Tag Archives: dr lustig

Dextrose Doubters

“On a Year of No Sugar, why was dextrose okay?”

I’ve gotten asked this question a lot lately, and although I do detail the answer in my book, I thought it might be helpful to give everyone the quick and easy version right here.

Remember how most sugar (sucrose) is made up of roughly half glucose and half fructose? Fructose is the bad part– the part which does not satisfy your hunger, does not get used by any of the cells in the body besides the liver, and when processed by the liver creates toxic byproducts which can be traced to virtually every major American health epidemic today: hypertension, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

But dextrose…. what was that?  Lucky for me I had someone I could ask- Dr. Robert Lustig, the man behind “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” and author of the New York Times Bestselling book on the topic of sugar Fat Chance, as well as the very man who had inspired our project in the first place. The first time I communicated with Dr. Lustig was before we began our No-Sugar Year: I wrote to tell him about our upcoming project and to get a better understanding of what a Year of No Sugar could look like. Throughout our year I communicated with Dr. Lustig as questions would continue to pop up from time to time and he was very generous and answered all our questions and more.

The dextrose question wasn’t going away, and I just wasn’t confident I was going to get this one right by myself. So when Dr. Lustig wrote back regarding the dextrose issue, and assured me that “dextrose is glucose,” and therefore, for our fructose-free purposes fine, I felt reassured to be back on track.

Later on, when I read Australian author and No Sugar expert David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison, I was astonished to read that for him dextrose was not just one more mysterious ingredient found on boxes or bags at the grocery store, but a pantry staple in his no added sugar diet: he purchased dextrose and used it in cooking! I was intrigued. And after I ordered some I started experimenting with recipes he had developed as well as creating some of my own. In my book Year of No Sugar I even share, with David’s permission, his excellent coconut cake recipe, which is made using dextrose.

Year of No Sugar is specifically/ medically speaking a Year of No Added Fructose– the bad part of sugar.  Part of the real problem for many is that sugar is a word that is used in so many ways that it gets confusing fast: in addition to all the myriad names for sugar (invert sugar! date sugar! cane sugar! beet sugar! brown sugar!) there are simple sugars and complex sugars and blood sugars. How to sort it all out?

Well blood sugar levels (aka blood glucose levels) are of a great concern to people with diabetes and insulin resistance and other illnesses, so regulating glucose can be important for many people. If you suffer from one of these medical conditions, I recommend you consult your own doctor. Because my family is lucky not to suffer from one of these conditions, it was not one of the focuses for our year.

So here is the upshot: in our year, in our book, we were talking about plain old familiar Sugar, the kind that comes in the big white bag, and is dumped all-too liberally over our food supply in a wide variety of aliases— let’s call it Sugar with a capital “S.” It’s important to note that you can have Sugar without glucose and you can have glucose without Sugar, but you can’t have Sugar without fructose and you can’t have fructose without Sugar. Fructose is what makes Sugar, Sugar. We could live our whole lives entirely without fructose and never be the worse off for it.

Now, we didn’t bathe in dextrose, mind you. We didn’t free-base dextrose on our glass coffee table. We simply used this corn-based product to sweeten our occasional homemade baked goods to a much more subtle level of sweet than we ever could have imagined we’d appreciate. Dextrose is one-third the sweetness of table sugar but without the bad fructose; and, for those with gluten issues I’ll note that most dextrose is also gluten free. Other times I used brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup as these do not contain fructose either. Australian author Sarah Wilson, author of the book I Quit Sugar, also sweetens with brown rice syrup in many of her recipes.

There are so many persuasive reasons for Big Food to use added fructose— Sugar with a capitol “S”— in every place it can. But. It’s. A. Poison. And that’s the elephant in the hospital room that no one really wants to talk about.

A Year of No Sugar: Post 32

One day last week when I was still at the Mayo Clinic with my Dad, we were eating lunch in the cafeteria when a rather heavyset couple sat down at the other end of our table. Of course, you never know why someone is a Mayo, or even which person in a couple or group of people might be the “patient,” but wandering around you do tend to look at folks and wonder… why is she here? Is it him? All these people are suffering in some way, some more obviously than others. One day I met a woman at the hotel’s laundry machines who explained without prompting that her husband was so ill- with pancreatitis I think it was- that she couldn’t leave him in the room alone very long. As we were talking she got a cell phone call to tell her that her nephew had cancer.

Occasionally you would notice someone red-eyed and sniffling into a Kleenex as you sat down in one of the many waiting rooms… what could anyone really say? Or do? Who knows what news they may have just received? And then you see the children with parents heading to an appointment and you just pray they are here for something ridiculously benign, like an inverted hangnail.

But back to the large couple in the cafeteria. They had clearly gotten the “I’m trying to be good, or mostly good” meal: they each had purchased a large chef’s salad with a breadstick, she had added a banana and a skim milk, while he had a large diet soda and a piece of pie for dessert. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself if they wouldn’t have been better off enjoying a meal with much more fat but much less sugar/fake sugar. I mean, sugar (or the chemically fake stuff) was in the salad dressing, in the breadstick, in the diet soda and in the pie… it was freakin’ everywhere on their tray and it was as if I, through some mutant power which might qualify me to be a comic book superhero, was the only one who could see it. I idly wondered if perhaps one of them suffered from one of the many variants of metabolic syndrome, and if so, if anyone would ever offer the suggestion that they might be healthier forgoing the salad in favor of the pot roast and mashed potatoes…

Now, clearly, I’m no doctor, no nurse, and no dietitian. But it just seems to make a lot of sense to me when Dr. Robert Lustig says that we’re effectively missing the technicolor elephant in the living room when we caution people to watch their salt, watch their fat, watch their alcohol, but rarely if ever do we mention the deleterious effects of sugar, and it’s omnipresence in our contemporary diet.

But maybe, if enough of us pester our poor waitresses for ingredients and start reading the depressing labels on the foods in our supermarket, just maybe that dialogue will change. Recently my mother sent me a short article that appeared in the February 11 issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune by dietitian Molly Kimball, entitled, “Secret Sweets: You my be surprised how many ‘healthy’ foods contain added sugar.”

In the article, Kimball notes that the “just-released 2010 Dietary Guidelines say that we should ‘significantly reduce’ our intake of added sugars… That’s because diets high in added sugar are linked not only to obesity, but also to an increased risk of high blood pressure, triglycerides, inflammation, and low levels of good HDL cholesterol.”

Yes! Thank you! Of course, the article is minuscule, basically a list of how much sugar you find in products you’d never suspect such as salad dressing, ketchup, bagels, pasta sauce and bread. Sound familiar? If she wanted to she could’ve added to her list: chicken broth, mayonnaise, breakfast cereal, dried fruit, english muffins, pita bread, coleslaw, virtually every sauce known to man…

You and I know the list goes on and on. In fact it’s long enough to make one suspect Dr. Robert Lustig may be onto something when he observes that as fat consumption has gone down, obesity, type two diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke have- nonetheless- gone up. In his YouTube lecture that I’m going to keep referencing until you break down and finally go watch it, “Sugar the Bitter Truth” he states it as plain as can be: “It’s not the fat, people. It’s not the fat.”

I wished, somehow, I could have communicated that to our table mates that day, and saved them from who knows how many bad salads, not to mention a lifetime of trying to be “good” and wondering why it still isn’t working.