Will Sugar Become as Evil as Cigarettes?

If you haven’t seen the 60 Minutes piece “Is Sugar Toxic?”  Watch it here.

It’s inspired from this lecture, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” from Robert H. Lusting, MD, that’s had over 2 million views on YouTube.

Health food gurus have been telling us sugar is toxic for generations, but now the scientific evidence is becoming overwhelming.  Will we ban sugar like we’re banning smoking?  Will eating sugar attain the same negative social stigma as lighting up?  Will most people give up sweets to live longer?  Should sugar abusers become targets for healthcare reform?

On the same day I saw the sugar report, I saw a news report that said young women are getting skin cancer at 8x the normal rate because of using tanning salons.  They said this was especially true for women who have used a tanning bed more than 30 times.   I asked several young women at work about this and they all said they had used a tanning bed more than 30 times.  I asked them if they were going to stop.  None of them said they would.  One said, “Everything is bad for you, so what can you do?”

It took decades of public awareness messages to really put a dent in smoking.  Even now with all the evidence and costs of smoking, lots of kids still take up the habit.

There are many big health food movements going on in our country right now, including vegan, vegetarian, eating local, organic, eating unprocessed foods, raw foods, and a zillion different weight-loss diets.  Many of these diets still try to incorporate sweets and deserts, but Dr. Lustig is saying all sweets are bad.  Other than having an orange or apple, you’re hurting yourself when you eat sweets.

The medical evidence he gives is rather overwhelming, and a lot of it goes back decades, with studies using very large test populations.  I’m not doubting that he’s right.  I’ve abused sugar all my life and now I’m paying for it.  I could do testimonials for the guy.  However, I just don’t see an anti-sugar movement catching on like the anti-smoking movement.  But could it?

If you watch these videos you’ll see that a case could be made that sugar is actually more harmful than cigarettes.  I can see an anti-sweets movement snowballing into something big.  There is one thing about the anti-sweet case that’s different from cigarettes – sugar makes us fat.  It’s very visible.  Unless being fat becomes sexy, anti-sugar sentiment might catch on faster than the anti-smoking movement did.  Taking decades to get cancer just isn’t the same scare tactic as you’ll get fat and won’t get laid.

It’s been obvious for decades now that Americans are getting fatter, but the assumption was we’re overeating everything.  That’s a bit different than learning that sugar is the real problem.  If they prove that sugar, and even artificial sweeteners, are the culprits, will we start to pay attention?  Will Coca-Cola and pop disappear?  And candy bars?  And cakes, pies and cookies?

Dr. Lusting suggests that men can get buy eating 150 calories a day from sugar and women just 100, and that’s counting the hidden sugar.  Is anyone that disciplined?

JWH – 4/4/12

8 thoughts on “Will Sugar Become as Evil as Cigarettes?”

  1. Hmm I’m not doubting that this may be accurate. I just don’t know that I’d be willing to cut out sugar at this level. This is a tough call and something to ponder. Interesting post as always!

  2. All things in moderation. However the real issue with sugar is that some form of it is injected into nearly every single processed food we eat. Hotdogs come with fructose corn syrup. When comparing the ingredients of traditional recipes and those of processed foods you see massive amounts of different sugars (often corn-derived), oils (usually soybean) and salt/nitrates in the processed food. Sweetness added in items you’d never expect to see sweet ingredients if made from scratch. All three of these lead to bad health outcomes over the long haul.

    They are used to make cheaply produced food taste good. So you can use cheaper meat, less expensive spices. They help cover the fact most processed foods are stored a long time before being processed and after often without needing refrigeration. A good heuristic would be “food that doesn’t rot when left out probably doesn’t digest properly either”. See the youtube video of the year old Happy meal.

    People who depend on processed foods pay a heavy price in health costs and shorter lives in exchange for that cheaper food. Poor people in the US are usually far fatter than wealthier people. This has spread to other counties where the poor populations are no longer thin from a poverty diet. They get more than enough calories, but not enough nutrients. Diabetes is running rampant in places where just a few decades ago, many people went without food. People who eat processed foods do not know the full implications of their diets.

    And as a society ever since the poorly named “green revolution” we’ve been shoving processed foods and chemical pesticides down everyone’s throat (to borrow a favorite phrase of republicans). We are paying for this false abundance at the hospital and the pharmacy. And sadly we pay for it in massive “farm” subsidies. Both helping to bankrupt our country

    The additions of salt and sweet to processed foods make such food very addicting by exciting our evolutionary stimulus-response feedback loop. Can’t stop at one pop? Yes, there is an actual reason for that, it’s not just a catchy slogan. Processed food manufacturers make more profit because when you eat processed food you eat more than you otherwise would.

    1. Oops, got the slogan wrong, its “Once you pop, you can’t stop” which is even more truthful than my miss-remembered version.

    2. Lustig said when they started taking fat out of food it tasted like cardboard, so they added sugar to make it taste better.

      Moderation and balance is the key, but I think our lives are so far from that we wouldn’t recognize a moderate and balanced meal.

  3. If you Google Lustig, you will find a college video that explains exactly what high fructose does to the body. It is an hour and thirty minutes long, but well worth watching even if you don’t understand all of the science. Not only that, it is scary in terms of what our government is allowing in the food industry. I wish I had known all of this when I was raising my family. Now I know and shall become vigilant about exactly what I am eating. Thanks for writing about this. Judith

    1. Do you mean the link to the 60 Minutes piece? I tried to find it on YouTube but couldn’t. The video I show is the one I think they mention in the piece. The 60 Minutes piece is well worth watching even if you have to watch some ads. It has more impact than the Lustig videos.

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