Category Archives: sugar


Will Cutting Out Sugar Change Your Health?

Can you “detox” sugar?

Sugar is on the tip of everyone’s tongue with heated arguments around regulating sugar, health warnings and taxes. But the big question is – will cutting sugar out of your diet really change your health?

There’s no doubt that sugar is big business; today’s consumption of added-sugars is 478.8g for men and 344.4g per week for women, which works out as an average of 16 to 11.7 teaspoons per day respectively.

The World Health Organisation and Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in England advise:

  • Less than 9 teaspoons per day for men.
  • Less than 6 teaspoons per day for women.
  • Less than 3-6 teaspoons per day for children.

The sugar in our diets is almost exclusively from added-sugars hidden in foods, mostly sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g. soft drinks, milk drinks, energy drinks), and packaged and processed foods (especially cereals and baked goods). The prevalence of sugar in foods may be shocking, but food manufacturers use sugars with many different names, eg, corn syrup, maltodextrin, erythritol, brown rice syrup, agave nectar or syrup.

While a bit of honey in your tea may be harmless, regular consumption of foods laced with added sugars is a different matter. Large-scale studies of sugar-sweetened beverages have shown strong links to heart disease, obesity, and type-2 diabetes. In most cases the risks are similar in magnitude to smoking or not exercising.

Perhaps surprisingly, other diseases now strongly associated with sugar are gout, arthritis, autoimmune disease, fatty liver disease, depression and dementia.

Despite the popularity of sugar detox or reduction diets, only recently has light been shed on the health effects of quitting sugar. And it appears that detoxing sugar could indeed transform your health.

Sugar is now viewed as the new tobacco, with comparable health implications and controversy surrounding its regulation. The evidence clearly shows that too much is toxic, but many find it hard to quit. The problem is that modern, processed foods are sugar-coated, literally and figuratively. The taste buds become accustomed to the sweetness, and so a short, sharp sugar detox can be the most effective way to rehab from this sweet addiction.

Fortunately, there are natural supplements that can help rebalance blood sugars and make the ‘cold turkey’ period easier. Check out the new Viridian 7 Day Sugar Detox Kit, available at bodykind.


New Year’s Resolutions: Quitting Bad Habits

New Year’s Resolutions: Quitting Bad Habits

Around 7 million of us will make New Year’s resolutions this month, hoping to improve some aspect of our health. Giving up common vices, such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar can have tremendous health benefits. Unfortunately only 8% of us manage to keep our resolutions. Read on for tips on how to boost your chances of success for a healthy and happy 2017.


Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. The reason drinking anything caffeinated feels so good is because caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, our brain’s ‘reward’ hormone.

In moderation, coffee actually has some health benefits, including some protective effects for the liver. However, if you’re relying on caffeine to give you an energy blast or a mood boost, or if you’re having any sleep problems, then it’s time to reduce your caffeine intake.

The problem with quitting caffeine ‘cold turkey’ is because the effects of caffeine withdrawal can be miserable. Headaches, mood changes and tiredness are common. Other symptoms such as constipation can arise in the absence of caffeine’s stimulating effects on the bowel.

Quick Quit Tips

Don’t go cold turkey. Instead try to reduce slowly over the course of a week. For example, replace one of your regular coffees with a decaf, and then switch another high-caffeine drink to a cup of black tea.

Find another way to boost your dopamine levels. Exercise boosts feel-good dopamine and serotonin. Exercise doesn’t need to be gruelling – a simple brisk walk is sufficient. Supplements such as tyrosine, theanine and rhodiola can also support dopamine levels (1,2).

Guard your energy reserves by balancing your blood sugar levels. Follow a low GI diet with snacks such as fruit and nuts rather than your usual coffee fix. Consider taking supplements designed to support blood sugar and energy levels containing chromium, magnesium and B vitamins.


Binge-drinking over the Christmas period is common, and the effects include unwanted weight gain, poor quality sleep and low mood. For women, more than 6 units of alcohol is defined as binge drinking. Pub serving sizes can be large – a 250ml glass of wine contains almost four units, and so it is easy to overindulge (3).

Giving up alcohol is a popular way to ‘detox’ and to lose weight after the Christmas period. The health benefits of giving up alcohol, even just for a month, are considerable. A recent study found that committing to a ‘dry January’ resulted in a 15% decrease in fatty liver, a 5% decrease in cholesterol and a 16% decrease in blood glucose levels. Those who managed a full month without drinking also tended to drink less often and have fewer drinks in one sitting six months later (4).

Quick Quit Tips

Try changing your environment to avoid temptation. Rather than visiting your local pub, have a film night, book some theatre tickets or meet in a cafe.

Try out some non-alcoholic tipples. Refreshing, low sugar options include pink grapefruit juice, sparkling water, slimline tonic, fresh mint and lemon. Herbal teas and fruit teas can also work well – simply brew the tea and then keep it chilled in the fridge.

Enhance the positive impact of abstinence on your liver, with some liver-supportive nutrients. Silymarin (milk thistle), a herb with strong antioxidant properties, is commonly used as a natural liver-supportive supplement. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), another powerful antioxidant, has been found to improve liver function in those with fatty liver disease (5).


In the UK we eat the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of sugar each day, contributing to widespread obesity, as well as digestive and blood sugar problems. Like alcohol, certain types of sugar have also been found to put pressure on the liver. High fructose corn syrup, found in all kinds of processed foods, has been found to cause damage to the liver over time.

Giving up sugar can feel like quite a task, especially as sugar is added to many processed foods from breakfast cereals to pasta sauces. Those who have relied on sugary snacks for regular energy boosts throughout the day can experience strong cravings and might struggle without a careful strategy to reduce their intake. It is worth persevering however, as the benefits of giving up added sugars are huge. As well as weight loss and improved energy levels, a reduced sugar intake is linked with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Quick Quit Tips

Those with a sweet tooth can still include sweet foods in their whole food form. Snack on naturally sweet bananas, grapes and pineapple. These whole foods are naturally high in antioxidants, fibre and prebiotics, supporting the liver and digestive system. Simply pair with a protein such as nuts or natural yoghurt to control the effect on your blood sugar level.

Include protein with your breakfast and switch to a low GI diet to help control sugar cravings. Eggs, fish, yoghurt or a protein shake with fruit make excellent breakfast foods, while nuts, seeds and oatcakes are handy for snacks.

Natural sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia can be added to sweeten foods for a lesser impact on blood sugar. Sweetening with a little chopped fruit, and using seasoning such as cinnamon or nutmeg are other good options.

Supplements designed to support healthy blood sugar regulation should contain nutrients such as chromium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Cinnamon is also known to help maintain normal blood glucose levels. Try adding a spoonful to your porridge in the morning. If you don’t like the taste, then cinnamon can be taken in supplement form.

Sticking to your New Year’s resolutions may seem tough at times, but the benefits could be huge. Let us know how you’re getting on with your New Year’s resolutions on Twitter or Facebook.

1. Phytother Res. 2007. Jan 21(1):37-43
2. Neuropharmacology 2012 Jun. 62(7):2320-7
3. Unit and Calorie Calculator.
4. de Visser et al (2016) Voluntary abstinence from alcohol during ‘Dry January’ and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology. 35(3) 281-289
5. Khoshbaten et al (2010) N-acetlycystein improves liver function in patients withnon-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepat Mon 10(1):12-16
6. Kavanagh K, Wylie T, Tucker K, et al. Dietary fructose induces endotoxemia and hepatic injury in calorically controlled primates. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013.


Top 5 Benefits of Aloe Vera

Boasting immune boosting, anti-microbial and wound-healing properties, the therapeutic uses of aloe vera are surprisingly diverse. Here are my top 5 uses for this versatile supplement.

1. Digestive Support
Aloe vera is often used by those with digestive complaints. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis are marked by long-lasting inflammation within the digestive tract. The natural anti-inflammatory properties of aloe vera have led to a number of studies investigating the possible benefit of this plant for these conditions.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of aloe vera in patients with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis demonstrated improved symptoms in patients taking aloe vera compared to those in the placebo group (1). Similar benefits have been reported in patients suffering with ulcerative colitis (2).

2. Immune Support

Aloe vera contains a special type of sugar molecule called acemannan which boosts the activity of macrophages. Macrophages (from the Greek, meaning ‘big eaters’) are white blood cells which function to destroy or ‘eat up’ pathogens. Alongside this action, acemannan also enhances T-cell function and interferon production. This type of immune enhancement is evident in studies which show that consumption of aloe vera gel is effective in combating candida infection (3).

3. Detoxification

The detoxifying effect of aloe vera has been scientifically verified by lab tests of urinary indican levels. Indicans are molecules found in the urine, and they can be used to measure bacterial activity in the small and large intestine. Raised levels of indicans suggest compromised digestive health, including problems such as protein malabsorption and bacterial overgrowth (4). Aloe vera has been found to reduce urinary indican levels after just one week. This suggests that aloe consumption can improve protein digestion and absorption, or improve bacterial balance in the bowel.

Aloe Vera Gel applied to the skin can help with 1st or 2nd degree burns

4. Skin Benefits
Applied topically, aloe vera can be used to help heal damaged skin. A recent meta-analysis, which examined studies involving a total of 371 patients, concluded that aloe vera may be considered effective in treating first and second degree burns. In fact the studies showed that topical application of aloe vera reduced healing time by an average of 9 days (5). It is thought that naturally occurring substances in aloe help cells to regenerate, speeding up healing.

Aloe is especially useful in the summer months owing to its cooling and soothing properties. A common ingredient in aftersun lotions, aloe vera is believed to act as a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Research is conflicting, although a recent randomised, double-blind trial found aloe vera to be more effective than hydrocortisone cream in reducing sunburn symptoms 48 hours after application (6).

5. Diabetes and blood sugar regulation

There have been several studies investigating the efficacy of aloe vera in the treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. One of the first studies involved a group of 3,000 diabetic patients who supplemented their existing treatments with a natural remedy containing aloe gel and psyllium seed husks. In 94% of these patients, fasting blood glucose levels fell to normal levels within two months (7).

In diabetic models, consumption of aloe vera has been found not only to reduce fasting blood sugar levels, but also to reduce levels of liver enzymes (a sign of liver damage), and cholesterol (8). Aloe’s high fibre content, glycoproteins and antioxidant benefits are believed to help the body to regulate blood sugar more effectively.

A further controlled study of 72 diabetic patients supports these benefits, showing that 2 tbsp daily of aloe vera resulted in a significant reduction in blood sugar levels over a period of 42 days (9).

Aloe appears to have a huge number of nutritional benefits and healing properties, making it a versatile nutritional supplement.


  1.  Langmead L et al (2004) Anti-inflammatory effects of aloe vera gel in human colorectal mucosa in vitro. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 19:521–527
  2. Langmead L et al (2004) Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral aloe vera gel for active ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 19:739–747.
  1. Jackson JA et al (2000) Urine Indican as an Indicator of Disease. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine Vol. 15, No. 1
  2. Sun-A Im et al (2010) In vivo evident of the immunomodulatory activity of orally administered aloe vera gel. Arch Pharm Res Vol 333:3, pp. 451-456
  3. Maenthaisong R et al (2007) The efficacy of Aloe vera used for burn wound healing: A systematic review. Burns. 33:713–18
  4. Reuter J et al (2008) Investigation of the anti-inflammatory potential of Aloe vera gel (97.5%) in the ultraviolet erythema test. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 21(2):106-110]
  5. Agarwal 0P (1985) Prevention of Atheromatous Heart Disease. Angiology. 36: 485-92.
  6. Okyar A et al (2001) Effect of Aloe vera leaves on blood glucose level in type I and type II diabetic rat models. Phytother Res.15(2):157-61.
  7. Bunyapraphatsara N (1996) Antidiabetic activity of aloe vera L. juice 11. Clinical trial in diabetes mellitus patients in combination with glibenclamide. Phytomedicine. 3:245-248

Diabetes epidemic on a global scale

The number of people dignosed with Type 2 diabetes has more than doubled since the 1980s, and this number continues to grow in almost every part of the world.

In a large-scale study published in The Lancet last month, researchers found that rates of diabetes have either risen or at best remained the same in virtually all parts of the world in the past 30 years.

The number of people dignosed with Type 2 diabetes has more than doubled since the 1980s (2)

While Type 1 diabetes is an automimmune disorder, Type 2 is a preventable condition caused by factors such as diet and lifestyle.  Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells of the body become ‘insulin resistant’, meaning that they are no longer able to take up sugar.  As a result, sugar continues to circulate in the bloodstream where it can cause damage around the body.

The long term risks of diabetes include damage to the nerves, kidneys and retinas, as well as increased rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke.  Many of those diagnosed with Type 2 diabates end up taking long-term prescription medications to control blood glucose levels.

The new study is the largest of its kind for diabetes, and was conducted by an international group of researchers in collaboration with the World Health Organisation.

It found that between 1980 and 2008, the number of adults with diabetes rose from 153 million to 347 million. Much of this rise was a result of population growth and longevity.  However, 30% of the rise was due to higher prevalence.  Currently 9.8% of men and 9.2% of women now suffer with Type 2 diabetes.

Goodarz Danaei, from the Harvard School of Public Health, added “Unless we develop better programs for detecting people with elevated blood sugar and helping them to improve their diet and physical activity and control their weight, diabetes will inevitably continue to impose a major burden on health systems around the world.”  These three simple changes to your diet can help reduce your risk of diabetes:

Cut the sugar

Refined carbohydrates cause sharp rises in your blood sugar levels.  Over time this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Start by replacing sugary foods with more healthy alternatives.  Replace sugary sodas and energy drinks with herbal teas and green tea. Switch sweets and chocolate for a piece of fruit.  Avoid sugary breakfast cereal and start the day with eggs on wholegrain toast or fruit and yoghurt.

BioCare Get Up and Go Low GL Breakfast Shake Powder - 300g Powder
Try a high fibre smoothie, such as Biocare’s Get Up and Go Low GL Breakfast Shake.

Increase your fibre intake

A high fibre diet decreases your risk of diabetes, and you should aim for between 20 and 35g fibre each day.
Easy ways to increase your fibre intake include replacing fruit juice with a piece of fruit or a fruit smoothie, and replacing white pasta, rice and bread with wholegrain alternatives.  You could also try a high fibre smoothie, such as BioCare’s Get Up and Go Low GL Breakfast Shake.

Add lean protein

Including a source of lean protein with each meal can help you to control your blood sugar.

Replace fatty and processed meats such as burgers, bacon and sausages with lean meats such as chicken and turkey.  Other good sources of lean protein include eggs, cottage cheese, reduced fat hummus, tofu, and pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas.

Written by Nadia Mason
Goodarz Danaei et al. (2011) National, regional, and global trends in fasting plasma glucose and diabetes prevalence since 1980: systematic analysis of health examination surveys and epidemiological studies with 370 country-years and 2.7 million participants.  The Lancet. 378(9875):31-40


Study links sugary drinks with higher blood pressure

Last year I wrote about a study which found that drinking sugary drinks was associated to increased blood pressure (a risk for heart disease and other health problems).  A newly published study (1) has backed up these findings showing that adults who drink sugar-sweetened drinks tend to have higher blood pressure levels.

The study (1) involved UK and US participants of the International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (known as INTERMAP).  Over 2500 individuals aged between 40 and 59 were included in the study and various data samples were collected including dietary data, urine and blood pressure readings.  Sugary drinks included those containing fructose, glucose and sucrose.

The researchers found that for every extra sugar-sweetened beverage drunk per day (1 serving = 355mL) participants on average had significantly higher systolic blood pressure by 1.6 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure higher by 0.8 mm Hg. These figure remained statistically significant even after adjusting for differences in body mass (1).

Systolic blood pressure, represented by the top number in a blood pressure reading, is the measure of the phase of the heartbeat when the heart contracts and pumps blood into the arteries.  Diastolic blood pressure, represented by the bottom number in a blood pressure reading, is the measure of the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle relaxes and allows the chambers to fill with blood. 

The study found (1) that higher blood pressure levels were present in individuals who consumed more glucose and fructose, both sweeteners which are found in high-fructose corn syrup, the most common sugar sweetener used by the beverage industry.  It was also noted that blood pressure was higher in those individuals consuming high levels of both sugar and sodium (salt).

Sugar intake in the form of glucose, fructose and sucrose was found to be highest in those individuals who consumed more than one sugar-sweetened drink daily. It was also found that individuals consuming more than one serving per day of sugar-sweetened drinks consumed significantly more calories than those who didn’t, with average energy intake of more than 397 calories per day.  Those individuals who did not consume sugar-sweetened beverages had lower average body mass index (BMI) than those who consumed more than one of these drinks daily.

In a press release (2) the senior author, Paul Elliott said “This points to another possible intervention to lower blood pressure,” “These findings lend support for recommendations to reduce the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as added sugars and sodium in an effort to reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

Ian Brown, a research associate at London’s Imperial College UK said (2)People who drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages appear to have less healthy diets,” “They are consuming empty calories without the nutritional benefits of real food. They consume less potassium, magnesium and calcium”.  Ian Brown went on to say why sugary drinks may be impacting blood pressure levels: “One possible mechanism for sugar-sweetened beverages and fructose increasing blood pressure levels is a resultant increase in the level of uric acid in the blood that may in turn lower the nitric oxide required to keep the blood vessels dilated. Sugar consumption also has been linked to enhanced sympathetic nervous system activity and sodium retention.”

The study is only an association study, it does not prove that sugary drinks cause higher blood pressure “This is a population study. It’s one piece of the evidence in a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be completed,” said Ian Brown (2)In the meantime, people who want to drink sugar-sweetened beverages should do so only in moderation.”

As Mr Brown mentions, sugar represents ‘empty calories’, it provides energy without any nutritional benefits.  A nutrient rich diet, packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and flavonoids is one which contains an abundance of vegetables, fruits, beans/pulses, nuts/seeds, wholegrains and other unprocessed, unrefined foods.  Cutting back on added sugars is a great step toward better health

(1)Brown IJ et al.  Sugar-Sweetened Beverage, Sugar Intake of Individuals, and Their Blood Pressure: International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure.  Hypertension.   Published online before print February 28, 2011, doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.110.165456

(2)Press Release. American Heart Association (2011, March 1). Sugar-sweetened drinks associated with higher blood pressure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/02/110228163030.htm


Written by Ani Kowal


Teenagers who have high sugar consumption may be increasing their risk of heart disease

Last week I looked at an Australian paper which suggested that health promotion campaigns which target young people in their teens could help to reduce their risk of heart problems in adulthood.  A new (1) American study has now found that teenagers who consume a lot of added sugars, in drinks and foods, may have unhealthy cholesterol profiles which could lead to an increased risk of heart disease in adulthood.

High intakes of carbohydrate and sugar have been associated in previous studies with increased risk of heart disease in adults but the risk in teenagers has not been widely investigated.  This current study (1) looked at over 2100 US teenagers between 1999-2004.  Data for added sugar consumptions was collected from surveys and databases.  Measures of cardiovascular disease risk were estimated by added sugar consumption level (<10%, 10 to <15%, 15 to <20%, 20 to <25%, 25 to <30%, and 30% of total energy). Daily consumption of added sugars averaged at 21.4% of total energy.  The more added sugar teenagers ate the higher their levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and the lower their levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.  Blood fat (triglyceride) levels were also increased with increasing sugar intake.  The authors of the study conclude that “Consumption of added sugars among US adolescents is positively associated with multiple measures known to increase cardiovascular disease risk”.

In a press release the lead study scientist, Jean Welsh, said (2)This is the first study to assess the association of added sugars and the indicators of heart disease risk in adolescents,”. “The higher consumers of added sugar have more unfavorable cholesterol levels. The concern is long-term exposure would place them at risk for heart disease later in adulthood.

Jean Welsh added that (2)Adolescents are eating 20 percent of their daily calories in sugars that provide few if any other nutrients,”  “Sweet things have lost their status as treats.” “While Americans appear to be working hard to lower their intake of saturated fats, there is not the same awareness when it comes to added sugars,”  “The intake of added sugars is positively associated with known cardiovascular risk factors. Added sugars play a significant role in the U.S. diet, contributing substantially to energy intake without contributing important nutrients to the diet.” “Replacing sugar laden drinks with water is one way to substantially reduce sugar and calorie intake.”  I think that the same can be said for the UK and awareness of the risk of high sugar intakes and heart disease.

The research doesn’t prove that added sugars caused the differing cholesterol levels but the data does show a link.  Further studies are needed to fully understand the effects that added sugars in adolescence have on heart disease risk in adulthood.  Added sugars in drinks and foods provide added calories but little, if any, other nutritional benefits.  Cutting back on such products can only be good for health

(1)Welsh JA et al.  2011. Consumption of Added Sugars and Indicators of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among US Adolescents.  Circulation.  Published online before print January 10, 2011, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.972166

(2)Press release.  American Heart Association (2011, January 10). High sugar consumption may increase risk factors for heart disease in American teenagers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 11, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/01/110110164929.htm

Written by Ani Kowal


More evidence links high sugar diet to increased risk of heart disease

Back in February I wrote a piece about how replacing dietary fat with sugar and refined carbohydrates was potentially damaging to health and more recently I mentioned research which linked high GI diets to an increased risk of heart disease in women.

New evidence (1) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that there was a statistically significant correlation between dietary added sugars and blood lipid [fat] levels among US adults.  In the paper the study authors note that dietary carbohydrates have been associated with dyslipidemia, a blood fat profile known to be associated with an increased cardiovascular disease (Heart disease) risk.  The researchers wanted to look at the association between the consumption of added sugars in the diet and blood fat levels.  The study involved over 6000 individuals who were grouped by their intake of added sugars – less than 5 percent of total calories [reference group], 5 percent to less than 10 percent, 10 percent to less than 17.5 percent, 17.5 percent to less than 25 percent, and 25 percent or more of total calories.  The authors then looked to see how various blood fat levels were affected in the various groups of sugar consumption.  They looked at the ‘good’ cholesterol high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and various types of blood fat that are known risk factors for heart disease such as triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C)

Consuming a higher amount of added sugars in processed or prepared foods was associated with lower levels of the ‘good’high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides, which are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease (1).

The authors of the study write (1)Monitoring trends in consumption and understanding the effect added sugars have on risk of cardiovascular and other diseases is critically important, because added sugars are a potentially modifiable source of calories,” “Added sugars are food additives that can be recognized by consumers and have been proposed for specific labeling on food and beverage packaging. The results of our study demonstrate that increased added sugars are associated with important cardiovascular disease risk factors, including lower HDL-C levels, higher triglyceride levels, and higher ratios of triglycerides to HDL-C.” 

Evidence seems to be accumulating for the dangers to health of eating too much added sugar and sugary foods.  Although further evidence is needed before firm conclusions can be made it would seem wise that we aim to curb consumption of foods which contain high amounts of added sugar.  The authors echo this sentiment by writing (1)Although long-term trials to study the effect of reducing added sugars and other carbohydrates on lipid profiles are needed, our data support dietary guidelines that target a reduction in consumption of added sugar.”

(1)J A Welsh et al.  2010.  Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults. JAMA. 2010;303(15):1490-1497

Written by Ani Kowal


Replacing dietary fat with sugar and refined carbohydrates is probably damaging to health

Heart disease is a topic I have written extensively about here in these blog posts.  In 2008 I wrote two posts entitled ‘Do you know how to look after your heart’ part 1 and part 2.  In part two I wrote extensively about refined carbohydrates and blood sugar levels and how these appear to be a greater risk for heart disease than dietary fat.  Eating a diet loaded with foods with a high glycaemic index or high glycaemic load has been increasingly linked with a raised risk for heart disease and other health problems.  High glycaemic index foods (foods that release sugar quickly into the body) include most refined carbohydrates like white bread, long-grain rice, sweets, biscuits, sugary foods and many other processed carbohydrates and processed foods. 

By contrast certain types of fat, especially the long chain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) from marine sources have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.  Many studies have also found that there is not enough evidence to link heart disease to saturated fat or total fat intakes (e.g.1).  I feel quite strongly that the push to eat ultra low fat diets over the last 50 years has impacted negatively on our health (and mood) since it has often led to diets rich in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates.  Look at a low fat yoghurt for instance, the natural fat is removed and, often, replaced with copious quantities of sugar.  Low fat products in general are often full of sugars.  Actually I think the low fat campaigns have been a BIG FAT LIE.

This month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition fat is mentioned in a number of studies (e.g. 2,3,4,5).  In a commentary (2) authors point out that “An independent association of saturated fat intake with CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk has not been consistently shown in prospective epidemiologic studies”, the authors also point out that if saturated fat is removed from the diet and then replaced with a higher carbohydrate intake, particularly a higher intake of refined carbohydrates, this is associated with an increased risk of heart disease – specifically a high carbohydrate diet is associated with increasing problems such as insulin resistance, increased triglycerides (blood fats associated with heart disease), increased levels of a particularly destructive type of cholesterol known as small dense LDL cholesterol.  The authors also note that high carbohydrate diets are also linked to a reduced level of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol (2).  They conclude that “there are few epidemiologic or clinical trial data to support a benefit of replacing saturated fat with carbohydrate” and “dietary efforts to improve the increasing burden of CVD risk associated with atherogenic dyslipidemia [blood fat disorder linked to health problems] should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intakes and a reduction in excess adiposity [body fat]”.

A research paper (3) looking at data on saturated fat and cardiovascular disease (which includes coronary heart disease and stroke) evaluated 21 scientific studies which in total involved over 340,000 individuals followed for 5-23 years showed that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [cardiovascular disease]”.

Two other studies in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (4,5) looked at the positive health benefits of the long chain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, found in oily fish such as mackerel, trout, salmon and sardines.  In the first study (4) scientists show that supplementation with these fatty acids are beneficial in improving blood vessel function in individuals with type 2 diabetes.  In the second study (5) high intakes of EPA and DHA were associated with greatly reducing chronic disease risk. 

I am not advocating eating a diet that is packed with saturated fat, not in the slightest, personally I feel that the take home message from studies such as these is that a healthy diet, based around natural unprocessed and unrefined foods, is crucially important to prevent disease risk.  Any health-full diet will be rich in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds and will include unprocessed meats and fish (especially oily fish), wholegrain unprocessed and unrefined carbohydrates.  Particularly I feel that omega 3 fats are important to health.  In a press release (6) the lead author of a study looking into heart disease and diet (7) said: “This isn’t just hype; we now have tremendous and compelling evidence from very large studies, some dating back 20 and 30 years, that demonstrate the protective benefits of omega-3 fish oil in multiple aspects of preventive cardiology“.  I also feel that refined carbohydrates are generally unnecessary and quite probably damaging to health when eaten regularly and consistently.

If you do not regularly, at least twice a week, eat oily fish then it would certainly be worth taking a fish oil supplement in order to provide your body with the essential omega 3 fatty acids.  For vegetarians and vegans a flaxseed oil supplement will provide the short chain omega 3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid.  Unfortunately the body is not very good at converting this into the long chain EPA and DHA forms that are crucial for health.  New vegetarian and vegan EPA and DHA supplements, made from algae, are becoming increasingly available and are worth looking in to.


(1)Mente A et al.  2009. A Systematic Review of the Evidence Supporting a Causal Link Between Dietary Factors and Coronary Heart Disease.  Arch Intern Med. 169(7):659-669.
(2) Patty W Siri-Tarino PW et al.  2010.  Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  91: 502-509
(3) Patty W Siri-Tarino PW et al.  2010.   Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.   American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  91: 535-546
(4)Stirban A et al.  2010.  Effects of n–3 fatty acids on macro- and microvascular function in subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  91:808-813
(5)Makhoul Z et al.  2010.  Associations of very high intakes of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids with biomarkers of chronic disease risk among Yup’ik Eskimos.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  91:777-785
(6)  American College of Cardiology (2009, August 3). Mounting Evidence Of Fish Oil’s Heart Health Benefits. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 4, 2009, from¬ /releases/2009/08/090803173250.htm
(7)Lavie CJ et al.  2009.  Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Diseases.  J Am Coll Cardiol, 2009; 54:585-594

Written by Ani Kowal