Yes, Swedish Food Federation. Sugar can lead to fatty liver disease – here’s an update.
Last Friday we published a clip on the blog from the Swedish television show SVT Plus, in which Ann Fernholm talked about sugar. Shortly after, the Swedish Food Federation’s dietitian, Elisabeth Rytter, had something to say in response. Below is Ann’s answer to Elisabeth Rytter.
Pseudoscience. Not evidence-based. The Swedish Food Federation’s dietitian Elisabeth Rytter has made it clear what she thinks of my statements, and has “corrected” the information about sugar discussed on SVT Plus. According to Rytter, I have spread lies about sugar, and she questions if I’ve actually read the background to the Swedish Food Administration’s dietary advice on sugar. Quote: “It does not say that sugar increases the risk of fatty liver disease.”
She also thinks I have incorrect knowledge concerning fructose: “Fernholm also says that fructose is the culprit, which is a non-evidence-based statement. The focus on fructose and why it’s bad for you is another example of pseudoscience, that has been spread much too widely”.
For those who don’t know: the Swedish Food Federation, that Rytter represents, is a conglomeration of food industry groups such as The Swedish Ice Cream Company, The Swedish Chocolate, Confectionery and Cookie Association, Sweden’s Bakers & Patisseries, and Sweden’s Breweries.
News Flash: sugar is directly related to increased amounts of fat in the liver
Elisabeth Rytter, if you are reading this, I will admit that you are at least partially correct. It was (actually) a long time ago that I read the background to the Swedish Food Administration’s dietary advice. Then again, the latest update they made was in 2012. That’s five years ago, which is a long time when it comes to research and, if you haven’t noticed, many exciting studies have been published in the meantime! Honestly, I hardly know where to start.
But let’s begin with a study conducted by researchers at Sahlgrenska (a university hospital in Sweden). The experiment was conducted as follows: 71 men with abdominal obesity were allowed to drink a liter of lemonade (a total of 75 grams of fructose), every day for 12 weeks. Result: blood-soluble fats were disrupted, and the fat in the liver increased by 10 percent. The researchers reported that “data shows a negative effect as a result of moderate fructose consumption over 12 weeks on several cardiovascular risk factors, especially fat content in the liver…”
The study had no control group, which is a major weakness. BUT, other controlled studies show that fructose increases the fat production in the liver more than, for example, glucose.
Less fat in the liver of children who received (almost) sugar-free food
This summer we received some great news: the amount of fat present in the liver can decrease radically among children who avoid sugar. 41 children struggling with obesity were included in the study. Initially, the children had, on average, about 7.2 percent fat content in their livers. For nine days, they were only allowed to eat food that the researchers gave them. I know that you, Rytter, disapprove of the WHO’s health goal, which encourages an intake of 5% of calories from sugar or less. These children received 4 percent of all calories from sugar, even better.
So what happened? In nine days, the amount of fat in their liver was almost halved.
You have to agree, that’s pretty amazing! Fatty-liver disease was something that, up until recently, mostly affected alcoholics. Now, one out of ten young people in the United States and Europe qualify as having the condition. Fatty-liver disease increases the risk of liver cancer – a cancer that is unfortunately growing in today’s society. It is also a major cause of type 2 diabetes. If the children in the study can reduce or remove the fat from their livers, they can drastically reduce their risk of dying prematurely.
There is another study that I intended to share. It’s about the fact that children with fatty-liver disease have been shown to have an especially high level of special enzymes in the liver, that specifically break down fructose. But I wouldn’t want to kick someone who’s already down. Maybe we should just forget what you wrote about pseudoscience. I won’t tell the researchers at Sahlgrenska, or those in San Francisco. Although their studies could have been better controlled, you might want to think twice before you call them pseudoscience.
This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.