Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is Sugar Toxic?

Last night, I stumbled across a brief interview that made me giddy with delight. 60 Minutes Overtime interviews Sanjay Gupta, who reported on the show last week regarding the health risks of sugar consumption. Here you can watch the original segment of Is Sugar Toxic? or read the transcript. It was a quick read, and I highly recommend taking a few minutes for it.

The conclusion is that we should drastically reduce -- if not completely eliminate -- sugar from our diets.

Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondant and a neurosurgeon himself, interviewed several scientists, each of whom revealed shocking truths about the sweet stuff. All-too-brief overview:
  • Dr. Robert Lustig, pediatrician and endocrinologist at UCSF, calls sugar a toxin and blames it for the rampancy of many common ailments in our society, including obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Because of their fructose levels, he equates sugar with high fructose corn syrup (I would add a caution against agave for the same reason). On youtube, you can watch his popular lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth.
  • Kimber Stanhope, nutritional biologist at UC-Davis, has been conducting an intensive study, pointing at high fructose corn syrup as a driving force behind heart disease and stroke. Her research confirms that not all calories are created equal.
  • Lewis Cantley, Harvard professor and head of the Beth Israel Deaconess Cancer Center, says that the sudden spike in insulin caused by sugar consumption fuels the growth of certain types of cancers, including breast and colon cancers. Cantley says not to eat sugar at all.
  • Eric Stice, neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute, has been doing MRI scans to analyze the effects of sugar on the brain. His conclusions? That sugar is highly addictive, triggering reward responses in the brain, much the same as drugs like cocaine. And like drug users, we can build up a tolerance, causing us to eat more in order to achieve the same satisfaction.
Read it yourself for more juicy details. I've been reading information like this for years now, but not always from such mainstream sources, which is why I loved this report. Here are a few other articles I've enjoyed:

Because of what I've learned about sugar, we gradually eliminated refined sugar from our household. Among the benefits we've noticed: we feel better, we lost weight (especially initially), our tastes are far more sensitive, and we need much less sweetener to satisfy. We use natural sweeteners, but still quite moderately.

A few years ago, I'd wager no one could have beaten my husband in a war of the sweet tooth, so if we can do it, anyone can!


  1. That's great Nonie! I haven't watched the 60 minutes special yet, but I've read a ton about the toxicity of sugar and I find it fascinating. I too, have noticed that when I eliminate sugar from my diet I feel so much better and yet sometimes I slip. It's always encouraging to read about families who have successfully won the sugar battle!

  2. I can't tell you how satisfying these new reports are! We discovered (sadly) during my last pregnancy that I have a sugar allergy... ingesting any refined white star sends me into a terrible spiral. It's been frustrating, but honestly, it's kind of fun searching for new alternatives and recipes. One thing I'd add to your list is that my family (they're not sugar-free, rather, they treat it as a TREAT...something to be had on a special occasion) is much, much healthier than before. And as a mom, there's nothing better!

    1. Wow, talk about great motivation not to eat refined sugar! Thanks for mentioning the health of your family -- that's the most important result of all, isn't it? All the best to you.

  3. Great post, Nonie! I've been off sugar, (we use natural alternatives as well), for a while now, and can I just tell you how much it has really changed my moods too? I've noticed when I make an exception for special occasions I have a few down days after -- sadly for my husband, those down days include irritability. It's so interesting that even though I keep a pretty "clean" diet, it still take at least two days, if not more, for it to flush out of my system!

    Also, as parents we haven't allowed George to have any refined sweeteners up to this point, (save those sneakily hidden in restaurant food). Two weeks ago we were at a birthday party and I gave him some homemade whipped cream, whipped using powdered sugar... he didn't fall asleep until 4am! I know he'll get it in the world, but I'll never be the one to give it to him again. I still can't believe the affect it had on his tiny body!

    I have read the book "Sugar Blues" by William Dufty, and highly recommend that one as well. Great information!

    1. You should do a book review post on Sugar Blues... I've been wanting to read it!

      When Sammy was in nursery and they'd give him sugar, it would shoot down his chances at an afternoon nap. Those were frustrating days. I made sure to ask Daniel's nursery leaders not to give him any.

  4. Kids don't have to ever have sugar! We have some friends whose children respectfully turn down all desserts, even to graham crackers when it's offered. Sometimes they take it and give it to their dad :). It's just what they've always done!

    1. That's great. Shouldn't we all be like that?

      In some situations, I feel it's more important to be polite than keep one's standards. But -- if we do a good job keeping them at home, those few-and-far-between moments won't hurt much. When people give us sugary things as gifts, they usually end up in my garbage (wince), which is where the boys' church Easter candy all went. Sammy seems to understand some of the woes of sugar, and it's really not hard to find acceptable substitutes (if he actually notices something has gone missing, or when he's given a treat and I intercept it).