Is sugar the culprit? Is sugar to blame as the major cause of obesity, diabetes and insulin sensitivity? I argue that it’s not JUST sugar. It’s that ubiquitous mix of sugar with fats and starches along with flavourings, colours and additives that makes packet and processed foods so deadly. So attractive and more-ish to eat. Yes we eat too much sugar but sugar is just ONE of our problems, not THE ONLY problem.
Losing weight by cutting out sugar?
People often boast to me that they’ve lost weight and all they did was to ‘cut out sugar’. I wish it was really that simple.
When I quiz them further, I invariably find they’ve cut out LOTS of things – muffins, ice-cream, chocolate, lollies, soft drink and desserts – that contain sugar. Yes they’ve removed added sugar but they also cut out the bad fats and starches that accompany sugar. These all add kilojoules/Calories and it’s these that go to create a Calorie Deficit.
Cut out 5 teaspoons of sugar and you remove only 20g of pure sugar and 320kJ with no nutrition.
Cut out two cinnamon-glazed doughnuts and you remove almost the same 20g of sugar but this time your also take out a bigger 1900kJ along with 26g of fat and 24g of starch with little to no nutrition
Sugar is only part of the problem
Focussing on sugar alone makes it easy to overlook other culprits. Sure the added sugar in our food supply is a big problem with soft drink a major contributor (and also easy to overconsume). But as I said to Paula Goodyer on Chew on This:
“Sugar is an important factor but it’s only part of the story. 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 a prime 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.”
How sugar attaches itself to fat and starch
Here I’ve summarised the sugar-containing foods to show you which ones are pure sugar (drinks, cordials, lollies) and which have added fat (think chocolate) and which have all three – sugar plus fat and starches (muffins, doughnuts, biscuits, pastries).
|Food type||Added sugar||Fats||Flour/refined starches|
|sugary drinks and cordial||✔||—||—|
|chocolate hazelnut spread||✔||✔||—|
|banana or carrot cake||✔||✔||✔|
Sugar Combo foods
It’s not the sugar on its own but sugar that’s nicely combined with fat and/or starches that’s the problem. It’s those ‘sugar combination foods’ that are the real culprits - things like doughnuts, shortbread, muffins and muesli bars. If you quit sugar, you automatically cut out these combinations – which explains the weight loss.
Here are my three types of Sugar Combo foods:
1. The Lot
Almost all non-bread baked goods are combos of flour, fat and sugar. Think pastries, croissants, pies, doughnuts, biscuits, muffins and cakes. Not to mention the many desserts like sticky date pudding, cheese cake, strawberry shortcake, apple pie and tiramisu.
Yes there are some exceptions like the amaretti biscuits which are mainly sugar and ground almonds or meringue which is sugar with beaten egg white. But overall anything baked fits in here.
2. Sugar plus dairy
Sweetened dairy foods like flavoured milk, fruit flavoured yoghurts, custard, ice creams and gelatos. Not forgetting baked custard, pannacotta and blancmange. Some of these products have a positive nutrition profile offering protein, calcium and riboflavin along with their sugar. The dairy also lowers the GI so it blunts the entry of sugar into the body but many of these are still rich combos of sugar plus cream or milk.
3. Sugar combined with fat
Think chocolate, chocolate mousse, choc-coated nuts, choc bullets, choc biscuits and hazelnut choc spread. The sugar-fat combo makes them kilojoule-dense and easy to over eat – but there are few nutrients. They’re never going to appear on any Pyramid and are best to avoid.
If you eliminate all such combination foods, what you’re left with is a high-protein, high-vegetable, high legume diet of meat/fish/chicken/eggs, vegetables, salads, whole grains, nuts, avocado, plain dairy, fats and oils. Sounds good to me. And sounds like many of the popular Quit Sugar plans around at the moment.
- Breakfast could be eggs, spinach and tomato with a slice of soy and linseed toast.
- Lunch often is a tuna salad or chicken and vegetable stir-fry with rice.
- Dinner is meat or fish plus three veges.
- There’s no dessert, no muesli bar at morning tea, and no after-dinner chocolate.
- Oh and no alcohol!
Sugar is a culprit in the whole junk food scenario but you can’t blame it in isolation. Sugar in combination with fat and refined starches (aka processed junk foods) is the real culprit.