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Why Sugar Is Bad: The Research

Updated on February 28, 2014
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Sugar: the latest food danger

There has been much in the press recently about the dangers of sugar. However, anyone who reads health reports in the news will be a little skeptical. After all, not a week goes by where we aren’t told that – thanks to some new laboratory research - something seemingly innocent in our lifestyles is actually cancer-causing, accelerates heart disease, causes depression, or should be avoided by all pregnant women and children. And then you read an article several weeks later that contradicts it. What are we supposed to think?

So void of professional scientific qualification to my name, I was wary about writing an article that presented the facts about sugar when there evidence is still unclear and still in dispute. So this article is simply a summary of the information that is out there, and will allow you to make up your own mind about whether you need to quit sugar or not.

Pure White And Deadly – the 1970s prophecy

In the 1970s Professor Yudkin, a respected scientist in the UK, published a book examining the harmful effects of sugar. Sadly, Professor Yudkin is now thought of as a modern day Cassandra. Despite his warnings, his work was widely ridiculed at the time and the hypothesis largely lost out to the anti-fat brigade at the time, who began to equate saturated fat with all things harmful to the body.

Today, he is far more respected for his work, and one of the leaders in the field of sugar research – Dr Lustig, likes to cite his research in his lectures (which you can view on YouTube – link below).

Pure White And Deadly gives a fascinating historical insight into how sugar came to be in our diets, and how we are evolutionary not designed to handle this largely processed product that is largely over-consumed in today’s diets. In his studies, Professor Yudkin examines the link between sugar to a wide variety of illnesses and problems, including coronary disease, thrombosis, obesity, tooth decay, and even cancer.

A YouTube sensation: The Bitter Truth

Guess what: you don’t need to be a fluffy kitten falling off a chair to become an internet sensation. Dr Lustig’s lecture on YouTube – entitled Sugar: The Bitter Truth (see below), has been watched by millions, and he has become a scientist in demand ever since, interviewed and reported on around the world.

It is definitely worth watching the lecture, if you haven’t done so. Dr Lustig talks about the prevalence of sugar in our society, and the hidden amounts of sugar (specifically, fructose) in a vast majority of processed foods available in our supermarkets. He also talks about the obesity epidemic, and in particular amongst very young children. His arguments are certainly compelling.

Dr Lustig presents evidence about how sugar is processed by the liver, and how vast qualities just cannot be processed properly by our bodies, leading to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. In turn, he links sugar consumption with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and strokes.

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Fat is not the foe

In 2013 the respected British Medical Journal published a report by a cardiologist by the name of Dr Aseem Malhotra which caused controversy by suggesting that fat had been unfairly demonized in the fight against heart disease, and that sugar consumption needed to be addressed. He points out that while many modern processed foods advertize themselves as low in fat they compensate the flavor loss with an increase in sugar.

Is sugar toxic?

Sarah Wilson, the author of the diet book I Quit Sugar, cites Gary Taubes and his New York Times 2011 article into the effects of sugar. Gary Taubes gives an excellent outline of the facts and research into sugar and its effect on the body, and is a worthwhile read. Taubes gives a balanced review of the evidence, pointing out that a lack of long term studies have been carried out to support some of the anti-sugar hypotheses that have been put forward by some scientists. Taube’s view is that the arguments are certainly compelling, and that sugar could be as bad (or worse) than we currently suspect. There is enough evidence available to Taubes that leads him to feel concerned about the health effects of eating sugar, and I think this is an important point. If you look back in history at the evidence surrounding the harmful effects of cigarettes, you will know that it took a while before that evidence was concrete enough for public health authorities to do something about it. But if I had been growing up in the 50s and 60s, the growing concern would have been enough of a reason for me to quit smoking. The same argument could be said for sugar.

The view from the World Health Organization

It is interesting to note that the World Health Organization has already reacted to the most recent reports on the damaging effects of sugar, as in 2013 they looked at changing their official position on how much we should be consuming. Official recommendations from the WHO are 10 teaspoons a day (about a can of Coke), to 5 teaspoons a day.

The latest research about sugar

A report in JAMA Internal Medicine outlined a link between sugar and heart disease, and found that high sugar consumption (specifically, consuming sugar as a quarter of your daily intake) could double the risk of dying from heart disease.

Summary

There is still some dispute over the health dangers of sugar and more research is underway. But what is clear is that eating vast quantities of sugar on a regular basis is not going to do you any good. And if you are looking to lose weight, cutting out sugar might be a great place to start. The noise surrounding the dangers of sugar is growing rapidly and I for one have found it enough cause for concern to think about whether I really should be eating sugar, and whether my health is just too important to waste it eating high sugar foods.

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