Sugar Is the Worst Carb. Reclaiming the No-Dessert Diet

Sugar is a carb.  It is the worst carb.  This should be stating the obvious, I know, so apologies if you already understand this. But I really feel it needs to be said because I’ve had some distressing conversations with patients. They’re very careful to avoid a potato with dinner, but think it’s fine to have a little something for dessert. “Potatoes are a bad carb,” they tell me.

How did we get to the point where starch with the evening meal is believed to cause more weight gain than dessert? Why do people fear rice, but are happy to eat natural sweeteners like dates or agave which are almost pure fructose?

As a clinician on the front lines, I can say that the low carb, low GI message has caused major confusion. 15 years ago, I simply don’t remember having these conversations. People used to intuitively understand that dessert is unhealthy. But now, people fear potatoes and rice because they’re “carbs”, but are happy to eat fruit juice and date balls because they’re “natural”.

Just to be clear:

The word carbohydrate does not mean starch.

A carbohydrate is any one of a large group of organic compounds, including long-chain polysaccharides (such as starch and cellulose), but also including single sugars such as fructose. And fructose is the bad carb. It is by far the most damaging, obesity-causing carb. Fructose includes sugar, but it also includes sweeteners such as agave, honey, and dried fruit.

Long glucose chains (polysaccharides) include vegetables, potatoes, and rice.  They are gentle carbs (or safe starches according to Paul Jaminet).  I was so happy to discover his book after someone mentioned it on my Gentle Carb post. Gluten-grains are inflammatory and so do not qualify as a gentle carb.

According to researcher Professor Richard Johnson:

There’s a fair amount of evidence that starch-based foods don’t cause weight gain like sugar-based foods and don’t cause the metabolic syndrome like sugar-based foods. Potatoes, pasta, rice may be relatively safe compared to table sugar. A fructose index may be a better way to assess the risk of carbohydrates related to obesity.

Starch has another benefit. Starch in general, and potatoes in particular, provide a fiber called resistant starch, which promotes healthy intestinal bacteria. Resistant starch creates the short chain fatty acid butyrate, which is good for gut bacteria and the immune system.

Butter is another source of butyrate. So please go ahead and have that baked potato with butter.  And then seriously think about skipping dessert.

Please also see:

Yours in health,

Lara

42 thoughts on “Sugar Is the Worst Carb. Reclaiming the No-Dessert Diet”

  1. Thank you for the wealth of information you’ve made available on the sugar issue — especially as it relates to PCOS diagnosee’s (in my case high testosterone, infrequent periods, hair loss, weigh issues, etc, etc, type). Truly, no other source of info has made the puzzle pieces fit together quite as well!

    As I read through your advice on reversing insulin resistance, this life-long sugar addict (with periods and sometimes years of quitting it entirely, only to go back after achieving minimal results) wonders if natural sweeteners such as organic Erythritol (the sugar alcohol I’ve found I tolerate pretty well, as opposed to Xylitol and the others), and perhaps Monk Fruit, would be OK to take and still be on the road to insulin resistance and PCOS recovery? (Fingers and toes tightly crossed!)
    I am very relieved to see that you’re OK with using Stevia to help with withdrawal!
    I should probably mention that I also have a prolactinoma, with prolactin levels currently sky-high (not surprisingly as I haven’t taken the suggested mainstream medication in many years) in case that also relates to the insulin resistance and PCOS.

    Many thanks in advance for any guidance you’re able to provide!

  2. Hello Lara. How can I get an appointment with you? I live in Southamerika and will be travelling to Australia next november. I have serious issues with heavy periods.

    Thanks for your response.

    Ximena

  3. Hi, I just discovered your blog and I am currently devouring it, here in Mexico we don’t really have a lot of experts on PCOS, but related to this specific post I wanted to know your thoughts on MONKFRUIT SWEETENER, which is said to have erythritol and monk fruit extract, I am currently using this in place of sugar, I use 1 pack (3gr) a day if any, but sometimes I do use two. Thank You in advance.

  4. I am wondering how strict one has to be when giving up sugar. I gave up sugar a few days ago and already have lost the craving but am looking at some things I make that have small amounts of sugar and wonder how bad that will be. For instance a salad dressing that has worcesteshire sauce (contains molasses) and a stir fry that has a tablespoon of brown sugar in the sauce (makes five or six servings).
    Also, dark chocolate still has sugar in the label. Am I being too over the top? I just don’t want to be eating small amounts that are feeding the craving and/or inflammation.
    Thanks!

    • A few grams of sugar shouldn’t be a problem. Generally, I say it’s fine to have 85% cocoa chocolate (even when quitting sugar).

  5. First of all thank you for your wonderful blog posts they’ve sure changed my own approach towards healing my hormonal balance. I successfully quit sugar some time ago with the IQS 8WP which has been one of the best experiences in my life. I have a question regarding desserts – and yes, I understand that they should be a treat *g*. I love to finish my lunch with a chia pudding or half a cup of properly soaked and cooked oatmeal with some almond butter and a piece of fruit. And while I know that dried fruits are full of sugar, I sometimes sweeten my chia pudding with one piece of dried date or apricot. As much as I recognise sugar as the culprit of my imbalances, I prefer the natural sweetness of one date to stevia or RMS. Regarding the 6-9 tsp of sugar recommendation, I am always well below this number, however, I am far more interested regarding the impact of this “desert” on my blood sugar. Lunch usually is a plant-based or animal protein source and steamed veggies (starchy and non-starchy). I started incorporating oatmeal porridge and chia seeds due to their rich nutritional profile. Thanks for your feedback and greetings from over the pond 🙂 (Austria).

    • One date should be fine for most people. It would only be a problem if: 1) it makes you crave more sugar, or 2) you have insulin resistance.

  6. How much dark chocolate and how high of a percentage cocoa can I eat? I find it hard to eat anything over 60-70% cocoa. Thanks for your helpful blog!

  7. Polysaccharides (starch) break down immediately into simple glucose in the small intestine and pass into the bloodstream in a few minutes. Sucrose is a disaccharide made of fructose and glucose, hence more complex than starch taking more time to pass the intestine and raise blood sugar levels. Fructose is predominantly absorbed by the liver and turned into liver glycogen, giving the liver the fuel to fulfill all its functions, like regulating blood sugar, detoxifing excess estrogens and other toxins, synthesising cholesterol and aminoacides. Only 50% of the calories of a meal consisting of sugar (fruit/honey) go into the blood compared to almost 100% of an isocaloric meal consisting of starch. For all this reasons sugar has a much lower GI than starch.
    Paul Jaminet argument against fructose is that it is mostly absorbed by the liver and hence must be considered a toxin, ignoring all the other vital functions of the liver mentioned above which would be much more difficult to do without fructose. Most fruits&veggies come with a good punch of potassium which acts with insulin making sugar even less insulinogenic than starch. Primates feed almost exclusively on sugar/fruits (veggies have sugar too!) and are as lean as fruiterians & raw vegans, people eating mostly fruits.
    The vilification of sugar seems to be lacking in evidence.

    • Hi Augusto. Thanks for your comment.

      As Paul so eloquently explained in his book, it’s all about the dose of fructose. Low-dose fructose is beneficial, so Yes, I agree the amount in whole fruit is healthy.

      But the high dose in desserts and sweet drinks is another story. And that’s why I just signed a petition to bring in a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages…..

      • I think food and lifestyle choices are in the personal responsibility of each individual. Coercing other people into your (scientifically unfounded) food choices with the help of the state power is an assault on our personal freedom and will ultimately create a less healthy society.

    • Hi Lara, now I understand why I crave fruit so much…and I noticed that if I eat some potats or rice I woyld feel satisfied with no need of fruit.
      Two questions:
      You mentioned dried fruit in the article. I thought natural dried fruit with no added sigar was healthy.
      What ingredients would you suggest to make healthy treats or cookies?

      • Dried fruit is not healthy. It has far too much sugar.
        I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no healthy way to eat any kind of dessert on on a regular basis. Desserts are for special occasions only (maximum once per month).

        In our modern world, we see dessert as normal, but it’s really not. Our ancestors would have been lucky to have concentrated sugar once or twice per year.

        • Hi Lara, I agree and understand your point, but I come from an eating disorder and a lot of binge eating, so avoiding something naturally sweet like fruit would feel like a restriction. What are your thoughts on this? Thank you

          • Whole fruit is ok. It is just dried fruit that is a problem. I treat many patients with binge eating disorder, and I find that their cravings actually reduce when they start to strictly avoid concentrated fructose (like desserts and dried fruit).
            It also really helps to eat starch (such potato or rice) on a regular basis (at least two meals per day,and always combined with meat and vegetables and butter or coconut oil).

    • My current understanding is that potatoes and rice are a good source when they’re cooked and cooled. That means sushi! Also parboiled rice. To me, sushi is a lot more appealing than any supplement.

  8. Lara, decided to make a comment on this post cause i didn’t no where else do make it.
    (sorry for the bad english, i’m from Brasil)

    I’m only 21yo and i always have some real troubles in my PMS – as i believe many women do – because that days my hormones just don’t know what to do.
    My mother is an endocrinologist. So.. i seem to be healthy, despite all the sleeping problems that are common to modern urban women. I eat well and everyday i take those seed oil pills. I gave up taking contraceptives cuz they unbalance my hormones.
    I know something i need to do to solve my problems is start exercising, but is there anything else i can do? Or anything i may be doing that is not good for me? I started replacing coffee with teas, cuz coffee makes me anxious and i feel it is linked with my hormones.

    Please, help me before my boyfriend can’t handle another PMS 😉

    loving your blog, waiting for more

    Mari

    • Hi Mari, Your comment has inspired me to write a post about PMS. I’ll work on that in next week or two, so stay tuned.

  9. HI Lara – I’ve been meaning to ask you about rice bran syrup. It’s used as an alternative sweetener by quite a few people I know, but tastes quite sugary to me.

    • The advantage of rice bran syrup is that it does not contain fructose. It’s mainly maltose (which is 2 glucose molecules). At the end of the day, it’s still a concentrated sugar so should be used sparingly.

          • Thanks Penny. I’ve looked into the rice issue over the last year or two. Rice does take up arsenic if it’s in the soil. It’s more of a problem in the US where rice fields are contaminated with residues from past use of arsenic pesticides. Most of the arsenic is concentrated in the bran layer, so white rice is better.

  10. Hi Lara. Just wondering what your thoughts are on the acceptable fruit amounts for children? I have a 2 year old and an 11 month old.

    • Hi Sasha, fruit is a snack or treat food for kids as well. They shouldn’t fill up on it, but as a treat at the end of a meal, I’m tempted to say that kids can have as much fruit as they enjoy. That said, if a child is really craving or bingeing on fruit, that can be an indication that something’s not right (possibly food sensitivities).

      • Wow, interesting. My 2 year old definitely asks for fruit often even if she’s just had some. I usually will give them fruit after their meals but she asks to snack on it frequently too. I thought it was good!

    • I’m not a fan of any sugar substitute. The better outcome is to withdraw from sugar and sweet altogether. To relearn how to be satisfied with savoury food. Patients tell me that their entire taste outlook changes. That they then experience real sweetness and joy from fresh fruit and dark chocolate.
      I do prescribe stevia as a tool to help with the sugar withdrawal. It can really quench the cravings. Stevia is not sugar or fructose. The sweetness comes from its glycosides. So far, Stevia looks to be safe. There have been quite a number of safety studies done to date. I am alert to any news that might suggest that it might not be safe.

  11. I quite agree with you on sugar however I have just read a couple of interesting Pubmed articles on honey that suggest it may have some redeeming qualities. and

    • yes, honey and fructose in small quantities are beneficial. Fructose is a catalysis of glycemic control. Paul Jaminet explains this in his book. A small amount (3 grams) of fructose helps the liver manage glucose better. It’s dose -dependent. So a piece of whole fruit, a small tsp of honey. That dose is beneficial. A dessert is too much fructose.

    • Fresh fruit in moderation is healthy. But it’s a treat food, but not a meal food. I don’t like patients to sit down to a big fruit salad as their only food, but if they enjoy a little mandarin or stewed pear at the end of a meal, then that is quite reasonable for most people. Those that need to be careful with fruit are 1) those that crave fruit so much that they binge on it. 2) those who cannot digest fruit and fructose. And 3) those with candida or fungal issues, then I might restrict fruit.

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