Chronic Disease 3, Sugar & Carbohydrates in the Body

This video shows how sugar inside the body can cause rerri diseases.

Often people do not realize that plain foods like bread, damba and noodles also cause disease because they break down into sugar in our gut.

To understand this, we explore the meaning of “carbohydrate.”

Sugar in our food can cause several rerri diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease requiring dialysis.

But it must be understood that sugar in the body does not just come from sweet foods, it is found in all Murnyaŋ’ natha carbohydrate foods, whether it is savoury, plain or sweet. Balanda call all these types of sugar carbohydrates. This is the stuff in Murnyaŋ’ ŋatha (plant or carbohydrate foods) that bira’yun gives us a burst of energy when we eat it.

Some carbohydrate foods like bread or flour are mostly just carbohydrates, without much else, very little nutrients and fibre. These foods provide energy but do not support the body’s growth or healing. Balanda packet and preserved carbohydrate foods often do not have the nutrients that will look after our bodies. We give some examples of these kinds of foods.

Yolngu carbohydrate foods have lots of nutrients that support and care for the body. These foods are nutritious and have lots of fibre.

The concept of fibre in vegetable foods is explained.

But why do we use the word Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates in the gut are broken down into fluids containing small pieces, which are sweet sugars with special names like glucose and fructose and sucrose. So carbohydrates give the same energy as sweet foods like honey, sugar, or fruit.

So even plain foods like flour, potatoes, pasta or rice give the same energy as sweet sugars. This is because these foods are broken into little pieces that are the same as these sweet sugars before going into the blood.

When we eat foods like damba or bread, it becomes glucose in our gut and gives the same energy. Although we get that energy slower than from sweet foods because it has to be broken down. This glucose in the blood is what is measured when our blood sugar levels are checked.

We then explore what happens to this sugar in the blood. The pancreas uses a ngamakulingu special message-carrying wiyika fluid called insulin to tell the body to take this sugar out of the blood.

Sugar is a madakarritj aggressive substance, it carries a lot of ganydjarr energy. High levels of sugar in the blood can be like an acid and cause damage. Traditional foods don’t contain a lot of sugar or are eaten for a short season, and lots of traditional carbohydrate foods have lots of fibre which slows down how fast its breaks down in the gut.

We discuss the Yolŋu traditional ways of eating. Yolngu foods are high in carbohydrates and were not eaten all the time like today. Today processed foods and drinks have lots of carbohydrates and are consumed continuously.

So how does eating too much carbohydrate cause disease?

We look at what happens when we eat a lot of these Balanda packet and preserved foods. This creates high levels of sugar in the blood, which damages capillaries, causing problems in the eyes, kidneys, brain, heart and elsewhere. We give some examples, including the damage to the eyes and feet when people get diabetes.

This video talks about plain carbohydrate murnyaŋ’ foods. But worse problems are caused by sweet foods, and this is the subject of the next video we will make.

Cultural safety note: On the advice of our Yolngu cultural advisory team, there are no images of diseased Yolngu and a few dark people in this video. Yolngu want access to knowledge, not to be re-traumatised while watching an information video.


The traditional worldview of Yolŋu means they want in-depth, science-based information in order to understand any new topic. What Yolŋu call the “dhuḏi-dhäwu” – the deep true story. This full series of videos attempts to answer some of their questions from a Yolŋu worldview using their linguistic construction of knowledge.