Does your hair fall out when you quit sugar?

While I was riding a mountain bike in Sardinia’s barren hills last week a sugary fuss was hitting fans Down Under. Did you read the fuss?

Image via Favim
Image via Favim

The upshot of the fuss, if you missed it, is that a Sydney nutritionist is putting out a book that counters I Quit Sugar. It’s called Don’t Quit Sugar. I don’t think I’m flattering myself when I say it’s geared as a direct attack on my work.

(As an aside, I always feared “I Quit Sugar” was a negative title… but this whole thing started as a personal experience and blog post. The name was from this initial blog post and it kinda stuck. The double negative title of this new book would kill me. Ditto the didactic tone of it all. I like to say “I quit sugar, it worked for me, you might like to try it too.” An invitation, not an edict.)

Now, normally I prefer to let fuss fly by. There is plenty of room on the planet for all opinions and approaches. And retaliation and negativity and getting all didactic is generally not a great way to make a point. Or a pleasant way to cohabit with other human beings who are also just trying to do their thing.

But there were questions from so many of you, I felt a blog post was the most efficient way to respond, especially when one is meant to be having a holiday. Of sorts.

I first came across the forthcoming book’s author Cassie Platt a few months ago when she had a blog by the very similar name – I Didn’t Quit Sugar – which she shared with her friend Kate Skinner. I had a bit of a flick. At the time, a few things struck me as odd:

1. The message was the same as mine. Which confounded me. They weren’t not quitting sugar. They advocated not eating added sugar (sucrose), not eating fruit juice and dried fruit, but eating whole fruit and starchy vegetables like sweet potato. Which is exactly what I advocate.

2. To confound further, their blog featured several of my recipes!? From memory, I saw three.

3. The timings were out. They intimated they followed my program and got sick from it. But, oddly, they quit well before I put out my program in ebook or print form. Cassie seems to now have distanced herself from this claim. Fair enough.

4. They quit all sugars. Not just the sucrose (what we commonly refer to as sugar – the table variety and the stuff in processed food), but also glucose etc. Which seemed an insane thing for two nutritionists to have done, and to continue to do if it was making them unwell.

5. They quit carbs. On their blog they pointed out that it was a low-carb diet that caused the hair loss and other health issues. So why the focus on sugar and what I advocate?

Their blog has since been pulled down. So has their ebook. Kate no longer seems to be associated with the project.

I know many of you have expressed concerns about some of the claims from their ebook, which are repeated in statements made by the new book’s publisher (and so I assume the forthcoming book reflects the messages in their now defunct ebook), so I’ll just touch on a few points, to clarify. I don’t want to get into a back and forth.  I’m happy for the topic to be explored more fully in all directions. Great stuff.  Although I truly hope some of the oddities above and below are cleared up in the book… the subject does not need further confusion.

1. I don’t suggest quitting all sugars.

I certainly don’t advocate quitting glucose. I’m very clear: fructose is the issue, mostly in the form of sucrose.  I agree, quitting all sugar, and carbs, could create health issues, such as hair loss.

Yes, yes, yes, the title of my book is I Quit Sugar. But when we say “sugar” most of us are referring to sucrose or table sugar (the stuff they put in doughnuts), right? And within about three words of opening the book I highlight I’m referring to fructose specifically. As a commenter on the SMH site wrote (in supportive jest): “So, maybe Sarah Wilson needed to title her book, “I quit refined carbohydrates, or non naturally occurring sugars, including those that are part of grains and other refined products that carry carbohydrates because my body doesn’t actually need them because it gets them from Fruit and Vegetables (in their natural form and not juiced for example) that I eat regularly”, but that is quite hard to fit on the cover of a book…”

Yes, indeed.

2. I don’t advocate quitting carbs.

Avoiding refined, processed carbs, yes. They are full of sucrose and other gunk; every nutritionist is in agreement on this one. But quitting carbs as a blanket edict, no.

I advocate getting healthy glucose and carb intake from whole foods, and mostly from high nutrient sources such as vegetables.  I’m very clear in my communications on this, and I’m also careful to highlight that I personally  can’t eat carbs that contain gluten due to my autoimmune disease. I clearly illustrate that I eat other carbs – grains and tuber vegetables. Just flick through my Instagram feed, blog or cookbook to see my point. My recipes include berry smoothies, shepherd’s pie, one-pot pasta dishes, salted caramel apple and haloumi and so on. From time to time I share Paleo information and recipes. But, again, I’m careful to point out that my take on the Paleo approach includes nuts, non-gluten grains and starches, dairy etc.  Also, it’s worth noting, the new 8-Week Program Meal Plans have been analysed by nutritionist and dietician Marieke Rodenstein and comprehensively tick off the healthy daily carb requirements. “It is rare that I see a meal plan that is so well rounded… they all contain a good balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat,” was her response when I asked about her thoughts on the carb and glucose count of the Program.

3. I don’t confuse glucose with fructose.

This new book seems to. The publicity blurbs says: “Sugar is our cells’ preferred source of energy and is absolutely critical to proper metabolic function. Eliminating it from the diet will do you harm.”

Let’s be clear. Glucose is critical for the body. 

“Sugar”, or sucrose (which is half glucose and half fructose) is not. Indeed, countless studies on the subject confirm sucrose, or specifically fructose, is toxic to the body.

Cassie is either confused or confusing. It is very well established there is not a single biochemical reaction in your body that requires fructose. I quote British physiologist and scientist John Yudkin here. “There is no physiological requirement for sugar; all human nutritional needs can be met in full without having to take a single spoon of white or brown or raw sugar, on its own or in any food or drink.”  Besides, 58% of protein and 10% of fat changes into glucose once in the body, which can be used as needed.

In fact, even if you only ate meats, eggs, and good fats, you’d easily fulfil all of your body’s glucose needs.

Not that that’s something I’m advocating.

4. I eat fruit.

It’s a really convenient sling the claim that I’m an extremist who doesn’t eat fruit. I’m getting a little tired of it. Here’s my position on fruit …AGAIN. I think most people are getting this pretty clear point now. Whole fruit = good. Fruit juice = bad. Read this article from the papers this weekend. Rosemary Stanton, quoted in the SMH article, is completely on board with me on this.

5. The hair falling out thing? The thyroid stuff?

I can only suggest that it occurred because an extreme diet was going on that wasn’t being monitored properly. As above, initially the author also put her health symptoms down to quitting carbs overall. Some of the other illnesses and symptoms she refers to in her ebook excerpt… well, I’m more than a little dubious about the science… and so are all the other experts I’ve spoken to. It’s a shame that this is is the stuff readers will hang on. It’s confused and confusing and dangerous. Says science journalist Gary Taubes in a comment back to me via email this week: “Her science is crazy. ‘Fat-loss on a low-sugar diet is largely due to the action of adrenaline’??? Crazy.”

Nora Gedgauadas, author of Primal Body Primal Mind shared this with me, going into detail on the thyroid claims and suggesting that the author might have had an underlying autoimmune thyroid condition:  “Most people with Hashimoto’s have big problems managing their blood sugar. This is part-and-parcel of the underlying dysregulation and has nothing whatever to do with any manner of “glucose deficiency”.  It can be a little more challenging for someone with an underlying inflammatory or autoimmune condition to make this helpful transition to a reliance on fats for primary fuel– but it’s that much more rewarding, as well.  Those with an underlying metabolic or autoimmune condition may need a little extra help in the form of intermediate supplementation to get over certain hurdles, but it is entirely doable and more than entirely worthwhile to do so.”

6. I’m not a nutritionist, but…

…this area of science is moving very, very fast and much of the data that nutritionists, but in particular dietitians, draw on is outdated very quickly. It’s also clouded by vested interest (with some vocal nutritionists and dietitians being paid by the sugar industry to stay on side). I’ve touched on this here. We all have to wade through the new information ourselves and ascertain what makes sense for us.

7. And finally, as always, I mostly “preach” experimenting for yourself.

Many of my detractors haven’t actually READ my book. Or find it easier and more profitable to view my approach as extreme. I’m not an extremist. I issue an invitation only. And I very much encourage everyone to be kind and gentle to themselves, to not get rigid, to be cool with “lapses” (and to not call them lapses) and to not treat it as a mean diet.

Don’t take my word for it, nor anyone else’s. There are 39457 competing dietary theories out there. Either the no-sugar one gels for you or it doesn’t – in experience or intuitively. To my mind, quitting sugar is about not eating processed food and returning (as much as realistically possible) to the way our great grandparents ate, before the onslaught of modern metabolic disease. It doesn’t have to be more complicated or fractured or didactic or combative than that.

Gentleness. Knowing we are not alone. Knowing that we are OK. And experimenting with sugar-free living to see if it can aid natural appetite…they’re key to balanced, open, mindful, honest eating and living. I’ve dedicated my career to this message and to helping others by trying to be this message. And by being a failure at it, too.

Yes, it does make me sad that my message is abused and misrepresented at times. But most of the time it’s not.

You can read orthopaedic surgeon and senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania Dr Gary Fettke’s thoughts here.

A registered nutritionist and lecturer at AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand added her take here.

It’s also worth checking out the comments on Jo Casamento’s article.

Phew! And now, back to my holiday…

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