Sugar: The Bitter Truth

We’re coming up on the #2 candy event of the year – Easter (Halloween is #1) – and consumers are expected to buy more than 120 million pounds of candy for the holiday. Nielsen’s research shows that consumers are sweeter on chocolate candy; approximately 70% of US candy dollars are spent on chocolate during Easter week, that represents about 71 million pounds of chocolate candy.

What better time to hear from Dr. Robert Lustig as he explains why sugar is a “chronic toxin” – a poison that will make you sick if you eat it for long enough? He blames it for everything from cancer to heart disease. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.

Lustig’s argument, however, is not about the consumption of empty calories – and biochemists have made the same case previously, though not so publicly. It is that sugar has unique characteristics, specifically in the way the human body metabolizes the fructose in it, that may make it singularly harmful, at least if consumed in sufficient quantities.

The phrase Lustig uses when he describes this concept is “isocaloric but not isometabolic.” This means we can eat 100 calories of glucose (from a potato or bread or other starch) or 100 calories of sugar (half glucose and half fructose), and they will be metabolized differently and have a different effect on the body. The calories are the same, but the metabolic consequences are quite different.

Robert H. Lustig, MD, is University of California – San Francisco (UCSF) Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.

Read the New York Times article: Is Sugar Toxic? (May require registration and payment.)

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