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"It's The Sugar, Folks"

More support for the "sugar is toxic" hypothesis, reported by Mark Bittman in today's (28 Feb 2013) The New York Times:


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  1. Can we now stop subsidizing Big Sugar and King Corn?

    1 Reply
    1. re: janniecooks

      USA is only one data point in this study.

    2. This article is just preaching to the choir for a lot of us.

      I value science, but it is always surprising that so many people won't get involved, active or change their behavior until an established entity of some kind deems it "official".

      It will be interesting to see the research wars now! I think we will see just how corrupt and gross some of these giant Agricorps are, like what happened with tobacco. Hopefully the general public will attempt to use their noggin' for a minute and not wait until the dust settles to make some changes.

      Of course, then again, it is hard to fathom that an obese diabetic didn't somehow "intuitively guess" (before this "proven" research) that drinking a six pack of cola a day might be harming them.

      1. Science Daily's summary of this article


        "As far as I know, this is the first paper that has had data on the relationship of sugar consumption to diabetes," said Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University who was not involved in the study. "This has been a source of controversy forever. It's been very, very difficult to separate sugar from the calories it provides. This work is carefully done, it's interesting and it deserves attention."

        The paper itself

        The paper's own summary (note the qualifiers that scientists use when writing for each other, 'appear to .. explained', 'lends credence', 'further investigations'):

        "In summary, population-level variations in diabetes prevalence that are unexplained by other common variables appear to be statistically explained by sugar. This finding lends credence to the notion that further investigations into sugar availability and/or consumption are warranted to further elucidate the pathogenesis of diabetes at an individual level and the drivers of diabetes at a population level."

        1. http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/201...

          A scienceblogs article titled
          "No, It’s Not the Sugar – Bittman and MotherJones have overinterpreted another study"

          2 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              Hoofnagle points out a common problem with reporters' summaries of research reports. Researchers are generally cautious in drawing conclusions — reporters are not.

              Nestle's statement (quoted by paulj) is more in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

            2. No, it's not the sugar.

              It's consuming too much sugar.

              Everything in moderation. And a little bit of self-control would solve of if the ills plaguing society.

              12 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Not if it is hidden in everything in the US processed foods. I am a cancer survivor. Many of my docs disagreed on treatments, medicines, etc however the one thing that they did agree on was that sugar should be avoided at all costs, even limiting fruit consumption. Food for thought....PET scan that cancer patients receive....the dye that is injected into the body prior to the scan? The dye is made primarily from sugar molecules. The sugar aggravates the cancer/tumors which causes the "glow" on the scan, highlighting cancer. Learning this fact had a huge impact on how I viewed sugar. I cut sugar out of my diet. My skin, hair, energy, sleep changed for the better. I am now cancer free and I maintain my sugar free lifestyle. It is amazing how much sugar is in EVERYTHING in the US. People claiming that sugar is "ok" in some forms agave, rice syrups, etc and in moderation are simply justifying their addiction to sugar.

                1. re: six dower

                  Your science is a little screwy, the "glow" is from the radioactive component of the tracer in FDG. It's attached to glucose because the cells absorb it and cancer cells absorb it more rapidly (due to higher metabolic function). The sugar doesn't "aggravate" cancer.

                  1. re: six dower

                    Also, sugar is not "hidden"; its presence is obvious if you can read a label.

                    1. re: ferret

                      True, but sugar is in plenty of things that it shouldn't be in. Things that common sense one wouldn't think would be full of it.
                      just an example:

                      I want sugar in my brownies, not peanut butter, etc. And, I'd be willing to bet, though i don't have the time or desire to research it that the lower priced peanut butters, tomato sauces, etc. have the most sugar added.

                      1. re: TroyTempest

                        That's right — the problem is that it is being used almost everywhere, and in increasing amounts. A person must be diligent, and must expend time and money to avoid it. A good example is pasta sauce. The inexpensive brands in a jar are loaded with sugar. Consider the problem of a single working parent struggling to make ends meet who wants to feed the kids spaghetti once in awhile because it's quick and inexpensive and the kids like it. Try explaining to a person in that situation that it would be better for the kids to use the gourmet brand without sugar, which costs twice as much, or to make it from scratch, which takes much more time.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            But in the big picture, how significant is the sugar added to savory items like pasta sauce? If a person is trying to cut back on sugar, wouldn't it be best to focus on the big sources?

                            A 2000 USDA paper:
                            "The largest source of added sweeteners was regular soft drinks, which accounted for one third of intake. Other sources were table sugars, syrups, and sweets; sweetened grains; regular fruitades/drinks; and milk products."

                            AHA 2009 "Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health"

                            Table 4 quoting the above:
                            Regular soft drinks 33.0
                            Sugars and candy 16.1
                            Cakes, cookies, pies 12.9
                            Fruit drinks (fruitades and fruit punch) 9.7
                            Dairy desserts and milk products 8.6
                            Other grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles) 5.8
                            These account for 86%. Other sources (in this study) are below 5% each.

                            "Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States"
                            (full text available)
                            2011 paper, working from 1999-2008 data. The main decrease was in soda consumption. 'energy drinks' increased.

                            1. re: paulj

                              No question that sugar-sweetened soft drinks are the biggest part of the problem. Sodas and desserts are the obvious part of the problem. And sweetened breakfast cereals. Once you've eliminated the obvious sweets from your diet, the not so obvious sources of sugar become important.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                It would be good if we could get people to just eliminate the obvious ones.

                        1. re: ferret

                          Many consumers can't, or won't (read food labels). That's also a problem :-(

                      2. re: ipsedixit

                        Agreed, it's not just sugar. In fact, there are some camps that believe sugar is incredibly metabolically efficient and can promote good health when consumed in adequate (not excessive) amounts. Search Ray Peat for more on this.

                        I'm not a scientist, but many of these diseases and ailments traced back to sugar seem to be rooted and exacerbated by stress and inflammation - can EXCESS sugar cause such a state? Sure! But I don't think cutting it out entirely would be helpful either.

                        1. re: Rodzilla

                          Well said.

                          Everything in moderation (well maybe with the exception of moderation itself)

                      3. Another screed from the Nervous Nutritional Nellies. BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA SUGAR OH NOOOOOOOOO....

                        Bittman is such an overrated "authority."

                        Eat a little of a great many things. Everything's poisonous in large quantities.

                        48 Replies
                        1. re: jmckee

                          Bittman is the reporter here, not the authority. Dr. Lustig is (one of) the authority.

                          So what's your explanation of and solution to the obesity epidemic and associated illnesses?

                            1. re: GH1618

                              there isn't going to be *a* solution. The entire epidemic of obesity and its companion diseases isn't going to come down to JUST sugar, or JUST carbs, or JUST fat, or JUST saturated fat. It's a little of all of those things, with a healthy dollop of inactivity and a generous glug of TOO MUCH (quantities, serving sizes -- it's too much of too much).

                              Combined with the variations from individual to individuall, it means that we're all going to have to wake the hell up and realize that a) there is no magic bullet, and no single evil substance that, once we remove it from our diet will leave us youthful, slender, and healthy, b) that we -- each of us, individually -- are responsible for our own bodies, and that c) your mileage may vary -- it isn't going to be easy, and what works for you may not work for your best friend, or even your sibling.

                              Bitman seems to be an expert at frenzy-whipping, but not quite so great at rational discussion or scientific interpretation of data.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                D L Katz is a firm opponent of 'simple solutions'.

                                "We live in an incredibly dumbed-down world. We are a culture that uses the technological products of science to transmit messages denigrating whatever science we choose to disbelieve (nutrition, evolution, climate change- take your pick) while asserting that ‘magic works,’ because we wish it did. Maybe sugar is the least of our problems.

                                We clearly like little bits of truth we find easy to digest. But none of these is the whole truth, and when bits of truth are mistaken for the whole- they might just as well be falsehoods. The history of public health nutrition is redolent with examples of how our indulgence in such sweet nothings has cost us dearly. The bitter truth is, it can do so again."


                                1. re: paulj

                                  Any scientist or scientifically trained person (and I am) recognizes and opposes "simplistic" solutions, but there's nothing wrong with a simple solution, if it's the correct one. According to Occam's Razor (paraphrased), the simplest solution that works is best.

                                  The problem of the obesity epidemic is anything but simple, and people seeking to lose weight, or control it, have been bombarded with ineffective advice for decades, notably the simplistic "eat less, move more" doctrine which always gets trotted out when the subject is discussed.

                                  The sugar hypothesis of Dr. Lustig is the first thing on the subject that makes sense to me, and he has developed it into a theory by describing the biochemical basis for it. I believe that sugar (specifically fructose) will eventually be recognized as the most important factor contributing to obesity, although certainly not the only one. But whether it is or not, I am applying it to my own (and my wife's) diet by aggressively eliminating added sugar. It's working for me, and that's all I need to believe in it.

                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    I just don't see why or how the "obesity epidemic" is a problem.

                                      1. re: lsmutko

                                        I don't see that as a problem.

                                        All that spending (and I think it's more than 190B as stated in the Forbes article) is not just being thrown into a furnace.

                                        It's being spent on healthcare, healthcare professionals, R&D in obesity drugs, pharmaceuticals, health & fitness industry, food and diet products, etc. Those are real jobs, jobs that might not exist but for this "obesity epidemic".

                                        If there wasn't such a significant outlay our GDP would take a major hit.

                                        If that's a problem, then it's a good problem to have.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          If you don't think it's being thrown into a furnace then you don't have any understanding of the wastefulness of healthcare spending.

                                          1. re: ferret

                                            I fully understand the extent of government waste in healthcare, and healthcare spending.

                                            It is, sadly, my bailiwick.

                                            Even if everyone walking this earth was thin, fit and eschewed all sorts of sugar, there would still be the same amount of government waste in healthcare, and healthcare spending.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              It's not the government waste, it's the waste in the hospital systems and with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

                                              1. re: ferret

                                                And, that's what exactly I'm talking about.

                                                Waste in healthcare (hospitals, pharm, providers, etc.) is independent of the so-called "obesity epidemic".

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  No, it's not. The system is leaking money like a sieve. Making the sieve bigger is exacerbating the problem, particularly where the insured and the government pay the costs for the uninsured.

                                                  Reducing the proportion of obesity-related illness will deflate some of the helium from the balloon. It won't fix both problems, nbut it will limit the expansion of the problems.

                                                  1. re: ferret

                                                    How is that waste?

                                                    You might think its expensive (a relative notion) but wasteful?


                                                    Like I said up above all that money is spent on jobs, the people who (for example) make diabetes drugs surely don't think it's wasteful, especially when they're livelihood depends on that so-called "wasteful" spending.

                                                    By your logic R&D in lung cancer research is wasteful because we should just outlaw tobacco products and put them on the shelf next to dinosaurs.

                                                    You and I perhaps just see the world differently and I'm just going to leave it at that.

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      The ACCORD trials proved it to be a waste; higher mortality results from achieving normal glucose on a high carb diet with insulin and other such drugs.

                                                      I consider all the suffering, amputations, dialysis and blindness to be a waste, too, when diet can prevent and even reverse them significantly, or, as in my case, completely with kidney and nerve damage.

                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                        Great. I'm happy for you. If only everyone had your sense of self-control and self-awareness.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          I didn't have self control when I was constantly hungry on high carbs. It promotes hunger even when full, though to varying degrees in different individuals, but on a population basis, we see the results all around us.

                                                          When people get the right nutrition and diet response, they find it easier to control without feeling deprived or food obsessed. They reduce eating without being told to, studies show.

                                                      2. re: ipsedixit

                                                        "All that money" is not spent on jobs. Pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and the majority of hospitals are corporations with same goal as any other - profit. That means controlling the costs that you can - including labor costs.

                                                        When you say that healthcare is your bailiwick does that mean you're a lobbyist?

                                            2. re: ipsedixit

                                              It's not a good problem to have. What you are describing is Bastiat's broken window.

                                              Bastiat was an early economist. He is most famous for describing a situation in which someone throws a rock through a shopkeeper's window. The shopkeeper buys a replacement which is income for the glazier, who uses the money to buy further items. All of this propels the economy.

                                              Bastiat criticizes this viewpoint, noting that had the his window not been broken, he would have spent the money on other more useful things.

                                              Yes, many people have jobs due to obesity, but they would have other jobs in the absence of the 'obesity epidemic'. There is no upside to it.

                                          2. re: GH1618

                                            But here's the thing; it's not the sugar, any more than it's the starch. Your pancreas doesn't know the difference when sending out fat storage hormone in response to high glucose production after a meal.

                                            It's the glycemic load, and sugars trigger cravings for more of it, as does high carb eating, studies show.

                                            One of the reasons I can't stand Bittman's food writing and cooking is how much of it is starch and added sugars, ironically.

                                            1. re: GH1618

                                              Oh the irony of a discussion such as this among food obsessed Chowhounds:):):)!!!!! Stop the sugar bashing I say!!!! On a serious note ..consumers have to read food labels. If and when they do that and see the actual amounts of sodium....sugars...high fructose corn syrup that is insidiously poisoning people consuming them in copious amounts....people might opt for ingesting more fresh veg.....fruit etc.

                                              1. re: Lillipop

                                                For low income people, this isn't always a practical choice, financially.

                                          3. re: GH1618

                                            You assume there IS a solution, and short of imprisoning the entire population of obese and near-obese people and enforcing strict eating and exercise parameters, there is NOT one.

                                            1. re: jmckee

                                              The same way the food pyramid promotes obesity, the opposite recommendations would help fight it. It took less than a generation to turn "adult onset diabetes" into a pediatric disease after pyramid implementation.

                                              You cannot prevent every case of obesity (much, if not most of which is endocrine disorder based), but you can have a huge impact on a population basis.

                                              1. re: mcf

                                                In what sense was the pyramid 'implemented'? How much influence has it actually had on diet? Has anyone actually tried to measure that?

                                                Why not blame the obesity on the Atkins diet? That's been around longer than the USDA pyramid. Lots of people say 'I'm on the Atkins'. Who says 'I'm on the Pyramid diet'?

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  The Atkins diet actually works, because it eliminates sugar.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    It was implemented as the proper way to eat, put into all medical advisory hands and public schools in the U.S. with massive publicity campaigns to introduce it and keep it going. Backed by cereal and grain producer lobbies, mostly, and their influence at the USDA.

                                                  2. re: mcf

                                                    The food pyramid "promotes obesity"? Really? How do you figure? With its argument to limit fats and sugars and eat lots of grains and fruits and vegetables?

                                                    1. re: jmckee

                                                      The 1992 one doesn't put as much emphasis on whole grains as some would like. But it was revised in 2005, and then more recently replaced with the 'plate'.

                                                      Harvard food pyramid that moves red mean and refined grains to the top. But low-carb believers would disagree even with that version.

                                                      Pyramids around the world

                                                      1. re: jmckee

                                                        I'm talking about the original implementation of the pyramid in the 70s and the deleterious effects of instructing folks to limit fats and protein while eating "lots of grains and fruits..."

                                                        1. re: mcf


                                                          is the only image I can find of a 1970s pyramid, from a Swedish food cooperative.

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            Lobbyiest dreams DO come true! Do you remember all the influence and controversy over the sugar lobby's influence over each iteration? At the same time that Cadbury Scweppes and General Mills are among the top sponsors of the American Diabetes Assn. who said sugar should be 10% of calories and grains more than half on top of that?

                                                            1. re: mcf

                                                              "Fats, oils & sweets used sparingly" - successful lobbying indeed.

                                                              This USDA 1999 paper
                                                              compares actual servings in various food groups (as deduced from food supply data) with recommendations (from the Pyramid and related material). It concludes that:

                                                              "The analysis suggests that despite positive dietary changes that have occurred over the past two decades—including increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grain products—many Americans are falling short of suggested consumption targets for most of the Pyramid’s five major food groups, while consuming excess calories of fats, oils, and sweeteners depicted at the tip of the Pyramid"

                                                              "After adjusting for losses, the food supply provided 32 teaspoons, ... Average daily consumption was nearly triple the 12 teaspoons suggested as an upper limit for a 2,200-calorie diet by the Food Guide Pyramid (USDA, CNPP, 1996).
                                                              More from the 1999 publication

                                                          2. re: mcf

                                                            does anybody else remember 4-4-3-2, That's the formula for me and you...Mulligan Stew!

                                                            That's way back when you had a square divided into quarters for the daily recommendations. (4 fruits and veg, 4 bread and grain, 3 dairy, and 2 meat)

                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                              No, I don't, but ya gotta roll your eyes and shake your head when fat and protein, the only things you die for lack of, are being limited to limits below what researchers think is healthy or even safe, when it comes to fats.

                                                              Fruit and veggies should not be lumped together as if equally healthy, fruits should be included just under the sweets/sugar category and non starchy veggies should be unlimited.

                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                that was in the early 70s - I think it was one of the first diet-as-geometric-shape that was issued. The program was sponsored by the 4H Council, but based on the USDA guidelines at the time - there was a coloring book and a number of lesson plans that went along with it....and we got to watch movies instead of class.

                                                                Lots of things have changed since then.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  Yes, all I remember before the pyramid is the 4 food groups we were taught, with the admonition that "protein is for energy" and for building strong, lean bodies or something.

                                                                  (1) meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, and nuts;

                                                                  (2) dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt;

                                                                  (3) grains; and

                                                                  (4) fruits and vegetables.

                                                                  Everything since has been all about which lobby greased the right palms or took the most aggressive approach. Sugar won, and grain.

                                                                  All around us, we see the results. What's amazing is the continued advice to keep doing what hasn't worked.

                                                      2. re: jmckee

                                                        I haven't assumed anything, and nobody is proposing imprisoning anyone. You, on the other hand, are ignoring the problem. The obesity epidemic began to develop in the 1970s. There are reasons for this, and when the reasons are properly understood, there are things that can be done to counteract it. But the first step is to understand the reasons behind the problem.

                                                        1. re: GH1618

                                                          "The obesity epidemic began to develop in the 1970s"

                                                          Really? Then here's my hypothesis, see what you think:

                                                          As women moved into the workforce post-pill/sexual revolution, convenience foods and fast/take-out food became more and more of the american diet. Women stopped cooking and they stopped teaching their children to cook. Two earner families allowed people the disposable income to eat more, buy treats, and buy BIGGER treats. (look at a martini glass or a muffin tin from the first half of the last century compared to today) People thus began to consume more calories because they were so easily available. More sugar, yes. More carbs in general. More fat. More, more, more.

                                                          Also, a decade later perhaps, cable television and video games arrived. Another decade, the 'net. Now no one actually has to move.

                                                          The only evidence I have to support this theory is anecdotal. I once had 4 houseguests, all overweight. They ate huge amounts, and constantly. They made some bad choices, like french fries, etc....but what struck me was simply the vast quantity.

                                                          1. re: danna

                                                            Further, deregulation of business meant the end of the 40-hour-work week for many -- business were able to "increase productivity" by giving workers so much to do that they regularly worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week, so the convenience foods became not just attractive to them but NECESSARY, since they didn't have time to cook any more.

                                                            1. re: jmckee

                                                              I agree that long work hours make it harder to eat well, but I'm not aware there were ever any regulations over how many hours a person could work in a week. Can you give an example?

                                                              1. re: danna

                                                                According to this
                                                                the 8 hr day became a federal law in 1937, but with the provision of overtime pay. Earlier in the industrial revolution, 10-16 hr days, 6 days a week were common.

                                                                I believe overtime is still required. But this applies only to hourly pay. Salaried workers are not payed by the hour, an may be expected to work more (with the reward being their own advancement or the company's good). People working multiple part time jobs are also not protected.

                                                                There are maximum work hour regulations for specific industries, such as airline pilots and truck drivers. The rational has to do with preventing fatigue and dangerous work conditions.

                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                  all your statements are correct....but I still don't think they had to do with "deregulation". There hasn't been any back-pedalling in overtime regulations that I'm aware of. The exception for salaried workers has been with us since the '37 law. (I just double checked this w/ my HR VP who has been around since then...ok, *almost*)

                                                                  anyhow, despite my quibble on the deregulation thing, that's a good point. In my experience, when you eat late in the day, even if you take the time to cook something healthy, it still tends to encourage weight gain.

                                                                  1. re: danna

                                                                    " In my experience, when you eat late in the day, even if you take the time to cook something healthy, it still tends to encourage weight gain."

                                                                    If that's been true for you, then that's important to you. But biochemically, the opposite is likely, due to diurnal hormone rhythms... less glucose response and fat storage hormone later in the day, especially after the 3-5 pm window.

                                                                    Not that you'd want to eat a meal and jump right into bed, either. :-)

                                                                    1. re: mcf

                                                                      Really? Sounds like you know what you're talking about, but i'm really surprised. Not only my experience , but "common knowledge", for what that's worth, seems to be that eating dinner at 9 pm is worse for weight control than dinner at 6pm. Do you think it's just a matter of what we might snack on between 6 and 9?

                                                                      1. re: danna

                                                                        Lot's of common "knowledge" is myth. And anyone's individual experience may differ of course.

                                                                        Clearly, food choices matter, but hormones determine what happens, fat wise, to what you eat. Different foods have different hormonal influences and depending on the time of day, those hormonal responses differ hugely.

                                                                        This is why most diabetics who get a huge blood sugar spike if they eat any carbs at breakfast find that they can tolerate the same food without such a reaction in the late afternoon, for example.

                                                                        It's also true that eating close to bed time will cause an insulin release that inhibits the normal night time growth hormone release.

                                                  3. http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/ar...
                                                    David Katz lengthy take on this article, and Bittman's misleading interpretation.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      One of the main points of disagreement is whether sugar is a direct contributor to diabetes, or whether obesity contributes to diabetes, irrespective of whether the obesity was caused by sugar. Katz is correct that Bittman draws conclusions that the authors of the study do not, and that the study does not resolve the question of which is the greater contributor to diabetes. But it doesn't matter to me. The important thing is that sugar (not merely calories) is a major cause of obesity. The most effective single thing a person can do to avoid weight gain is to aggressively eliminate added sugar in the diet. That's what I do, and it works.

                                                    2. Or maybe it's the salt
                                                      Salty Food May Be a Culprit in Autoimmune Diseases

                                                      lab tests, on cells and mice, find 'that salt spurs the specialization of TH17 cells'

                                                      2 Replies
                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          This is another subject altogether. Autoimmunity is a much more complicated problem than obesity, in my layman's opinion.