By Dr. Mercola
Americans have been warned for years about the dangers of eating too much fat or salt, but the media has been relatively silent about sugar, in spite of the country’s rising rates of obesity and failing health.
Copious research have been published about the many ways excess sugar can damage your health, yet industry continues to defend it—science be damned.
They want you to continue believing the outdated myth that saturated fat is to blame, instead of sugar. Nevertheless, the wheels of progress continue to turn.
An influential group of medical researchers has been relentless in spreading the word about the strong associations between sugar consumption and the rising rates of obesity and major diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
This is not “news” to the food industry. They’ve actually been hiding the real science about sugar for decades—devising ways to get you even MORE addicted to their products, regardless of the consequences to your health.
It’s time for everyone to know the truth about the sugar industry’s deceptions. In 2012, science journalist and author Gary Taubes partnered with Cristin Kearns Couzens to write “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.”1 In their exposé, featured in Mother Jones, they write:
“For 40 years, the sugar industry’s priority has been to shed doubt on studies suggesting its product makes people sick. On federal panels, industry-funded scientists cited industry-funded studies to dismiss sugar as a culprit.”
The Secret World of the Sugar Industry
The documentary “The Secrets of Sugar” tells the story of how the food industry has known for decades about the links between a processed food diet and disease.
On a mission to change how the sugar industry operates, Colorado Community Care Dentist Cristin Kearns Couzens stumbled upon evidence that they were already worried about sugar’s role in heart disease as far back as the early 1970s.
Couzens unearthed more than 1,500 pages of internal memos, letters, and reports, buried in the archives of now-defunct sugar companies, as well as in the recently released papers of deceased researchers and consultants who played key roles in the industry's strategy.
The sugar industry was sweating the impending book Pure White and Deadly (1972) by British nutritionist John Yudkin, in which he presented decades of research pointing at dietary sugar—rather than fat—as the underlying factor in obesity and diabetes.
The Sugar Association secretly funded a white paper called “Sugar in the Diet of Man” that claimed sugar was not only safe and healthy, but important. Not only did they fund it, but they made it appear to be an independent study.
The Sugar Association’s biggest apologist was Ancel Keyes who, with industry funding, helped destroy Yudkin’s reputation by labeling him a quack. The smear campaign was a huge success, bringing sugar research to a screeching halt.
Those who profit from sugar have always been very adept at crushing dissenting voices everywhere, including the halls of science. Silencing sugar allowed fat to continue its notorious reign as dietary villain, despite its lack of scientific support.
The 21st century brought super-sized sodas along with super-sized health problems, and the food industry continues to look the other way—hoping you won’t catch on to the truth.
Just as Big Tobacco angled to place the blame for cancer elsewhere, Big Sugar has scrambled for cover, borrowing Big Tobacco tactics such as undermining science, intimidating scientists, and subverting public health policy.
Research Proves Causation: Sugar Increases Chronic Disease Risk
It’s estimated 100 million North Americans are now diabetic or pre-diabetic. Evidence is clear that refined sugar is a primary factor causing obesity and chronic disease, thanks largely to the work of pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig.
Dr. Lustig makes a strong case that sugar could be an important factor in today’s chronic disease epidemic. Overloading your liver with more sugar than it can metabolize often creates serious metabolic issues over time.
How much sugar are people consuming? On average, sugar represents 15 percent of the total calories consumed by Americans. America’s use of high fructose corn sweeteners octupled between 1950 and 2000.2
The reason for this excess is that Americans rely heavily on processed food, which is simply loaded with sugar, especially fructose—sweetening the sugar industry’s profits. The food industry sees nearly one trillion dollars in sales per year, and they couldn’t do it without sugar.
Too Much Fructose Is Poison
Of all the types of sugar you could consume, refined fructose is by far the most damaging. Research as shown high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is more toxic than table sugar (sucrose). Mice fed a high-HFCS diet had nearly twice the death rate of mice fed a diet high in sucrose.
Table sugar consists of two molecules, which separate in your gut: fructose and glucose. Glucose travels throughout your body and fuels your muscles and brain. But fructose goes straight to your liver, where all sorts of problems result. Your liver turns this fructose into liver fat, which causes a slew of metabolic problems. For starters, excess fructose shuts down the part of your brain that tells you when you’re full, making overeating likely.
The resulting insulin resistance is at the core of a long list of serious health problems, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. And the list seems to grow longer by the day. Research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)3 shows your risk of dying from heart disease nearly triples if 25 percent or more of your daily calories come from sugar.
You may not realize that insulin resistance affects each organ differently. For example, insulin resistance may be the first step toward the development of hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease.4 Added sugars, especially fructose, may play more of a role than salt in high blood pressure. When certain organs experience insulin resistance, specific diseases may develop. A few examples are provided in the table below.
Organ or System Developing Insulin Resistance Disease Muscles Type 2 diabetes5 Liver Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease6 Brain Alzheimer’s disease7, 8 Ovaries Polycystic ovary disease9 Peripheral Nervous System Neuropathy10
Sugar May Be Cancer’s Best Friend
According to the latest World Cancer Report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is often preventable through lifestyle choices. Sugar is cancer’s favorite food—at least some forms of cancer. Cornell University Professor Lewis Cantley believes dietary sugar not only increases your chances of developing cancer, but also worsens the outcome if you already have it. Elevated insulin gives cancer tumors a boost by directing cancer cells to consume glucose.
Some cancer cells actually contain insulin receptors, harnessing glucose to grow and spread. If you have this type of cancer, eating sugar is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Knowing how cancer responds to sugar, you can probably see how obesity can be a marker for increased cancer risk. Obesity has been linked to increased risk for many types of cancer—colon, esophageal, kidney, breast, and pancreatic—as well as raising your risk of dying from the disease.
Sugar’s Law of Attraction: The ‘Bliss Point’
The amount of sugar in processed foods is no accident—the industry goes to great lengths to scientifically calculate the exact combination of ingredients that will make you crave a product, which it calls the Bliss Point. Dr. Howard Moskowitz, a long-time food industry consultant, is known as “Dr. Bliss.” A Harvard-trained mathematician, Moskowitz tests people’s reactions and finds the optimal amount of sugar for a product—essentially, he helps them find the “Goldilocks” zone. And he’s made the sugar industry billions.11 Moskowitz’s path to mastery began when he was hired by the US Army to research how to get soldiers to consume more rations in the field.
Over time, soldiers were not consuming adequate rations, finding their ready-to-eat meals so boring that they’d toss them away, half-eaten, and not get all the calories they needed. Through this research, Moskowitz discovered “sensory-specific satiety.” What this means is, big flavors tend to overwhelm your brain, which responds by suppressing your desire to eat more.
However, this sensory-specific satiety is overridden by complex flavor profiles that pique your taste buds enough to be alluring, but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells your brain to stop eating. The magic formula gives you “the bliss point,” enabling the processed food industry to make very deliberate efforts to get you to overeat. Goldilocks combinations of sugar, salt and fat are what make processed foods so addictive.
What amount of sugar is safe? According to Dr. Lustig, while there are individual differences, as a general rule the safety threshold for sugar consumption seems to be around six to nine teaspoons (25-38 grams) of added sugar per day. It doesn’t take much to exceed that if you eat ANY processed food at all. When you see how much sugar is stealthily added to processed and prepared foods, you might be surprised. Everyone expects pastries and sodas to be loaded with sugar—no one would be surprised to learn that a can of Coke contains 40 grams.
However, you might be shocked at how much sugar is added to foods you might not even consider to be “sweet.” Take frozen dinners, for example. Prego Fresh Mushroom Italian Sauce boasts 11 grams of sugar. A can of Campbell’s Classic Tomato Soup has 20 grams of sugar—more than two Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. One Healthy Choice Sweet & Tangy BBQ Chicken dinner contains a liver-crushing 28 grams of sugar.
Even meat products can be awash in sugar—take Krave Jerky, for example, marketed as “healthy gourmet jerky.” A modest size bag (3.5 ounces) of Krave Chili Lime Jerky contains a whopping 39 grams.12 Of course, they list a serving size as one ounce, but I’m guessing most snackers don’t eat just one-third of the pouch.
If you were to eat a 3.5-gram pouch, you might as well be eating a candy bar or drinking a can of pop, from the standpoint of the sugar hit. Even a Hershey Milk Chocolate bar pales in comparison to this jerky, at 24 grams of sugar.13 Maybe Krave Jerky should be marketed as “meat candy.” Not surprisingly, Krave Jerky was just bought by Hershey.14
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To Avoid Chronic Disease, Say NO to Big Sugar
Evidence clearly shows that refined sugar and processed fructose are important factors underlying obesity and chronic disease. If you want to normalize your weight and dramatically reduce your risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, you need to address your processed food consumption. Refined sugar and fructose, grains, and other sugar-forming starchy carbohydrates are largely responsible for your body's adverse insulin and leptin reactions, and this metabolic dysregulation is responsible for many of the chronic diseases seen today.
If you’re insulin/leptin resistant, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are overweight, you’d be wise to limit your total sugar/fructose intake to 15 grams per day until your insulin/leptin resistance has resolved. This applies to at least half of all Americans. For all others, I recommend limiting your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less. The easiest way to accomplish this is by swapping processed foods for whole, ideally organic foods, which means cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients.
Please refer to my free nutrition plan for a step-by-step guide to making positive changes in your diet. You simply cannot achieve optimal health on a diet of processed foods and sugar. By choosing otherwise, you’ll be boosting your health, as well as sending the sugar industry an important message that you’re wise to its lies and deceptions.