We get a lot of questions about the sugar content of our cereals so I thought I’d clarify my thoughts on the impact of sugar on our bodies and our health.

We’ve been taught to think of sugar as bad – sugar rots your teeth, makes you fat and causes diabetes doesn’t it? Well the trouble with this is that sugar is also the gold start fuel for our bodies. Glucose is one of the simple sugars and it is glucose that must be kept at a steady level in our blood to fuel various cells around the body. If blood glucose falls too low you would start to shake, feel disorientated and quite ill before eventually passing out. If levels run too high you won’t necessarily feel anything but the spikes of glucose in your blood do cause damage to blood vessels around the body. So keeping blood glucose in a set range is necessary for optimal health and well-being.

Glucose is a particularly important fuel for the brain so fluctuating blood glucose levels is not good for brain health and mood. When these things are considered we can see why from an evolutionary perspective we might be primed to seek out sources of glucose in food. Innately we like sweet things. Fast forward to today and there is no doubt many people are consuming way too much sugar, and sugar-laden foods certainly contribute to our growing waistlines. However I don’t believe that this means we need to eliminate all sugar from our diet. In fact what the glycaemic index research tells us is that often starchy foods – especially those based on white flour – are much worse for us than foods containing sugar. Starch is just long chains of glucose molecules and these are broken down in the small intestine and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose. Once in the blood stream your body doesn’t know whether that glucose came from sugar or starch – by this stage it’s all just glucose.

High GI foods by definition deliver that glucose to the blood much faster and therefore result in a far higher peak in blood glucose compared to low GI foods – regardless of whether we’re talking about carbohydrate in the form of sugar or starch. So to my mind there is no doubt that the overriding factor concerning carbohydrate-rich foods is the GI. We want to consume food that are digested and absorbed slowly, giving rise to small fluctuations in blood glucose that allow our body to handle the incoming carbohydrates easily. Now that brings us to Goodness Superfoods cereals. Yes the manufacturers add sugars to the cereal in the form of golden syrup and a little honey.

Digestive 1st has the highest sugar level not because more of these ingredients are added, but because this variety also has dried apple and sultanas added – foods with sugars naturally present. Now I have tasted BARLEYmax flakes on their own without sweetening and I can promise you that very few of you would buy these cereals in this form! By adding some sugar to sweeten the product the result is a delicious enjoyable breakfast cereal. I don’t object at all to sugar being used in small quantities to make a nutrition food more palatable. Otherwise very few people would be gaining the enormous benefits of the supergrain BARLEYmax.

I work closely with Goodness Superfoods and naturally I push them towards lowering the amount of sugar added as much as possible, but this has to be done without losing the taste. So rest assured that this is something the company are working on. But in the meantime what to keep in mind is that ALL of the Goodness Superfoods products are low GI and so have gentle effects on your blood glucose levels and you gain all the enormous benefits of the fibre, resistant starch, protein and array of micronutrients in the products. Concentrate instead on reducing foods based on white flour, or where sugars are added to products without a good overall nutritional profile - this is where you truly will get empty kilojoules.

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3 Responses to Don’t cut sugar out of your diet- find the right balance instead

  1. I don’t disagree with this video from Dr Lustig at all. This is not a new line of evidence and much of the research from the states has focused on the problems associated with the wide spread use of HFCS in the US, mostly as the cheap bulk sweetener used in soft drinks. We don’t have the same level of use of this sweetener here in Australia. If I can state first up that my blog post is not merely my opinion, I am a nutrition scientist and as such am trained to look at the evidence and always base conclusions on evidence-based science. Dr Lustig is doing exactly the same thing – basing his opinions on evidence-based science. We are not saying different things, just focusing on different aspects of the science. Nutrition science is not black and white and there is much we are still discovering and understanding. I have given many similar presentations showing the scientific evidence that low GI foods assist with dyslipidaemia (including lowering triglycerides and raising HDL), lower bp, reduces hyperinsulinaemia and improves insulin sensitivity, assists with weight loss and reduces the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver. The evidence that Dr Lustig puts forward for fructose is indeed compelling, but this doesn’t mean that you need to cut out all fructose from the diet. He himself points out that eating fruit is OK since accompanied by lots of fibre and other nutrients. This is exactly the point I am making with the barleymax cereals. A little sugar is added to make the products palatable, but the overall food product is very high fibre, low GI and nutritionally dense. This is not the same thing as drinking HFCS sweetened soft drinks which is what Dr Lustig is really targeting. Furthermore Goodness Superfoods are not using HCFS which has the most damning evidence against it. In his closing slides on their recommendations he clearly states drink no sugar-sweetened drinks – only water and milk and then focuses on activity and fibre. I teach exactly the same thing. I agree with him entirely that fibre is a major part of the story and that is why with Goodness Superfoods we talk about good health starting with good gut health. What is often difficult in nutrition research is to avoid labeling foods or nutrients as good and bad. Dr Lustig’s example of alcohol is a good example. Smal amounts are in fact good for us (as he points out) and lowers heart disease risk, but clearly higher levels are damaging. The same is true for something like fructose. When present in fibre-rich foods and in the context of an overall healthy nutritious diet, and accompanied by appropriate activity levels, fructose can be part of the diet, as it has always been. I could find something naturally present in almost every natural food that could be harmful, but it is when foods are all put together that you see the effects. Finally in my experience working one-on-one and in groups trying to change people’s lifestyle and eating habits, making blanket statements about sugar and banning foods with sugar (or fat or anything else for that matter) is not helpful. We have to make food products that people enjoy and make steps towards the healthiest diet and lifestyle possible. That ultimately makes the biggest difference. But for the record soft drinks are one of the few foods or drinks that I would happily ban if I could.

  2. Luke Starbuck says:

    Hi Joanna,
    Wondering what your opinion is on the liver producing required glucose, synthesizing from protein, in the absence of dietary glucose/carbohydrate?

    • Martina says:

      Hi Luke, thanks for your comment. Yes the liver can produce glucose from amino acids when required. In fact excess protein cannot be stored unless muscle building happening in response to training, so will be converted to glucose or to fat for storage. There is an energy cost to these metabolic processes and that is partly why a little extra protein may be helpful for weight control. However I do not support very low carb diets. These are not good for brain health, do not support good exercise levels and are are not compatible with ethical and healthy diets long term. Hope this helps!

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