Sugar Busters … Busted!

Sugar Busters … Busted!

Beth Fontenot

Sugar Busters … Busted! Beth Fontenot Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat by H. Leighton Steward, Morrison C. Bethea, MD, Sam S. Andrews, MD, and Luis A. Balfart, MD (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998), 268 pp., $22.00, ISBN 0-345-42558-8, hardcover.

Three physicians and a business executive have come up with the newest version of the “carbohydrates-are-bad-for-you” diet and have written a book that is selling like hotcakes (oops…those aren’t allowed on the diet). The main idea behind this so-called Sugar Busters diet is that sugar is “toxic” and that certain foods like bread, rice, potatoes, and bananas are bad for you because they have a high glycemic index. The glycemic index is a way of classifying foods based on how much they raise your blood sugar when you eat them. When your blood sugar rises, the body produces insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar. The creators of this diet claim that insulin is the “bad guy” because when you eat from their list of forbidden foods (foods with a high glycemic index), insulin will cause sugar to be stored as fat.

While there may be a grain of truth to the authors’ theory, they have exaggerated it, insisting in effect that eating a baked potato is like eating a potato skin filled with sugar. Yes, carbohydrates are broken down to sugar by the body. Yes, insulin does promote fat storage, but only when more carbohydrate is eaten than the body can use. The authors slam foods such as bananas, raisins, carrots, beets, corn, and any food made with refined sugar or flour, and they okay eating foods like butter, bacon, eggs, and sausage. They say that fruit eaten in combination with other foods is harmful because it overstimulates insulin secretion, which, they say, will make you fat.

The truth is that weight gain occurs when foods are eaten in excess and not because of eating “wrong” foods, “bad” foods, or wrong combinations of food. Carbohydrates can be stored as fat, but only if they are eaten in excess. Anything you eat in excess of what your body needs is stored as fat. Carbohydrates are no more fattening than any other foods. In fact, excess carbohydrate in the diet is less efficient at producing body fat than excess fat in the diet.

Insulin is not a “bad guy.” It is needed to move sugar from your bloodstream into the cells of your body where it is used to fuel all of your activities. As for losing weight, what matters is calories–not carbohydrates and insulin.

You’ll probably lose a few pounds if you follow the Sugar Busters diet. But what you are losing is body water or muscle mass from depriving yourself of carbohydrates. When you restrict your intake of carbohydrates, your body loses its stored sugar (glycogen) along with the water in the stores. This causes a rapid weight loss when you first begin the diet. If carbohydrates are restricted too severely, your body makes another fuel source for itself–ketones. The excretion of excess ketones also causes water loss. In addition, if adequate sugar is not available to your body, your muscle mass is broken down to get to amino acids that can be converted to sugar. This again results in the loss of water stored in body proteins and of muscle mass.

The Sugar Busters diet ridicules established eating guidelines promoted by the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, and other health organizations. An analysis of the suggested meal plan in the book using usual portion sizes shows that anywhere from 40 to 50% of the calories come from fat, and much of that is saturated fat. This exceeds the AHA’s recommendation that less than 30% of calories should come from fat with very limited amounts of saturated fat. The authors’ suggestion to limit certain grain foods, fruits, and vegetables contradicts the guidelines of the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid.

A joint report issued last year by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized the importance of carbohydrates in the diet and stated that a high intake of carbohydrates can reduce the risk of obesity and protect against other nutrition-related diseases. The report also declared that there is no evidence that sugars and starches promote obesity.

In short, the book is filled with inaccurate nutrition information, and the authors’ claims (and success stories) are not supported by scientific data. The whole idea of the glycemic index is controversial at best. The Sugar Busters diet is nothing new. It’s just a recycled version of the same old low-carbohydrate diet that’s been around for years. If it really worked, would it have to be repackaged, renamed, and resold every few years?

COPYRIGHT 1998 Prometheus Books, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning