Holford advises readers to “Avoid any form of sugar” (and eat fruit)

In his New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, Professor Patrick Holford of Teesside University advises readers to “Avoid any form of sugar” [1]. This is a terrible idea – among other problems, fruit contains sugar (fructose) and a fructose-free diet would therefore tend to be horribly unbalanced. With this in mind, Holford’s advice is troubling for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it annoys me that Holford makes such basic mistakes (on occasion, he even advises snacking on fruit – which is sound advice, but not compatible with Holford’s advice to ‘avoid any form of sugar’) [2]. As the newly appointed Visiting Professor of Mental Health and Nutrition at Teesside, this apparent confusion is rather worrying: this is not the type of the mistake that one would expect a professorial level nutritionist to make. If readers are wanting to avoid Holford-esque mistakes, the excellent Junkfood Science blog offers a nice (and accurate) description of what sugar is, and also notes that “all carbohydrates are broken down to the same simple sugars and metabolized exactly the same by our body”.

Secondly, Holford’s New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind offers advice on dealing with eating disorders (see Chapt. 33). With this in mind, the advice to ‘avoid any form of sugar’ is somewhat disturbing: this is, to put it mildly, not good advice for someone with an eating disorder.

Thirdly, part of Teesside’s Case for Patrick Holford as a Visiting Professor [PDF] is that

Cactus has been continuing its work under the directorship of Dr Dave Woodhouse and the clinic manager, Amanda Clarkson. Together they have begun to explore research aspects of the clinic’s work with young people and to use this research to inform expansion of the business. Collaboration with Patrick Holford would greatly enhance these developments by extending the client base for research to include more adults and increase capacity and capability with Cactus both by developing a northern Brain Bio Centre and by access to resources

In other words, Teesside appear to hope to collaborate with Prof. Holford in the establishment of a Northern clinic which will deal with numerous vulnerable children and adults. All I can say is that I hope that patients – especially those with eating disorders – are not advised to ‘avoid any form of sugar’.

1- New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, 2007 Piatkus edition, p. 428

2- Smart Food for Smart Kids, p. 28

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15 Comments

Filed under New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, patrick holford, University of Teesside

15 responses to “Holford advises readers to “Avoid any form of sugar” (and eat fruit)

  1. draust

    Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Priceless.

    Jeez the man is a fruitloop.

    Of course, the Nutri-Twits in PH’s core “Worried Muesli eater” demographic think “sugar” is that nasty white stuff proles dump in their tea, and bad FoodCos put in processed food. NOTHING to do with healthy NATURAL fruit.

    But… it is impressive that a man who makes such a song and dance about his claims being “based in proper science” seems to have forgetten that fructose is a sugar.

    This level of knowledge (or lack thereof) would, I confidently predict, lead you to fail the 1st yr exams for a B.Sc. in Nutrition at Teeside Univ.

    Just as well Honorary Professorships don’t require you to do a MCQ knowledge test.

    • mole

      Re level of knowledge: As a lecturer at Teesside I can assure you that you might be surprised about the level of knowledge required to pass 1st year exams at Teesside. Remember the university has a retention and progression policy and teaching and learning policy that celebrate student achievement. Suffice to say that in my opinion former visiting professor Holford was displaying a level of knowledge that would probably qualify him at this level.

      :-)

      • Well, that is dispiriting but good to have these things confirmed while acknowledging that that must have an impact on the morale of other good staff or students.

  2. And he ought to know perfectly well that you will stop working completely without glucose. This is so important that there exist ways of making glucose out of things which aren’t sugars at all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluconeogenesis

  3. Surely, most people recall the endless column inches etc. during the Atkins frenzy in which people were explaining glucogenesis in the absence of obvious sources of carbs. The importance of being able to do this because glucose is the brain’s preferred energy source – blood-brain barrier, blah de blah.

    It is all a tad shaming and rather less than one might expect from Prof Holford of Teesside University. Still, perhaps a postgrad teaching assistant might be persuaded to give him some tuition on this point.

  4. LeeT

    To be fair to Patrick Holford, I think he is telling his readers to try to avoid any form of added sugar advice given out regularly by GPs.

    In the first edition of “Optimum Nutrition for the Mind” chapter ten is all about Sugar. He differentiates between fast and slow releasing sugars – glucose and fructose. So eat lots of apples and avoid Mars Bars!

    Websites of him and his supporters often show fresh fruit so I can’t see how the Institute for Optimum Nutrition are now advising people to cease eating food containing fructose.

  5. To be fair to Patrick Holford, I think he is telling his readers to try to avoid any form of added sugar advice given out regularly by GPs.

    In the first edition of “Optimum Nutrition for the Mind” chapter ten is all about Sugar. He differentiates between fast and slow releasing sugars – glucose and fructose. So eat lots of apples and avoid Mars Bars!

    Thanks Lee – that’s interesting to know. Chapter 10 of New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind does also focus on sugar (and stimulants); however, it seems to be less clear on this issue than what you found in the first edition.

    In the new edition, Holford argues that readers should “Avoid sugar and foods containing sugar. This means anything with added glucose, sucrose and dextrose. Fructose is not so bad, but still best reduced. Use xylitol if you have to have sugar.” (p. 95)

    Unless I’m misreading this, Holford seems to be advocating reducing fructose (and therefore fruit) intake, as well as cutting down on the mars bars.

  6. This is horribly unclear: any list of ‘added sugars’ should include lactose, maltose etc. Sucrose is glucose and fructose in about a 50-50 ratio. Fructose is converted to glucose in the liver. Fructose is not a slow-releasing sugar as such – it is typically bundled into a package (like a piece of fruit) that contains enough fibre etc. to slow its glycaemic impact., if somebody has the fruit juice without the fibre, then it will have a faster impact.

    I feel constrained to point out that the push towards sweeter fruit to suit the modern palate means that the sugar content of some fruits is quite high while the flavour-containing acid levels are reduced.

  7. LeeT

    Well, my grandfather always said to try to learn something new every day and until ten minutes ago I had never heard of xylitol.

    The question for us has to be does Patrick Halford advise against eating fructose? I went on to his website and typed “fructose”. That brought up three references one of which was this: http://www.patrickholford.com/content.asp?id_Content=1293
    It would appear that xylitol “is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol found in fruit , vegetables and wood.” Back in the 1970s health professionals in Finland started looking in to the effects of xylitol. In the late 1990s an American doctor Lon Jones discovered the Finnish research and soon founded a company which now sells a range of xylitol products.

    You may be wondering where on earth you can buy such products. Don’t worry there is a link to Health Products for Life: http://www.healthproductsforlife.com/content.asp?id_Content=1203 and you can get three jars for only £18.40

    The products are produced by Higher Nature. Interestingly, in the accompanying information about the product it is not (at the present time anyway) described as a replacement for fructose .

    There appears to have been evolution in Patrick Holford’s thinking since the first edition of “Optimum Nutrition for the Mind” was published in 1997. In that he was pushing a message of avoiding glucose and added sugar that few of us would disgaree.

    So are we being asked to reduce our consumption of fructose in fruit? Should we, for example, reduce our consumption of apples? It says on page 169 of “Nutriton for Dummies” that “Although sugars occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, the safe bet is most of the sugar in your diet comes as “added sugar” in processed foods.” Naturally occurring sugar, then, does not do us much harm. It is just the extras we have to avoid.

    It would be helpful if a nutrition therapist or someone else from the ION could post an anonymous comment explaining their position. My understanding is that you are still asking us to eat fruit – if not take the pictures off your websites! – but we can use xylitol as a sweetener or in baking. Is that correct?

  8. LeeT

    Sorry I should have wrote: There appears to have been evolution in Patrick Holford’s thinking since the first edition of “The Optimum Nutrition Bible” was published in 1997.

  9. At that price (roughly 6.50 pounds per 500g, even with the discount), I don’t imagine that I would do much baking etc. with xylitol and I would be loth to use it to make my own fruit water-ices.

  10. superburger

    “this is not the type of the mistake that one would expect a professorial level nutritionist to make”

    This is not the type of mistake someone studying for an AS level in biology would be expected to make.

  11. Maria

    Perhaps Patrick meant sugar as we know sugar – aka unhealthy spoons of sugar in tea, sugar in cakes, sugar in booze and sugar in chocolate and sweets. Yes fructose is sugar but in fruit it is different, and when push comes to shove, everyone needs something sweet in their mouth at one point, and I think we are talking about the lesser of two evils. WeightWatchers Diet is the same – no sugar, ie sugar = sugar, not something under another name. Don’t be too harsh on Patrick!! He’s not Atkins!!

  12. Sure – we can speculate as to what Holford really meant. However, as far as nutritional advice goes, this is horribly unclear: Holford even specifies the need to avoid sugar in any form.

    Also, as you can see from the rest of the blog, it’s not as if we’re picking out occasional examples of Holford’s mistakes – this is a pretty common occurrence.

  13. hadi

    I’m sure that Patrick has a specific meaning by saying “sugar of any form”. perhaps he meant sugar that we consume in the form of raw sugar, syrup, cakes, cookies etc.

    Admin edit: Which is as maybe but it should be easy to obtain his meaning from reading the text, it should not require post-hoc clean up.

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