Food for Thought

Should you be eating that, it’s full of sugar? 
Last month one of our readers (a self confessed, long-time follower of the Montignac diet) was outraged that we had published a recipe that included sugar (by which she specifically means sucrose). Montignac does use sugar in his recipes – his sugar of choice is fructose (GI 19), not one with a lot of fans these days.

First of all, we like to provide readers with a range of recipes in each issue of GI News to appeal to a variety of tastes and to suit a variety of occasions. We also give a nutrient analysis with our recipes so people can make an informed choice. And we carefully control for portion size, especially with sweet treats.

Secondly, one of the happy spin-offs of over 30 years of glycemic index research has shown that most sugars in foods produce quite moderate blood glucose responses, lower than most refined starches. Why? Well sugars (including sucrose/table sugar GI 65) are a mixture of molecules, some of which have only a negligible effect on blood glucose levels. In addition, many scientific studies now very clearly show that a moderate amount of added sugar (for example 30–50 grams a day) does not lead to poor blood glucose control nor weight gain in people with diabetes. Keep in mind, however, that this moderate amount includes all sources of added refined sugar consumed that day – the sugar on your breakfast cereal (or already in your cereal), soft drinks, desserts, cookies, cake, snack foods, and the sugar in a cup of tea or coffee.

However, we are very aware that there’s a ‘sugar-free’ boom well underway fuelled by massive misinformation and fad diet solutions. It’s also become a significant profit centre for the food industry now busily adapting foods to make them ‘sugar-free’ or low sugar because it knows (through market research) that many consumers are convinced sugar is THE problem nutrient. Get rid of sugar and all will be well. Apparently. Certainly the technology is there – most sugars can be relatively easily replaced by oligosaccharides and starches – perhaps with a touch of aspartame, sucralose or stevia to boost sweetness. However, it is unlikely the net result will be of any nutritional benefit, as these oligosaccharides and starches are typically as refined and devoid of nutrients (other than calories) than the sugars they replaced – and they have a higher GI. Based on the events of the past few decades, we believe it’s highly likely that these sugar-free foods will continue to contribute to the global obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic just like their low-fat and low-carb predecessors. History sadly has a tendency of repeating itself.

Sugar free chocolate

The real problem is the one-nutrient-at-a-time, fad diet approach. We don’t eat one nutrient at a time – we eat tasty meals that contain a wide variety of foods. This is why most people find it hard to stick to fad ‘quit this food’ diets. It doesn't fit in with their lifestyle – there are too many pressures and opportunities to enjoy a wide variety of flavoursome foods with family and friends. What's the solution?

Nutrients are by definition essential. It’s how we eat them (and how many of them we put on our plates) that ultimately counts. We think it is time to stop the individual nutrient blame game and focus on enjoying an overall low GI healthy eating pattern built around vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean meats/fish, minimally refined grains, yoghurt and other fermented dairy products, and oils (olive/peanut). And of course being more active.

And, when you want a little sweetness in your life, opt for nutritious foods that will provide more than calories – porridge with brown sugar, a dollop of jam on grainy toast, muesli with fruit yoghurt, a baked apple with a crumble filling. And enjoy a treat occasionally too, such as a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate or one (1) of Anneka's gluten-free mandarin and roasted almond cakes.