Is Sugar Toxic?

by in Food News, May 1, 2012
sugar on spoon
Is this sweet stuff toxic?

First fat was the enemy, then it was salt and now sugar. A recent episode of 60 Minutes titled “Is Sugar Toxic” had folks buzzing over Twitter and whispering at the water cooler. But is sugar really the enemy or is this yet another nutrient that’s being needlessly blackballed?

The Claims
Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who claims that sugar is to blame for diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Much of the fat that’s been removed from low-fat foods gets replaced with sugar and Dr. Lustig hypothesizes that the way people eat sugar today is putting their health at risk. Sources of sugar include honey and table sugar along with foods that have hidden sources of sugar like yogurt, sauces, bread and peanut butter. As a result, Dr. Lustig recommends eliminating all sugar from our diet.

The Statistics
Data reveals that Americans are consuming 130 pounds of sugar per person each year—that’s one-third of a pound each day! Studies show that top sources of sugar include sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks and energy drinks. The American Heart Association’s current guidelines for added sugar are up to 100 calories (6 teaspoons) per day for women and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men. Based on the statistical data, we obviously consume way more sugar than we need.

What’s A Consumer To Do?
Dr. Lustig insists that sugar should be regulated just like alcohol and tobacco. But blackballing one nutrient isn’t the answer. The end results will be similar to what happened with fat — food manufacturers will create low-sugar foods that are just as bad for you as many of the processed foods we’re currently eating. Plus, try telling a whole nation of sugar-lovers to go cold turkey — that tactic will undoubtedly backfire.

Instead, learn to slowly change your habits in order to decrease sugar while increasing healthier foods like fruit, veggies, legumes, and whole grains. Here’s how:

  • Read labels carefully:  There are a lot of hidden sources of sugar. Read the ingredient list carefully and look for words like agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose and syrup.
  • Don’t look at the numbers: Food labels combine added sugar with sugar from natural sources like fruit (AKA fructose) and milk (AKA lactose). You want to minimize added sugar and not minimize foods like fruit that provide nutritional value. Don’t use the grams of sugar listed on the label as a guide. Instead, read the ingredients.
  • Swap beverages: With close to 40% of added sugar coming from sugary drinks, make the switch to sugarless drinks like seltzer, water and unsweetened iced or hot tea.
  • Satisfy cravings wisely: Before reaching for a sugary treat to satisfy your sugar craving, try a piece of fruit or a glass of milk (nonfat or low-fat) instead. If that doesn’t work, then take a small serving of the food you crave and count it towards your daily dose.

TELL US: Do you think sugar is toxic?

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