Wednesday 6 March 2013

Sweet Poison

It is perhaps somewhat contrary, or possibly even ridiculous to spend much of my time reading about and anticipating the sweet, sweet delights that I will encounter in Paris in a few months time, especially whilst all the while dieting and training for my planned extravagances, and then to read Sweet Poison.

Paris, My Sweet and Sweet Paris in particular fuelled my imagination. Sweet Poison helped to temper it somewhat (it won't spoil my trip by any stretch though, that ain't gunna happen). This book has been a megaseller. I know a number of men in particular who have read it and acted on the advice, often losing quite a bit of weight along the way. Since I was eating well anyway, I thought now was a good time to reinforce my new behaviours.

David Gillespie was a father of four when he learnt that there was a set of twins on the way. His brood was about to expand to six. An exciting time. But he was 40kg overweight, tired all the time, with no energy and bad sleeping habits. He knew it was time to change. He tried the Atkins diet which was popular at the time, but didn't like the diet itself or the fibre-free effects on his gut. So he looked around for another way. He combined his interest in Charles Darwin and human nutrition and metabolism, reading a vast array of medical and scientific writings. Chemically sugar is made of up of 50% fructose, and 50% glucose. David came to believe that fructose within sugar was making us fat. 

The early part of the book, indeed the first half, is an easy to read and rather engrossing primer on human nutrition and metabolism. There is a particularly fascinating section on the evolution of low carb diets. A century before Atkins there was an intriguing Victorian gent, undertaker and coffin maker William Banting, who suffered from the "oppression of corpulence", who with noted ENT surgeon Dr William Harvey, developed the first diet suggesting that people reduce their carbohydrate intake. In 1862 the foods that were thought to contain starch were bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, pork and potatoes. Banting lost 26kg on this regime over the next year, and cured his deafness at the same time. William Banting was so pleased by his success that he wrote a booklet, A Letter on Corpulence, funding and publishing it himself, so he shouldn't be accused of profiteering. So successful was his diet that "to bant" became synonymous with dieting, and was included in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1963.

There is another fascinating section on the history of sugar. Sugar cane is native to Papua New Guinea, and the story of the progress of sugar around the world, and over time is particularly intriguing. The history of sugar encompasses slavery, taxation and the Napoleonic Wars.  Over the last nearly 1000 years the demand for sugar has escalated, and the price fallen dramatically.

Even though the price of sugar has plummeted, there was an even cheaper product waiting in the wings. In the 1960s and 70s sugar prices began to rise, and corn prices fell, and so high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was born. The first commercial shipment took place in 1968 and within 20 years HFCS had replaced sugar as America's primary source of fructose. Forty two percent of  corn grown in the US now goes to makes HFCS. HFCS is still not widely used in Australia as we have a massive sugar cane industry, 85% of which is exported.

It is extraordinary to learn 60% "of the output from all those sugar growers, corn growers, multinational sugar corporations and grain buyers ends up in the carbonated soft drinks made by just three companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in the United States and Cadbury Schweppes in the United Kingdom". Although perhaps not so surprising when you walk into your local supermarket and gaze at the whole aisle usually devoted to these products.

The centre of David Gillespie's arguments about fructose, and somewhat buried in the Biochemistry 101 chapter, is that fructose slips through the pancreas undetected, and so fructose doesn't elicit a biochemical response and no insulin is produced. Only the liver and the testes (if you own any) has the ability to take up and utilise fructose. Indeed, our livers take up fructose avidly, converting it to ATP (a major energy molecule) and then into circulating fatty acids. The calories from fructose are invisible to our bodies, and so don't help us to feel full.

Pulling all of this together, we have a universal theory for what has been observed in a multitude of studies in the last three decades. Fructose increases circulating fatty acids, particularly LDL cholesterol. Increased fatty acids lead directly to heart disease and stroke. Increased fatty-acid levels also reduce the effectiveness of insulin in clearing the blood of glucose. Increased blood glucose leads to type II diabetes and feeds cancer. Oestrogen reduces (to a degree) the effects of fatty acids an allows insulin to work well despite their presence and to eliminate them from the bloodstream. This results in pre-menopausal women having lower incidences of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Fibre has a similar effect to that of oestrogen (so there is hope for men after all) in rendering insulin more effective and therefor lowering the risk of all of those diseases. If you must eat fructose, then either have plenty of oestrogen on hand or eat a lot of fibre (hang on- fructose plus fibre ..... that sounds like whole fruit).

David Gillespie lost his 40 kg of surplus weight, over almost 2 years, and without doing any particular exercise (he has interesting views on exercise too). He distills his advice down to 5 simple rules.

Don't drink sugar

Don't snack on sugar

Party foods are for parties

Be careful at breakfast

There is no such thing as good sugar

Yet, David is no wowser. He uses dextrose (pure glucose) as a sugar substitute. There is a Sweet Poison Quit Plan Cookbook in the pipeline, due out in April 2013, which looks very good. And beer and most wines (not dessert wines or sweet liquers) are ok to drink from the fructose perspective- although we all know that too much alcohol isn't a good thing either.

David Gillespie has quite a big web presence. The Sweet Poison website. His How Much Sugar website, which for a subscription fee, helps people sort out how much sugar is in common supermarket products- mainly for Australia and America. His blog, Raisin Hell (he's not afraid to express his opinions or speak out about what he believes. His latest book Toxic Oil has just been released.

And man is sugar topical! Since I started reading Sweet Poison, a major study was published linking sugar consumption and diabetic rates world wide. Mark Bittman came out swinging in the New York Times. The 2013 NH&MRC Dietary Guidelines have just been released and advise us to cut down on added sugar.

Foodies Read 2013 Challenge

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking, a fabulous weekly meme at Beth Fish Reads.


Vicki said...

Yikes!! Very scary. I knew most of these things, but not all.

Thanks for reviewing this book and for linking to the Foodies Read challenge!

Julia Tomiak said...

Fascinating! I know sugar is bad, but this book sounds very informative, and I'm so glad you included the five rules. I will add the book to my TBR pile, and I recommend "The Omnivore's Dilemma" which also explores the history of HFCS and the problems with the American diet. I haven't read it, but a friend has shared it with me and it sounds intriguing. I'm sure she'll be interested in Sweet Poison. Thanks for the review!

Brona said...

This is one of our big sellers, but I've never gotten around to reading it (along with any of the other I quit sugar style books).

Your great summary will help me chat to customers more knowledgably :-)

I'm currently reading a Michael POllan book which has gone into a lot detail about the high fructose corn syrup issue too.

Beth F said...

Great post. That high fructose corn syrup is in everything!

Peggy Ann said...

Excellent post! We use very little sugar at our house. Thanks for the links too!

(Diane) bookchickdi said...

This is a terrific post. I saw someone this week on a TV show talking about the very same thing. What a difference in our society if we didn't have high fructose corn syrup in so many of our foods and beverages.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

It is so so tough to find foods without that dreaded "ose" in the ingredients. And recently someone mentioned the sugar in fruits having a negative affect on them. I tend to eat fairly healthy so do indulge every once in a while but I am curious what his thoughts on exercise are!!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I'm off to locate this one. I'm intrigued with sugar. My husband and his people are Norwegian and none of them eat much in the dessert family. My family of origin, on the other hand, are enormous consumers of sweets, a fact which is apparent when you meet most of us. I have been saved from obesity and bad teeth only by my husband.

Thank you for sharing this!