Fat facts lay waste to sugar's sins

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I'm in mourning for all the avocadoes I've passed up in my life. All the poached eggs I sealed my mouth against, the chicken skin I discarded. I long to go back and forgive those humble foodstuffs, so dense with delicious fat, a substance the diet gurus claimed would make me fat, too, if I dared to swallow them.

Sugary lolliesBut fat is finally being exonerated after a decades-long campaign to hold it responsible for the dramatic rise in heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes in much of the developed (and latterly the developing) world. Most recently, an article published in the New York Times revealed the scheming culprit in fat's downfall: sugar.

According to the report, historical documents show that in the 1960s the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the link between heart disease and sugar consumption, and to pin the blame on saturated fat instead. The consequences of this unethical behaviour are scandalous: five decades of nutrition research — and the dietary guidelines we all follow today — tainted by the sugar industry's interference.

I'd reached my own conclusion about the dangers of sugar through necessity, when my then-17-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. His otherwise excellent hospital care team gave him some appalling advice: continue eating carbohydrates while injecting appropriate units of insulin (the hormone needed to catalyse carbohydrates into glucose). His dietician even used chocolate milk and sweetened yoghurt as examples of some of the 'healthy' foodstuffs he could include in his diet.

But sugar — which is added to most of the processed products we consume, and which is present to a greater or lesser degree in all carbohydrates including bread, milk, fruit and vegetables — raises the level of sugar in the blood. In diabetics, this shows up on their glucose monitors each time they prick their fingers and test their blood.

Raised glucose levels are worrying: they cause nerve damage which can lead, ultimately, to blindness, gangrene and kidney disease.

But sugar also has a malign effect on the metabolic systems of the healthy. As Ian Leslie writes in his outstanding essay, The Sugar Conspiracy in The Guardian:

'Refined carbohydrates break down at speed into glucose in the blood, prompting the pancreas to produce insulin. When insulin levels rise, fat tissue gets a signal to suck energy out of the blood, and to stop releasing it. So when insulin stays high for unnaturally long, a person gains weight, gets hungrier, and feels fatigued.'

 

"It's astounding how much human health has deteriorated since we moved away from fat and protein and towards a diet of processed, carbohydrate-based foods."
— Professor Tim Noakes

 

Moreover, the insulin resistance that stems from this overproduction of the hormone is thought by researchers to be the underlying cause of the obesity crisis, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and even cancer. According to Dr Robert Lustig, a paediatric endocrinologist, 'all of us have insulin levels three times higher than we used to'.

Dr Richard K. Bernstein — a type 1 diabetic himself who recommends that all diabetics should limit their carbohydrate intake and increase their fat consumption in order to remain healthy — writes in his 1997 book Dr Bernstein's Diabetes Solution, 'the low-fat mania in our society has spawned an increase in carbohydrate intake. The fallacy that eating fat will make you fat is about as scientifically logical as saying that eating tomatoes will turn you red.'

And South African Professor Tim Noakes — who has spearheaded a low carbohydrate, healthy fat movement right across that nation — writes in The Real Meal Revolution, 'It's astounding how much human health has deteriorated since we moved away from fat and protein and towards a diet of processed, carbohydrate-based foods.'

Despite revelations of this decades-long deceit, nutritionists and medical practitioners have been slow to acknowledge the inherent failure of a low fat, high carbohydrate diet and food pyramids underpinned by cereals and grains and topped with small fat allowances. Indeed, in South Africa Noakes has been publicly rebuked for his statements by fellow academics.

But thanks to the internet — and the work of outspoken researchers such as these — people are discarding timeworn advice from so-called experts and creating their own dietary guidelines instead.

My son's diagnosis forced us to accept that sugar (in any of its forms) is not only unhealthy, but dangerous. We've tweaked our diet to feature large quantities of low-carbohydrate vegetables, moderate amounts of protein and good doses of healthy fat. When we indulge in something carb-heavy or sweet, it's an informed choice. And after all those years of deprivation, avocado and eggs and nuts and full-fat yoghurt are back on the menu. The results of this experiment can be measured after every meal, for the blood glucose monitor never lies.

 


Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall

 

 

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A deplorable betrayal. A Sydney University report released a number of years ago by two notable academics concluded that sugar was unrelated to diabetes. Rory Robertson from Westpac took issue with the report and has debated its conclusions since it was released. The University distanced itself from the report conclusions earlier this year. ABC's Late Line did a segment. Every nutritionist around the world disagreed with the report's conclusions. The sponsor of the original report ?? ...... Guess who...
Luke | 16 September 2016


Catherine that's a great article and absolutely on point. We had a guy training with us who set a goal to lose 25 kg to win a bet. He won the bet and when he achieved the goal, miraculously his type 1 diabetes has disappeared.
Francis Armstrong | 16 September 2016


Shame on our Health authorities for ignoring the impact of sponsorship on research outcomes. Academics have been aware of it for years but often need that sponsorship. We've successfully taxed tobacco, let's start on added sugar in food and drink.
Marjorie Edwards | 08 October 2016


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