For those of you who don’t pay attention to these things, Ellen Degeneres, famed comedienne, film actress, voice of the animated Dory in Finding Nemo and host of the eponymously named Ellen, the Ellen Show and, currently, the Ellen Degeneres Show, has sworn off sugar.
Ellen was already a vegan, motivated to become one mostly by animal-cruelty issues. The decision to ban sugar seems motivated by a search for more energy as she took on a second job as a judge on American Idol.
Since she was already a vegan, it is not obvious that giving up sugar will cause Ellen to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. However the produce industry is blessed with many who can seize a marketing opportunity when they see it — prominent among them is Dan’l Mackey Almy of DMA Solutions.
Dan’l is the “ring leader” of an effort called “Fresh for Ellen,” which is kind of a “fan club” supporting Ellen’s sugar-free journey and suggesting that she eat a lot more fresh fruit to get sweetness in her life.
Among other things, Dan’l promises that the group will give each of Ellen’s audience members a fresh fruit basket and will donate 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to the charity or cause of Ellen’s choice each time Ellen features and talks about a fruit on her show. Here is the video Dan’l used to try and entice Ellen into responding:
So far Dan’l hasn’t gotten an on-air response from Ellen. There also wasn’t an on-air response to a promise to donate 5,000 pounds of fresh produce if on her Valentine’s Day show Ellen would hold up a piece of fruit and say “I love the sweet, juicy flavor of XXXX”.
Still, Ellen has a lot of air time to fill and, one day, she might just turn to Dan’l, so the effort is all upside for Dan’l and the industry with no downside.
We confess, though, that we find Ellen’s effort both incoherent and unscientific. It is incoherent because it is not even clear to us what, precisely, Ellen has decided to give up. Initially she indicated that this is a big sacrifice because “everything” contains sugar and she was going to give it all up, specifically mentioning wine and vodka.
This left us perplexed. Neither sugar cane nor sugar beets are typically used in either the production of vodka or wine. Although vodka can be made from lots of things — Ciroc is made from grapes — most commercial vodkas, such as Absolut and Gray Goose are made from wheat, fermented with yeast and distilled down to virtually pure ethanol, which is then diluted with water.
Although sometimes winemakers will resort to chaptalization — the adding of some sugar to grape juice to get the alcohol levels up during the fermentation process — it is a last resort and not likely to have happened on any wine Ellen is going to be drinking.
Of course there are sugars in alcoholic beverages. With enzymatic action, yeast converts sugars into CO2 and alcohol — this is the basis of wine-making. But the sugars are not from sugar cane. If Ellen’s rule is to not eat anything with any kind of sugar, she will be very hungry.
In fact, very quickly, Ellen began to backtrack and in a way that made us question the scientific sensibility of her program.
By day two, she was declaring that it is OK to put Agave nectar in coffee and that she is “all for” what she calls “natural sweeteners.” Yet sugar cane and sugar beets are every bit as natural as the various species of agave.
In fact, the reason Ellen likes agave nectar is because it is sugar; it is mostly fructose and glucose. Table sugar is sucrose, which can be split into its two component sugars, fructose and glucose.
People, including Ellen, can prefer one source of sugar to another, and some types are sweeter than others and that might effect how much one consumes but, basically, there is simply zero evidence that anyone’s health will be improved by putting 25 calories of agave nectar in their coffee as opposed to 25 calories of sugar.
Obviously many were confused by Ellen’s declarations because she pretty quickly felt the need to announce that, yes, she was still eating fruits and vegetables and that she meant to say she was giving up “cake” — and would try to get a nutritionist on the show because she didn’t want to be “telling people the wrong thing to do.” A thought you would have thought might have crossed her mind before she went on national television announcing this plan.
Maybe the industry will luck out, and Ellen will call Dan’l to be on her program. If she does, I hope she will bring Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, who not only serves as the President of the Produce for Better Health Foundation but also is a registered dietician with a doctorate in food and nutrition science.
She could explain the many good reasons for eating whole foods such as fruits and vegetables without engaging in pseudo-scientific romanticism regarding all things “natural.”
Ellen can provide a lot of publicity; the industry should work with her, but we shouldn’t be seen as endorsing nutritional advice that has no basis in science.