Food nanny rebellion: Yale doc says Lustig sugar-is-toxic claim ‘not rational’

Dr. David Katz writes at Huffington Post:

I understand from colleagues at LinkedIn that the very same “sugar is poison, fructose is toxic” message that has made videos go viral and books fly off shelves is wildly popular at the Aspen Ideas Festival this year. Since I have argued for reduced sugar intake the entire span of my two-decade long career in public health, I really hate the job of refuting this message — again. I’m not sure I would bother if my only concern were that the message is wrong. The message is wrong — sugar is not poison. But honestly, that’s the least of my worries.

Still, it’s a good place to start: The message is wrong. Sugar, in general, is not poison. Breast milk contains sugar. The human bloodstream contains sugar, at all times, and the moment it doesn’t, we die.

Human beings have consumed sugar, albeit at low levels, since before our genus Homo, became our species, sapiens. Homo erectus and even earlier ancestors ate fruits and honey, too. Nor are we alone. I trust you, as I, have seen nature programs featuring the audacity of a bear braving bee stings to raid a honeycomb.

Innumerable people living today in diverse cultures eat sugar, albeit at reasonable levels, and suffer no harm. The famous Mediterranean and Blue Zone diets indelibly linked to more years in life, more life in years, and enviably low rates of obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease, also happen to be home to such indulgences as baklava.

So, sugar, clearly, is not poison. An excess of sugar in the body is harmful, certainly — but so is an excess of oxygen, potassium, iron, water, or calcium. Too much of any of these can kill us — but just like the glucose that floats in our blood, so can too little.

So the only rational message about the peril of sugar is that an excess is harmful. But that message is already taken…

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5 responses to “Food nanny rebellion: Yale doc says Lustig sugar-is-toxic claim ‘not rational’

  1. The good doctor says, “An excess of sugar in the body is harmful, certainly.”

    Certainly? This assumes facts not in evidence.

    • Howdy Gamecock
      We know that very high glucose levels parallel diabetic ketoacidosis, but that seems to have more to do with the glucose failing to reach the cells than the presence of glucose in the bloodstream. I’m not sure how high glucose levels affect things like circulation in the long run. But this is also in the context of a specific group with specific metabolic problems.
      I have understood that high levels of glucose become high levels of triglycerides but it’s fuzzy what affect triglycerides do or do not have on vascular disease.
      So maybe an excess of glucose is harmful but, as you say, the evidence is weak at this point.
      This war on our plates is effective largely because the tobacco bullies were so effective. I’d be glad if everyone put tobacco aside, but I’d like them to make their own decisions.
      “Nineteen Eighty-Four” includes a memorable scene in which Winston Smith’s telscreen summons him to his “morning jerks”. I’m ready to believe that the Bloombergs of this world (and Obama is one of them) would go that route if they thought they could pull it off.

    • “An excess of sugar in the body is harmful, certainly”.

      I think this was more of a perfunctory nod to his public health colleagues. Nonetheless, a responsible scientist does not make claims of this sort without providing sources.

  2. Tom,
    It’s more than that. Dr. Katz is one of those people that believe excess sugar consumption leads to Diabetes (among other things), even though such a link is far from proven.

    • I have only a medic’s knowledge of diabetes type I, but I’ll trot something out. When glucose fails to move to cells and builds up in the bloodstream, the higher glucose levels seem to trigger the kidneys to try to excrete the glucose. That in turn can drive a dehydration cycle, or so I would think. I don’t know if high serum glucose levels have harmful effects on blood vessels or on the kidneys themselves.
      I’m sure we have Type 1 diabetic folks and their doctors reading around here. Would one of you with more knowledge help us out? Is high serum glucose harmful in itself?

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