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Physicians defend low carb diets: Sugar is the enemy in weight loss wars

What do those doughnuts need? More sugar, of course.
What do those doughnuts need? More sugar, of course.
Creative Commons

Two distinct diet armies have formed in the battle against obesity. One side, backed by the USDA food pyramid, argues for low-fat diets that contain grains, veggies, fruit and moderate amounts of protein. The other side, backed by a growing number of physicians and nutrition experts, contends that low-carb diets high in fat and protein with moderate amounts of vegetables win for weight loss and health. Now a leading heart scientist has entrenched himself in the low-carb brigade to emphasize that saturated fats are not the enemy, reported the London Telegraph on March 6.

Low-fat diets neither reduce the risk of heart disease nor lower cholesterol, says Dr. James DiNicolantonio of Ithica College, New York. Instead, this heart expert attacks carbohydrates and sugar as the enemy in the war against weight gain, and wants a public health campaign to educate consumers.

“A public health campaign is drastically needed to educate on the harms of a diet high in carbohydrate and sugar," declares DiNicolantonio.

There is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has a positive effect on health. Indeed the literature indicates a general lack of any effect, good or bad, from a reduction in fat intake.

What does exist, he says, is evidence that eating too much sugar and starchy carbohydrates contributes to weight gain and accompanying conditions such as diabetes.

Agreeing with him: Chris Kresser, practitioner of integrative medicine and author of "Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life" (click for details).

Chris views refined cereal grains as one of the "major dietary toxins that trigger diabesity." In a recent blog, he notes their emphasis by many organizations:

The major cereal grains – wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye and millet – have become the staple crops of the modern human diet. They’ve also become the “poster children” of the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet promoted by organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA).

And yet, says Chris, these grains produce toxins. He contends that "gluten damages the intestine and makes it leaky...A leaky gut is one of the major predisposing factors for diabetes and obesity."

Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter takes the argument against grains and sugar even further in his book: "Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers."

By eliminating all grains and sugar, you can lose weight easily and safely while protecting yourself against conditions ranging from diabetes to dementia to depression, says Perlmutter. And in a recent interview with the Atlantic, he explained the link between brain health and grains:

Most grain foods, whether we’re talking about quinoa, amaranth, the very popular grains of the day, the reality is they still are associated with a carbohydrate surge. They have a fairly high glycemic index, meaning that after 90 to 120 minutes, your blood sugar is going to go up, and that is detrimental to the brain.

Perlmutter's ideal diet resembles that of Chris: Paleo, with healthy fats, protein and vegetables dominating the plate.

Also concurring in the argument for low carb diets and against sugar: Dr. Mark Hyman. After researching the impact of sugar on our waistlines and health for two decades, he's created a detox diet book intended to free dieters from their sugar addictions while achieving rapid weight loss: "The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet: Activate Your Body's Natural Ability to Burn Fat and Lose Weight Fast."

In an interview recently with the New York Daily News, Dr. Hyman declared:

Sugar is the new nicotine. Sugar is the new fat — except fat is not addictive in the way that sugar is. And worse, sugar actually causes diabetes and obesity.

These arguments are being made both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. In the latter, a group of physicians and health academics is demanding that food manufacturers reduce the level of sugar in processed foods by 30 percent to reduce disease and obesity.

In an exclusive interview, the Science Director of Action on Sugar, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, who is an interventional cardiologist, explained to me the group's goals and his views on why sugar, not saturated fat, is the enemy.

Dr. Malhotra's views and those of his supporters mark a sea change in the view that saturated fat is to blame for obesity and heart disease. No evidence exists to support the anti-butter brigade, he contends.

"The best evidence based diet for cardiovascular health is one based on the traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of oily fish, nuts, extra virgin olive oil and plenty of whole fruit and vegetables," according to Malhotra.

And for those who feel that grains are healthy, he says that the high fat, high protein, low carb ketogenic diet provides for the "consumption of fats and protein (that) are essential for life. Refined carbohydrates are not."

As a result, he has cut out white bread, pasta, potatoes, white rice and all forms of sugar from his own diet. Dr. Malhotra believes that many health professionals have "unfairly demonized saturated fat from non-processed foods."

He recommends "butter, full fat cheese, full fat yogurt and eggs as part of a healthy diet in moderation."

Bottom line: While not all these weight loss warriors concur on dairy (Paleo proponents typically advise against it), they do all agree that sugar and gluten must be excluded to succeed with optimal health and weight loss.