar addiction into the scientific literature and public policy recommendations. 

Eating dependence and weight gain; no human evidence for a 'sugar-addiction' model of overweight.


  • The current findings indicate that sugary foods contribute minimally to 'food dependence' and increased risk of weight gain. 

See also...

Sugars and Health Controversies: What Does the Science Say?

We conclude that added sugars consumed in the normal forms in which humans consume them, at amounts typical of the human diet and for the time period studied in randomized controlled trials, do not result in adverse health consequences. Although more research trials are needed in many areas of sugar consumption and health, there is little scientific justification for recommending restricting sugar consumption below the reasonable upper limit recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 of no more than 25% of calories. 

 Bonus Content:
 Even More: Do people need to "quit sugar" to lose weight?

Bonus Content: Studies on the effects of restricting food choices. 


Selective carbohydrate or protein restriction: effects on subsequent food intake and cravings.


  • The results indicated that selective food restriction resulted in selective behavioural consequences.
  • Specifically, carbohydrate-restricted participants consumed more of a high-carbohydrate food than did controls or protein-restrictors, in addition to reporting more cravings for high-carbohydrate foods over the restriction period.
  • Overall, selective food restriction is demonstrated to have negative psychological and behavioural consequences. 

Even more:

Restricting Your Children's Chocolate Could Do More Harm Than Good.
"In terms of parenting practice, the results indicate that in the short term, restricting 'bad' foods is an effective means to promote healthier eating habits. But by restricting access you may encourage a preoccupation with unhealthy foods which in the long term could encourage the very behaviour you are trying to prevent," explains Professor Ogden.
 And finally:


Reviews of That Sugar Film: link dump

By no means whatsoever could this be considered
"too much sugar". Don't let silly people spoil your enjoyment
of nutritious & delicious foods.
What we know about sugar is that you really don't want to have too much of it terribly often.

What does "too much" mean, though? Well, according the World Health Organisation we should limit to no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar on a daily basis. Key word here is "added", as the naturally occurring sugars within nutritious foods are absolutely fine within the context of a balanced diet of appropriate total energy provision.

Another word for those naturally occurring sugars is "intrinsic". We're talking about the fructose in fruits and vegetables, the lactose in dairy products, and so on. Various unsavory characters out there are making a lot of money via fear mongering over carbs in general, sugars in particular, and in some cases fructose specifically. Rarely are they actually people with a medical or dietetic background. More often they are simply marketers (at best) or outright charlatans and con men (and women).

Again, to reiterate: intrinsic sugars within an appropriate total intake are of no concern whatsoever. Added sugars in less nutritious & more indulgent choices should be limited. No country as best I am aware has healthy eating guidelines to the contrary, all recommend that added sugars be limited. The suggestion you'll often read from Low Carb High Fat trolls enthusiasts that the official guidelines support massive consumption of sugars is ridiculous and disingenuous. In other words they are lying through their teeth.

However it is possible that people might be unaware of the amount of sugar in some choices of foods and condiments that wouldn't seem obvious. This may be a valid concern which That Sugar Film addresses, however, none of the other claims it makes about sugar should be seen as even vaguely accurate.

A few quick side notes:
  1. It seems apparent that anti-sugar quackitivists also similarly fear monger over artificial sweeteners and in some cases other plant based sweeteners such as stevia. There is ample and on going research to support the safety of non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame. 
  2. Sugar is not addictive "like drugs are addictive".
  3. Be aware of how much "still sugar, but not regular cane sugar" is often in expensive "sugar free" products. In some cases more so than in the conventional brands they would claim to be "healthier" than.

Reviews of That Sugar Film:

Do Not Believe The Shoddy Science in That Stupid Sugar Film.

This one might be my favourite.
Gameau’s panel of experts includes a supergroup of charlatans and cranks, [such as] the floppy-haired nutrition guru David Wolfe. A self-described “Health, Eco, Nutrition and Natural Beauty Expert” and “one of the world’s top authorities” on “chocolate and organic superfoods,” Wolfe spends his days touting the spiritual and health benefits of such things as deer antler spray (a “levitational,” “androgenic force”), baby-reflexology, and “earthing” (in which people plug themselves into the ground wire of an electrical outlet so as to “naturally discharge electrical stress from our bodies”).
Seen outside the context of That Sugar Film, the man appears to be a lunatic.

Sugar, sugar everywhere, but not a grain to be seen.

Thanks to Prof. Tim Crowe at Thinking Nutrition.
Damon claimed that his weight gain happened despite eating the same amount of food than before his high-sugar experiment. Yet only a very superficial attempt was made to estimate how much food was being eaten over the 60 days, making such a claim unreliable at best.
So, is there something insidious about sugar calories that can lead to greater weight gain? Not really. Sugar, including fructose, is not inherently fattening relative to other foods. Its effect on body weight is from the extra energy it adds to our diets, that’s all.

Those Sugar Films, How Do They Stack Up?

A great write up of this and a couple of other films about sugar, from The Nutrition Press.
Taking a closer look at the show’s talent, we find a lack of relevant expertise. The show’s chief sugar adviser, David Gillespe, is a former lawyer and founder of a software company. He has no scientific or nutrition qualifications and his book Sweet Poison, which supposedly reveals the true health effects of dietary fructose, has no scientific basis. It is certainly true that Australians are consuming too much sugar but Gillespe’s claim of 40 teaspoons as the average Australian’s daily sugar intake is an over-estimate by about 10 teaspoons. He also says that the average family of four consumes the equivalent of 6 x 1kg bags of sugar each week. Doing the math, based on his own figure of 40 teaspoons, a family of four would consume 4.48kg. Based on 30 teaspoons, this figure is 3.36kg.

D-discussion on ‘That Sugar Film’: Diabetes Counseling Online.

Some of these processed foods that are referred to in the film are baked beans, containing the equiv of 1 tsp of sugar per serve. Using baked beans as an example, the beans themselves are highly nutritious and 1 tsp sugar is in the sauce, which also contains nutrients such as lycopene that we need to obtain from cooked tomatoes.  That 1 teaspoon of sugar is not enough to spike your BGLs and baked beans do have a low glycemic index, so they’re a good option for us when we need a meal in a hurry.
There are also other processed foods such as tinned and frozen vegetables, some breakfast cereals, some grainy breads and dairy products that as a dietitian I regularly encourage people to use.  If these products weren’t being recommended, then chances are that people might inadvertently choose something less nutritious in an effort to have a little less sugar. Learning to label read is so important here. Some of the healthier, lower GI breakfast cereals are really convenient options in our busy lives, as well as containing important nutrients that we need for wellbeing, despite containing some added sugars.

Food Watch Reviews That Sugar Film.

Damon consumes lots of liquids which have been shown to be easier to over-consume than whole foods e.g. apples vs apple juice. I’m guessing his intake DID exceed what he was eating before and these sweetened liquids were responsible for the fat gain in the abdominal region as well as the decline in liver function.

Who ever said flavoured milk or iced tea drinks are ‘healthy’? They may be healthier choices than sweetened soft drinks but they are not on any 'Must Eat Lists' or Pyramids.


That Sugar Film review: Powerful propaganda proves little.

What limits the film is that its central method of argument is unscientific by definition, despite the facts and figures provided by a slew of presumed experts. Simply put, Gameau's one-man experiment is not rigorous enough to prove anything at all, however striking his results seem.


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