The Truth About Sugar

By Rachael Moeller Gorman, "Solving the Sugar Puzzle," September/October 2012

What’s good? What’s bad? How much sugar is too much? Here’s what the latest science says.

"There is no substitute for whole natural foods, a variety of foods, eaten in season. I read that xylitol, which is marketed as a natural sugar, is actually processed using toxic chemicals. "

A new chapter in the history of sugar is now bursting open and it’s causing many scientists to cringe, the public to pay attention and lots of folks to wonder whether this is just another false alarm. This new development in the sugar story is evangelized by one researcher in particular, a man who says there’s a lot more to the health story than simply nutrient-empty calories from added sugar making us fat. The researcher, Robert Lustig, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, states it like this, bluntly: “Fructose is a poison.”

“High-fructose” corn syrup (HFCS), despite its name, and table sugar (sucrose) are both composed of two smaller sugar molecules, glucose and fructose, in roughly equal proportions. (HFCS and sucrose are virtually chemically equivalent, say most scientists and doctors.) The glucose part is fine, says Lustig; it’s the body’s preferred fuel, the type that smoothly runs the billions of cells in our body. But the fructose part “is a chronic poison,” he says. “It doesn’t kill you after one fructose meal, it kills you after 10,000. The problem is, every meal now is a fructose meal.” HFCS is being added surreptitiously to processed foods. It has found its way into everything—from pretzels to ketchup.

Lustig says this mega-shot of fructose from added sugar uniquely gums up our inner workings and causes—in fact, is the primary cause of—metabolic syndrome, the constellation of disorders, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease, that are devastating our country. All of this happens, Lustig says, when we’re consuming too many calories—and most Americans are eating 200 to 300 extra calories a day. He is quick to point out that he only means the fructose found in added sugar, the super-high levels of sucrose and HFCS we eat in processed foods and drinks (including fruit juices), not the lower levels found in fiber-rich whole fruit nor the sugars (lactose) found naturally in milk.

Next: Lustig's Theory Goes Viral »

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner