60 Minutes and Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN aired a controversial interview with Dr. Robert Lustig. The question, ‘Is sugar toxic?’. Lustig says yes. It makes sense that for a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight we should eat high-calorie foods in moderation, especially sugar. Too much of anything is not a good thing. But can sugar actually cause health issues? Lustig says yes.
Who is Dr. Robert Lustig?
A nationally-recognized authority in the field of neuroendocrinology, Dr. Robert Lustig has been researching obesity and its effects on the human body for years. For many of those years it seemed as if he was railing into the wind about sugar and its danger. In a world that was covered in butter, sugar with its no fat content was the lesser of two evils. The thought process was, as Americans got fatter we needed to eat less. In order to get healthy and stay that way we also needed to eat less fat.
Low-fat diet food revolution
In 1982 The American Heart Association made recommendations about reducing our fat intake in order to cut our chances of a heart attack. Since fat makes most things taste good, to make foods without fat more palatable, sugar was added. The food market was flooded with low-fat food options that had lots of sugar. This is when according to Lustig everything went wrong. The majority of calories we eat now come from foods containing sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
The Bitter Truth
Lustig’s findings were presented in a lecture that you can watch on YouTube. His premise was that sugar more specifically, fructose has links to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. His claim is sugar gets broken down in a similar fashion to protein but takes another path in a way that makes a sugar calorie different. ‘A calorie is a calorie is a calorie’ has been the weight loss refrain from nutritionists and doctors for years, this idea changes all of that thinking.
- photo credit msn.com
What is the danger and where is it?
Yearly, the average person eats 130 pounds of sugar. That’s about 1/3 lb a day. This isn’t just sugar in it’s sweet form but also as high fructose corn syrup. This can be found in more foods than you may imagine. Foods breads, ketchup, store barbeque sauces, pasta sauces, snack chips, processed cheese, deli meats, bacon, fruit yogurt, hot dogs all contain sugar. Is there a difference between ‘regular’ sugar and high fructose corn syrup? In Dr. Lustig’s words, “No, they’re both bad”. Studies show those who consume too much sugar sends the liver into overdrive. As a result, the body turns some of this sugar into fat. After only two weeks of eating a diet that had slightly higher levels of sugar LDL levels were raised. High levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol are risk factors for atherosclerosis.
Sugar addiction just like drugs?
One of the segments of the interview showed that even a teaspoon of sugar sets off the pleasure centers in our brains. When dopamine is released, we feel good and tend to do what made us feel good again, and again and again. What’s more concerning is that the tolerance levels of participants increased, thus requiring more sugar to get the same response. This is what happens to people with addictions.
Dr. Lustig authored a paper that was published by the American Heart Association with new recommendations for sugar intake. They state:
|“This study adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages are detrimental to cardiovascular health,” said Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., study lead author and professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA. “Certainly, it provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population.”|
The AHA suggests that men should not have more than 150 calories from sugar per day
The AHA suggests that women should not have more than 100 calories from sugar per day
The AHA doesn’t say that all sugars are bad. But sugars add calories and zero nutrients to food. Adding a limited amount of sugars to foods that provide important nutrients—such as whole-grain cereal, flavored milk or yogurt—to improve their taste, especially for children, is a better use of added sugars than nutrient-poor, highly sweetened foods.
The research will continue but it does seem clear that people who are eating too much sugar aren’t doing themselves any good and potentially increasing their risk for many diseases. If you are having issues with too much sugar in your diet, here are some steps that can help you cut down:
1. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Shopping the perimeter of a grocery store means that the items contributing to weight loss or a healthy lifestyle are along the perimeter of the store. About 1/2 of your groceries should be from produce. The inner aisles contain many of the processed items that should be avoided.
2. Read labels. Check the sugar and carbohydrate content to ensure that they aren’t too high.
3. Start and maintain a food journal. No need to get fancy- grab a notebook and write down what you eat each day. This helps you stay accountable and leads to better decisions.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about more ways to cut sugar from your diet. It takes 21 days to form and break a habit. Stay focused and take pride in the fact that you are taking control of your health and life. You’ll look and feel inspired.