Tequila sugar?

Tequila is the answer to many of life’s problems — and now, a sweetener made from the stuff might just be the answer to our diabetes and obesity pandemics, too.

New research suggests presented at the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS)suggests that a sweetener made from agave — the plant used to make tequila — can help lower blood glucose levels. That’s because agavins, the kind of sugar found in the plant, act like dietary fibre, so they taste sweet, but can’t be broken down by the body. (They’re not to be confused with agave syrups, which are actually similar to high-fructose corn syrups.)

These agavin compounds are long strings of fructoses, usually found in fruit, but their size makes them impossible to break down. The researchers also found that agavins increase the production of GLP-1, a hormone that triggers the production of insulin by slowing the rate at which the stomach empties.

Combined, that means that the body perceives sweetness in the mouth but suffers none of the negative side effects of consuming sugars. And, because they can’t be broken down like other sweeteners, agavins come saddled with none of the negative effects associated with artificial sweeteners, either. The only downside? They’re aren’t quite as sweet as their artificial counterparts — but given their other benefits, adding more shouldn’t necessarily be a problem. [ACS via MD Connects]

Latest superfood?

Attention Canadian foodies: There’s a new kale in town.

A cross between kale and brussels sprouts, the aptly named “BrusselKale” is expected to make its debut in a Canadian grocery store this month.

Developed by British vegetable breeder Tozer Seeds, the new veggie superfood will likely be available at Pusateri’s, Toronto’s high-end grocery retailer, in the next couple of weeks.

“Any mixture with kale seems to fly off the shelf,” general manager John Mastroianni told CTVNews.ca. He said customers of the luxury grocery chain have been inquiring about the small green and purple sprout over the past month.

“It’s a hot new trend,” Mastroianni said of the hybrid veggie powerhouse.

According to Tozer Seeds’ website, the green frilly vegetable has a flavour profile that combines the complex taste of brussels sprouts, with the mild and sweet, nutty taste of kale.

“The result is a vegetable which has not only a great flavour but is also incredibly versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways,” the website boasts.

In addition to its unique flavour, the “BrusselKale” — which also goes by the name of “Flower Sprout” – is also packed with vitamins.

Tozer Seeds says a 100-gram serving of the hip veggie hybrid provides twice the amount of vitamin C that standard brussels sprouts do.

So far, the curly leaf veggie has garnered a lot of attention. In addition to being called the “Brangelina of vegetables” due to its potential to become the next big food trend, the “BrusselKale” is also making a name for itself on the food award circuit.

In 2013, the novel veggie hybrid placed third at the Fruit Logistica Innovations Award for outstanding innovation in the international fresh produce sector.

But will this new crossbreed survive the test of time? Here are four other food fusions that were once considered fresh and exotic:

Purple haze carrots

Rich in antioxidants thanks to its deep violet colouring, the purple haze carrot was developed in 2004 in the U.S., according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Its “parents” were a carrot variety called the “Miss Ruby,” and a male, designated as NC2003-4.


A crossbreed between a plum and an apricot, this food hookup is a relative newcomer to the commercial stone fruit industry. But according to a 2005 article in the Journal of American Pomological Society, pluots – also referred to as plumcots – have been known to grow naturally in regions where both plums and apricots are abundant.


Noted for their juiciness and sweet flavour, this citrus hybrid can often be found in grocery stores year-round. According to Sunkist, a popular variety of this grapefruit and tangerine hybrid is the Minneola tangelo, identified by its knob-like formation at the stem end.


Widely stocked in Asian food shops, this in-vogue super fruit has been popular in Japanese cuisine for centuries but has recently been popping up in recipes of popular chefs such as Jamie Oliver. Fans of the fruit say it tastes like a mix of lemon, mandarin and grapefruit.

Fan-Yee Suen, CTVNews.ca 

Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/meet-the-brusselkale-possibly-the-trendiest-superfood-yet-1.1732636#ixzz2wIjphkHf

Fighting famines, not winning weight wars

Almost everyone who has tried to lose weight has tasted the bitter pill of failure. That feeling you get when, despite all your desires to be healthier, to fit into sassier clothes or to shimmy through life (and into aeroplane seats) with greater ease and comfort, you just can’t stick with your diet and exercise plans for long enough to get there.

People failing to lose weight frequently blame themselves, as does almost everyone around them. In fact, even a sizeable proportion of health professionals consider obesity to be an individual failing. But this attitude displays complete ignorance of human physiology and how it impacts weight loss.

Fighting famines, not winning weight wars

In actual fact, most diets fail because the body activates a series of powerful physiological mechanisms — many originating from changes in the hypothalamus, which lies at the base of the brain — that help to protect us from losing too much weight too quickly.

These mechanisms, which I call the famine reaction, have been pivotal to our survival as a species because they prevent ongoing weight loss and promote weight regain. In pre-agricultural times, which forms the majority of human history, food supply was much more dependent on seasons and intermittent. Conserving energy ensured survival through the lean season.

But while the famine reaction undoubtedly helped the species survive recurring famines and hardships, it presents an enormous challenge in modern societies where the abundance of food (especially energy-dense food) means many people are now overweight or obese.

The famine reaction is a whole-of-body response to not getting enough food with three main symptoms.

  • Hunger — when you start a weight-loss program, you might not feel very hungry at all. But once you lose a certain amount of weight, you can eat your whole day’s diet ration and still feel hungry … and it’s only 10.30 in the morning.

That’s the famine reaction pushing you to eat more and help protect you from losing any more fat.

  • Lethargy — keeping active can be a challenge at the best of times, but when you’ve lost weight and your famine reaction has been activated, you can feel like you’re dragging your whole body in mud just to get through the day.

You’re being slowed down so you don’t waste precious energy and lose any more fat.

  • Feeling cold and shivery, even in the middle of summer — this is your famine reaction reducing your metabolic rate. The result is that weight loss can come to a complete standstill (or plateau), even if you’re still sticking rigorously to your diet and exercise plan.

These effects are incredibly powerful, and help explain why most people hit a plateau and gain back some or all of their lost weight shockingly quickly.

Health-care professionals, the weight-loss industry and members of the public alike assume the energy-conserving effects of the famine reaction are only felt by lean people after extensive or rapid weight-loss (because they need to be protected from wasting away).

But this adaptation has been shown to happen even in overweight and obese people after loss of as little as 6% to 12% of body weight. And even in cases when weight loss has resulted from moderate energy restriction, with or without physical activity.

Fighting the famine reaction

If you listen to standard advice from the majority of weight-loss programs, you’ll think the famine reaction and its secret weapon, hunger, will just go away with judicious use of willpower.

All you have to do in the meanwhile is ignore how hungry you’re feeling, or try to quash your hunger by filling up with non-starchy vegetables, which are part of the “free list” in most diets because their low calorie and carbohydrate count means you can eat as many of them as you like.


But research shows the brain changes that cause the famine reaction don’t just dissipate if you hang in for long enough and exercise more. So what can you do to avoid regaining the weight you’ve lost?

One way is to work with your physiology, rather than against it. This means eating more at certain times, notably when hunger raises its troublesome head.

Research shows eating more and undergoing a period of weight maintenance (rather than continuing efforts to lose weight) can deactivate aspects of the famine reaction. In particular, it can block the reduction in metabolic rate that creates those tiresome weight-loss plateaus.

This intermittent approach to weight loss — eating less overall but sometimes eating more — may improve the efficiency of weight loss. It may also reduce the drive to eat large amounts of food when you’ve lost some weight, by taming the hunger pangs of the famine reaction. My colleagues and I are currently investigating this strategy in a clinical trial.

We still need to determine the optimum timing of intermittent energy restriction for different people. But if you’re on a diet and start to experience mounting, nagging hunger (a sign of the famine reaction at play), eat the types and amounts of (mostly healthy) foods that make you feel genuinely satisfied.

This may ultimately help weight loss more than the conventional advice to just keep going. It may even be a suitable weight management strategy for people who struggle with binge eating.

If you live in the Sydney metropolitan area and would like to find out about participating in our weight-loss trials, please click here.

Amanda Salis is NHMRC Senior Research Fellow in the Boden Insitute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at the University of Sydney. She receives funding from the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia, in the form of research project grants and a Senior Research Fellowship. She is the author of The Don’t Go Hungry Diet (Bantam, Australia and New Zealand, 2007) and Don’t Go Hungry for Life (Bantam, Australia and New Zealand, 2011) and owns shares in a company (Zuman International Pty Ltd) that sells these books.

Nightshade vegetables and joint pain

Nightshades produce a particular group of substances called alkaloids – these alkaloids protect the plant against insects that would otherwise eat them.  Although the level in vegetables is very low – it is these alkaloids which can cause problems.

While many people can consume the small amount of alkaloids present in the common nightshade vegetables and have no trouble, research indicates there are some individuals who are highly sensitive to these alkaloids.  These alkaloids appear to be deposited in the synovial fluid around joints which our body’s immune system then attacks causing inflammation and joint pain.

What vegetables are in the nightshade family?

Nightshade vegetables are part of a large and very diverse family of plants know as Solanaceae.  Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers including chilli, cayenne and paprika (excluding peppercorns) are the most common of this family, which get their name because they have more activated growth during the night.

Conditions associated with nightshade vegetables.

  • Arthritis, joint pain, swelling and stiffness are most commonly associated with nightshade sensitivity.  It is suggested as many as one in three arthritics may be experiencing side effects from eating nightshade vegetables.

Some research also indicates certain alkaloids may affect the metabolism of calcium by removing calcium from bones and depositing it in soft tissue such as the tendons, ligaments, cartilage, cardiovascular tissues, kidneys and skin which could be a factor in arthritis development.  Osteoarthritis is basically calcium deposits in the soft tissues of joints.

  • Fibromyalgia (related to arthritis) – which causes chronic muscle and joint pain, twitching and fatigue has been improved in some cases by avoiding the nightshades.
  • Skin Conditions – all individuals experience sensitives differently.  There are people who have not had joint problems but cured unexplained skin conditions such as eczema by cutting out nightshade vegetables.
  • Digestive disorders – there is evidence that nightshades can have a damaging effect on the cell membrane in the digestive tract adding to irritable bowel and other gastrointestinal issues.

The Arthritis Nightshades Research Foundation, formed in the 1980’s found that eliminating nightshades could also alleviate conditions such as autoimmune disorders, sleep disturbances, and even weight loss.

How will I know if I should avoid nightshades?

If you suspect this group of food might be causing you discomfort from joint, muscle or nerve pain or you constantly experience stiffness, unexplained skin or digestive problems – the best way to know is to put yourself on an elimination diet.

  • Elimination: Cut out all nightshade vegetables (including seasonings and sauces) for a month.  It is a good idea to keep a food journal during this time and notice any changes in how you feel.
  • After one month feast on nightshades all day.  Then journal how you feel over the next few days.
  • This should give you are pretty good indication if there is a sensitivity.  If you are still not sure, it is likely that there is only a minimal affect from alkaloids and eating nightshades in small doses should be fine.

I always encourage people to use their power of observation and awareness around food and how it affects their body.  Be your own experiment.

If I don’t have a problem with nightshades should I avoid them?

Even if you don’t seem to have trouble with nightshades, in my opinion it’s a good idea to eat seasonally and get lots of variation in your diet. We are very reliant as a culture on potatoes, tomatoes, tomato sauces and peppers. Especially considering nightshade vegetables used to be grown for ornaments only.

With modern supermarkets nightshade vegetables are available all year round and many people don’t even know when they are in season or not.  Not to mention an abundance of tomato products available by can and bottle.  I believe eating seasonally is a great way to ensure you the nutrients available in fresh produce and provide what your body needs without creating an excess of alkaloids for example.

TIP 1: Green spots on potatoes indicate a high alkaloid level and this should be peeled to minimise the alkaloids

Tip 2: Taking a specific supplement for supporting joint health can sometimes also be very beneficial.

Tip 3: Making Bone broths can also be very beneficial for joint health as they provide the minerals and glycoaminoglycans needed to rebuild joints and cartilage.

Ben Warren

10 Myths About Gluten and Coeliac Diesase

There’s much more to going gluten-free than a change of diet. We know that gluten is sneaky, and harmful to those with coeliac — even sharing utensils can be life threatening — but there’s more than a few myths going around. So in light of Coeliac Awareness Week we’re getting to the raw truth and debunking some common mistakes surrounding gluten.

Myth #1: Only grain-based foods contain gluten

Eating gluten-free doesn’t just mean you have to make the switch with breads, pastas and cereals. You can also find it in some of the most unexpected places like suncream, shampoo and makeup, as well as in some unlikely foods like lollies, pickles, soy sauce and other condiments.

Myth #2: Coeliac disease is rare
It’s actually the opposite. According to Coeliac Australia, the disease affects at least one in 100 Australians, but 75 percent currently remain undiagnosed — that’s approximately 160,00 Australians that have coeliac disease but don’t know it yet.
Myth #3: People with coeliac aren’t as sensitive to gluten as they might claim
Everyone has different levels of intolerance, but the symptoms they receive and the health concerns are serious. So much that people with coeliac can easily get really sick from even the smallest of bread crumbs, and can even have a terrible attack from sharing utensils or having food made on the same surface as gluten foods.
Myth #4: A gluten-free diet is good for anyone

Going gluten-free seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment, but if you’re not gluten intolerant then there’s no benefit on passing up on some great foods. The only reason gluten-free eaters are restricted to a gluten-free diet is because of the harm gluten can do to their digestive system and nutrition. Forgoing gluten when you don’t have coeliac disease won’t make you healthier or help you to lose weight. In fact, there really is no point.

Myth #5: Coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity are the same thing

These two terms are often passed around as being the same thing, but they’re not. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten causing small bowel damage. Gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune disease, and gluten doesn’t cause the intestines any long-term damage. However some of the symptoms like diarrhoea, cramping, bloating are the same.

Myth #6: Gluten-free foods are healthy

Most gluten-free goods are processed and definitely don’t equate to healthy. They still contain gluten-free flours, sugars and fats to help compensate for the lack in texture and taste.

Myth # 7: Coeliac isn’t life-threatening

People might think having coeliac is just a pain in the back side, but it’s actually more harmful than it might appear. Aside from doing damage to your digestive system and experiencing unpleasant side effects, if untreated it can even lead to infertility and other autoimmune disorders.

Myth #8: Going gluten-free is good for weight loss

If you think ditching the bread and cereal is going to help you lose weight, think again. While eliminating certain carb-rich foods might help those skinny jeans fit better, many gluten-free products contain more sugar, fat and other additives than their non-gluten free siblings.

Myth #9: It’s OK to have a cheat day when you’re coeliac

Unfortunately it’s not OK. If you’ve got coeliac, every time you eat foods that contain gluten the protein from these foods are damaging your intestines and preventing you from receiving essential nutrients. Even the smallest amount of gluten can be detrimental to your health. Eek!

Myth #10: It’s OK to self diagnose coeliac disease

First thing’s first — don’t even self diagnose. There’s many reasons as to why you shouldn’t self diagnose, but you need to know whether or not you have coeliac or are just insensitive to decide on the correct treatment. And if you cut out gluten before you get tested you can affect the results, only delaying proper diagnosis.

Stephanie Ayre

Unlikely foods that contain gluten

Processed Meats

Deli and processed meats like salami can often contain modified starches (containing gluten) to help bind the ingredients together. You might also find gluten hiding in your favourite Californian sushi roll. The so called “crab meat” that they use isn’t real crab and contains wheat — so sneaky!

Sauces & Condiments

Many condiments like tomato sauce, mustard, gravy and salad dressings contain wheat and starch to help thicken the product. So look on the label for “modified food starch”.


This definitely doesn’t look like bread, but yes, it too contains gluten found in its wheat ingredients.

Soy Sauce

You might have thought soy sauce was made from soy beans, but think again it’s got wheat! If gluten is out you can buy gluten-free soy or try tamari sauce for a good alternative.


Did you guess these? Pickles are often made from malt vinegar, which is a by product of gluten.


Unfortunately hard lollies also contains the gluten protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. But if you’ve got a sweet tooth don’t worry, there are gluten-free products out there.


Many beers are not gluten- free, so it’s best to steer clear from beer made from wheat, barley and rye. Malt and malt flavouring also contain gluten and distilled alcohols like vodka might also be made from wheat. But wine drinkers are in the clear because they’re made from grapes. Cider is also made from fermenting apples so most of these drinks should be gluten-free.

Stephanie Ayre

Is sugar toxic?

It used to be that sugar was the sweetest, most useful thing in our larder, a crystalline ambrosia that could make almost any food taste better and last longer. But things have gone sour. Sugar is now the centre of a rancorous war with allegations it’s toxic, addictive and a key contributor to the global obesity epidemic. Greg Dixon examines the bitter battle over whether too much sugar is slowly killing usA tale of two stores

At the supermarket, temptation is always on special. Depending on the week, it’s just $5 for four candy bars, or as little as $6 for 4.5 litres of soft drink, $3.89 for six cupcakes or $3.99 for 3 litres of Just Juice. Temptation nearly always comes sugar-coated.

And there’s no escaping it. At the supermarket temptation chases you to the door. As you stand in line waiting to pay your five bucks for your four bars, all you can see is sugar, sugar and more sugar: bags of sweets, more bars of chocolate, lollipops, gum and more – for there are myriad ways in which sugar is packaged for our impulse purchase.

Across town, bookshops are flogging sugar too. On the shelves in the health and food sections you’ll find an ever-expanding number of authors damning sugar to hell in the likes of How To Beat Sugar AddictionSugar BluesSalt, Sugar, FatSugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat ItThe Complete Sugar Detox Program and Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar …

If you were searching for a sign of what sugar now is, you could find no simpler illustration than this tale of two stores. Sugar, once the sweetest thing in our larder, the almost guilt-free ambrosia that makes food taste better and last longer, so cheap and so ubiquitous, has become the new front, the most bitter battle in the ever-widening food wars.

The case for the prosecution is long on allegations about sugar: that it is “addictive” and “toxic”, that it contributes significantly to type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, dental decay, cardiovascular disease, hyperactivity, something called “metabolic syndrome” and – most damning of all – the global obesity epidemic.

Look at the evidence, says the prosecution. There is more sugar in our food than ever before – not just confectionary, one anti-sugar researcher claims 80 per cent of all of America’s processed food contains sugar – and there are more obese people in the world than ever before, in fact the number has doubled in less than three decades. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were, in 2008, 1.5 billion overweight adults and around 400 million who were obese. WHO expects these numbers to rise to 2.3 billion and 700 million by 2015. There are now, can you believe it, 30 per cent more obese people in the world than those who are undernourished.

Sugar is bad for us, then?

Well no it isn’t, say its champions. The case for sugar’s defence claims that it can be “enjoyed” as part of a “nutritious, balanced and enjoyable” diet, that it has no negative influences on any disease – “other than a partial contribution” – that it’s not addictive and that, in fact, the Western world’s intake of sugar has actually declined in the decade to 2008.

If you’re feeling a mite confused, you should be. Both sides claim the science proves they are right. Both sides say the other is being selective about the evidence for their case.

Both sides are utterly convinced they are right. Does it matter? It does when we look in the mirror.

Me, bad?

We are fat, and getting fatter. New Zealanders are the fourth most obese and overweight population in the world, according to the OECD. University of Auckland researchers estimate 35 per cent of all New Zealanders aged over 15 – that’s more than one in three of us – are overweight. Worse, a quarter of us are officially obese – that is, our body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing weight by height, exceeds 30 kg/m2 – while Maori and Pacific New Zealanders have obesity rates of 44.4 per cent and 62.1 per cent respectively. One in five of our children is overweight, according to 2006/7 figures.

The price of our ever-expanding waistlines is getting fatter too. Back in 1991 the annual cost of obesity to the country in healthcare was $135 million. Late last year University of Auckland researchers announced it was now $624 million – 4.4 per cent of all our health spending. (You can add another $98 million-$225 million a year, depending on methodology, for lost productivity due to obesity).

The cost to the individual is even higher of course: being obese means you’re more likely to die sooner, though it isn’t obesity that kills you. What gets us is a group of chronic metabolic diseases – including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and blood fat disorders – which together are called “metabolic syndrome”.

“On the death certificate the medical examiner doesn’t write down obesity,” writes American anti-sugar campaigner Dr Robert Lustig in Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, “instead it’s ‘heart attack’, ‘heart failure’, ‘stroke’, ‘diabetes’, cancer’, ‘dementia’, or ‘cirrhosis of the liver’. These are the diseases that ‘travel’ with obesity … obesity is not the cause of chronic metabolic disease. It’s a marker … and it’s metabolic disease that will kill you.”

The hand-wringing about all this has been going on for years – but so has the argument around why it is we’ve been getting so much fatter.

The established “cause” of obesity is simple enough, according to the Ministry of Health.

“Overweight and obesity are the result of a positive energy balance – that is a long term excess of energy intake (food and beverage consumption) over energy expenditure (basal metabolic rate [what we burn at rest] and physical activity) … Most experts believe [the rapid rise in obesity numbers] is due to living in an increasingly ‘obesogenic’ environment – one that promotes over-consumption of food and drinks and limits opportunities for physical activity.”

Under this model the world is full of sloth and greed: of people who eat too much and whose only workout is the walk to the fridge. In other words, if you’re overweight or obese it is your fault. You choose to be fat.

Toxic: the science of sugar according to Robert Lustig

By his own admission, Lustig, child obesity expert, researcher and author, was the first. “In terms of the sugar toxic thing,” he says by phone from his office at the University of California, San Francisco, “I am the first one to call it. But I always qualify it, I always say that it is a chronic not acute [illness], you don’t keel over from it, it … depends on dose, how much you’re absorbing and how much hits your liver and how fast.”

While far from a lone voice on our problem with sugar, Lustig, a professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology, has certainly become one of the most visible anti-sugar campaigners since an hour and half-long video of his lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth was uploaded to YouTube in 2009. It has since been viewed nearly 3.8 million times and Lustig has since appeared on America’s 60 Minutes, on the Colbert Report (Colbert dubbed him “Dr Buzz Kill”) and on Alec Baldwin’s New York radio show, Here’s The Thing, to name just three of his most high-profile media appearances. He also lectures widely around the world. He published Fat Chance in New Zealand in February.

“The bottom line is that I now have four full-time jobs, I used to have two,” he tells me. “I used to be a full-time clinician and a full-time researcher. Now I’m a full-time clinician, a full-time researcher, a full-time policy person and a full-time media person.”

We will come to sugar shortly. But on the matter of obesity, Lustig argues in the first part of Fat Chance that it is not a function of personal responsibility, of our sloth and greed. “The obesity pandemic is due to our altered biochemistry, which is a result of our altered environment.”

Does obesity equal the metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart disease that are killing us? The answer is no.

“Twenty per cent of obese people are completely metabolically normal,” says Lustig.

“They will have a completely normal life and die at a completely normal age. They will not cost the taxpayer anything: they are just fat. Conversely, 40 per cent of the normal weight population have the same metabolic dysfunction that the [majority of the] obese do. They have metabolic syndrome and they manifest the same diseases: type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, dementia. These are all diseases that occur in normal weight people too. And they have the same metabolic dysfunction, they have insulin resistance also. They are just normal weight. What this demonstrates is that obesity is not the cause of metabolic syndrome. What it is demonstrates is that obesity is a marker for metabolic syndrome. Yes, there are more obese people with metabolic syndrome than normal weight, 80 [compared] to 40 per cent. But normal weight people get this too because normal weight people are exposed to the same toxin that cause metabolic syndrome.”

That toxin is sugar, Lustig says.

Just why sugar is a poison – the Voldemort of the story, he says – is complicated. Sugar is a carbohydrate. Much of the sugar we eat (table sugar for example, or in fruit) is called sucrose, consisting of half glucose and half fructose. Fructose is much sweeter than glucose and is metabolised by the liver (while glucose is metabolised by all our cells).

Excess consumption of fructose, Lustig says, does two things. First, because the liver can’t handle the heavy load and the rate it’s arriving at, it’s forced to convert fructose into liver fat (and other visceral or organ fats), which, secondly and ultimately, leads the pancreas to produce much more insulin than our body needs, which in turn encourages more fat storage.

“Insulin is the hormone that drives energy storage and we’ve known about that forever.
But we didn’t know that insulin was the hormone that blocked leptin-signalling in the brain. Leptin is the starvation hormone. When your brain can’t see leptin, your brain sees starvation [so we eat more].

“So we had learned enough about leptin to make it very clear what the problem was and we knew enough about what insulin did to make it clear that this was the problem. Then the question was, okay, insulin is the bad guy, what’s driving the insulin? Because everybody around the world now is releasing two to three times the amount of insulin than they used to. The question was: what’s driving that? That’s when it became obvious that sugar was the answer.”

But hold on, whole fruit and some vegetables contain sucrose, and therefore fructose.

Doesn’t that make them equally bad? Well no, says Lustig, because sugar in whole foods comes with a healthy serving of fibre, which slows down digestion and, therefore, the rate that we metabolise the fructose, the toxic Voldemort. Processed food on the other hand, when high in sugar, often has little or no fibre.

Lustig says there is scientific evidence for this sort of feedback loop, in which sugar, an addictive substance, makes you hungry and makes you fat at the same time – because it alters our biochemistry. The mainstream health message is that if you reduce your calorie intake and up your exercise – if you burn more calories than you eat – you can avoid weight-gain, obesity and the metabolic diseases that travel with it, but Lustig says the bio-chemistry means this mantra is a fallacy.

His ultimate message is that – because of fructose – sugar’s calories are not like other calories. “A calorie is not a calorie,” he writes in Fat Chance. “Rather, perhaps the [health industry] dogma should be restated thus: a calorie burned is a calorie burned, but calorie eaten is not a calorie eaten. And therein lies the key to understanding the obesity pandemic. The quality of what we eat determines the quantity. It also determines our desire to burn it. And personal responsibility? Just another urban myth to be busted by real science.”

Science fact and science friction

The trouble is that the “real science” around sugar is far from settled, according to others.
The sugar industry in America has, rather predictably, been vociferous in its objection to Lustig’s conclusions. In New Zealand, the Sugar Research Advisory Service (SRAS) – funded by Australian and New Zealand sugar producers – was set up in 2002 to “provide the scientific facts on sugar and health from Australian and New Zealand experts”, which include nutritionists, dieticians and university researchers. If, as I did, you contact the SRAS, however, the reply comes not from a university but from a public relations company, Network Communications, a firm which also represents Chelsea Sugar.

Network’s Donnell Alexander, a nutritionist herself, says the views of SRAS “aren’t necessarily those of the industry”, though the SRAS’ views appear to be the same as those of its international equivalent, the World Sugar Research Organisation (WSOA) – a couple of the half-dozen reports Alexander sent through to me before we spoke were from the WSOA, which is also funded by the sugar industry.

The most boisterous of the WSOA papers – in response to a commentary by Lustig and colleagues published in Nature last year – accuses Lustig of “shock tactics”, “resurrecting an old hypothesis” and says Lustig’s claim that sugar is “harmful at current levels of intake is without foundation”.

It also alleges that Lustig makes the “entirely unreasonable” assertion that “sugar consumption is a central cause of obesity”, though Lustig maintains extremely forcefully to me that he has never said such a thing. In any case, this is the only time obesity is mentioned in this five-page WSOA document.

Ask Alexander what the driver of obesity is and she says it isn’t caused by any one thing that can be fixed to make it go away. “I think that is the main concern that I have with the likes of Lustig’s theory. It’s a very silver bullet approach: we should just cut out sugar and everything will be fine. I don’t believe that would be the case. I think the problem that we have as a society, and it seems to be increasing around the world, is that we don’t actually understand what moderation, balance and variety are. And they’re really boring messages to people, saying you should consume something in moderation, you should have a balanced diet. It’s the dietician’s mantra and it’s incredibly boring [because of repetition].”

So what of the scientists not advising organisations like the SRAS or WSOA? Lustig says “none of my colleagues have come up with any arguments or scientific data that disproves anything that I have said. For the most part, my colleagues have been in lockstep agreement with what I have said.” And certainly nutrition scientists and researchers would seem happy to appear on the same bill as Lustig, as they will at a symposium called “Sugar Drink Free Pacific by 2030?” in Auckland next February.

However, another speaker at this conference on sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages, Dr Lisa Te Morenga from the University of Otago’s department of human nutrition, says in her view Lustig is presenting a “plausible theory but not a convincing argument”.

“Robert Lustig would say … that sugar is deadly and toxic,” she says over a sugar-free coffee. “He’s said that it’s worse than alcohol, that it is terribly addictive. I think he overstates the body of evidence that is out there … I think he really believes in what he is saying and in making the statements he does he’s got people thinking about reducing the amount of sugar that we eat – because we do eat too much.”

Te Morenga, who also does work for the National Centre for Diabetes and Obesity Research, recently published a study in the British Medical Journal, showing that cutting back on sugar did help the study’s subjects lose a small amount of weight. However, she tells me she is not convinced that too much sugar is what is causing the increasing prevalence of the metabolic syndrome.

“Consuming too much alcohol, too many refined carbohydrates [generally the white stuff], too much fat, too much tasty and moreish processed and fast foods, too much red meat, and not enough dietary fibre, fruits and vegetables are also equally plausible factors, and things people can change to improve their health risks.”

Getting our just desserts

How much sugar do we eat? Well, according to SRAS spokeswoman Alexander, “sucrose” provides about 9 per cent of New Zealanders’ dietary energy, which is about what WHO recommends.

However, the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, the most recent look at what we eat, says our median daily intake of all sugars was 120g for males and 96g for women – less than in 1997, the year of the previous survey. Fruit contributed 18 per cent of this. But the bad stuff – non-alcoholic beverages and sugar and sweets – accounted for nearly a third. Of this total sugar intake, the sucrose content amounted to 55g for males and 42g for females (again less than 1997). As a comparison, there is 38g of sucrose in a single 335ml can of coke and 44g in the same sized can of Fanta.

The Ministry of Health recommends sugar should provide no more than 15 per cent of total energy (WHO recommends 10 per cent). This means that for an average 80kg Kiwi man, about 104g of sugar daily is recommended by the ministry – not much more than two cans of Fanta – and for the average 65kg woman, about 68g.

Comparing these numbers suggest our actual intake of total sugars is a bit higher than what the Ministry of Health recommends – but our actual intake could actually be higher than the Nutrition Survey reports. The University of Otago’s Te Morenga doesn’t really put much stock in our intake figures because people play down how much “bad” food they eat. “Intake data is not reliable in my opinion and we really only have good data going back to 1989. Sugary foods are one of the food items most likely to be under-reported [because] when asked, people either forget about the sugary foods and drinks they have eaten, or don’t want to admit that they have scoffed something perceived as a ‘bad’ food.

“The latest nutrition survey, 2008/09, would suggest sucrose intakes have reduced slightly since 1997 – despite the prevalence of obesity rising substantially.”

Another major problem for working out whether we’re eating too much sugar is that there are, as Lustig points out, over 50 different names for it. Te Morenga says sugar can be “disguised in processed foods” – and you may be surprised by the foods that have higher sugar levels too. Consumer NZ recently found 35 kids’ breakfast cereals contained too much sugar and that some brands of tomato sauce were 20 per cent sugar, while some barbecue sauces were 33 per cent sugar. Another trap for the unwary is “low fat” foods, which often contain lots of sugar to make them more appealing. Just have a look at the dietary information for “regular” yoghurts and fruit juices.

So, sugar can be where you don’t expect it. This ubiquity of sugar is what Lustig means by the “altered environment” which has “altered” our biochemistry. What should we do?

In Fat Chance, Lustig floats a number of ideas around taxation, legislation and education to control sugar in the same way many societies control the use of alcohol and tobacco. This, predictably, has been roundly pooh-poohed by the WSOA.

While taxing all sugary products in general has been raised here, the focus in New Zealand, as evinced by next year’s “Sugar Drink Free Pacific by 2030?” symposium, seems to be soft drinks, which, according to the 2008/9 Focus On Nutrition study, is where 15-to-18 year olds in particular get a significant amount (just over 30 per cent for males, 27 per cent for females on average) of the sucrose they consume daily. Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages will certainly be discussed at the symposium.

Elsewhere, as the war of sugar has grown, local and international health authorities and governments have restated their guidelines about reducing sugar consumption. Our Ministry of Health recommendations are pretty vague about how to reduce sugar intake.

It says when preparing food, or choosing pre-prepared foods, drinks and snacks, you should make sure they have little added sugar and you should “limit your intake of high-sugar foods”. There are no definitions of what “little” or “limit” mean in this context – other than “have cakes, biscuits, chocolate bars and health bars occasionally” – or what you might do if, as Lustig maintains, sugar, besides having a unique action on the body, is addictive.
Sugar: A glossary

Sucrose: found in fruit and some vegetables. It is also derived from sugar cane and sugar beet to make table sugar. It is found in processed foods with added sugar. Sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose.

Fructose: the sweet part of sucrose, fructose is never found alone in nature although it may be by itself in some processed foods. It is found naturally in fruit and honey. It is metabolised in the liver.

Glucose: found naturally in fruit and plant juices with fructose. When found alone (in rice or potatoes, for example) it is called starch. The body coverts carbohydrates into glucose which is then transported around the body in the bloodstream.

Lactose: found in milk and dairy products.

Galactose: found in milk sugar (lactose).

Total sugar: our diets typically include sucrose, fructose and glucose from whole or processed foods, as well as maltose from starch in brewing and lactose and galactose found in milk and milk products.

Added sugar: sugar added during cooking or manufacturing. A product containing processed fruit could contain both naturally occurring sugar from the fruit and added sugar.

Greg Dixon


It can be hard to keep up with all the bad news on sugar – or the smoking of our time as it’s rapidly becoming known. It has become this generation’s ticking time-bomb, leaving a trail of diabetes and obesity in its wake. Last week, the World Health Organisation added its voice to the fray, warning that sugar should make up just 5 per cent of our daily calorie intake, half what it had previously advised.

But help for the sweet-toothed – which, given that manufacturers spike even the most wholesome-sounding cereals with sugar, means practically everyone – is at hand.

From their cupboard of substitutes, food science analysts report that salvation lies in a naturally sourced substance called stevia, which has no calories, no carbohydrates, and does not raise blood sugar levels. It comes from a plant that has been used as a sweetener for centuries in Paraguay and Brazil, and has been sold in Japan for about 40 years, yet the West has been slow to wake up to its virtues.

Stevia-based products have only been approved as food additives since 2008 in the US, and since 2011 in the EU.

A recent report by Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research predicted that the value of such products, which are mainly manufactured by the food giant Cargill, would soar to $275m by 2017 from $110m in 2013.

One drawback is that despite being between 250 and 300 times sweeter than sugar, some people find it has a slightly bitter, liquorice-like aftertaste. But companies are getting round this by blending it with – sugar. Tropicana recently launched a juice made with 50 per cent stevia and 50 per cent sugar, halving the number of calories per serving. And Coca-Cola is poised to launch its stevia-sweetened alternative to Coke across the world. It already sells a version of Sprite that includes stevia.

Laura Jones, a food science analyst at Mintel, said: “Stevia is the one to watch. It’s still early in the innovation process, but it will become more appealing as new variants are released. Consumers want to cut sugar in their diets but not compromise on taste, plus they want to move away from anything artificial, so the appeal of plant-derived products is much stronger.”

People are increasingly avoiding artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and acesulfame K. But dieticians warn this is a mistake. “There are some misconceptions that they’re dangerous but there is no evidence that any are harmful,” said Cara Sloss, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association.

Some consumers may dislike their taste, but they don’t pack anything like the calorific punch of sugar, which has 400 kilocalories in every 100 grams. The use of intense sweeteners in food and drink product launches has grown from 3.5 per cent in 2009 to 5.5 per cent in 2012, the same report found. The global market for all sweeteners as additives in food manufacture was worth more than $2bn in 2012.

Other natural alternatives include the fuzzy, green, melon-like monk fruit, once cultivated by Buddhist monks in China. It is already used in the US, where analysts believe it could help to revive the flagging diet soda sector.

The “main message”, though, says Ms Sloss, is that we need to cut down. “It’s about re-educating your tastebuds, because we know sugar is addictive.”

Stevia has no calories, no carbohydrates, and does not raise blood sugar levels Stevia has no calories, no carbohydrates, and does not raise blood sugar levels.

Grow your own ‘sugar’

Stevia may sound like it’s made in a laboratory, but it is in fact a plant that anyone can grow at home. Yet strict EU rules mean that it can’t be grown for domestic human consumption in the UK – even though gardeners in the US can do so – and can only be cultivated as an ornamental herb. But there are other options for people who want to grow their own “sugar”. Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata), can be used as a sugar substitute – the seeds and dried leaves can be added to fruit pies and crumbles, while the flowers, and even the roots, are also good for salads or cooking. Gardener Sarah Raven says the plant adds a “gentle aniseed flavour” to dishes.

Which milk?

While there are pluses and minuses to every variety of milk-moustache, dietitian and spokeswoman for the Dietitian’s Association of Australia (DAA) Melanie McGrice still recommends two and a half serves of dairy a day.

Cow milk has a rich nutrient profile and the serving suggestion provides the recommended daily intake of calcium, she says.

There are other sources of calcium, but to get enough “people need to eat very, very large volumes of these foods”, she says, like five cups of cooked broccoli or four tablespoons of tahini (which has the equivalent kilojoules to a bottle of wine).

Regardless of which option you choose, here’s the juice on your milk:

Cow milk

It has a wide range of nutrients and is high in calcium, magnesium and phosphate, McGrice explains. It is also an excellent source of protein and vitamins D and K.

Recent studies have suggested that full-fat milk is as good, if not better, than skim. But, while reduced-fat milk is higher in lactose (milk sugar) than full fat it is also higher in protein and lower in fat and calories, so is still the DAA’s recommended option.

As for the ethically minded, organic dairy products – using sustainable practices and made without pesticides or antibiotics – are a good option.

Cons: A poor choice for the lactose-intolerant and high in saturated fat.

Goat milk

“This is a really good choice,” McGrice says. “It’s naturally high in calcium and tends to be lower in fat than cow’s milk.”

It also has a wide range of nutrients, including essential amino acids, zinc and magnesium and is easier for some people to digest.

Cons: Goat milk also contains lactose, it can be hard to find and its distinctive saltier taste is displeasing to some and not ideal in your latte.

Soy Milk

It’s a great tasting alternative in coffee and has the highest naturally occurring calcium of the plant-based milk substitutes.

Soy has proven effective in lowering cholesterol, is also lactose-free, low in saturated fat and contains isoflavones, an antioxidant that can be beneficial for women going through menopause, McGrice says.

Cons: It’s relatively high in fat and we need to watch out for additives in all milk-substitutes such as sugar.

As well as this, McGrice says that women who have had breast cancer and young children need to be careful about how much they have because of soy’s effect on oestrogen.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is low in saturated fat, has no cholesterol and contains fibre. Its creamy taste makes it a good option for use in sweet treats.

Cons: Unlike the other options, it is not gluten-free, McGrice says. She also recommends looking for a brand fortified with calcium.

Almond Milk

It is high in vitamins E and D, is lactose-free and has a rich, nutty flavour which makes it enjoyable to drink on its own. It also tends to have fewer calories than soy milk and contains no cholesterol. It’s a good substitute in coffee.

Cons: It is low in protein, calcium has to be artificially added and many brands contain added sugar, McGrice warns.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is a great option for people with food intolerances, McGrice says. “It’s also really low in fat and doesn’t contain lactose,” she says. It’s best to use in sweet dishes.

Cons: Its thin consistency is a plus or minus depending on your tastes. It is also high in natural sugars but low in protein and other nutrients, unless they are added artificially.

Coconut Milk

It doesn’t contain lactose, has fats that are easier to digest than cow milk and many love the rich, creamy, slightly sweet taste. It is also low in cholesterol. It’s a good alternative for sweet and savoury cooking.

Cons: It is high in saturated fat and low in calcium and protein.

Sarah Berry

Lower carbs in mashed potato

One way to make mashed potatoes retain their taste but contain a little less fat and calories is to replace some of them with equal amounts of cauliflower. You will not even taste the cauliflower in with the potatoes, because it is so bland. Cauliflower mixes easily with potatoes and will become hard to notice while reducing your intake of carbs.