Believe me I am all for cutting the refined foods out of our diets; but that isn’t just sugar and carbs. Refined animal foods are unhealthy too as are refined fats (remember the trans-fat debarcle?). Since the success of Atkins then subsequently the modern Paleo Diet books there’s been a surge of anti-sugar carb-phobic experts publishing work on how bad sugar is. But are they all right?
Let’s start from a level playing field. I’m a plant-based nutritionist but I’m also an ex information retrievalist for a science lab. I love science research and I enjoy analysing peer-reviewed papers in order to keep up with what’s current in the field of nutrition – despite being vegetarian for 20 years I do not tell my clients they have to do the same and you’ll not see any ‘you must go vegan’ diet books from me. Personal bias aside, I use my logical brain to critically analyse research papers to seek out truth (or ‘a truth). The bottom line is: I review ALL data and not just that that suits my own bias.
I was recently asked to contribute my expertise for an online article about a book The Sugar Detox and had to refuse because from what I saw from the many articles that sprung from this book – it’s based on bias and bad science.
Full disclosure: I haven’t yet read the full book so I will ONLY be commenting on the published segments that I’ve seen by the authors.
What’s your AGE baby?
To summarise, the authors have written this book in response to the growing evidence that ageing is cause by compounds that are both created in and ingested by the body from our foods. These compounds are called AGEs (science has a sense of humour!). Dietary AGEs are known as dAGEs and exist in different foods at wildly varying levels.
The Sugar Detox authors seem to be under the impression that the main source of dAGEs are refined carbohydrates and sugar. Plus pretty much all carbohydrates including *gasp* fruit. This is where it gets silly.
“The link between sugar and premature ageing lies in a process called ‘glycation’. This chemical process happens when blood sugar levels become excessively high. Sugar molecules then circulate in the blood and bind to other components to form substances known as protein-sugar complexes – also called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs…the more sugar and refined carbohydrates you consume, the more your collagen and elastin will be attacked – and the older your skin will appear.
Diet Kool-Aid anyone?
Sounds straightforward and it also sounds like the authors are very well-researched, right?
I’ve personally been researching AGEs and how the diet affects skin-ageing for over 10 years and have a stack of research on the subject which is added to each month so I stay up to date. First things first. AGE formulation in the body is not the same as dAGEs which are the extrinsic compounds eaten in the diet. This is quite a serious error.
But does the science agree that refined sugars contain AGEs – absolutely, it also finds that cooked foods in particular cooked animal products (meat, fish, chicken and some dairy) are by far THE WORST for dAGEs.
Time to hear from some actual scientists:
“Animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new AGE formation during cooking. In contrast, carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole-grains and milk contain relatively few AGEs, even after cooking”[Uribarri, J et al, JAMA 2010, p911-916]
Hmmm, can anyone see the problem here?
Lies, damned lies and diet books
Let’s take this a step further and actually check the data for the actual levels of dAGEs in common foods – in particular carbohydrate foods versus animal products. If the girls are right then the carbohydrates should fail miserably right?
||dAGE levels per serving
|Roasted sweet potato
The authors don’t recommend bacon but I wanted to just show just how-high dAGEs can get in fried meat. The food lowest in dAGEs in the entire report was fruit juice at just 2 and the absolute highest is fried bacon at 91,000.
This is why I am so infuriated when paleo promoters insist that fruit ages you and meat doesn’t, and yet they claim us plant-eaters are unscientific – go figure!
To be 100% fair and unbiased, here is the carbohydrate with the highest dAGE score and the animal product with the lowest dAGE score:
Egg white = 43 and beef brisket = 199
McDonalds fries (100g) = 1522
Universally, the meat, eggs, fats, cheese and fish were the foods with huge levels of dAGEs while the so-called ‘evil carbs’ contained mostly very low-levels. The few grain-based foods that did contain very high amounts of dAGEs were those that also had animal fats added (cheese crackers for example).
In part 2 I shall be analysing the nutrient content of the 3 day sugar detox and working out the full dAGE impact of such a diet.In the meantime, whatever your personal dietary choices – stick to whole natural foods and avoid frying, grilling and roasting as much as possible to enjoy wrinkle-free skin. And don’t be afraid of fruit – it contains tonnes of anti-ageing antioxidants.