July 23, 2008

Stupid Study of the Month Promotes Making Brown Sugar Part of Your Diabetes Treatment Plan

I wish the food scientists at my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, would stop taking food industry money to come up with news stories that promote their sponsor's products in ways that lead to more amputation, kidney failure, blindness and cardiac death. But they have done it again.

This week's horror study is the one that hit the news wires claiming that brown sugar, date sugar and corn syrup provide important health benefits for people with Type 2 diabetes. The story showed up in my local newspaper a few days ago, and I almost blogged about it then, but I had hoped that it appeared because the researcher was local and did not want to give it any more attention than it had already got.

But sadly, today's issue of Diabetes in Control picked up on the story and then it appeared in Medical News Today so it's clear that the sugar industry PR machine has been hard at work spreading the message that you should add more sugar to your diabetes health regimen. So let's look at what they found and why their conclusions are so flawed.

Here's the gist of the press release the sugar industry PR machine has gotten picked up in my newspaper and the internet health press: This version is from Medical News Today:

"Some sweeteners, including date sugar and less refined, dark brown sugars, showed potential for managing Type 2 diabetes and related complications information that could help Type 2 diabetics make better dietary choices."

The press release then describes the UMASS study headed by Kalidas Shetty writing, "Many sweeteners contained significant amounts of antioxidants, which have the potential to control diabetes-linked high blood pressure and heart disease,' says Shetty, who adds that these were in vitro laboratory studies performed outside of living organisms. 'Several types of sweeteners also showed an interesting potential to inhibit the action of a key enzyme related to Type 2 diabetes, which is also the target of drugs used to treat this condition.'"

In short, this study suggests it's time for us folks with diabetes to start treating our disease with sugar!

But what did these researchers really find? They found minute amounts of antioxidants in brown sugar and date sugar. From this they drew the astonishing conclusion that since high blood sugars cause oxidation, people with diabetes would benefit from eating sugars that contain tiny amounts of antioxidants.

It gets worse. The next thing they did was discover that all sugars contain a small amount of a naturally occurring substance that inhibits the enzyme alpha glucosidase which is what digests complex sugars into glucose.

They then went on to discover that corn syrup has about three times as much of this alpha glucosidase inhibiting substance as do regular sugars. Which must be why when we eat corn syrup we see no blood sugar rise at all. Oh? We do see a rise? A big one. You're kidding! Wow! Someone needs to alert the UMASS scientists to this fact at once.

Because that's the huge flaw here. Before suggesting that their sugars could "manage Type 2 diabetes" (their wording) they should have fed some of these sugars to people with diabetes and seen what happened to their blood sugars when they ate them, which is that they rose higher than they would with any other food you could possibly feed them except pure glucose.

But what about the supposed health benefit of those antioxidants in the brown sugar? Well, if the only damage high blood sugar did to our bodies was to cause oxidation, perhaps a sugar with added antioxidants would be marginally helpful to people with diabetes.

But it isn't oxidation that causes neuropathy. It is glycation-- the bonding of glucose to other proteins, like, say the ones in your capillaries and nerves. Ditto with your eyes and kidneys. It isn't oxidation that makes you go blind or puts you on dialysis. It is a whole complex series of things that happen when your tiny capillaries get plugged up with glucose molecules. And when you eat any pure sugar be it date sugar or brown sugar it turns into glucose within minutes. Lots of it. And it damages your organs. And the part that doesn't turn into glucose, well folks it turns into fructose which goes directly to your liver where it turns into body fat.

Suggesting people with diabetes eat some particular sugar for its health benefits is like suggesting that people smoke cigarettes with carotene soaked cigarette papers. And just as ethical.

Shame on these UMASS researchers. A year ago they were promoting sugar filled blueberry soy yogurt as health food since it contained some minute amount of some substance similar to that found in blood pressure pills--without ever measuring its impact on the actual blood pressure of people who ate it. Now they are telling us to medicate ourself with brown sugar and corn syrup.

And sadly because of the venal promotion of this finding, people are going to eat more brown sugar and get more complications. There are real consequences to pursuing profit at the expense of other people's health. I don't know how the people who put out this kind of misinformation live with themselves. But they do. It is amazing what people will do to earn a buck.

NOTE: I have heard from Dr. Kalindas and he assures me that he does not take food industry funding. He also was not happy about the way his research was described in the press release that was reported in so many newspapers. I appreciated his response and his desire to be helpful to people with diabetes. I also get the impression he may not realize how much corporate money has gone into promoting the idea of "healthy whole grains" as an alternative to low carb diets, and how much of that money comes from the big grain companies. It is probably due to the amount of promotion that the grain interests have done to sell the idea of the Glycemic Index that caused the story to get so much press exposure.

It is interesting that the journal article published in the prestigious journal D. Res. Clin. Prac.--the study that tested the blood sugar of people with diabetes who ate whole grain bread and found that it raised blood sugar exactly as much as white bread did--did NOT get any press exposure. To my mind that was probably the single most practical piece of diabetes research published this year.

Read it here: Dietary Breads Myth or Reality?


Lili said...

What the what? Brown sugar might contain something that partially mitigates the effect of...eating brown sugar? I mean, seriously.

Anne said...

How is that for great science - treat diabetes with sugar. OMG!

You would be surprised(maybe you wouldn't) how many patients are told to check their blood glucose only in the morning when fasting. I met one such person. He told me his blood sugar was in good control because his FBG was never over 110. His last A1C was 12%. Sounds like he needs more corn syrup.

Anonymous said...

So glad to have found your blog!

I'll be reading it religiously although probably won't be commenting, as you are 'saying it all'.

BTW: I am NOT a diabetic, but for years now I've been my own proponent of low-carb diets, because.. Well, let's see (I'll keep it brief):

1. Diabetics have the following (plus more!) problems in FAR HIGHER NUMBERS than the non-diabetic population:

kidney disease (failure)
retinal neuropathy
heart disease

The list goes on. Almost anything that is a 'chronic disease' is far more abundant in diabetics.

Now let's see. What is the thing that distinguishes diabetics from NON-diabetics? Hmmm.

Elevated blood sugar.

Dang. Isn't that interesting.

Cheers to you,

Cap'n Jan

Sue said...

Do you ever read the blog Fanatic Cook? She has a post at the moment:
More Evidence that a High Carbohydrate, Low Fat Diet is Effective for Glucose Regulation

Its a 1990 study. What do you think of the results? Both the control and test diet are high in carbs.

Jenny said...


That study proved only that a diet of 42% carbs is better for your health than one with 68% carbs.

With a 2000 calorie intake, we are comparing a diet of 210 g of carbs with one of 390 g!

Note, however, that the improvement in on blood sugar was pretty small-- -5%, and they don't tell you the absolute blood sugar levels. If they were decreasing post meal blood sugar from 250 to 237.5 mg/dl, which is a -5% improvement, the people would still be running blood sugars high enough to make them go blind, ruin their kidneys, etc.

These studies, of course, were done with "normal" people, but we have to remember that "normal" 18 years ago when this study was performed, might have meant a fasting blood sugar of 138 mg/dl.

So again, when improvements are shown as percentages rather than absolute values, you can specious improvements. And if you lowered your cholesterol by lowering HDL, for example, the change would be meaningless for health.

Even with insulin I can't eat more than 110 g of carbs a day and maintain anything approaching normal numbers. Interestingly, there is a thread going on at the Low Carb Friends forum where people without diabetes who have maintained significant weight losses for many years eating a maximum of about that amount of carbs per day too. So that may be the optimal number for health no matter what their diagnosis.

Sue said...

Thanks for putting it in perspective.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about this? http://cbkingery.blogspot.com/2008/07/ignorance-drives-me-nuts.html

Jenny said...


I think it is a shame that people with Type 1 so often join in with the ignorant media in blaming people with type 2 for their situation.

I posted a comment on the blog you cited. But I think people with diabetes of ALL types would do a lot better to pool our energy and work against the forces that hurt all of us--starting with the "charities" who enrich themselves at our expense and cater to the needs of everyone BUT people with diabetes.

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Good article. It reminds me of an article published by Volek (who is generally a vigorous proponent of low carb diets) discussing the virtues of raisins and walking on health. It turned out the study was funded by the California Grape Commission. Duh. I'd hate to think what so much additional sugar from raisins would do in the absence of exercising.

We've recently started a blog (Rambling Outside the Box), and have an entry about fruit and sugar. I'd appreciate your comments regarding your own experience with unlimited fruit consumption.

water said...


Did you see this one? Much less stupid. =====
]Association of Organochlorine Pesticides with Peripheral Neuropathy among Patients with Diabetes or Impaired Fasting Glucose.
PMID: 18647952

ItsTheWooo said...

Jenny -
Very interesting survey! This especially caught my interest:

I use fast acting insulin to cover meals which avoids the blood sugar spikes and hunger that otherwise would make eating carbs disastrous. Even so I never eat more than 110 g a day and almost never more than 50 g per meal as more than that cannot be covered properly with insulin.

So, a fast acting insulin negates carb hunger? Fascinating!

I've always had a sort of deficient insulin response after eating, my glucose goes up very quickly after a glucose increase, and this is what causes my hypoglycemia. Perhaps this is one of the fundamental reasons I am so carb intolerant; I don't make enough insulin for small increase in sugar quickly enough.

I'm curious, what is your hunger response to protein? Protein makes me massively hungry if I eat too much of it, similar to carbs. Do you notice this "protein hunger", and do you notice if any changes in insulin will prevent "protein hunger"?

Jenny said...


I don't notice a hunger response to protein when I'm using basal insulin. Last winter when I tried doing a very low carb diet without basal insulin I was very hungry after the first few weeks.

This last stint (9 weeks now) I have been using levemir and that seems to have solved the problem.

Protein digests slowly and I still have some residual basal insulin production of my own so I think that the extra Levemir is enough to take care of the glucose that comes from gluconeogenesis converting protein to carb.

(Remember that up to 58% of each gram of protein you eat can be converted to glucose by the liver, very slowly.)

People interested in the different kinds of insulin secretion basal, post meal etc can read about them HERE.

Anonymous said...

ROTF crying my eyes out.
It's exactly the same argument as with Healthy Whole Grains, you may get microscopic improvements in macronutrients but they in no way overcome the massive disbenefits.
How much easier it all becomes when you nix the carbs and use the space in your stomach for foods with real levels of micronutrients instead.
"Eat this poison, it contains some antidote"