18 April 2011
I’m sure many of you have seen this New York Times article by Gary Taubes floating around the internet. At least two people made a point to send it to me (my friends know me well!).
If Lustig is right, then our excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. But his argument implies more than that. 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.
Not that anyone has ever claimed that sugar is good for us, and obviously, Taubes has his own nutritional lens from which he sees everything. But most mainstream nutritionists would still argue that “in moderation,” sugar can be part of a healthy diet or weight loss plan. As the article says:
The conventional wisdom has long been that the worst that can be said about sugars of any kind is that they cause tooth decay and represent “empty calories” that we eat in excess because they taste so good.
Lustig’s argument, however, is not about the consumption of empty calories — and biochemists have made the same case previously, though not so publicly. It is that sugar has unique characteristics, specifically in the way the human body metabolizes the fructose in it, that may make it singularly harmful, at least if consumed in sufficient quantities.
This is because, Lustig argues, fructose is metabolized differently than every other compound:
In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.
Our lifetime sugar consumption totals the amount in the dumpster. Frightening.
The really scary part about all of this is that no one is denying that metabolic syndrome is pretty much the major risk factor for heart disease. And metabolic syndrome is caused by insulin resistance! This is what the book Why We Get Fat is all about (read my review). To me, all signs point to sugar.
The article is quick to point out that none of the research vilifying sugar is conclusive, but I really don’t care. There’s nothing redeeming about sugar. It’s addictive, we don’t biologically need it, and it conclusively contributes to weight gain even if it’s not the one of the prime causes of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.
To me, that’s enough info to limit my consumption as much as I possibly can. As Your Nutritionista, I highly recommend you do the same.