Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #41: “Unsafe Starches” and Other Sugars

At dinner last night with my brother in Florida, he told me that a doctor friend had told him recently that a ‘glass of orange juice’ was one of the worst things he could eat or drink. I agreed. I told this to my wife this morning as she was drinking hers. It’s tough being married to a nutrition nut.

You can buy fresh-squeezed orange juice in Florida by the gallon. It’s as cheap as day-old bread, and it’s really delicious; but it’s all sugar (with a little fiber) and more than half fructose. In liquid form, that’s a big load for the liver. So is a HFCS coke. No difference, really. Most Registered Dieticians would tell you the same thing, about either orange juice or coke.

“Unsafe sugars” are those described as “simple sugars.” They are composed of monosaccharides and disaccharides. The monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galactose, the most common of which is glucose, sometimes called dextrose. The most common disaccharide is sucrose, usually refined either from cane sugar or beet sugar. Table sugar is sucrose. Sucrose is half glucose and half fructose. Simple sugars are unsafe because they are broken down and digested quickly, especially when liquid. The glucose goes into the bloodstream from the small intestine and circulates to the cells for energy. The fructose, a mild toxin in large amounts, is diverted to the liver to be “detoxified,” protecting us from it. “It bypasses the first regulated steps in glycolysis, which glucose must traverse, and thus becomes a more ready substrate for fatty acid and triglyceride synthesis,” says Phillip A Wood, DVM, Ph.D., in a 2007 article in Diabetes in In plain English, fructose, stockpiled in the liver, easily becomes body fat, and in some cases liver fat (fatty liver disease?).

“Unsafe starches” are complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides and therefore also ‘sugars’ that break down to mostly glucose) in non-whole food form. They have been processed and refined in manufacturing, thereby making them break down more easily. That’s why they are unsafe: They act like simple sugars, digesting quickly and easily, thus spiking blood sugar. The processing and refining also removes vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. That’s why homogenized milk is “supplemented” with Vitamin D. The vitamins that were in the whole raw milk were killed in the pasteurization/ homogenization processing. Some organic milk is now being supplemented with DHA Omega-3 fatty acids (from algae!).

The sugar in milk, by the way, is lactose, a disaccharide compose of equal parts glucose and galactose. Milk has a lot of lactose. Low fat and skim milk have more (in proportion) than whole milk, since the fat has been reduced or eliminated. That’s why I don’t drink low-fat or whole-fat milk, and why I only take full cream in my coffee.

White flour (bleached or unbleached), is refined from wheat, a gluten grain. The milling process removes nutrients so bread flour is almost always “enriched” to replace lost nutrients, e.g. Iron, Niacin, vitamins B1 & B2, and Folic Acid. At random I recently checked the ingredients list on three loaves of bread. Arnold Whole Grains 12 Grain Bread’s first three are Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour (as above), Water and Sugar, plus about 50 other ingredients, wheat gluten being listed fifth. Pepperidge Farm’s Whole Grain Bread’s first four ingredients are Whole Grain Wheat Flour, Water, Sugar and Wheat Gluten. Publix’s store brand, in their “Large White” bread, lists, in order, Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour, Water and High Fructose Corn Syrup (“sugar”), among many other ingredients including soybean oil and wheat gluten.

Did you have any idea that sugar was the third ingredient listed in “healthy” breads, after flour and water? Added sugars are in virtually all processed foods. These breads and virtually all others are unsafe starches. Note also that wheat gluten, a protein, is listed fourth or fifth. Gluten is one of the three Neolithic Agents of Disease (NAD’s) in Dr. Kurt Harris’s Archevore program, along with fructose (in sugar) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s), i.e. vegetable oils.

It makes you long for a good “loaded baked potato,” doesn’t it? My wife tells me a loaded baked potato is a large steaming baked potato that is butterflied and filled with butter, sour cream, broccoli, melted cheese and bits of bacon. Sounds good, doesn’t it? A whole “safe starch” food, a green veggie, and lots of good saturated fats (butter, sour cream, bacon and cheese). Of course, being a Type 2 diabetic, no starchy food is “safe” for me. I have seriously impaired glucose tolerance, but that’s okay. I love my can of King Oscar brand Mediterranean Style Brisling sardines, in olive oil, for lunch.

© Dan Brown 2/19/12


  1. YOU SAID:
    "Milk has a lot of lactose. Low fat and skim milk have more (in proportion) than whole milk, since the fat has been reduced or eliminated. That’s why I don’t drink low-fat or whole-fat milk"

    I'm confused about your last sentence in that quote. Like you, I realize that low-fat and skim milk are relatively higher in carbs, although I've never been able to explain that simple arithmetic to dietitians. (How do people get to be dietitians without understanding simple arithmetic? Geez!)

    But, then you said you "don’t drink low-fat or whole-fat milk." I assume that you mean you don't drink low-fat or SKIM milk?

    1. Hi Jim,
      Thanks for the comment. My statement was intuitive. I know it is correct from my math education, but I will work up a short 'proof' so that we can both be armed in the future.

      Re what I don't drink, I meant the whole gamut from skim to half and half. I only use full (whipping) cream, which I think is diluted to 35%.

      I am an architect and once worked as construction manager at a dairy manufacturing plant where I cooled my coffee by taking cream from the test port on a 5,000 gallon tank of 'complete'cream (as separated from whole). I don't know how complete that is, but I gained a lot of weight during the 18 months of that project

  2. Jim,
    The proof narrative is: when you reduce a component of the numerator in a fraction, the remaining components on the numerator increase as a fraction of the denominator. Here are the numbers, based on the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, a handy 'desk' reference.

    For 2% milk (100g, excluding water weight and ash)
    Protein is 3.95g (%)
    Carbohydrate is 5.49g (%)all lactose
    Fat is 1.98g (%)
    Total macronutrients are 11.42g (%)

    So, the percentages of macronutrients to total macronutrients in 2% milk are as follows
    Protein: 3.95/11.42 = 35%
    Carbohydrate: 5.49/11.42 = 48%
    Fat: 1.98/11.42 = 17%

    For 100g of skim milk, again excluding water ans ash, the analysis is as follows:
    Protein: 3.37g (%)
    Carbohydrate: 4.96g (%)
    Fat: 0.08g (%)
    Total macronutrients: 8.41g (%)

    So, the percentages of macronutriens to total macronutrients in skim milk are the following
    Protein:3.37/8.41 = 40%
    Carbohydrate: 4.96/8.41 = 59%
    Fat: 0.08/8.41 = 1%

    Thus the percentage increase of carbohydrate in skim compared to 2% fluid milk is 59%/48% = 23%. Q.E.D. Voila!

  3. Thanks, Dan. That's what I've tried to tell dietitians, but I guess they slept through that arithmetic class.