When I challenged myself to quit sugar for a month at the beginning of August, I decided I needed to fill myself in a little more on the science behind why reducing the amount of added sugar (and in particular, fructose) we eat is important. David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison was one of the first books to appear on my radar and I’m very glad I picked it up.
As you can see from its tagline, why sugar makes us fat, the main idea explored in the book is the connection between sugar consumption and obesity. While I didn’t quit sugar to lose weight (although I do have a husband who is on that path), I found this information to be enlightening and I was pleasantly surprised that the author doesn’t limit himself to the effect of sugar on body weight. A host of other illnesses caused by sugar are discussed here as well.
Before I go any further, though, I will say here that I am not into fat shaming. When I posted a picture of the book on Instagram, someone commented to express their disgust, saying that there is nothing wrong with being fat. While I never intended to offend anyone, of course, this gave me food for thought. What people look like is certainly none of my business. I’m not the kind of person who believes that we must all look a certain way to fit in with society’s narrow and reductive definition of ‘beauty’. On the other hand, I do believe that raising our children on a diet of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is a huge concern and that the increasing incidence of metabolic syndrome in the society I live in is alarming. I cannot control or judge anyone else’s diet or lifestyle choices, but I can control my own and I do think the information presented here is really valuable for anyone who wants to understand the way human metabolism works when it comes to fructose.
So what’s it all about? Gillespie begins by telling us about his journey to living a fructose-free life, going from ‘always being on a diet’ to one day delving into the scientific mumbo jumbo of fructose and coming to the realisation that he was poisoning himself with his food. The book is split into two parts: the first part looks at the theory behind why fructose is bad for us, and the second part gives some practical advice for quitting it.
In part one, he explains what fructose is and where it’s found. Here human metabolism and evolution, the ‘fat makes you fat’ debate and a history of sugar production and consumption are explored. We learn that fructose is processed by the liver and converted directly into fat, as well as bypassing the usual appetite control mechanisms in our brains so that we don’t register a feeling of fullness when we eat it (unlike protein and fat). In this part we also gain an understanding of the many diseases associated with fructose consumption, including type II diabetes, various types of cancer and dental decay.
In part two, Gillespie discusses how you can eliminate fructose from your life once and for all and rebalance your brain’s appetite control system. According to him – and many others out there who have quit fructose – once you have banished it, you will stop craving it altogether. I can’t attest to the veracity of this (yet), but one week into quitting sugar I can definitely say chowing into a super sugary treat already feels a lot less appealing. Gillespie gives us five strategies for quitting fructose – what he calls ‘a recipe for cold turkey’ – and in this section also discusses artificial sweeteners and the vested interests of the sugar corporations and drug companies.
Something I really liked about the book was its unassuming tone and relatability. Gillespie is kind of like the non-hipster version of Sarah Wilson, since he eats Vegemite on toast for breakfast instead of Berry Breakfast Chickpea Flour Pizza (that’s actually one of her recipes…). I like the way Gillespie breaks complex scientific concepts down into easy-to-digest pieces but without simplifying things too much and losing sight of the actual scientific concepts. This understandability and the practical advice he provides really made me feel his five-step plan for going fructose-free is not only necessary but actually feasible.
On the downside, the ‘sugar makes us fat’ idea can be a little limiting, and I think it could have been interesting to explore the effects of fructose on other conditions and body systems (inflammation, reproductive hormones etc). Then again, I can appreciate that Gillespie’s audience is people who want to lose weight, not people who want to understand the ins and outs of the effects of fructose on every body system, so he had to keep his focus relatively narrow.
All in all this was a great read, and I really do think that regardless of whether you want to lose weight or not, Sweet Poison will definitely change the way you think about sugar.