New evidence points to need to reduce sugar

Thursday, April 5, 2012

We got a call from someone in the sugar or high-fructose corn syrup industry a year ago -- we can't remember which -- over a minor point in an editorial headlined "No matter the source, sugar is bad in excess."

The editorial cited a New York Times Magazine article detailing the dangers of taking in too much sugar, especially in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which has become more and more popular with the food industry because of price and availability considerations.

If we get any calls this time, it won't be because one type of sugar is claiming to be healthier than another.

Both kinds were condemned by a California endocrinologist, whose YouTube campaign against added sugars and resulting media attention has given attention to his "war on bad food."

Interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta for CBS' "60 Minutes," Dr. Robert Lustig contends that 75 percent of the obesity, type II diabetes and high blood pressure that result from the American lifestyle are preventable.

Gupta also interviewed a Harvard Professor, Lewis Cantley, who said eating sugar causes an insulin spike that can fuel certain types of cancers. While all cells need sugar, nearly a third of cancer cells have insulin receptors that respond to that spike to begin using glucose from the blood stream to grow.

Dr. Lustig told 60 Minutes that the increase of sugar in American diets -- 130 pounds per person, per year, or a third of a pound a day -- is an unintended consequence of the "low-fat" drive of a few years ago.

To counteract the bland taste that resulted from removing fat, food manufacturers substituted sugar of one type or another.

Humans love sugar, he said, because it occurs naturally in only foods that are safe to eat. But, such foods are high in fiber that slows absorption and consumption of those sugars.

The report also cited a study that seemed to find that the liver, once overloaded with fructose, converts some of it into fat which winds up in the bloodstream in the form of "bad" LDL associated with heart disease.

The reporter also underwent an MRI scan that showed blood rushing to a portion of his brain associated with pleasure, after he took a tiny sip of soda. The source, an Oregon researcher, said the dopamine response to sweetness was similar to one observed when the subject used cocaine. And, he contended, those who have a diet heavy in sugar build up a tolerance like someone using drugs.

A sugar industry spokesman interviewed for the report naturally called for caution in interpreting the science, and we agree. A balanced diet, coupled with increased exercise, is never a bad idea.

But neither is drastically reducing sugar.

Check out "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" on YouTube.

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