Should we quit panicking about sugar?

PAULA GOODYER
Last updated 14:15 26/11/2013
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There's a new twist in the sugar war. After books like David Gillespie's Sweet Poison and Sarah Wilson's I Quit sugar stoked our fear of sugar, along comes Don't Quit Sugar, a new book by nutritionist Cassie Platt that, according to the publishers, explains 'the very serious risks of quitting sugar'.

Is it time for a book called Quit Panicking about Sugar?

Blasting sugar has been useful to a point. It's turned the spotlight on how easy it is to consume too much added sugar in manufactured food - and that's great if it nudges us towards a more whole food diet and doesn't mean we just eat more convenience food with the sugar removed and pretend sweeteners added in.

But focussing on sugar as the major cause of obesity and chronic disease makes it easy to ignore other culprits. Added sugar in our food supply is a big problem and soft drink a major contributor - but sugar's not the Lone Ranger, working all by itself to make 70 per cent of Australian men and 56 per cent of women overweight or obese.

This came home to me recently in - of all places - the site of the battle of Gettysburg in America's Civil War. Visit any battlefield connected with this war and you'll see grainy old black and white photos of men in uniform and with very few exceptions they're all lean. Fast forward 150 years to modern Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and the contrast is stark - some people carry so much surplus weight that walking is a real effort.

I don't think this is entirely the fault of sugar - it could also have something to do with other stuff in our lives like too much fast food, massive portion sizes, deep fryers and reliance on cars, escalators and ride-on-mowers instead of human movement.

Yet nutritionist Catherine Saxelby says she's often pilloried online for suggesting that the sky won't fall in if you sprinkle a little sugar on porridge.

"I keep hearing people say 'I've lost all this weight and cutting out sugar was the only thing I changed',' but although sugar is an important factor it's only part of the story," she points out. "If you cut out processed foods with added sugar you cut out other things as well.

I regard sugar as a marker for highly processed food that contains bad fats and refined starches as well as additives. It's the combination of all these ingredients that's the real enemy because the result is food that's high in kilojoules, high GI, low fibre and easy to overeat. A lot of processed food is engineered to be so highly flavoured and 'moreish' that it overrides our satiety mechanisms so we eat too much.   

"Potato crisps are one example - there's no added sugar but they're a junk food that we don't want people to over consume. This is where the sugar argument falls over.

Some anti-sugar radicals recommend cutting out fruit or at least fruit that's high in fructose - advice that would leave us without  some of our best natural treats like mangoes, cherries and grapes - and that most convenient of natural snack foods (and filling source of folate, potassium and fibre), the banana.

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"Cutting out fruit is ridiculous, although you don't need more than two pieces a day. On the other hand, fruit doesn't provide the same broad range of nutrients you get in vegetables so I wouldn't worry if  you don't eat fruit as long as you eat plenty of vegetables and salad Adelai," Saxelby says.

Can sugar hate also fuel food guilt?

"People with or at risk of developing an eating disorder may feel guilty for eating anything containing sugar, even healthy foods like fruit," adds accredited practising dietitian Tania Ferraretto of Happy Healthy Me, an Adelaide-based  practice specialising in eating disorders and problems with body image. "I have clients who are scared of eating anything with sugar -even when the reason they are seeing me is weight restoration for anorexia nervosa."


- Sydney Morning Herald

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