In defence of Sarah Wilson (and Grant)

I’m the first to admit, I used to be territorial about nutrition information. You would too had you spent a quarter of your life and the better part of $50k studying it. I used to dismiss information related to food and effects on health from anyone who hadn’t undertaken a nutrition degree. What would they know? If it doesn’t fit with what I learned at university, then it isn’t valid.

However, today I’m taking a stand for people who are not nutritionists but who have important things to say about how nutrients affect our performance, mood, wellbeing and overall health – and the skills to critique information, despite it not being in their major field of study. My colleague and good friend Grant is a prime example of this. He’s the first to admit that he’s quick to speak out on an issue that he feels strongly about – and over the last year this has moved from being all about increasing physical activity levels of the population to being all about food. The detrimental affects of carbohydrate and benefits of saturated fat to be exact. However, in this process he has copped a lot of criticism from the nutrition and public health circles in New Zealand – it’s fair to say that he hasn’t won many friends in those areas.

I understand why nutrition academics and health professionals are quick to dismiss Grant as a nutty professor (sorry Grant). He’s a strange mix of charismatic and socially awkward – which are not uncommon character traits for an academic.* He can be moody, obtuse and a real pain in the butt sometimes. We’ve had arguments that have ended in yelling (both of us) and tears (him… obviously). However Grant cannot be faulted on his passion about health, about public health, about policy and about getting important information out in the public sphere. While he hasn’t devoted his entire academic life to studying the area, what I don’t think people realise is that Grant has literally spent the last year living and breathing the literature around insulin, carbohydrates and health (as anyone within earshot of him over this time can attest to). I would conservatively estimate he has crammed the same amount of information in that time that would take another person five years to learn.

He’s not always right – far from it, and he’s the first to say he is wrong when he is wrong. And his belief that the foundation of what we’ve hung our hat on in terms of health is flawed makes for some uncomfortable conversations. But, without people like Grant, we would not be having the conversations to begin with. In terms of public health I think we should be questioning – particularly with the health problems that most western nations suffer from today. And hopefully, instead of dismissing what he has to say as being uninformed, people will be doing their best to prove him wrong if they truly believe that what he has to say is inaccurate and misleading. Then at least we may understand more about why, if the low fat, high carbohydrate diet recommended by health professionals over the last 40 years is the way to go, population rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer have skyrocketed in the same time period. Food for thought.

The other person I’m taking a stand for is Sarah Wilson. I read an article this week in the Sydney Morning Herald about two nutritionists releasing a book in direct response to her I Quit Sugar programme – and how it effectively ruined their lives. Interesting, I thought. If you’ve read my blog then you’ll know that Sarah Wilson’s book was one of the catalysts for me taking a hard look at my own habits around food and food choices. I can’t imagine why these two people would have to ‘claw their way back to health’ after following an eight week programme designed to reduce your reliance on sugar.  In a nutshell, the programme looks like this:

  • Week 1: pare back a little
  • Week 2: Eat more fat
  • Week 3: Quit
  • Week 4: detox – and deal with it
  • Week 5: get creative with food/time/habits
  • Week 6: add some sweeteness back in, and see how you go
  • Week 7: dealing with relapses
  • Week 8: refining and moving on

Not quite the extreme approach to cutting out sugar that is suggested by the two authors. A friend of mine (out of curiousity) bought the book and passed it on to me. I skim read the book and, surprisingly while the author is described as having a philosophy based on in clinical research and human physiology, it’s not even backed up on actual science. For example, the assertion that sugar is an essential nutrient should send alarm bells ringing immediately. It’s well accepted that, in fact, that is not the case. (I’m not saying that whole food carbohydrates aren’t a source of important nutrients and fibre that we require and can thrive on – just that, they are not considered essential in the same way fat and proteins are.)

Really, you only need to read the introduction of the book to figure out that the authors didn’t just quit sugar. In fact, it seems they quit food entirely. Both talk about how they were constantly craving sugar, despite professing a diet rich in protein and good quality fats. Anyone who has reduced sugar in their diet will know immediately that cravings for sugar are a direct sign missing some serious calories, not that they were lacking sugar.  Further, the dietary habits of the authors prior to re-introducing sugar to their diet have ‘disordered eating’ all over them. The consumption of stevia-sweetened green smoothies and brussel sprouts for dessert is not something that I’ve ever seen mentioned in the I Quit Sugar book, so I’m not sure why they are trying to blame the programme that has helped thousands of people quit their sugar addiction.

In a nutshell, this is a blatant cashing in on the I Quit Sugar programme, and a lazy one at that. I’m embarrassed for the authors of it actually. Do not go and buy this book. You can borrow the one I have if you’re interested. And check out the post from Christine Cronau on why it isn’t worth the paper it will be published on.


On a lighter note, I popped into Farro Fresh this morning and the creator’s of Clean Paleo cereal were doing taste tests. I had a sample, and a chat to them and they said the cereal was going to be stocked in Farro across Auckland and at Wilder and Hunt in St Heliers (the new Paleo café that has just opened) – which is awesome for those people who live in Auckland! Now it’s not cheap – $17.99 for a 500g bag, so it’s not going to suit every body’s budget; however for those who might currently be making their own paleo-style muesli, the cost differential between that and buying a pre-made one might not be so bad – and could be particularly good if you’re travelling and are after something quick for breakfast. Check out their facebook page for more information.

In celebration, then, of all companies and people who are making us think twice about what we are putting into our mouths, here’s a lovely idea for lunch from Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar cookbook – a combination of a couple of snack ideas and made into lunch. Courgette fritters topped with haloumi and apple.


*I’m just charismatic, so.. not an ‘academic’ in the true sense of the word

9 thoughts on “In defence of Sarah Wilson (and Grant)

  1. Great article Mikki. It’s incredible how many enthusiasts there are out there now, who, through their passion for knowledge and the truth, have been able to act on it, thanks to the incredible amount of information available via 21st Century media. These ‘hobby nutritionists’ are driving more and better research, they are forcing doctors, dietitians, and other health professionals to justify their prescriptions, and the tide is slowly changing!

  2. Great post. I am excited that someone has finally looked at the ‘Don’t Quit Sugar’ book, thanks for including a bit of a review. When I read the author’s claim that quitting sugar caused hair loss and irregular menstrual cycles I immediately felt that she/they must have taken to cutting out more than just sugar.

    I agree with you that it’s probably a cash grab, or it’s funded by the sugar industry. I think they are freaking out a bit about all the ‘negative press’ they’re getting lately, and planting seeds of doubt about the benefits of quitting sugar is definitely in their best interests 🙂

    • Nicole, thank you 🙂 It really is a hot topic right now and riles me up how people dismiss Sarah W, David G, Gary T and the likes for taking an interest in this because they are not ‘qualified’. Whatever. Journalists need to have the interpretative and investigative skills to research information and I think nutritionists and dietitians get precious about their ‘turf’ – which is what i initially thought the book ‘didn’t quit sugar’ was all about. Then when I saw it I almost couldn’t believe it. I wish I had more space in my blog to give it a line by line review of how terrible it is. Worse is that, actually, a lot of the foods they suggest are exactly as you would find in a book like Sarah’s, or in a paleo-style book… with the addition of juice?! Shameless.

  3. Great article on Grant. From the day I saw his brief news item on low carb high fat on tv3 I was fascinated and confused at the same time. Years of promoting high carb low fat from places like the heart foundation left me with a totally opposing view to Grants so what to do? Turn myself into a science experiment, no carbs and lots of good fat for about 3 months now results? Lost weight, improved my cholesterol, have way more energy and I can go for hours without feeling hungry or wanting to snack. I’m no scientist but this change of diet is having a very positive impact on my body. I just wish the guy or girl slapping the heart tick on the bag of pams oven potato fries or white rice would personally try lchf for 3 months and maybe start rethinking nutritional advice which to date just hasn’t been working. Thanks Mikki

    • Nicely put Andrew – it really is about nutrient quality of the diet isn’t it? I’m glad that you have seen really positive results from the changes you have made. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Does your hair fall out when you quit sugar? | Sarah Wilson

  5. I think the issue here is the comment “and the skills to critique information,” Sarah regularly defers to science which she misquotes or misrepresents (and in those cases where she just parrots what David Gillespie says, it is the same). Also any study/article that doesn’t support the core message is often ignored or a cheap shot to dismiss the author (rarely discussing the actual content) about industry associations is offered.

    It is one thing to say that you have done something and found it worked for you and a bunch of others that you have recommended it to, it is quite another to claim that it is backed by hard science or that you’ve read ‘all the research’. Worse still instead of respecting the view others others (with greater levels of expertise and knowledge) or acknowledging that all of the evidence doesn’t support their position, they then suggest that people who oppose have some kind of agenda or are being ‘paid’ to oppose these views!

    Only recently she wrote

    ” 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 dieticians, draw on is outdated very quickly. It’s also clouded by vested interest (with nutritionists and dieticians being paid by the sugar industry to keep on side). I’ve touched on this here (Are Nutritionists lying to us)

    and earlier this year

    “I can pretty much name all such experts and dieticians who do the hell-bent media slam…they’re the same names wheeled out over and over…I’m guessing they stick their hands up for the gig…and all of them have sugar interest somewhere in the vault.”

    The ignorance/arrogance that leads someone to suggests that the only reason professionals would disagree is because they aren’t up to date or have ulterior motives (same line spouted by Gillespie) is where much of the objection lies (although it may not be noted well in a 140 character tweet!)

    David Driscoll

    • Hi David, thanks for your thoughts. I think we can all agree that the information Sarah delivers as part of her I Quit Sugar programme is in no way promoting the approach to eating (or not) food as implied by the nutritionists who are publishing the book I Didn’t Quit Sugar. Which was the main point of my musings on the subject. Thanks, 🙂

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