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Rating Low-Carb Diets for Seniors

Sugarbusters for Seniors

This diet book has become a virtual classic among calorie counters, especially those who believe that sugar is to blame for their weight problems. The message of the book is: Sugar makes you fat; only by avoiding it, as well as foods that cause blood sugar to rise, can you lose weight and keep it off.

Quick Take

  • Based on the belief that foods with high glycemic indexes stimulate the overproduction of insulin, which results in excess fat storage
  • Recommends lots of unprocessed, whole foods
  • Eliminates sugar and foods high in sugar

This Diet Is Best For

Anyone who wants to cut back on their intake of processed foods and eat more phytonutrient-rich plant foods

Who Should Not Try This Diet

No one, although if you exercise heavily it might not provide enough quick energy from simple carbohydrates. Anyone with diabetes whose diet has been very different from SugarBusters! should check with their doctor first.

The Premise

The diet doesn't restrict your total carbohydrate intake, but it forbids or severely restricts the intake of certain carbohydrate foods such as refined sugar, honey, watermelon, rice, pasta, and corn.

SugarBusters! also includes a little bit of food-combining theory in the mix. For instance, the authors recommend that you eat fruits by themselves, not in combination with other carbohydrates.

You don't need to count calories, weigh foods, or calculate grams of carbohydrates on this plan, but you are expected to balance the portions on your plate and "eyeball" your portion sizes. Not only does the diet promise to help you lose weight, it also says it can help control diabetes and prevent heart disease.

The Rationale

Some experts believe that much of the country's problems with weight stem from the fact that we eat too many sugary foods. Too much sugar, they say, causes the body to overproduce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and fat storage. It's not the excess calories we eat that are the problem, they say, it's the types of foods we eat and how we eat them.

The authors of the SugarBusters! diet go so far as to claim that fats are not necessarily the cause of weight gain. The theory is that by balancing the insulin-glucagon relationship in the body (insulin is a hormone that lowers blood sugar when it gets too high, and glucagon is a hormone that raises blood sugar when it goes too low), you'll lose body fat regardless of your calorie intake. In fact, the book says that "most of our body fat comes from ingested sugar, not fat."

Eating on Sugarbusters for Seniors

The SugarBusters! diet is based on low glycemic-index carbohydrates (those that have the least effect on blood sugar levels), including high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; lean meats; and fats.

The book has several charts showing the glycemic index of foods, as well as lists of acceptable foods and foods to avoid. The lower a food's glycemic index, the less effect it has on blood sugar levels and the better it is for weight loss, according to the SugarBusters! theory.

The book provides two weeks of sample menus; about a quarter of the book is devoted to recipes. Although you don't have to closely track carbohydrate intake, by avoiding refined sugar and processed grains, you'll likely eat far fewer carbohydrates than you do now.

What the Experts Say

This is an area of controversy. Proponents of the insulin theory say that eating a diet full of high glycemic-index foods causes the body to overproduce insulin, prevents the breakdown of fat, and encourages fat storage. Opponents believe that obesity causes insulin resistance, in which larger and larger amounts of insulin are pumped into the blood in an effort to lower blood sugar.

Insulin-theory proponents, on the other hand, say that overproduction of insulin is the cause, rather than the effect, of weight gain. There's research to back up both points of view. Still, most experts are sticking with the current opinion that obesity aggravates insulin production, not the other way around.

According to Hope Warshaw, MSc., R.D., a certified diabetes educator and author of Diabetes and Meal Planning Made Easy, eating too much of any kind of carbohydrate can cause too much insulin to be produced, and it can result in weight gain because of the extra calories. The general recommendation today is to tightly control the number of carbohydrate grams you eat rather than worry about the source of those carbohydrates.

If you set aside some unproven explanations as to why the diet works, SugarBusters! offers up a healthful diet plan that encourages eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while avoiding junk foods and sweet desserts.

Because insulin resistance becomes more common with age and increases your risk of heart disease, following the diet should help improve your blood sugar regulation and insulin levels as well as reduce your heart disease risk.

However, activity is all but dismissed as a waste of time in the battle of the bulge, something that research strongly contradicts. Very little dairy is included in the SugarBusters! diet plan, so it's likely to be low in calcium and vitamin D -- not good for keeping your bones strong as you get older. But a multivitamin plus a calcium supplement should be more than enough to make up the difference.

Calorie quota: Calories aren't counted. But if you follow the diet, your calorie intake will be low and you'll lose weight while shifting to a more healthful eating plan.

Yes: Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

No: Sugar and sugar-rich foods, desserts, most processed foods, and all foods with a high glycemic index, including rice, potatoes, beets, carrots, and corn

Other similar diets: The Carbohydrate Addict's Lifespan Program

To learn more about senior health, see:


Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.