Sugar Busters!

What It Is

"Cut Sugar to Trim Fat" proclaims the dust jacket of Sugar Busters! Inside the book, you read that "Sugar is toxic!" And that's the basic premise of the diet. The authors tell you to eliminate all sweets made with refined sugar and certain fruits and vegetables with a high-sugar content because they wreak havoc on your biochemical system. The diet also promises to lower your cholesterol, achieve optimal wellness, increase your energy, and help treat diabetes and other diseases.

So proclaims the diet that became a self-published phenomenon in New Orleans, until a major publisher released Sugar Busters! in 1998. It's still selling so strong in the hardcover edition that the paperback hasn't been released yet. The four authors are H. Leighton Steward, a former CEO, and three doctors from the Big Easy: Morrison C. Bethea, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon; Samuel S. Andrews, MD, an endocrinologist; and Luis A. Balart, MD, a gastroenterologist.

Although the authors say that counting calories or measuring food is not a part of the Sugar Busters! plan, they suggest you "look at portion size," which is another way of cutting calories -- even though they claim that "calories are not the answer to weight gain or loss." In addition, the authors point out that moderate exercise will not significantly affect weight loss if you continue to eat foods with high sugar content. Finally, they caution that the diet is not for exercise fanatics.

What You Can Eat

While the authors say there are only a few things you cannot eat on the diet, these banned foods include some of the more common staples of the American diet: "You must virtually eliminate potatoes, corn, white rice, bread from refined flour, beets, carrots, and, of course, refined sugar, corn syrup, molasses, honey, sugared colas, and beer." A short list, but note that you must stop eating all refined sugars.

The basic plan is to eat high-fiber vegetables, stone-ground whole grains, lean and trimmed meats, fish, and fruits. If you choose alcohol, you should drink red wine. Bake, broil or grill meat, and cook with an oil that is high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats, such as canola. You eat three meals a day of moderate portions, and you can have snacks such as fruit and nuts, although fruit should be eaten by itself. And fruit is preferred over fruit juice, and best eaten a half hour before the meal.

You should eat:

Meats, including:

  • Lean beef and pork
  • Canadian bacon
  • Poultry
  • Game meats, such as venison
  • Fish and shellfish

Vegetables, including:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Eggplant
  • Onions

Fruits, including:

  • Apples
  • Lemons and limes
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Raspberries
  • Kiwis
  • Grapefruits
  • Apricots
  • Melons other than watermelon
  • Tomatoes
  • Tangerines and oranges

You also can have dairy products, and whole grains and cereals --- just don't add sugar to them! Spices and dark chocolate are also permitted. You should not eat:

  • Baked beans
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Ripe bananas
  • Raisins
  • White bread, pasta, rice
  • Potatoes
  • Beer
  • Bacon, fried chicken, most cold cuts

How It Works

The authors use basic science to explain their theory -- up to a point. A snack or meal that is high in carbohydrates (of which sugar is the basic building block) raises the level of glucose in the blood stream quickly. This stimulates the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. This release produces too much insulin, say the authors, so that the body is not able to convert that glucose into glycogen (which is used for immediate energy needs). Alas, the body's ability to store or hold glycogen is limited to a measly few hundred grams -- an average of 700 grams can be stored in the liver and muscles.

The result of that insulin production is stored fat. And the body has uncanny ability to hang unto it, like it or not, in the form of that spare tire around one's middle, those thunder thighs, and that belly. And, wouldn't you know it, the body can store thousands of grams of fat. All of this was incredibly useful for our forebears before the invention of fast-food joints, when the next meal might be long off, and fat could be converted into energy as needed. But while we no longer need this efficient system of packaging, we're stuck with it.

However, a high-protein, low-carbohydrate meal causes only an imperceptible rise in blood glucose and consequently a very small rise in insulin but a significant increase in the glucagon level, claim the authors. What is glucagon? The other hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar and "promotes the mobilization of previously stored fat," according to the authors. "[As] you burn food reserves for your energy requirements between meals, high levels of glucagons will allow that energy to be derived" from your stored fat reserves. Furthermore, the elevated glucagon level stays high for quite some time "so you can keep on burning that mobilized fat."


Weight loss occurs in the belly before anywhere else. See Answer

Insulin, on the other hand, "inhibits the mobilization of previously stored fat," they warn, "even if one is on a rather skimpy, but glucose-generating, diet." All this explains why people eating a diet high in white-flour pasta cannot burn fat even when food intake goes down.

The most controversial claim of the Sugar Busters! diet is that by keeping the need for insulin low by eliminating or severely restricting certain foods, we can reduce insulin resistance, a condition wherein our bodies have become insensitive to normal levels of circulating insulin in the bloodstream. Insulin resistance results in obesity and frequently is the culprit behind type 2 diabetes, or the non-insulin-dependent form of the disease. "Fifty percent or more of insulin resistance can be reduced or even reversed as insulin resistance does not totally depend on our inherited genes," say the authors.

What the Experts Say

They don't like Sugar Busters! much. "The authors contend that you can avert diabetes on the Sugar Busters! diet. That is a myth," asserts Maureen L. Storey, PhD, associate director of the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In addition, Storey doubts the authors' fundamental weight-loss claims. "When we gain weight, it doesn't matter where the calories come from -- calories in and not enough out will cause you to gain weight.

"Furthermore," Storey says, "the diet perpetuates the myth that your body can distinguish from sugars that are naturally occurring in food products and sugars that are added to a manufactured product. It can't. Even a high-fiber cereal such as Kellogg's All Bran has some sugar in it. We are all concerned about getting more fiber in the diet so that if adding a little bit of sugar to the food makes us eat more, that is great."

Theresa Nicklas, PhD, professor of pediatrics at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, says her main complaint about the diet is its claims about insulin resistance. "Diet does not cause insulin resistance," she says. "Insulin resistance is a medical condition that must be diagnosed by a physician. It isn't something that can be self-diagnosed by reading a book."

She is also concerned that the diet is too high in protein. "High protein diets increase calcium excretion and may exacerbate gout," she notes. "Possible side effects include kidney and liver damage, fatigue, weakness, and irritability. Just why are people losing weight on this diet? Each menu averages a mere 1,200 calories. Just about anyone can lose weight on 1,200 calories a day."

Food for Thought

While you will lose weight on this diet, realize that it cuts calories -- and that you will lose weight on it because of that. In addition, experts are critical of the diet's claims to control certain types of diabetes-related problems.

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD February 2004.

SOURCES: Steward, H. Leighton, et al. The New Sugar Busters!, 2002, Ballantine Books. Maureen L. Storey, PhD, associate director, the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. Theresa Nicklas, PhD, professor of pediatrics, the Children's Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

© 1996-2004 webMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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Last Editorial Review: 5/25/2005