Is Sugar Toxic?

Supplement to May, 2011

A week ago this last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine carried an article by Gary Taubes, Is Sugar Toxic? I wanted to write a supplementary comment to my May newsletter about Taubes piece because it fits so well, Mapping Blood Sugar.

Sugar is perhaps the most refined carbohydrate one can image. To create sugar, sugar cane is stripped of 99% of its nutritive essenceminerals, fiber, and water. The result is a simple chemical, sucrose, C12-H22-O11. If you read any book on the history of sugar that describes the great endeavors of man to grow, harvest, and refine sugarthe capital necessary and the lives lostit seems clear to me that nature never intended for us to consume sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the vast quantities that we do today. [You may recall that it takes 17 feet of sugar cane to make one cup of sugar.]

The average American consumes 30 teaspoons of sugars/sweeteners a day, the equivalent of 477 calories, or about one-quarter of the total calorie intake based on a 2000-calorie diet. Most of these calories are now consumed, largely through sweetened drinks and processed foods, as HFCS because it is cheaper than sugar. The outbreak in recent decades of diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome traces not increased sugar consumption (it has declined 40% over the last 40 years) but rather the 400% increase since 1970 of HFCS as food companies have switched to HFCS from more-expensive sugar.

Several points in Is Sugar Toxic? specifically fit with our May newsletter and deserve mention. The article links:

  • Sugar and HFCS to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer;
  • Sugar and HFCS to fatty liver and insulin resistance;
  • The speed and quantity of fructose consumption (as in a soft drink) with stress to the liver and the conversion to fat:

The fructose component of sugar and HFCS is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (frucotose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose).The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose[it appears from animal research] 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

Click Is Sugar Toxic?

I also wrote a 3-part series on sugar, April-June 2009, which is archived on the Newsletter tab of my website. These articles can also be accessed by clicking the following links:

April09: Sugar, a Depleting Chemical

May09: Sugar CravingsKicking the Sugar Habit

June09: Natural Sweeteners as Substitutes for Sugar