Prof Jennie Brand-Miller
I am always being asked about sugars and starches. This month, I thought it would be useful to dispel some of the perennial myths about them.
# Myth: Starchy foods such as potatoes and pasta are fattening.
Fact: Starchy foods are often bulky and nutritious. They fill you up and stave off hunger pangs, which means they can actually help with, rather than hinder, weight loss. The key, as with all foods, is to be choosy about the kinds of starchy foods you’re eating.
# Myth: Sugar causes diabetes.
Fact: Today, there’s consensus among health researchers and scientists specializing in diabetes that sugar in food does not cause diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition triggered by unknown environmental factors. Type 2 diabetes is largely inherited, but lifestyle factors such as a lack of exercise or being overweight increase the risk of developing it. Foods that produce high blood glucose levels may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, but sugar has a more moderate effect than many starches.
# Myth: Sugar is the worst thing for people with diabetes.
Fact: People with diabetes used to be advised to avoid sugar at all costs. But research shows that moderate consumption of refined sugar (30–50 grams or 6–10 teaspoons per day) doesn’t compromise blood glucose management. This means people with diabetes can choose foods that contain refined sugar or even use sensible amounts of table sugar. Saturated fat is of greater concern for people with diabetes than refined sugar.
#Myth: All starches are slowly digested in the intestine.
Fact: Not so. Most starch, especially in cereal products, is digested in a flash, causing a sharper increase in blood glucose than many sugar-containing foods.
# Myth: Sugar is fattening.
Fact: Sugar has no special fattening properties. It is no more likely to be turned into fat than any other type of carbohydrate. Apples and soft drinks have the same sugar content (10 percent to 12 percent). Yes, sugar is often present in high-calorie foods (cakes, cookies, chocolate, and ice cream, for instance). But it’s the total calories in those foods, not the sugar, that’s the problem.
# Myth: Diets high in sugar are less nutritious.
Fact: Studies have shown that diets containing a moderate amount of sugar (from a range of sources, including dairy foods and fruit) often have higher levels of micronutrients, including calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin C, than low-sugar diets.
# Myth: Sugar goes hand in hand with dietary fat.
Fact: Many foods high in fat are also high in sugar—think chocolate, full-fat ice cream, cake, cookies, and pastries. But most high-sugar diets are actually low in fat, and vice versa. The reason: most sources of fat in our diet are not sweet (e.g., potato chips, French fries, steak), while most sources of sugar contain no fat (e.g., soft drinks and sweetened juice drinks). Nutritionists call this the “sugar-fat seesaw.”
# Myth: Starches are best for optimum athletic performance.
Fact: In many instances, starchy foods (like potatoes or rice) are too bulky to eat in the quantities needed for active athletes. Sugars (from a range of sources, including dairy food and fruit) can help increase carbohydrate intake.
GI testing by an accredited laboratory North America
Dr Alexandra Jenkins
Glycemic Index Laboratories
20 Victoria Street, Suite 300
Toronto, Ontario M5C 298 Canada
Phone +1 416 861 0506
Research Manager, Sydney University Glycemic Index Research Service (SUGiRS)
Human Nutrition Unit, School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences
NSW 2006 Australia
Phone + 61 2 9351 6018
Fax: + 61 2 9351 6022
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