Tag Archives: no sugar diet

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 75

I was sick last week. Not the kind of sick where you can stagger around and take the kids to school in your pajamas and sort-of, kind-of get stuff done even though you’re miserable every minute. No. This was more the kind of sick where a bullhorn could be announcing imminent, catastrophic nuclear attack and you wouldn’t even bother to raise your head to say “good.”

So needless to say, I wasn’t getting much done besides an alarming amount of sleeping. When I wasn’t busy winning the academy award for “Most Pathetically Miserable,” I was reading. Which was good, because in the beginning few weeks of our Year of No Sugar, I did an Amazon search for books related to “sugar-as-toxin.” A few clicks later I was the proud owner of a small stack of tomes with such cheerful names as Suicide by Sugar. Well! If that doesn’t sound like a fun summer beach read, I don’t know what does.

Now that I’ve plowed my way through most of those paperbacks I have a few thoughts. Firstly, you can skip Suicide by Sugar: Why Our Sweet Tooth May be Killing Us, by Nancy Appleton PhD. Honestly, I couldn’t finish this one, I found it so annoying. Call me petty, but in a book that addresses a topic of health and human biology, I find back-cover references to “Dr. Appleton” misleading: this is not an author who attended medical school. Additionally, her prose is rambling and uncompelling.

What exasperated me the most, however, was chapters like “140 Reasons Why Sugar is Ruining Your Health.” Appleton says she’s been collecting these reasons “for about twenty years,” and they range from the just plain obvious (“5. Sugar in soda, when consumed by children, results in children drinking less milk.”) to the truly strange (“25. Sugar can lead to alcoholism”) Huh? I mean, I believe sugar to be the root of many modern evils, but even I balk at the assertions that it leads to polio, appendicitis, epileptic seizures and cancer of the rectum. No citations are given to lend credence to any of the “reasons,” and no explanations are offered. If sugar really does cause these maladies, we need a little more support for these assertions than just Appleton’s assurance that she read it somewhere, at some point. By the time you reach number 140 you half expect sugar to be found responsible for global warming and that weird fungus that’s killing all the bats.

Like many books that try to change our thinking about what we eat, Suicide contains a wrapping-up, “what to do now” chapter and an appendix of recipes. I’m definitely planning on trying Appleton’s Coconut Rice Pudding… however, if I work up the nerve to present my family with her “Beet Root Dessert” there might be a mutiny.

A much better book is The Sugar Fix: the High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick, by Richard J. Johnson M.D. The only book on the subject I found by an actual physician, Johnson is way better at telling his story in logical order, while peppering it with key compelling facts such as the Harvard study “of more than 90,000 female nurses (which) found that women whose daily diets included one or more beverages sweetened with sugar or HFCS… had an 83 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” (p. 44) I’m sorry, did he say eighty-three percent?? Now, that’s a statistic that makes you sit up and take notice.

Johnson correlates over-consumption of fructose to all the usual suspects: cancer, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, liver and kidney disease, etc. He recommends a “Low Fructose Diet,” by which he means between 25 and 35 grams of fructose per day. And although I’m not a big fan of counting-while-eating, it is fun to consult Johnson’s handy reference guide and compare the differing amounts of fructose present in, say, an apple (9.5g), a 12 oz soda (20.2g), and a McDonald’s M&M McFlurry (30.1g). Gout sufferers will be particularly interested to read what Johnson has to say about the connection between sugar, purines, and the over-production of uric acid. Also intriguing is his argument for increased dairy consumption, which he says acts to counter-balance the impact of fructose.

One thing I don’t understand is why Johnson feels compelled to include instructions for things like “Grilled New York Strip Steak with Portobello Mushrooms and Garlic Butter.” Now, sure, if you’re ordering steak in a restaurant you might want to check to be sure they aren’t marinating it in maple syrup or using pre-packaged ingredients for the sauce which inevitably have sugar, MSG and a host of other hidden baddies … but at home? If you need to be told how to prepare a steak at home without adding sugar to it, then you have my condolences. You need more help than just this book.

Another bone I have to pick with Johnson’s recipes is that he loves Splenda: all four dessert recipes he includes use it. I’m sorry, but if it’s taken us over a hundred years to figure out what’s wrong with sugar…? I don’t really want to replace it with the next thing that will turn out to have been poisoning us a few decades from now. I’m just saying.

Now, if you’ve read this blog much at all you’ll know that the first one of these books that I read is far and away my favorite: Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat by Australian author David Gillespie. (Be sure not to confuse this with the American title Sweet Poison which discusses the adverse effects of aspartame.) This- along with the YouTube video by Dr. Robert Lustig- is the resource I keep coming back to again and again. Gillespie isn’t a PhD, or an MD, but rather trained as a lawyer. Perhaps because of this, he assembles the case against sugar convincingly, persuasively and even entertainingly.

Gillespie has a flair for the simple statement that resonates: “Fructose was killing me and everyone else as surely as if arsenic were being poured into the water supply.” (p. 148) He has a great sense of humor that illuminates his material, which could easily be too dry or too darn scary to be enjoyable: “If obesity was a disease like bird flu, we’d be bunkered down with a shotgun and three years’ supply of baked beans in the garage.” (p.101) This author makes reading about fructokinase and GLUT proteins as easily comprehensible and pleasant as I imagine it can possibly be. It is Gillespie, too, who conceives of using dextrose powder as an alternative sweetener… truly an “aha!” moment if there ever was one. Of all the non-fructose sweetening alternatives we’ve tried this year (from using bananas and dates to ogliofructose) dextrose has, for us, been by far the most successful.

Although he doesn’t include a recipe section in the book itself, the recipes Gillespie includes on his website are excellent. No messing around with useless topics (“How to Make Sugar Free Salsa!”)- these are real no-added-sugar desserts, with no Splenda in sight. Admittedly, you do have to pony up an annual membership fee to join the section of the site where the best recipes are, but honestly? It’s worth it. The Coconut Cake recipe alone is worth it.

From Gillespie’s own initial moment of realization, to his research into the history and biochemistry of sugar, to the scientific data that exists and that which he extrapolates to draw disturbing parallels between our consumption of sugar and our incidence of disease, Sweet Poison is by far the best told story of the bunch and therefore the most likely to actually change your behavior in a way that matters.

In the book’s final chapter, Gillespie distills his take-away message down to some very simple “rules”: “Don’t drink sugar. Don’t snack on sugar. Party food are for parties. Be careful at breakfast. And- there is no such thing as good sugar.” (You hear that, all you Agave-heads?)

Instead of counting calories or grams or servings of fish oil or whatever other improbable fussiness some health experts would have us commit to in the pursuit of health, happiness and next year’s swimsuit fashions, it is “Gillespie’s Rules” that seem to me to make the most logical sense. Isn’t that the Occam’s Razor maxim: the simplest solution is usually the correct one? So when people ask me “What will you do when the No Sugar Year is over?” I think the most likely answer is that we will follow these deceptively simple sounding rules.

Because of the culture we live in, and our collective unwillingness to examine what is really making our society explode with disease… I’m pretty sure it will still be very, very hard.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 48

Recently, I finished reading David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat, and it’s a good thing too- my highlighters are all running out of ink. Pretty much my whole book is saturated now in pretty shades of florescent pink, orange and yellow, depending on which pen I was near in the house when I sat down to read.

In it Gillespie weaves the story of his own personal journey to escape the effects of fructose with his research on the history of sugar, the biochemistry of fructose, and the attempts in the last century to understand the connections between Western diet and Western disease. If all this sounds dry or clinical, it isn’t. Honestly, I was sucked in from page one, and there weren’t even any vampires or anything.

As I’ve mentioned before, biochemistry isn’t exactly my bag. I can make it through Dr. Robert Lustig’s “The Bitter Truth”- even that brief hardcore science-y bit, but that doesn’t mean I can turn around and replicate the argument. In fact, prior to watching “The Bitter Truth” on YouTube I was pretty much on the opposite side of the spectrum. I was one of the many people whose reaction to the idea of giving up sugar was: “What?” and “Oh sure, why not just give up all the fun in life? I mean really.” I was an avid dessert baker, devoted canner of jams (talk about sugar!), and all-around lover of sweets. Not junk, of course, but wonderful treats made with caring, love, and the occasional french pastry chef.

Nonetheless, I always suspected there had to be an answer out there to the problem of Western disease that was eluding us in plain sight- like Waldo. There had to be an “Aha!” out there somewhere. Once I watched Dr, Lustig explain it, it was as if a lightbulb had been turned on in my head. Fructose was the “Aha!”

Reading Gillespie has been like that again. Sweet Poison turns on a second lightbulb, one that fills in the details where before there had been shadow. A non-doctor, he has a knack for translating all the various medical findings and research into accurate but comprehensible lay-person-speak. He is also, incidentally, very funny, which can be helpful when you’re hanging in there talking about phosphofructokinase 1 and the islets of Langerhans. Here are a few of my favorite passages (all emphases are mine):

“There is one substance that does not stimulate the release of any of the ‘enough to eat’ hormones. That substance is fructose… We can eat as much fructose as we can shove down our throats and never feel full for long. Every gram of the fructose we eat is directly converted to fat. There is no mystery to the obesity epidemic when you know these simple facts. It is impossible not to get fat on a diet infused with fructose.”

“If you look at BMI calculations over time you quickly realize that the obesity epidemic is very real and is a very recent phenomenon… In 1910, just over one in five US adults was overweight and fewer than one in five of those people was obese (one in 25 for the whole population). Less than a century later, two out of every three US adults are overweight and half of those people are now obese (one-third of the whole population). In less than 100 years, the chances of a given US adult being overweight have gone from very unlikely to highly probable, and the trend is accelerating.

“If obesity was a disease like bird flu, we’d be bunkered down with a shotgun and three years’ supply of baked beans in the garage. But nobody actually dies from obesity itself. You never hear of anyone being pronounced dead from being fat. No, people die from other diseases that may or may not be related to being fat, like cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), kidney failure or various cancers. Obesity is a symptom, not a disease.”

“A lot of the people conducting experiments on rats had been criticized for giving the animals unrealistically high doses of fructose. ‘Of course the rat would die. Look how much fructose you gave it,’ would be the cry. ‘No person actually eats that much fructose.’ These figures tell a different story. Every man, woman and child in the United States (and Australia) is eating that much fructose and more. The USDA rats were actually on lower fructose diets than most of the people feeding them.”

“(Prior to omitting fructose) I was just as trapped in the dieting-with-no-visible-results treadmill as I had ever been. Free access to the biggest medical library in the world (the web), however, allowed me to read my way to a conclusion that, now that I see it, seems blindingly obvious. Fructose was killing me and everyone else as surely as if arsenic was being poured into the water supply.”

Gillespie plays connect-the-dots between fructose consumption, the resultant circulating fatty acids in the bloodstream and all the nasty consequences thereafter: heart attack, stroke, type II diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), as well as some of the most prevalent and deadly cancers today: colorectal, prostate, pancreatic. He even goes through and explains exactly how tooth decay works: fed specifically by sucrose, or table sugar, a manmade combination of fructose and glucose. Turns out, the bacteria that causes tooth decay thrives not on large amounts of sucrose, but rather a steady consistent supply of it over time. Well, hell-o-o-o, soda!

He explains why low fat diets don’t work, and why the Atkins diet will work but why no one can stay on it for very long. He explains why exercise- while good for you in other ways- won’t help you lose weight. He explains how he gradually stepped away from fructose, in particular a soda habit, by first switching to diet soda, then seltzer, and finally simply water, and describes the consequent palate change that took place over the course of a few weeks. He lists five deceptively simple rules to live by, including: “Party foods are for parties,” and “There is no such thing as good sugar.”

What Lustig and Gillespie are trying to tell us is not to never have dessert again, but to understand that “dessert” is a phenomenon that our bodies are not evolved to understand or process effectively, much less the onslaught of non-dessert sugar that is, in the Western diet, omnipresent and getting worse. We have to understand this dietary “loophole” in our digestive system and act accordingly.

“The results are in,” Gillespie writes, “If you feed humans fructose for the first 40 years of their lives you get an obesity epidemic, and massive health system costs associated with treating cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, oral health, cancer and miscellaneous other problems. It’s time to stop.”


Special thanks to the Year of No Sugar reader who recommended this book!

All quotations above are from Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat. For more information on David Gillespie visit his website: http://sweetpoison.com.au/

A Year of No Sugar: Post 34

Food extremism is nothing new to my husband Steve. He grew up in a home that was a bit of a nutritional house divided: his mom serving the foods most people were eating in the mid-west in the seventies and eighties- pot roast, mac and cheese, pudding, etc.- while his dad frequently ate a different meal altogether, experimenting with various different nutritional theories he was reading about in specialty magazines like “Dr. Shelton’s Hygienic Review.” (motto: “Let Us Have Truth Though The Heavens Fall.”)

Steve’s father, who passed away a few years ago, was a vegetarian before people even knew what that was, back when health food stores were still fringe operations frequented and operated by folks who still thought communes might be a really good idea. But Bill Schaub was no long-haired hippy; he was a trim, clean-shaven lawyer who would one day rise to become Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board and be conferred the rank of Meritorious Executive in the Senior Executive Service by President Bill Clinton. I try to picture him walking into the Toledo-area granola shop in his suit, his aftershave clashing with the smell of patchouli and wheat grass.

My husband recalls the time his father took him to see the watershed movie Star Wars. Steve was not very excited to go, because outings with his father were often nutrition oriented and pretty dry stuff for an eight year old: “I thought we were going to a lecture on carrot juice or something.”

In another favorite Bill Schaub story, he grew a mustache, (of course! it was the seventies!) This development coincided with the peak of his interest in the nutritional value of mangos and his decision to import boxes of the fruit himself, which of course resulted in his brown mustache turning mango-colored from the sheer volume of orange fruit that passed his lips.

There are lots of Bill Schaub anecdotes like this, illustrating his passion and single-mindedness when it came to the subject of nutrition and food. Steve is his father’s son, and inherited from him not only an attentive attitude toward food and nutrition, but also the unusual ability to endure strange and restrictive diets for various goals.

For example, in addition to our family’s ongoing No Sugar Project, Steve has for the last seven weeks also been shunning all dairy, and all bread products. Also no potatoes. Basically just meat, eggs, and any vegetable and fruit which you could eat raw. You can imagine how much fun we are in restaurants.

Eve: “I have a strange question. Does the lasagna have sugar in it? And also, what about the soup?”

Steve: “Can you tell me, is there gluten in the sausage? What about in the cabbage? I’m also not eating dairy…”

Eve: “No, the kids don’t want lemonade, could they just have water…?”

Oh yes, the waitresses just love us.

The thing is it has worked. I mean, Steve looked completely fine before, and thin compared to your average American profile. But in a few weeks on this Paleo / Raw diet he’s lost over twenty five pounds. I know! We’ve been buying him new pants since nothing fits anymore- he looks great. More importantly, he’s clearly happier.

Interestingly, Steve’s father had an addiction to sweet things- cookies, ice cream- which he battled with all his life. Steve’s own addiction is much more specific: diet Dr. Pepper. Not to put to fine a point on it, Diet Dr. Pepper is Steve-crack.

The other day Steve sheepishly brought home a case of the stuff, justifying, “well, I thought it could just drink it in the evening as a snack…”

After I gently pointed out the Steve-crack phenomenon, even he agreed it probably should stop. I know it’s not easy- we all like to have our crutches to lean on when we feel depressed and deprived. For me, “mother’s little helper” is more vague… once upon a time pre-project I would’ve enjoyed a bit of chocolate or cookie after every lunch and dinner- a sweet of some kind albeit a small one. I still miss that ritual, that sweet little ending to a meal. Lately I supplement that desire with an alternate treat- a banana, an unsweetened cappuccino, a GoRaw granola bar with raisins in it. It gives rise to the question: do we have to chose between health (long-term happiness) and desire-gratification (short-term happiness)?

The other day Steve was talking about his dad. “If my dad was alive today he’d be fascinated by this project,” he said. “He’d be sending us articles and talking to us about it all the time…” I know. It’s sad he isn’t here to share it with us.