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New Gary Taubes Article: "Is Sugar Toxic?"

NY Times website already has it up today even though it's slated for the Sunday Magazine. nothing new for those of us who have read his books, but thought i'd share anyway...


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  1. So, just like alcohol, sugar can be consumed in moderation without horrible consequences. Who woulda thunk!

    1. what's the story with taubes?

      either way the article is pretty troubling

      1. I read this with interest, and what I came away with was "sugar is bad if you have too much of it, but no one knows how much is too much." So. Not really that helpful.

        1. I came away from reading the article with different takeaways than linguafood and small h. Taubes seems to me to be saying that we don't know if consuming sugar in any amount is OK. And I do think that knowing about the probable sugar-cancer correlation is enlightening. Surely we would want a warning about a possibly toxic food ingredient, even if it might be OK to consume in small amounts.

          9 Replies
          1. re: sueatmo

            Which is a bit curious considering that humans have been eating sugar for 5000 years. Admittedly there people who claim that our diet has gone downhill since our ancestors stopped gathering and started growing grains. 'OK' in this context is a vague concept. Humans have lived to a hundred while eating sugar in 'normal' amounts. Others develop sugar related diseases like diabetes.

            1. re: paulj

              I agree that some can eat sugar in large amounts with no discernible problems. I also suspect that once someone researches a problem, he or she sees everything through the lens of that particular problem. Sort of like the saying about the man with a hammer.

              However, it is obvious that many of us who eat Western diets have obesity and diabetes. This problem has been around for a long time (I had obese grandparents, one of whom had diabetes.) but seems to be worse than before. The scary thing is the occurrence of type II diabetes in a younger population. So, something bad is going on in our diet, exercise patterns. and/or some other as yet unidentified thing.

              In terms of eating sugar for 5000 years, I'd have to take issue with your statement in part. I suppose that our ancient ancestors ate berries, small stone fruits and the occasional wild honey find, but their diets and the diets of subsequent generations until the 19th century were largely not sweet. Which of course made the introduction of refined sugar all the more sweet! (Pun intended.)

              I doubt very much that our present day diet of refined carbohydrates, sweet fruits and sweetened processed foods resembles in almost any respect, the diet of our remote ancestors, or even our ancestors of 200 years ago. The fact that remote peoples do not have Western diseases until they begin eating Western diets also illustrates the problem.

              You don't have to buy all of the generalizations to understand that the kernel of truth is this--too much sugar in our diets is not good for us. What you or I decide to do with that understanding is a personal decision.

              1. re: sueatmo

                "Crystallized sugar was reported 5,000 years ago in the Indus Valley Civilization"

                Honey was an important sweetener in European Middle Ages. Beeswax was the preferred material for candles (tallow is not nearly as nice). They like mead, though it wasn't as ubiquitous as ale. British and French colonization of the West Indies was based on sugar cane, as was the triangle of trade with the North American colonies.

                No doubt consumption of sugar (and similar glucose and fructose mixes) has risen in the last century or two.

                correction - the Wiki article on sugar, places the crystalized sugar in India in the 5th century AD .

                " The English word "sugar" originates from the Arabic word سكر sukkar, itself derived from Sanskrit शर्करा sharkara. ". The Spanish azucar retains the Arabic article.

                1. re: paulj

                  I been consulting my hazy memory, and I believe that the refining of sugar cane dates to the 18th century. The refining of another sweetener, sorghum, might predate it. American Indians were certainly producing some maple sugar earlier. So, while I agree that sugar has been around for a long, long while, I am positive it did not make up the large portion of most of the population's diet until recently. And that is the problem. Recently type ii diabetes has skyrocketed.

                  Of course humans evolved to enjoy sweet flavors. This preference is supposed to have saved lives, as toxins usually taste bitter. I totally get this. But this isn't any comparison to how we eat now as a culture.

                  I don't understand the quibble you have with this. All you have to do consult your own waistline OR, if you are lucky, the waistlines of your acquaintances and passers by. You can see the problem. If you know people who have diabetes and some of its complications, you can understand the difficulties that disease can bring. Do you imagine that this situation is happenstance?

                  I don't believe that sugar is the only culprit, by the way. I have become convinced that, for people like me, eating a much lower carb diet is best for our health. For years I tried to eat low fat, but I didn't maintain a lower weight doing this. Years of overeating carbs, some of it in the form of sugar, has given me prediabetes. I don't think I am unique.

                  1. re: sueatmo

                    Efficient refining, in the sense of producing a pure white substance is relatively recent (last couple of centuries), but production of a hard raw brown sugar is as low tech as production of maple syrup. Basically squeeze the juice out of the cane, and boil it down. That kind of sugar has the kind of nutrients we associate with molasses, but it is still a highly concentrated from of sucrose.

              2. re: paulj

                I'm sure that humans have not been eating sugar in the same quantities for 5000 years. And you offer no definition of 'normal' nor documentation on the diets of centarians.

                1. re: GH1618

                  It's been a year since I wrote that, but I think I was responding to " we don't know if consuming sugar in any amount is OK", arguing that sugar (and equivalents) has been part of the human diet for a long time. So 'some amount' is ok, at least as ok as any other part of human diets. Some people, now and in the past, clearly do eat too much for their own good, but that doesn't mean that everyone does.

                  I doubt if any one dietary factor determines the longevity of people, whether it be whole grains, yogurt, not alcohol, or no sugar.

                  At the current level of knowledge, 'excessive amounts of sugar' is just as poorly defined as 'normal amounts'.

                  1. re: paulj

                    I noticed after posting that it was old. Other posts in this thread are new as a result of someone restarting it in light of the recent 60 Minutes segment on the subject.

                    But in any case, you are mistaken. The consumption of significant amounts of fructose, either in the form of refined sucrose or HFCS, is a modern phenomenon, as Dr. Lustig has documented.

                    1. re: paulj

                      It was old, but I think what sparked interest in this again was the 60 Minutes show and the fact that the bulk of the interview/You Tube/show was just summarized on Digg yesterday.
                      Interesting topic!

                1. re: pitterpatter

                  It is actually a good rebuttal, if overlong in the beginning. I do want to point out that for some of us, sugar is indeed evil. It does evil things to our bodies. For others, not so or not so much. If you or members of your family tend toward overweight and/or obesity, sugar as is normally consumed in our processed food culture, is not your friend. I find it interesting to know that it might also contribute to cancer.

                  I also feel, for what it is worth, that too much sweetness in our foods in general has corrupted our taste, as in what most people expect food to taste like. But this is a personal conviction, and I wouldn't insist too hard if others felt the opposite way.

                  1. re: pitterpatter

                    That wasn't a rebuttal, it was the musings of a cluttered and meandering mind, not to mention flat out dishonest:

                    "The notion that sugar is evil and the only dietary consideration that matters is, in a word, humbug."

                    It sure is. Thing is, neither Taubes nor Lustig have said that sugar is the only dietary consideration that matters. Dishonest and non credible argument known as the Straw Man Fallacy.

                    "Sugar, concentrated into the nectar of flowers, fuels the flight of hummingbirds. It is, in fact, the sole food source of these marvels of both aviation, and metabolic intensity. How evil can hummingbird fuel be?"

                    Just in case you thought Katz might have anything sensible to say... the comments below the article are illuminating, many of them.

                    1. re: mcf

                      I am mistrustful of this guy, but I thought he did a decent job of showing another viewpoint. Too much stuff at the first of the article though.

                      I really don't understand why our own observations, the experiences of family, friends and acquaintances, and our personal experiences don't lead us to believe that Americans are consuming too much sugar, and too many simple carbs. The evidence is right before our eyes.

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        I don't think he is arguing that we (collectively) are eating the right amount of sugars. Rather we should avoid simplistically blaming one substance for the ills of society.

                        The final paragraph is:
                        "As dietary guidance, the vilification of one nutrient at a time has proven as flighty as hummingbirds, propelling us from one version of humbug to another. My advice is to grasp firmly your common sense, and stay grounded."

                        1. re: paulj

                          He was just ranting, there was nothing of use, IMO, in the Katz article. Taubes is nothing if not assiduously researched and completely objective. I'd run, rather than walk, from any doctor who spends his time defending added dietary sugars.

                          1. re: mcf

                            Here's a slightly earlier blog on ONANT 'one nutrient at a time' falacy.

                            He isn't defending excess sugar. He is advocating an overall healthy diet.

                          2. re: paulj

                            Refresh my memory. Is Katz the guy that has written that eating artificial sweeteners affects out metabolism the same as eating sugar?

                            My common sense tells me that sugar and simple carbs are bad for many people. My observations confirm this.

                            1. re: sueatmo

                              is Katz 2004 article on Splenda. He does not claim it affects our metabolism the same as sugar. But it may feed our addiction for sweet things in the same way. As such he says it is no panacea.

                              1. re: paulj

                                He is correct. Splenda is not a panacea. The article I read was in 2010, so it must have been a different Huffington diet doc.

                                I do use Splenda, but I don't really like it. Except in DaVinci s-f syrups. In those, Splenda is divine.

                            2. re: paulj

                              "I don't think he is arguing that we (collectively) are eating the right amount of sugars. Rather we should avoid simplistically blaming one substance for the ills of society."
                              It would be a very superficial reading of Taubes' article to interpret it as simplistic or as "blaming [sugar] for all the ills of society." Taubes' article takes pains to note that there is strong evidence that dietary fat intake plays an important role in cardiovascular disease; that much of the research into the subject is in its infancy; that the link to cancer is speculative. Among various other shades of gray fully evident upon a close reading of Taubes' article.

                              This rebuttal was more addressed to the title of Taubes' article than the substance of it (OK - really this is more of a rebuttal of a youtube video of Dr. Lustig, which I have not yet fully watched). The author makes no real substantive points until he's more than halfway through the article, and then doesn't address any of the stronger or more interesting points in the article. His main sticking point where he really thinks he disagrees with the article - that eating fruit, despite its fructose, is a fine part of a healthy diet - would probably not be disputed by Gary Taubes or Dr. Lustig.

                              Most of this rebuttal was just an off-topic rant, and even once it got to the point, it didn't say much.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                When someone takes many paragraphs to talk about background stuff before getting to his main point, red flags go up in my mind. I think you are right--there isn't much of a main point.

                                However, it was a sort of decent summary of why he disagrees. Most of us probably are in at least partial agreement with him, As you said, the cancer link is still unproven.

                                Until proven wrong, I tend to trust Taubes. (You never know about this sort of thing, unless you have true knowledge of the field. I remember trusting Adele Davis many decades ago, and then learning that she fudged a great deal of the supporting research she cited.)

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  Controversy is good. I have my own opinions about both of these guys, but I do know this: I hate sugar. I am a former pastry chef who always disliked sugar, and now I dislike it even more. This is why I weigh the same as when I was in college 40 years ago. I have friends who have a huge problem with sugar, and are constantly on a "diet." I have never been on a "diet' in my entire life. Yes, I know I am lucky, but I weep with my friends who are simply addicted to sugar, an addiction I will never fully understand, but I know it is real for them, and it is hard beyond reason to get them off of this powerful substance.

                                  1. re: pitterpatter

                                    You can be addicted to any simple carb. Sugar is awfully addicting. I've read descriptions of the brain on sugar. Apparently it is similar to the brain on drugs.

                                    If you don't have that problem, then yes, you are lucky. However a little sweetness is a very enjoyable thing. So, there is good and bad in everything.

                                    1. re: sueatmo

                                      Food in general is addicting. A total withdrawal can be painful, even fatal (HT to Katz).

                        2. This is a surprisingly convincing and non-superficial treatment of a dietary health issue by the standards of most mass media. Thanks for posting it.

                          I do wish though that Taubes hadn't chosen a slightly misleading title, as that encourages knee-jerk responses.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            As a rule, the author does not choose the title, something Taubes lamented about his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. I'm pretty sure the newspaper and book publishers do the titling as they do with the rest of the paper.

                            1. re: mcf

                              Good point. Though really I don't care who came up with it - I just wanted to bitch about the title.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                ha! bitch away - we've all indulged on occasion :)

                            2. The trouble Taubes has is that he writes exhaustive stuff and people are more used to little nuggets ("The Six Superfoods You Need Today!").

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: redfish62

                                I'd like to see a lot more of this type of treatment and a lot less of the fluff.

                                (Any magazine/newspaper editors reading this thread?)

                                1. re: redfish62

                                  and unfortunately the trouble with those little "nuggets" or with writing in sound bites is that the overall message can get diluted, or even completely misinterpreted.

                                  i'm not saying they're never useful, it's just a slippery slope....and one that has resulted in the general public expecting everything to be dumbed down for them or reduced to a sentence or two so they don't have to 'bother' doing any critical thinking or spend too much time reading.

                                2. Just to bump this post up again - 60 Minutes is doing a segment on this subject:


                                  I don't smoke, I can moderate my alcohol consumption, but sugar is the monkey on my back... :(

                                  20 Replies
                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                    I'm interested to see what 60 Minutes says. Sounds like alot of speculation to sell a program/book. Despite the suggested evils of sugar (and wheat, and processed foods, and, well, just name the evil flavor of the day), humans are living longer and longer lives than their ancestors of 5000 years ago...

                                    1. re: freia

                                      Gary Taubes is not a speculative writer, more like one of the most assiduous researchers among the award winning science writers in the world today. Not only on this topic. Here's a highly illuminating talk he gave to obesity researchers at UC Berkeley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-9fyO... there are about a dozen parts.

                                      1. re: mcf

                                        Still doesn't negate the fact that humans have a life expectancy over triple that of their ancestors of 5000 years ago. One doesn't publish a book/article without the expectation of financial reward (be it through sales, promotion of one's public speaking schedule, professional recognition that brings further reward, etc.) regardless of their credentials.

                                      2. re: freia

                                        the 60 Minutes segment featured Robert Lustig, not Gary Taubes...and he wasn't doing it to sell anything. there's solid metabolic science behind his stance. (if you have 90 minutes to kill, Google his "Bitter Truth" video.)

                                        FWIW, while i don't believe sugar is the *only* element of the SAD that's detrimental to health, i do believe it's a major problem. so i'm not suggesting that Lustig or Taubes has ALL the answers, but these guys are clearly onto something.

                                        and as for modern humans living longer lives, longer doesn't necessarily = healthier or "better."

                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                          But it doesn't mean that the "good ole days" were the "good ole days" either. Kind of looking at the past with rose colored glasses. One can eat a varied diet with everything in moderation, with some activity in there and have a long productive life well into one's 80s. I personally don't believe in demonizing any food group/item/component in a general sense, and science writers do have a tendency to do this. The flavor of the day, so to speak. Just look at science writing historically as to what has been alternately vilified and held up as an ideal from decade to decade. Bottom line? We don't know as much as we think we do. Science writing and research can be fundamentally flawed. There is profit in headlines and sensationalizing things. It's simply human nature. I can't count the number of headlines that outright say "science writer/researcher/review of the literature says vitamin supplementation extends life" no, wait "shortens life" no, wait, "prevents cancer", no wait "causes cancer", no, wait...and so on. I follow three simple rules: all things in moderation (especially with respect to crap food), move a little bit, and be happy. You'll have to pry that very occasional dairy-laden and heavily sugared piece of cheesecake out of my cold, dead fingers, but I'll be in my late 80s by then (not my late 20s like my ancestors of 5000 years ago who would have passed at the ripe old age of 26, but had such a GOOD life, supperating wounds, unhealed fractures, nutritional deficiencies, and tooth decay not withstanding...)

                                          1. re: freia

                                            "There is profit in headlines and sensationalizing things."
                                            Title aside, Taubes' article isn't particularly sensationalistic. It's unusually measured and well considered for popular science journalism.

                                            Dr. Lustig's approach is a little more sensational, though that alone doesn't mean he's incorrect.

                                            Life expectancy has also improved since the introduction of the automobile. That doesn't mean that death and injury from car accidents should be of no concern.

                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                              I don't see how automobiles add to the conversation at hand but that's just me. Comparing Volvos to oranges so to speak LOL.
                                              I prefer to keep a sensible head on my shoulders, examine the literature, decide for myself, and I won't get taken in by sensational headlines or the vilification of the moment trends that we see in media these days.

                                              1. re: freia

                                                "I prefer to keep a sensible head on my shoulders, examine the literature, decide for myself, and I won't get taken in by sensational headlines or the vilification of the moment trends that we see in media these days."
                                                I prefer that approach myself. That's why it's important to evaluate the actual science behind these kinds of articles, rather than just the headlines or the profit motive (doesn't every researcher, scientist, journalist, etc, have profit as a motive? My doctor gets paid too, AFAIK) Taubes' and Lustig's research and explanations are far more compelling than average as 'vilification' trends go.

                                                ETA: for anyone interested, here is a year-old but lengthy thread discussing Dr. Lustig's argument.
                                                I encourage anyone with a little free time and a basic functional familiarity with metabolic science to take a look at Lustig's presentation on youtube. It's an hour long. Obviously, you'd have to look elsewhere for a rebuttal to or a critique of Lustig's argument, but his video is surely far more informative and substantial than a piece on 60 minutes is going to be.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  I still don't believe personally in vilification trends, no matter how reasonably presented, nor how compelling they seem to be. This is the nature of the media beast, as far as I can tell. For every compelling, reasoned and seemingly rational presentation I can find an equally reasonable, compelling and seemingly rational counter-presentation when it comes to the inevitable "carbs are good/bad" "vitamin supplementation is essential/life threatening", "sugar is evil/good", "whole grains are essential/the tool of the devil", and so on. The only reasonable and logical operating mode, so to speak, is pretty simple. Everything in moderation (especially the junk), move every day, have a happy life. The rest to me is simply sensationalistic noise.

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    I just finished watching the presentation from UCTV. This is the place to go to get a better understanding of his message. Lustig is not merely talking off the top of his head for the benefit of 60 Minutes viewers, or readers of web forums, but has presented the scientific basis of his theory before an audience of his peers. Those would refute it ought to go to that presentation and show where he has gone wrong.

                                                    1. re: GH1618

                                                      The interesting thing is that according to the presenter, the rise in sugar is a direct result of the decrease in fat in food products. That decrease in fat was a direct result of the vilification of fat in the 1980s through to 2000. To decrease fat means one increases sugar to retain taste.
                                                      Interesting how the vilification of one food group, in accordance with the science of the times, has led to significant consequences years later.
                                                      This really makes my point about unintended consequences that can result from vilification trends.

                                                      1. re: freia

                                                        Table 50—U.S. per capita caloric sweeteners estimated deliveries for domestic food and beverage use, by calendar year

                                                        In the per capita deliveries (a proxy for sugar consumption), sugar peaked around 1970 at 100 lb, making up more than 80% of the total sugars. Since the mid 1980s it's been around 66lb. Around 2000 the total was up to 140lb, with HFCS nearly as much as sugar. In the latest decade that dropped to 130lb, due to a drop HFCS.

                                                        Do doubt manufacturers (and may consumers), when reducing the fat, upped the sweeteners to product appeal. But I'm not sure that is the sole cause for the rise in sugars.

                                                        For other threads I've found USDA data on overall consumption trends, tracking grains, fats, meats, etc as well as sugars.

                                                        BBC Supersizers Go .... Fifties, claimed that calorie intake (at least in the UK) was higher in the 1950s than now, blaming modern obesity more on lower exercise levels than food choices. For example, car ownership was much lower, so people walked more to go to work, school, and shopping.

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          Dr. lustig covers the exercize explanation in his presentation.

                                            2. re: freia

                                              The point was that the advent of agriculture didn't actually lead to a healthier diet. It led to a larger, more stable supply of food, but that's not the same thing. At least in part, that is why the advent of agriculture caused an increase to population size but a decline in life expectancy.

                                              In truth, you're right that the varied and high-quality foods made readily available by agriculture AFTER the industrial revolution have contributed greatly to longer life expectancy. More so than advances in medical science? No (antibiotics were merely one example of many, btw). But significant nonetheless.

                                              But it simply doesn't follow that 'everything in moderation' is the best way to navigate what you eat when there are many options. Some foods are better for you than others. Some foods aren't good for you at all under normal circumstances (which is not to say that eating a little bit of em from time to time will kill you). Some substances are highly toxic and cannot even be ingested infrequently in small amounts. Why would an intelligent attempt to sort out what kind of diet leads to the best chances of overall health and longevity be less logical or rational than tossing your hands up and eating everything in moderation? Taken literally, the 'everything in moderation' doctrine will wind up poisoning you. Taken less literally, you'll still wind up giving equal space in your diet to foods that are not equally good for you.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                This is a case and point for looking at the macro not the micro. The rule "everything in moderation" means no excess of anything. i.e. sugar isn't inherently evil, an excess of sugar is. An excess for me is a very very small amount. It may be more for someone else but I have medical issues to contend with. Likewise protein. In moderation. For me, it is lean meats 2 - 3 times a week. I moderate my intake. Likewise whole grain carbs. I eat everything I want to in the appropriate amounts for me. I don't eliminate anything from my diet but choose to eat junk/crap with strict moderation which for me is as little as possible. I moderate my intake of those foods and I use the word "moderate" in the true dictionary sense -- to regulate and reduce my intake appropriately for me.

                                                The conceptual (or macro) issue at hand is simple: the demonization of one food/nutrient component given our lack of definitive knowledge wrt nutrition science and given our media's tendency to have "doomsday" like headlines leads to misinformation and to one jumping to conclusions. We can argue the micro POV (When did medicine become modern? What really happened in Mesopotamia? Exactly how tall WERE our ancestors 5000 years ago?) if you like but it won't change my macro/conceptual POV.
                                                I just simply disagree with the broad statement that "sugar is toxic". And I disagree with the resulting demonization of sugar as I do with any food group, component or nutrient. Moderate what you eat, exercise daily, be happy. It really is that simple.
                                                All are free to follow their own paths, but that really won't impact mine :)

                                                1. re: freia

                                                  "The rule "everything in moderation" means no excess of anything."
                                                  Don't get me wrong - there is definitely some wisdom in not over-ingesting any one particular foodstuff, regardless of how healthy current nutritional science believes it to be - as many have pointed out, science is subject to revision (which is its great strength, not a weakness), whereas a varied diet is time-tested. Of course that begs the question of what it is to 'over-ingest,' but that's another can of worms.

                                                  The problem is the flip side of that idea - that there is also wisdom in not avoiding any particular foodstuff. Not so. In the case of refined sugar specifically, there is ample historical evidence that people can live healthy lives with none at all in their diet. So if strong, compelling research starts to find that there are no real benefits of refined sugars (except in the case of starvation and maybe some specific athletic scenarios) and that even small amounts of it cause metabolic, cardiovascular, or maybe even carcinogenic damage, then the rational response is in fact to avoid it.

                                                  A comparison might be made to smoking. Having a cigarette in isolation won't kill you. But it damages your body while offering no significant health benefits. Is it a smart health decision to keep smoking the occasional cigarette just in case science changes its mind?

                                                  Another comparison might be to trans fat. Best science can tell, it's bad for you. And also, we know that you don't need it to live a long healthy life. The reasonable response is to avoid it.

                                                  "I just simply disagree with the broad statement that "sugar is toxic""
                                                  As I wrote above in this thread, I feel that statement/title is misleading, and not really representative of the arguments made by Taubes and Lustig. Lustig goes out of his way, for example, to point out that fructose-containing fruit can be considered healthy when eaten in appropriate quantities. The title is unfortunately sensationalistic, but the arguments within the article are a lot more measured.

                                            3. re: bulavinaka

                                              I listened to the 60 Minutes segment, and did not find it sensationalistic at all. The opinions of Dr. Lustig have a basis in medical fact, even if they are not yet fully established. One thing is clear: there is a lot of obesity in the American population today — I see it any day I go out, where I live. And I am not referring to pudginess, but to extreme, not merely technical, obesity.

                                              I think Lustig also makes a convincing argument that sugar content of foods has been increasing. There is added suger in a lot of products where there is no neec at all. Why should there be sugar in peanut butter? I know one can buy PB whicj contains peanuts and salt only, but that type separates. There does not seem to be a stabilized PB without sugar. Similarly with mustard — most prepared mustard contains sugar. I recently found one with no sugar, out of the many available.

                                              When I make a pumpkin pie, I use the Libby's recipe as a reference point, but I cut the sugar in half. The amount called for in the recipe is well beyond what is necessary for a pleasing pie. This is just one example of how many commercial food products are oriented towards excessive sweetness.

                                              I think Dr. Lustig is on to something. If some think his presentation is a bit strident, I'm comfortable with it. He is addressing a serious problem which has been neglected for too long, and a strong message is appropriate, in my opinion.

                                              One more thing: I was pleased to hear him say that there was no important difference between high fructose corn syrup and ordinary sugar. They are both forms of sugar, which are equivalent in the right proportions, HFCS being merely concentrated and inexpensive. It is silly to get worked up about HFCS but not sugar generally.

                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                You see, another "HFCS is fine/HFCS is the work of the devil". I understand all the points above and I respectfully disagree with the posters above as I simply believe that:
                                                1. Anything in excess is not good for you;
                                                2. Nutritional science is inexact at best;
                                                3. Every point has an equally valid and supportable counterpoint; and
                                                4. Medical writing is at best sensationalistic and somewhat of a "doomsday" perspective.
                                                If one follows these writings blindly and makes drastic changes to their life, they may or may not be doing the right thing in the long run. Thing is, we won't really know for a number of years.
                                                The best example of this is the salt/no salt debate. Excess salt is bad for you. The demonization of salt in the media and by science writers has led some to choose a very low salt diet. Research is now available that says that low salt lifestyles are just as bad for you, if not worse than a high salt lifestyle. So those individuals who followed the science writings of the times and significantly reduced their salt intake instead of following a habit of moderation may have really negatively impacted their future without knowing it. The same has happened with respect to vitamin supplementation -- is it good? We used to think so. Now studies have come out that show increased mortality and stroke for women who have been supplementing with vitamins for the past number of years.
                                                We have far less control over things than one would believe. Moderation, activity, happiness. That's the best I think that we can do given the inexact nature of nutrition science.

                                                edit: I should have put this as a response to my post, and not as a response to GH...sorry :)

                                                1. re: freia

                                                  "The best example of this is the salt/no salt debate. Excess salt is bad for you. The demonization of salt in the media and by science writers has led some to choose a very low salt diet. Research is now available that says that low salt lifestyles are just as bad for you, if not worse than a high salt lifestyle."

                                                  Same thing is true of the low fat, high carb dietary recommendations that took mere years to turn "adult onset diabetes" into a pediatric disease and caused an explosion of diabetic complications and metabolic cancers in adults.

                                            4. WATER is toxic in high enough quantities...

                                              Sensationalistic headlines tend to just make me amble off in the opposite direction.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                It's true that drinking several liters of water in a short time can kill you, but this is not at all the same thing as the effects of excessive sugar claimed by Lustig. High doses of sugar which are well below fatal doses are harmful; large amounts of water which are well below the fatal dose are not harmful. Drinking one liter of water is harmless.

                                                1. re: GH1618

                                                  so are the two sugar cubes I put in my coffee.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    I think even the strictest critics of sugar would agree that small amounts aren't going to cause any significant health problems. I believe Dr Lustig co-authored a recommendation that men in normal health ingest no more than 150 calories from sugar daily, women 100.

                                                    The problem is with the word 'harmless.' The argument against sugar [simplified] would suggest that ANY time you eat fructose, you set up conditions in your body that can increase your insulin resistance slightly and cause minor damage to your cardiovascular system. Small amounts don't seem to lead to any significant damage, just like a small amount of trans fat or a single puff of a cigarette per day, but that's not quite the same thing as saying these things are harmless. Whether or not that qualifies sugar as 'toxic' is a matter of semantics.

                                                    I'm not saying you should be too concerned about a little sugar in your coffee - I still put sugar in mine too. More so, the amount of sugar that people at large have accepted as normal in their diet might be way out of wack with what's actually healthy for their bodies.

                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                      The semantics, according to the definition I posted below, are that toxins cause injury through chemical reactions. Agreed that many poisons can be tolerated in small amounts, but if larger doses cause significant harm, then the term "toxic" is appropriate. Dr. Lustig's use of the term is based on his believe that significant harm is being done. A matter of judgement, certainly, and not completely proven, but nevertheless an appropriate term for him to use, in my opinion.

                                              2. This was one of the subjects last night on CBS's 60 minutes.  Won't have to read the article as the discussion on (sugar as toxic) was extensive.

                                                I DVR'd 60 minutes yesterday so my husband could catch the Space Shuttle piece.
                                                Watched the "sugar segment" this morning and I'll be honest, it scared me. Not just regarding me but my loved ones. I saved it for our smallest kids cause I want them to understand the reason (in cases like this) >  less is more.

                                                Really a thorough piece from 60 minutes.

                                                1. More nonsense. In sufficient quantities, sugar can be as toxic as, well, eating 1,000 florets of broccoli. Take responsibility.

                                                  8 Replies
                                                  1. re: beevod

                                                    An uninformed, head-in-the-sand remark, I think, but it turns on how you define "toxic." Here is a definition from the American Heritage Medical Dictionary:

                                                    1. Of, relating to, or caused by a toxin or other poison.
                                                    2. Capable of causing injury or death, especially by chemical means; poisonous."

                                                    Dr. Lustig has explained how excessive amounts of sugar can cause injury to humans. Can you explain how broccoli can produce injury of comparable severity? Do you have any credentials that give authority to your opinion on this subject?

                                                    1. re: GH1618

                                                      Isn't 'Excessive amounts of ... can cause injury' a tautology? How else would you define 'excessive', except as that which can cause injury?

                                                      However Dr. Lustig's use of 'toxic' appears to be chosen more for emotional effect (in the same spirit as 'xxx slime'), than as a precise term. I wonder if he uses it in his scientific papers.

                                                      In common usage, a substance is regarded as a toxin if it has an immediate harmful effect - immediate as in days or weeks, such that there is a clear cause and effect. What Lustig is talking about is a potential long term harm, more in the spirit of a cancer causing agent. And as in the cancer case, establishing the link takes a lot of tests, and in most cases remains probabilistic (e.g. 20% increase in cancer deaths), and dosage dependent.

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        Toxic effects are often cumulative and unsuspected, but that doesn't render them harmless. That's the case with the many types of damage, including AGEs, induced by sugar and other concentrated sources of dietary carbohydrate.

                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                          I would add the term "insidious" as well.

                                                          My loved one was recently in the hospital for an injury repair surgery. We typically follow a nutrient dense diet of low carb, medium protein and fat- and no sugar. We are both thin, active/athletic, aging, have no illness, and take no meds. We are unusual in that way for our age.

                                                          Hospital breakfast was cheerio's, orange juice, milk, toast and jam. Lunch was a sandwich and soup with pasta in it -and a cookie. Dinner was breaded chicken breast with mashed potato, gravy, peas and carrots with a dinner roll. Pie was desert. To us, this was *nothing* but sugar...and no one seemed to notice.

                                                          Fortunately, we could special order some things (and bring from home) and we cobbled together meals. One dinner was creative in that we ordered a green salad with balsamic dressing, picked off the crust of the chicken and cut it up, ordered a fruit tray (with blueberries and strawberries) and created a big, fresh, dinner salad.

                                                          I mentioned to the nurse that I was surprised that *every* meal was full of sugars? There was basically no unprocessed or fresh food? What do diabetics eat in the hospital? She said she never really thought about it...but they basically eat the same thing, they can also order special "shakes" and "bars" and things too. Good lord.

                                                          It was a real eye opener as to what is has been "standardized" as a "normal", healthy diet. I considered almost all of it as junk food -and most of the food on the plates was white or beige in color. Breads, potatoes, rice, cereals, puddings, pasta, corn, sauces, etc. Very little green, red or orange foods. Really weird.

                                                          1. re: sedimental

                                                            To be fair, hospital food probably has more to do with costs and keeping a fluid (read "unskilled, easily trained, and low-paid") kitchen work force and avoiding liability and similar concerns than it does with nutrition. Of course there are exceptions. But if the hospitals where I've worked are indicative of an overall trend, nutrition is only one concern of many for hospital menus, and a minor one at that.

                                                            Of note though - 'heart healthy' diets administered to people with cardiovascular disease in hospitals limit the amount of fats and often sodium in the diet, but not the amounts of sugar. If Lustig is right - and I think he makes a fairly compelling case - that should be reexamined.

                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                              Yes, clearly, nutrition was not their main focus. Decent food and decent sleep are not priorities in a hospital :) However, it was surprising that fresh foods were a scarcity. Especially where I live, veggies are cheap and plentiful. Most adults, across all the various groups, health concerns, and ethnicity, would accept fresh foods. It's not like it would be a stretch to include a green salad with some tomatoes or an additional non starchy vegetable on the plate.

                                                              They even put effort into making the pasta appear "gourmet" with a vegetable "ribbon", extra garnishes, and a thin sliced roasted beet balancing on top of the breaded chicken. It struck me as so *odd* that the same amount of cost and effort couldn't have gone toward decent fresh food.

                                                              Luckily, people are not in the hospital for long these days, but some need to spend weeks and months in more long term care facilities and rehabs - they have similar menu's, IME. It would be nice if nutrition science made it's way into our facilities that care for sick people :D

                                                              1. re: sedimental

                                                                I grew up in a rural Midwest area where the local Amish ladies ran the hospital canteen concesssion (they might still- haven't been there in decades)

                                                                The menu included things like homemade chicken and noodles and sugar cream pie....hardly healthy, but definitely delicious comfort food and made with love. The hospital canteen was actually the restaurant of choice for folks who worked in the area!

                                                        2. re: paulj

                                                          No, it is not a tautology. "Excess" merely means more than you need. Consider a comparison with water. You need water. If you drink more than you need, it will be eliminated without harm. But if you drink far more than you need — several liters in a short period of time — it can kill you. But the injury is not due to a chemical reaction with the water, but by diluting the normal body chemistry, upsetting the balanve. Water is not toxic.

                                                          If excess sugar were merely eliminated, or stored as an energy reserve in excess fat, it would not be considered toxic. Dr. Lustig's thesis is that it damages the normal functioning of the body's metabolism, hence is toxic.

                                                    2. Nature is always about homeostasis. Things need to be in balance. When things are out of whack, nature usually has a way of "plussing" the overbearing amount of minuses, or subtracting the overabundance of pluses. Once the pluses and minuses are about even, nature seemingly pulls back and all is good for now. It's usually not a process which occurs rapidly - rather it can take months, years, or even centuries and ions.

                                                      I think the sugar issue is relatively similar. The human animal has had little time to adjust, evolve - what have you - to the relatively sudden changes in diet, environment, lifestyle, etc., when considering how long an evolutionary process can take. Without intervention with certain medicines, devices or procedures, the culling out process would be very fast, leaving only those whose metabolic armor could withstand the changes and stresses of live today. If denied the front-end medical interventions - think of vaccines and antibiotics - and the human animal would be narrowed down to a more reasonable balance relative to the rest of the "food web."

                                                      The ability for humans to first develop, secure, and improve on growing and harvesting techniques gave this creature the ability to live closer together, develop societies, political and economic systems, innovate, and even have time to do more nonessential (no insult intended to artists) things like art. Of course, it also gives the human the ability to reproduce in numbers unheard of in the past. These population pressures then create stresses and potential conflicts for resources. On an individual level, one may rethink the number of dependents to procreate. On a socio/political/economic level, this can lead to graft, maneuvering, quarrels leading up to and including war, famine and genocide. The survival instinct in the human can and has played out in innumerable ways. All of these pluses and minuses on the net population were means of striking a balance - savage or not.

                                                      Sugar in the quantities consumed on average by the current human model are probably contradictory to what its metabolic system is used to. Being that our systems can probably far better tolerate a more foraging type of eating lifestyle, a leaner, less calorie-dense lifestyle with a wide array of food events is probably better for us. Of course, this would probably be less convenient, comfortable and less fun for many of us.

                                                      I have a strong feeling that we are still very anatomically close to ancient man. I don't think ancient man would dare eat thousands of cruciferous florets, nor would be able to source the equivalent of 150 pounds or so of sugar for him or herself within four seasons.

                                                      Because much of the developed world is now consuming nutrients in quantities that are unprecedented, the human body is being taxed. It's genetically coded to store what is not used relative to consumption - it's a age-old just-in-case tool for the leaner times. Unfortunately, the average person no longer goes through leaner times. It's more of a straight line model high on the y-axis spiked with binges of plenty. The metabolic system is constantly overloaded. The regular intake of fats and simple carbs only stresses the systems even more, so much so that metabolic processing stations like the liver becomes somewhat numb to the insulin issue and so on. Whether it's too many sodas or Twinkies, daily binges at McD's, or your thirteenth double-meat pastrami sandwich in as many days, the human body hasn't evolved to handle this kind of nutrient dense diet, and it many never happen. I don't think nature ever intended for the human animal to get to this point of overconsumption, and is telling this creature that enough is enough - time for you to go. However, the human has intellectually evolved to the point where we think we can circumvent nature's "fix." We create band-aid fixes in the form of medical intervention, which can only mitigate the symptoms and stresses. The cure to this is obviously a more balanced diet and lifestyle which takes a fair amount of discipline backed by knowledge and stronger instinct for long-term survival. The tool to do so (at least for many of us) has yet to be found.

                                                      1. In the 60 minutes piece he says he'd never consume more than 150 calories of sugar per day. From what I can find that's about 9 tsp of sugar. Does that number include what you would get from potatoes, pasta, fruits and veggies or is he talking just 150 calories of refined sugar?


                                                        20 Replies
                                                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                          I'm pretty sure he means total, because his argument is that the sugar content of processed foods has increased significantly, which is a big part of the problem of overconsumption of sugar.

                                                          1. re: GH1618

                                                            That specific recommendation actually only pertains to added sugar. One can assume that eating a diet where 3/4 of your calories comes from fruit is not smart either, but the recommendation JB mentions above was only in reference to fructose-containing sugars added to foods.

                                                            Elsewhere, Lustig also warns against sweet juices as damaging, whether their sugar is naturally occurring or not. He argued in his youtube presentation (but only briefly) that the form of whole fruits and their fiber content can effectively limit the damage that can be done by the fructose they contain.

                                                            1. re: GH1618

                                                              as cowboy said, Lustig's suggestions for limiting sugar intake to 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men applies to ADDED sugars, not the naturally-occurring fructose in pure fruit and vegetables or lactose in dairy.

                                                                1. re: mcf

                                                                  Why is that?

                                                                  Keep in mind, that recommendation isn't encouraging people to go buck-wild on other carbs and natural sources of fructose or to replace calories from added sugar with calories from natural sugars (though even that would surely be an improvement in many people's diets). The study/rec just doesn't pertain to naturally occurring sugar and doesn't really address them at all.

                                                                  As I implied above though - the biggest problem with that advice is that it doesn't address juices where sugar can be naturally occurring. Though juices are probably marginally better for a person than sweetened soda, they also allow you to dump large amounts of fructose into your system quickly and without some of the benefits or moderating effects of fiber... again, assuming this kind of research and nutritional thinking is onto something in the first place.

                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                    In the long presentation, Lustig advocates against drinking fruit juice, while allowing whole fruits. In his clinical practice, when treating obese children, he proscribes all drinks except water and milk.

                                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                      As a percentage of caloric total, and then added to the sugars and other carb content of the rest of the diet (your pancreas doesn't care what kind of carbs your excess glucose comes from), it's a bad deal, metabolically and in terms of cumulative damage.

                                                                    2. re: mcf

                                                                      it would be a vast improvement for the majority of Americans.

                                                                    3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                      Agreed. It's added sucrose or fructose, whether in processed foods or added by the consumer. Really good advice, IMO.

                                                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                        Thia is good to get cleared up as I think 9 tsp of sugar is a lot of sugar. I rarely consume that much in a single day. Special occasions, birthdays, anniversary or the rare splurge on ice cream. Now in the past, many years ago, it would not have been uncommon. Tastes change and so do waist lines. I just can't handle the sweets like when I was younger.


                                                                            1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                              Nor I. Most diet sodas taste too awfully sweet for me, too. One I love, but still don't often feel moved to drink, is Gosling's diet ginger beer. It's cloudy with real ginger, has bite to it, and isn't as sweet as most. With a lot of ice to water it down a bit, it's really good. Mostly, I just drink seltzer.

                                                                    4. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                      9 tsps. of sugar is 36 calories.

                                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                                        Hmm, are you sure? Multiple places have this type of answer. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_ca...


                                                                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                          Junior, that link is for a Tablespoon (not a teaspoon). So, 9 teaspoons would be 135 calories (9 times 15) according to that link? Is that right?

                                                                          More often, I think of sugar and all carbs in grams.
                                                                          I try to always keep my total carbs to under 100 grams (more like 30 to 50 grams) per day.

                                                                          Otherwise, how on earth would you actually monitor or count "extra sugar"?

                                                                          1. re: sedimental

                                                                            There are 4 gms of carbs in each tsp of sugar, give or take small fractions. Each gram has 4 calories. That's 16 calories per tsp.

                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                After reading your posts I'm confused. If their are 16 calories per tsp then you are saying the same thing I said. What up?


                                                                                1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                                                  I erred in my previous post, totaling grams, not calories.

                                                                      2. There's something to this article, as well as this article that's been circulating recently about inflammation -


                                                                        Also last year this article came out - http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/08...

                                                                        "Twenty years ago, no state had an adult obesity rate above 15%, and 15 years ago Mississippi was the fattest state, with a 19.4% obesity rate"

                                                                        "Only one state in the nation, Colorado, long one of the slimmest, has an adult obesity rate below 20% — but at 19.8%"

                                                                        I have a friend who is a surgeon and he says that obesity is the single biggest reason for skyrocketing health care costs. He sees it on the operating table every day and over the years has seen the trend described above. Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension...

                                                                        Sugars, refined flours. processed foods are not your friends. I'm not sold on a paleo diet, but some aspects of that diet do make sense in that the ability of the human body to process these foods hasn't adapted as fast as these new unnatural foods are developed.

                                                                        1. 3 of our little ones and I spent the day together yesterday at the beach, dining at Gladstones, frolicking in the sand and getting plenty wet. Our DD got an extra large to go cup of Coke from the gas station and then on the drive home from the beach, we stopped to use a restroom [about 6 hours later] and she got the same size ultra huge to go cup of Mountain Dew. I was really concerned about all that sugar, certainly due to the sugar piece on 60 Minutes, which I'll ask her to view. I can't even fathom how much sugar she took in.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: iL Divo

                                                                            About a 1/4 C of sugar for each 12 oz, that's one can of soda.

                                                                            1. re: mcf

                                                                              So at 7-11 a big gulp is 32 oz and super big gulp is 44 oz... She prolly drank at least 1+ cup of sugar

                                                                              1. re: AAQjr

                                                                                Add that to whatever starches/sugars were in the meal...

                                                                            2. re: iL Divo

                                                                              and the amount of caffeine. Yowza.