Is Sugar Lethal?

Sugar is not to blame for poor health - it's lifestyle.

There was a recent 60 Minutes broadcast about sugar being toxic.  The premise of the story, relied on the theory of an endocrinologist in San Francisco, Dr. Robert Lustig.  His theory is not new, and is based upon his practice and research.  However, other obesity experts do not agree, nor do I – about sugar being the underlying toxin in our environment.  By the way, eating sugar doesn't cause Type 2 diabetes - obesity does.

The fact is, we as a nation have been eating more calories and expending less.  It’s the simple law of physics: Energy in – Energy Out.  Overweight and obesity are caused by an accumulation of lifestyle habits and behaviors – not the ingredient du jour.

The challenge with demonizing the word “sugar” in this discussion – is that many believe that sugar (aka carbohydrate) is BAD… which would include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and even milk products.  The foods left to consume would be meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and oil.  Recent research suggests eating less beef (not necessarily eliminating it), would increase longevity.   Note, non-nutritive sweeteners are not the answer (http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/08/16/skinny-on-sweeteners/).

Blood sugar is called blood glucose.  It is not table sugar.  All foods are made up of one of three macronutrients: amino acids (protein), fatty acids or carbohydrates.  Regardless of the origin of carbohydrates, once they are absorbed from the small intestine, they are transported to the liver, and sent out to the body as glucose.  Glucose is the master fuel for the body and brain.  Just ask any endurance athlete if they load up on protein or fat to sustain their workouts.

Serving sizes are not the same as portion sizes.  The portions listed on packages are supposed to be standardized by the food type (i.e. – all beverage are eight fluid ounces) in order to show the required Nutrition Fact panel.  Some packages reflect the calorie of one package (like a 12 ounce soda can being one can versus 1.5 servings per container).  The grams of sugar on a food label do not distinguish added sugars from naturally occurring carbohydrates – which is why this is so misleading to rely upon.

The solution is to CHOOSE foods that are closer to the way they are found in nature.  It is okay if you eat food out of a package (after all, bread and pasta come out of package).  Canned and frozen vegetables are examples of “packaged” plant foods that can be affordable and nutritious.  Too many food “rules” will leave you and your family with very little left to consume – unless you live on a farm and grow it all yourself.

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Felicia Stoler April 16, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Obesity does cause Type 2 Diabetes - ask any obesity researcher... it also accelerates heart disease. Let's stop "sugar coating" the causes and work towards action & solution. Unfortunately, many people want a pill to fix the problem or blame one food/ingredient (in this case sugar. People go "on" a diet to lose weight and then resume their old habits - so weight creeps back b/c unfortunately, they are not commited to lifestyle changes - and unfortunately, our health care system does not support lifestyle behavior interventions. Understand, this is a blog - not a book. I write for FoxNews.com as well - always limited space to cover a subject :)
Don Weisman April 16, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I'm afraid the blogger failed to fully listen to what the various researchers on the 60 Minutes report actually shared. Much of the new research found that not only does excessive sugar consumption contribute to obesity, but that sugar itself contributes directly to cancer and cardiovascular diseases, with or without the presence of obesity. Go back and watch the report again online.
Martin B. Brilliant April 17, 2012 at 12:38 AM
"Ask any obesity researcher" and you will get different answers from different researchers. As Dr. John Ioannidis has noted, half of all published medical research is wrong. Obesity can cause type 2 diabetes, but doesn't always, and there must be other causes, because some people with diabetes aren't obese. Let's stop "sugar coating" the research. We don't know exactly what causes type 2 diabetes. It's a complex problem, and it's a mistake to blame any one cause (sugar, obesity, or whatever) and ignore the others. Sugar is certainly part of the problem, if only because some obese people got that way by consuming too much sugar. But neither obesity, nor sugar, nor fat, nor red meat, nor inactivity can be identified as the sole cause of any disease.
Felicia Stoler April 17, 2012 at 01:33 AM
First of all, just because it was on 60 Minutes does not make it 100% true, accurate, or unbiased (oh and edited to tell a story with an angle for ratings?) Type 2 DM is due to insulin resistance. When I began graduate school in the late 90's - it was childhood and adult onset diabetes. When kids started to develop insulin resistance, the medical and scientific community changed it to Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. What has changed... hmm, growing rates of obesity. Epidemiological reseach looks for correlations - cause and effect. The blogger didn't fail to listen - the blogger is educated and can interpret the data and is not sucked into the hype. Sorry folks - I work in the field - I don't just write about it. I attend scientific conferences regularly and hear the same things over and over again. When a newly diagnosed diabetic calls my office for an appointment, 100% of the time, I ask them if they are overweight - they always say "yes". You can wait until professional associations take 5-10 years to publish updated position statements on health to change your opinion. It is naive to demonize sugar and "make excuses" for poor food choices. Want to see what people really eat? Input and intrepret a few thousand individual's food journals - then tell me what you think. Better yet - go to graduate school , get a science degree and then tell me if sugar is the demon. Dr David Katz from Yale disagrees. BTW, Dr. Lustig's article was an OPINION published in Nature.
Elizabeth February 02, 2013 at 10:42 PM
As at least one commenter mentioned, this article has been oversimplified. If I'm not mistaken, Lustig refers to refined sugar as the problem, not "fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and even milk products". His new book ('Fat Chance...') explains his theory -- entirely based on scientific facts -- in more detail. Also I disagree with your statement, "Too many food “rules” will leave you and your family with very little left to consume – unless you live on a farm and grow it all yourself". I've made the decision with my family to eat clean. We rarely consume anything out of a package, which has pushed us to become creative with meal planning. We actually have MORE choices because we cook from scratch. And regarding canned foods and frozen vegetables? You fail to realize that many times they have added sodium and/or other preservatives.


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