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Wellness Corner January 2015 - The Disturbing Science About Sugar


Wellness Corner January 2015
The Disturbing Science About Sugar

by Dr. Gary Pace

Yes, it seems that one more well-loved food item is being seen as a poison that must be avoided. We’ve been hearing about problems with sugar for several years now, and the connection between sugar consumption and problems with obesity, rotten teeth, and diabetes makes intuitive sense.  Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. More evidence is emerging that eating the levels of sugar that the typical American consumes actually makes it a toxin for the body. is a website that was just launched by the University of California at San Francisco, a world class health sciences center, to serve as a clearing-house for all of the new information that is emerging. They are trying to provide a place for academic research to actually impact the way people live.


How Much Sugar do we Eat?

In our culture, sweeteners have always been popular. Health problems are now escalating due to the staggering amounts of sugar added to processed foods. Sugar is now not just found in desserts—one study noted that 74% of processed foods in supermarkets have added sugar, including savory foods like ketchup, sauces, and breads. While ingredients must be listed on the product, there are at least 60 different names for sugars on the labels, including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose, and rice syrup.

Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit, but the food industry has learned to extract fructose and add it to many common foods in order to increase our interest in these products, hence the ubiquitous High Fructose Corn Syrup. 

The American Heart Association recommends no more that 9 tsp. of added sugar per day for men, 6 tsp. for women, and 3-6 tsp. for children.  Yet, one common brand of yogurt contains 7 tsp. per serving; a single cup of bran cereal with raisins (in a box saying, “no high-fructose corn syrup”) has 5 tsp. added; and 11 tsp. is found in some 12 oz. sodas. On average, Americans consume 22 tsp. of sugar a day, 66 lbs. of added sugar each year.


What are the Health Effects?

The rise in sugar consumption is increasingly being understood to be one of the factors leading to increases in chronic disease, especially the Metabolic Syndrome. Diabetes rates being affected has been appreciated for a while, due to the rise in obesity and the influences on insulin levels, which hormonally regulate sugar in the body. Heart disease also seems to be affected through these pathways. There are some suspicions that increased sugar consumption also correlates with age-related cognitive declines and increased cancer rates, but the evidence is less definitive in these cases. 

A surprising yet solid finding recognizes that fructose damages the liver, just like alcohol does. Fructose is metabolized in the liver, which can easily handle the job in nature—eating an apple takes chewing, the sugar is bound in the fiber of the fruit, and there is ample time for the liver to process the fructose in the gut.  Concentrated fructose, eaten on an empty stomach, hurts the liver. It can lead to increased fat deposition in the liver and eventually to cirrhosis. Now 31% of adult Americans and 13% of children suffer from Fatty Liver.



How did these problematic foods get to be so widespread without much public awareness of the consequences? Sugar has been generally perceived as reasonably benign, even as the evidence has been stacking up against it. The powerful industrial food lobby has been hard at work to keep much of this new information buried or perceived as unsubstantiated, much as the Tobacco lobbyists did in the 1970s.

Berkeley recently passed a soda-tax measure, and a similar measure was defeated in San Francisco. Amazingly, food and beverage industry forces spent $21.43 for each of Berkeley’s 78,144 registered voters and $15.50 per registered voter in San Francisco in order to defeat these measures. 

Sugar is now being understood as a natural toxin, best consumed in small quantities. The evidence is clear, despite conflicting claims you may see in the media. Avoid the advertising and find good sources for health information to make individual and societal health decisions.


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