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Sugar free: The low-carber's creed

Peel off the thick layer of controversy, pare away the hoopla, sand down the conflicting opinions, sweep up the media circus sawdust into a pile and, lastly, hose off the sticky residue of misinformation and what remains is the naked truth about low carb: it's sugar free.
Kicking the habit
One of the most complex concepts for a low-carber to explain to a non-low-carbing civilian is that all things sugar free are not necessarily low carb, but all things low carb are, without exception, sugar free or nearly so. This is the square root of low carb and the sum total of why it works and why it is the easiest WOE [way of eating] to live with once excess weight has been shed.

Refined sugar (sucrose) is the most common, least necessary man-made ingredient in the world. It is also the easiest to avoid, once you kick the habit. This is not something the multi-billion dollar sugar industry wants widely known, however.

While it is true that avoidance of highly-refined foods, such as white flour and high-glycemic foods such as white rice and potatoes, is often held up as the principal behind low-carbing, in fact, it is the removal of sugar, including hidden (and not so hidden) sugars infused in processed food from cereal to salad dressings as well as the naturally occurring sugar (fructose) in fruits that builds the foundation for successful low-carb dieting and living.

There is more good reason for this than meets the eye.

In 1975, William Dufty penned a book titled, Sugar Blues (first published by Chilton Book Co. Padnor, PA, currently published by Warner Books, USA). It made a few small waves and stood fearlessly in the media spot light for about 15 minutes.

But without outspoken support from the medical community the most the expose accomplished was to put the sugar industry on notice that someone was on to the truth and willing to talk about it. Unfortunately, pre-packaged convenience food had, by the mid-70s, infiltrated itself so completely into the American lifestyle, no one really wanted to hear what Dufty had to say about refined sugar and all the things we ate that contained it, and the irreparable damage it was doing to us. The sugar industry responded to the minor threat by simply beefing up its public relations campaign. Thus it quietly grew unimpeded and prospered as the wisdom in Sugar Blues faded to black.

Excerpt from Sugar Blues by William F Dufty

"A multitude of common physical and mental ailments are strongly linked to the consuming of 'pure', refined sugar. Sugar taken every day produces a continuously over acid condition, and more and more minerals are required from deep in the body in the attempt to rectify the imbalance. Finally, in order to protect the blood, so much calcium is taken from the bones and teeth that decay and general weakening begin.

Excess sugar eventually affects every organ in the body. Initially, it is stored in the liver in the form of glucose (glycogen). Since the liver's capacity is limited, a daily intake of refined sugar (above the required amount of natural sugar) soon makes the liver expand like a balloon. When the liver is filled to its maximum capacity, the excess glycogen is returned to the blood in the form of fatty acids. These are taken to every part of the body and stored in the most inactive areas: the belly, the buttocks, the breasts and the thighs."

Twenty-five plus years down the road and the clarion warning bell sounded by Dufty has all but been forgotten. Interesting to note though, if quizzed, everyone would admit that sugary foods, i.e., desserts are always consumed with guilt. However, no one seems to stretch this remorse to cover the mountains of snack and junk food and rivers of syrupy colas that we consume annually without a second thought. Somehow the connection falters and fails between the empty calories and hidden sugars in potato chips and the overt empty calories and obvious sugar in chocolate cake.

I have a friend who, years ago, suffered with reoccurring yeast infections. She made the rounds from doctor to doctor, all of which only treated the symptoms and with no appreciable success. Just as she had begun to despair of ever finding relief from her problem, she met a nutritionist who quickly identified the culprit and prescribed a treatment. Desperate to try anything, on the advice of the nutritionist, my friend eliminated sugar and wheat from her diet. In a matter of days, her problem cleared up. As a side benefit and without changing anything else in her lifestyle, she lost 20 pounds over the course of the following 10 months. Fifteen years later, she has maintained the weight loss and her yeast infections have never returned.

While it is difficult and even unfair to draw sweeping conclusions, based on one person's experience, my friend's story does lend credence to the mounting concerns of the role of sugar and refined wheat in the ever growing obesity and failing health issues of this era. And yet and still no one is really addressing this dark reality too loudly because it would mean challenging a firmly established industry that was built and is maintained by refining sugar.

Many credentialed people have tried and failed to raise social awareness over the last two centuries. Those whose interests would be irreparably damaged by the facts being allowed the light of day have successfully buried exhaustive research and lengthy reports by eminent scholars. Apparently, all it takes is enough money thrown at a problem to make it disappear. As early as 1808, in Great Britain, sugar producers were already busy developing ways to promote their abundant product and paying for "testimonials" from imminent authorities extolling the virtues of sugar.

A sugar-addicted culture
Over time, and even in the face of irrefutable science, the well-oiled sugar machine continues to crank out foodstuffs that people buy daily. There is no end in sight to new sucrose-based products being developed and marketed to a sugar-addicted culture. We cannot seem to get our fill of new candy bars, sweet cereals and munchies.

But unfortunately it is this daily consumption of the worst thing we can possibly put in our bodies that is destroying our health. The abundance of sucrose in our daily diet, along with its empty nutrition-less calories, is the real reason we are fat.

Who can or is willing to challenge this system?
Over the course of nearly three decades, Dr Atkins' struggle to convince the world that removing refined food and reducing carbohydrate consumption made very little progress in the way medical science views sugar and its relationship to obesity and illness. The focus continues to remain on fat and calories as the great evils amongst us.

Case in point: My 71- year-old brother-in-law recently underwent emergency surgery for a constricted small intestine. It was risky given his complex health problems, but he would have died within 48 hours without it and so the doctors had no choice but to take the gamble. Fortunately, he survived the surgery and now seems to be healing surprisingly well for someone who is a raging diabetic.

Several days into his hospital stay he was allowed to have food by mouth again. My sister came into his room soon after the tray was delivered. There were two bottles of apple juice, a container of sugar-sweetened gelatin and two packets of sugar. My sister, who has been the principal caregiver and health manager for him for many years, immediately called in the nurse. She asked if they were aware that he was diabetic. The nurse picked up the gelatin and looked at the nutritional label and shrugged off my sister's concern, telling her that it was low-calorie and no fat, thus, obviously, that was all that mattered.

My sister replied that yes, it was low calorie but it was full of sugar and if he consumed it his blood sugar would immediately elevate. The nurse simply shook her head and said it was okay and that this was the diet prescribed for him.

Over the course of the next few days they continued to bring him sugar-laced juices and gelatin. And, as my sister predicted, his blood sugar did a high-wire act. One day, when it topped off at 600, a doctor, who came into the room while my sister was there, mentioned that they were quite puzzled why his blood sugar was so out of control. My sister took the opportunity to complain that they continued to bring juices and other sugary food to him in spite of her warnings.

The doctor nodded and said that he understood and sympathized but that the diet he was given was policy and he suggested to her that she bring sugar-free snacks to him so he wouldn't eat the hospital food. The evening he was released this same doctor told my niece he thought her dad would be better off if he went home where his wife could manage his diabetes because there was nothing he could do about the policy of counting calories instead of sugar as the hospital dietary guideline. For someone, even as un-credentialed as I, this is a no-brainer. Frankly, I cannot fathom, in this day and age of near miraculous modern medicine, how there still exists a policy that blatantly ignores the effects of sugar on blood glucose. Though, in retrospect, I suppose I shouldn't be overly surprised since the effects of simple carbohydrates on blood sugar has only been recently given a cursory recognition by the medical community, with the caveat that counting fat and calories continues to be the real issue in weight management.

It comes down to this: regardless which diet one chooses, whether it is one of the plethora of low carb regimens or the traditionally endorsed low-fat, low-calorie plan, sucrose is the one food/ingredient shared in common by all that must be abandoned for the diet to work. Without a doubt this sweet enemy, so deeply embedded inside our habits and eating lifestyles, like a Trojan horse, threatens to kill us one day, either by diabetes or any of a dozen other potential disorders directly attributable to sugar consumption.

Someone wise once told me, "No one is more interested in your health and well-being than you." Taking this axiom to heart could possibly save your life. The best way to stay healthy is to be pro-active in your own health care and occasionally be willing and courageous enough to challenge what is accepted when it doesn't work for you.

This is the low-carber's creed.

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