Many years ago, I read a book about healthy nutrition and was rather shocked to learn about the perverse cycle of refined sugars in our system. Now, scientists are questioning whether we should consider sugar a toxic substance.
It is no secret that the U.S. sugar industry cannot afford negative perceptions of its products. According to one of the top scholars in the field, Marion Nestle, the Sugar Association, Corn Refiners Association, and American Beverage Association spend massive amounts of money with a single purpose: discrediting research that says sugar can be harmful to human health.
For the University of California’s Robert Lustig, another top researcher in the field, sugar is addictive, just like, for example, cocaine. “They could have put cocaine in the food, but that’s illegal. They could’ve put heroin in the food, but that’s illegal. They do put caffeine in the food, that’s not illegal, and they put sugar in the food because it’s not illegal. They know what they’re doing. Our economy is entirely built on hedonic pleasures, which is why we’re going to hell in a handbasket,” Lustig concludes.
Cake, ice cream, cookies, they are all deeply ingrained in our culture. Most of these treats usually contain sugars in large amounts, more than our bodies need. Excess sugar can lead to fat storage, liver problems, and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The sugars found in fruits, vegetables, and milk are generally not as problematic as added sugars. Processed foods usually contain this. And, although there are alternatives, a huge industry depends on us continuing to buy low-nutrition, high-calorie products.
If you read the labels on most products consumed by the average household, chances are sugar is listed as an ingredient in most of them. In many cases, added sugars will be present in products that do not necessarily taste sweet or in naturally sweet products, like orange juice. But if science tells us added sugar is so problematic, why is it virtually everywhere?
Sugar Lobby’s Dark Past
In 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a historical document review that shed light on a massive conspiracy by the sugar lobby to shift the blame for a high risk of heart disease from sugar to fat intake.
In the 1960s, the scientific community saw a surge in studies downplaying the role of sugar consumption in heart disease. We now know it was, in fact, the Sugar Association (then called Sugar Research Foundation) that funded biased research naming dietary fat as the culprit of heart disease.
A researcher from the University of San Francisco unearthed documents proving that the Sugar Research Foundation “paid scientists to do a 1967 literature review that overlooked the role of sugar in heart disease,” according to The Guardian.
The literature review appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, not before the sugar lobby reviewed and approved a draft and paid three Harvard researchers the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s currency for their valuable services.
According to Marion Nestle, the sugar lobby has continued to sponsor favorable research about high-sugar products. “Food company sponsorship, whether or not intentionally manipulative, undermines public trust in nutrition science,” Nestle explains, “contributes to public confusion about what to eat, and compromises Dietary Guidelines in ways that are not in the best interest of public health.”
The Sugar Association and Corn Refiners Association are not the only ones to sponsor convenient research. Coca Cola has spent millions on studies concluding that sugary sodas do not cause obesity.
Is Sugar Really Poisoning Us?
Robert Lustig’s celebrated sugar conference, “The Bitter Truth”, has had nearly 10 million views on YouTube. In it, Lustig describes sugar as a toxin. Specialized in pediatric hormone disorders, the researcher believes, “It’s not about the calories. It has nothing to do with the calories. [Sugar is] a poison by itself.”
According to the New York Times, “If Lustig is right, it would mean that sugar is also the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles—heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them.”
Sugar and Cancer
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup lead to fat storage in the liver, followed by insulin resistance, which increases insulin secretion, promoting tumor growth. Such is the vital role of insulin in our system, produce too much or too little, and you may end up with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver. Added sugars in processed foods mess with this delicate balance.
Obese people tend to feel guilty about their eating habits. But if they are being fed an addictive toxin, they may be rather helpless. A complex cycle of causes and effects may eventually lead their disturbed metabolisms to develop deadly cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Whether we want to call sugar a poison or not, it is clear that the industry has paid handsomely to keep us in the dark about the real dangers of excessive sugar intake. And it is time for the organizations and the people who made those decisions—to fund biased research and deceive the public—to be held accountable.