Sugar is proving the new bogyman in a healthy diet – but it’s not just “white sugar” as we perceive it – it is also the sugars in bread, cereals, muesli, oats, potatoes / starchy vegetables, pasta, rice, noodles, wraps, pizza, and the like!
Low sugar foods may still contain high carbohydrates, which in turn will lead to raised glucose levels and fat being stored in the liver, with diabetes and heart disease further down the line. What the liver can’t store is then stored as body fat.
Dr Unwin, a British GP, has proven this theory in a study just published in the specialist journal Diabesity in Practice. He selected 69 patients in his practice who had very high levels of GGT (a measure of liver health through a blood test for a protein called gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase) and put them on a low-carb diet for 13 months.
Essentially participants in the study ate mainly green vegetables, lower-sugar fruit, nuts, fish, eggs and meat. The idea was to cut out all added sugar and reduce starchy carbs, (bread and potatoes) while increasing the amount of healthy fats from olive oil or butter.
‘The results were striking,’ says Dr Unwin. ‘The first thing that happened was their GGT readings dropped by an average 47 per cent.” An improvement in other key health markers followed — on average, blood sugar levels dropped by a remarkable ten points, about the same amount achieved by some diabetes drugs — the participants average weight fell by 5 kg, and the ratio of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ cholesterol went from 4.3 to 3.8, even though they were all eating more fat.
The key, he says, was in a change to a low-carbohydrate diet, meaning less glucose in the liver and therefore less fat.
Researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston have also recently demonstrated a linear relationship between carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI), causing fat to accumulate in the liver and paving the way for fatty liver disease.
According to the research, the mechanism behind the apparent damage of consuming a high GI diet is the increased production of insulin. Insulin instructs the body to make and store fat and concentrates this in the liver. Fat in the liver increases a person’s risk for liver inflammation, which can ultimately cause liver damage
The Glycemic Index
By measuring how quickly foods are digested and absorbed, the glycemic index measures the body’s response to carbohydrates. The rate at which carbohydrates elevate blood sugar defines a food’s glycemic measurement:
- HIGH GI – Carbohydrates with a high GI are absorbed quickly into the blood stream and cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels, with the resultant increase of insulin to deal with this rise. This then quickly dissipates, with a quick drop of blood glucose and the resultant hunger requiring to be satiated again.
- LOW GI – Foods with a low GI are broken down more slowly into simple sugars, keeping blood glucose levels more stable. The absorption of these foods is therefore more gradual and does not contribute to blood sugar highs and lows.
So what do watermelon, toast and potatoes have in common and to do with a fatty liver? They are all popular high GI foods that should be restricted in your diet! Other foods that should be limited include:
- Corn and corn products
- White flour
- Rice – white or brown
- Refined sugar – white or brown
- Most refined breakfast cereals
By choosing low glycemic foods, sharp swings in blood sugar are avoided, thereby naturally decreasing the body’s production of insulin. Some popular low glycemic foods to increase in your diet are:
- Apples or pears
- Whole grains (especially barley and oats)
- Agave or stevia
However don’t be afraid of eating bread or potatoes, as always the dosage and load determines the poison.