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The Bitter Truth About Sugar

Dr. Mercolal

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Dec. 31, 2014

Dr. Robert Lustig, a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at UC San Francisco, has been on the forefront of the movement to educate people about the health hazards of sugar and fructose in particular, for a number of years now.

In the video above, he discusses how low-fat recommendations have led to a dramatic increase in sugar consumption, and it is in fact sugar, not fat, that drives heart disease.

Excess sugar is also a primary factor in countless other chronic disease states. This is a topic he delves into in-depth in his new book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.

The excessive amount of “stealth” sugar in processed foods has quite literally become the backbone that supports America’s disease care business.

According to the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s 2013 study1 “Sugar: Consumption at a Crossroads,” up to 40 percent of US healthcare expenditures are for diseases directly related to the overconsumption of sugar! 

Sugar Masquerading as Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner...

A major problem with processed food is that when you look at the label, you have no way of knowing how much of the sugar is natural to the food itself, versus the sugar that was added.  

Even foods that are typically considered “healthy” can contain shocking amounts of added sugar or fructose, typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Clinical trials have shown that those who consume HFCS tend to develop higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease within as little as two weeks, so if I had to pick out the worst culprit among sugars, it would be fructose.

According to Dr. Lustig, it’s important to distinguish between natural food-based sugars versus added sugar.

For example, he notes that a small serving cup of plain yogurt has about seven grams of sugar in the form of lactose, a natural sugar found in dairy, which does not cause any major harm.

A fruit flavored yogurt on the other hand, contains about 19 grams of sugar, 12 grams of which is added sugar. This equates to eating a small cup of plain yoghurt with a bowl of Frosted Corn Flakes.

According to Dr. Lustig, we “abdicated rational nutrition when we went to processed foods.” The low-fat craze has been particularly harmful, because when the food industry removed the fat, they had to put lots of sugar in. Without either fat or sugar, the food is unpalatable and no one would buy it.

We now know that good nutrition includes healthy fat, and quite a bit of it, and that sugar is a primary driver of chronic inflammation and related health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

In short, by removing fat and adding sugar, the processed food industry has created a smorgasbord of made to order disease... Besides enormous amounts of sugar, processed foods are also loaded with ingredients that have been banned in other countries, such as trans fats, artificial sweeteners, genetically engineered ingredients, and glyphosate.

Soda Companies’ Secret Business-Building Strategy—Soda Increases Thirst!

According to Dr. Lustig, there’s a conspiracy around the sugar in soda. Soft drinks contain caffeine, a mild diuretic that makes you urinate more, thereby eliminating water from your body. It also contains about 55 mg of salt, and when you take in salt and excrete water, you get thirstier.

The reason why soda contains so much sugar is because they have to mask the taste of the salt... “They [the soda companies] know what they’re doing, and this is very specific,” Dr. Lustig says, “because they have made it so that you will buy more. This is their business strategy.”

Unfortunately, it’s a business strategy that is slowly killing customers... Adding insult to injury, sugar has also been found to be eight times as addictive as cocaine,2 which also ensures that you’ll stay hooked on processed foods and sweet drinks.

Your Body Can Only Handle a Limited Amount of Sugar

The main problem with sugar, and processed fructose in particular, is the fact that your liver has a very limited capacity to metabolize it. According to Dr. Lustig, you can safely metabolize about six teaspoons of added sugar per day. But the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.

All that excess sugar is metabolized into body fat, and leads to all of the chronic metabolic diseases we struggle with, including but not limited to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dementia
  • Cancer

According to a study published in JAMA3 earlier this year, Americans get, on average, about 350 calories a day from added sugar in the diet. (This equates to about 22 teaspoons of sugar, as noted earlier, which amounts to 25 percent of the average American’s daily calorie intake.)

In this study, people who consumed 21 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar were TWICE as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who got seven percent or less or their daily calories from added sugar.

The risk was nearly TRIPLED among those who consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar. Approximately 10 percent of Americans consume added sugars at this tripled-risk level...

Four grams of sugar is equivalent to about one teaspoon, and I strongly recommend limiting your daily fructose intake to 25 grams or less from all sources, including natural ones like fruit. That equates to just over six teaspoons of sugar a day.

If you’re among the 80 percent majority who have insulin or leptin resistance (overweight, diabetic, high blood pressure, or taking a statin drug), you’d be wise to restrict your total fructose consumption to as little as 15 grams per day, until you’ve normalized your insulin and leptin levels.

Sugar-Cancer Connection Revisited

Hospitals are notoriously ignorant of the metabolic damage associated with sugar and processed foods. Even cancer hospitals serve up processed high-carb diets to their patients, despite the fact that the science quite clearly shows that sugar feeds cancer.

Cancer cells need glucose to thrive, and carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body. In order to starve the cancer cells, you have to eliminate its primary food source, i.e. the sugars, which include all non-vegetable carbohydrates. Otto Warburg actually received a Nobel Prize back in 1934 for his research on cancer cell physiology, which clearly demonstrated cancer cells require more sugar to thrive. Unfortunately, very few oncologists appreciate or apply this knowledge today.

The latest World Cancer Report,4 issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), predicts worldwide cancer rates to rise by 57 percent in the next two decades. But the report also notes that half of all cancers are preventable and can be avoided if current medical knowledge is acted upon. Diet (and exercise) is included in their list of known cancer prevention strategies.

I firmly believe that reducing sugar and processed food consumption is part and parcel of the long-term answer. Even in terms of treatment, cancer has been shown to respond to diet alone. A ketogenic diet, which is high in healthy fat and very low in sugar, has been shown to reverse cancer in many cases, and a lot of very exciting research is being done in this area. It can be very useful in addressing the underlying insulin resistance. Once the insulin resistance resolves, the ketogenic diet is typically not required.

New Study Reveals Sugar Also Initiates Cancer Growth

Oncologists will surely have to start paying closer attention to the issue of sugar if they want to purport to practice science-based medicine. Not only is there a solid scientific basis for the claim that sugar feeds existing cancer; according to a study5 published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in January, sugar also appears to initiate cancer growth. As reported by,6 this study:

"’...provide[s] evidence that increased glycolytic activation itself can be an oncogenic event...’ That is to say, the activation of sugar-based metabolism in a cell – driven by both the presence of increased quantities of glucose and the increase glucose receptors on the cell membrane surface (i.e. ‘overexpression of a glucose transporter’) – drives cancer initiation.

Moreover, the study found that ‘Conversely, forced reduction of glucose uptake by breast cancer cells led to phenotypic reversion.’ In other words, interfering with sugar availability and uptake to the cell causes the cancer cell to REVERSE towards its pre-cancer structure-function (phenotype).

Tips for Reducing Your Added Sugar Intake

As mentioned in the featured video, the easiest way to dramatically cut down on your sugar and fructose consumption is to switch to a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, as most of the added sugar you end up with comes from processed fare; not from adding a teaspoon of sugar to your tea or coffee. But there are other ways to cut down well. This includes:

  • Cutting back on the amount of sugar you personally add to your food and drink
  • Using Stevia or Luo Han instead of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. You can learn more about the best and worst of sugar substitutes in my previous article, “Sugar Substitutes—What’s Safe and What’s Not
  • Using fresh fruit in lieu of canned fruit or sugar for meals or recipes calling for a bit of sweetness
  • Using spices instead of sugar to add flavor to your meal

Take Control of Your Health to Avoid Becoming a Statistic

Research coming out of some of America’s most respected institutions now confirms that sugar is a primary dietary factor driving chronic disease development. So far, scientific studies have linked excessive fructose consumption to about 78 different diseases and health problems,7 including heart disease and cancer.

Having this information puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to prevention... As a general rule, a diet that promotes health is high in healthful fats and very, very low in sugar and non-vegetable carbohydrates, along with a moderate amount of high-quality protein. For more specifics, please review my free optimized nutrition plan, which also includes exercise recommendations, starting at the beginner’s level and going all the way up to advanced.