Friday, January 31, 2014

BBC Horizon: Fat vs Sugar

This BBC2 documentary on the Fat/Sugar debate was dismally poor science, if entertaining TV.

Doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken, who are identical twins, go on month-long diets comprising high volumes of fat or sugar to find out which is worse for the human body.

The two good doctors are exceptionally telegenic, and of course are medical professionals, but don’t appear to be driving the science behind this show - instead they are merely pretty faces and guinea pigs. I would like to know who was the scientific brains behind the show. Some of the experiments - like the low blood sugar bike race up Box Hill - just show something banal, and which the sugar industry has been promoting since at least the 50s - “Sugar gives you energy”. Not a whisper about high / low GI, or the fact that refined sugars are empty nutritionally.

To be fair, neither diet appears to have been a fair reflection of current recommendations from nutritionists in either camp. Going to extremes is good for dramatic effect, but little else. The adverse effects of too little “sugar” are interesting, but I can’t think of anyone who would advocate eliminating carbs in this way - even the dreaded Dr Atkins. The diet tested for ‘zero carbs’ rather than for ‘zero added processed refined sugars’ and therefore missed testing the specific diet the zero-sugar camp is particularly focussed on. An interview with the high-priest of zero sugar, Robert Lustig, was about 10 seconds long and mainly jokingly asked if he’d like a bucket of doughnuts.

While the conclusions seemed reasonable - moderation in all things - I think the programme let refined sugars off the hook. Beeb, we still await a serious investigation of the claims of the no-sugar camp.

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