Sugar: The Bitter Truth

“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.”

– Joan Didion

courtesy of roadsidepictures

courtesy of roadsidepictures

Groucho is dubious here, and you should be too

A buddy of mine brought this video to my attention recently (thanks, Caleb!), and it really is a “must see” — or a “must hear”, as I chose to listen to the podcast version (making my work commute pay dividends).  Wow, in the same way that watching the Zeitgeist films will stir-up your hatred for “the gub’mint man”, Sugar, The Bitter Truth will make you want to go out and string-up a few “big food” executive types.  No kidding, pick a rainy weekend to kick back and watch all of these offerings back-to-back and you’ll want to jump off the grid and join up with a militia.

The tag line for the “Sugar” lecture is as follows:

Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology explores the damage caused by sugary foods.

But really, it’s so much more than that.  Dr. Lustig does a fantastic job of explaining why (and how) sugar is so destructive to the body, and why High-Fructose Corn Syrup is just out and out poison.  Anyone who is still in the dark about exactly how carbohydrate in general (sugar and HFCS specifically) botches-up the blood chemistry and ramps-up the body’s fat storage mechanisms, needs to pay close attention.  And get ready to be schooled — though, in a very entertaining way.

And be prepared  as well, to consider the out-and-out lunacy of a nation attempting to formulate some manner of health care reform, while at the same time promoting, through taxation (or lack thereof) and subsidy, the very substance that is at the heart of (pardon the pun) the physical ailment side of the whole equation.  Get people healthy to begin with, and the unwieldy health care debate then becomes something much more manageable.

In health,


36 responses to “Sugar: The Bitter Truth

  1. “If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”

    Upton Sinclair

  2. Sounds like a great follow up to the more farmer focused ‘Food, Inc.’ Have you seen it? The film does a great job explaining how a misguided and at times corrupt government on all sides of the political fence has led to a skewed supply/demand system with far reaching consequences for farmers and consumers.

  3. I read both Sugar Blues (William Duffy) and Sweet and Dangerous (Yudkin) back in the 70s, and also brought in Dr. Yudkin on a talk radio show I was producing back then to demolish some other idiot doctor who was pushing the sugar is good for you line. Yudkin was great, and prophetic. Since then, I’ve eaten almost no sugar for 30+ years, and people have and continue to look at me like I have three heads when I tell them I don’t eat sugar (or desserts). Sugar is indeed a poison in the quantities we’re eating it. I always tell people that if they’re going to eat sugar, use it as a spice, not a food.

    Few listen 🙂

  4. Dr. Lustig draws toxic similarities between ethanol and fructose. However, he does not talk about how fructose might be additive as can be the case with alcohol. If fructose can be addictive it can explain why processed foods that contain fructose (i.e. HFCS) may be so difficult to give up.


    • Sugar is most definitely addicting; HFCS even more so. Just ask anyone who is (or who remembers) going through the first few weeks of Paleo transition.

    • He does explain it. It bypasses the “I am full” mechanism, so you never feel satisfied with what you’ve eaten and have to finish off the package. The only reason you stop is because you run out of whatever it is. If you have a 55 gallon drum of potato chips next to you while you watch the latest episode of Biggest Loser (sorry – inside family joke) you will continue to eat till it’s gone. Side note: This is the first place I’ve heard the term paleo diet. I assume it’s the same as raw diets. except no dairy no meat. Onward…

    • I think David Kessler addresses the addictive process of hyperstimulatory food in his book “The End of Overeating.”

  5. Great video – thanks for sharing Keith. One point Dr. Lustig made a couple of times in his talk is that pre-agricultural humans consumed 100-300 grams of fiber per day. (!?) As best I can recall, I’ve never come across this data point in my extensive reading on paleo nutrition. Anyone know a source for this assertion?

    Other curiosities: it was interesting that he emphasized the importance of fiber in the diet (Taubes seemed to debunk the utility of fiber pretty authoritatively in GCBC). Also, it seemed like the Dr. gave glucose a bit of a free pass… perhaps only relative to fructose, though.

    • Yeah, glucose relative to fructose (and, I would add, HFCS) is the key phrase here.

      I think there is a wide range in what the genome can handle as related to fiber consumption. Obviously Eskimo communities did fine with a zero carb diet, with societies nearer the equater doing fine on a higher carb/fiber diet. I think the Paleo camp, though, is proving empirically what an optimal diet consists of. I do believe that there is a window, though, that accommodates personal genetic pre-dispositions. Raw dairy consumption being one example.

  6. Very interesting video. Watched it yesterday afternoon and was compelled to say the least. One thing that confused me though was his lack of mention of the dangers of excess glucose from bread/pasta/potatoes which is prevalent in our society and can be seen in the bellies of older generations who don’t touch soft drinks or sweets but eat a high “good carb” diet……..

    Also what are the views on Fructose from fruits. Considering I get all my carbs from mainly vegetables and a few pieces of fruit I will definitely be going over 50 grams of fructose per day, but considering the liver can hold/process up to 80 grams of glycogen at a time this seems fine. It would be good to see what you guys think of high fruit intake like that promoted in the Paleo Diet book……

    Great post as usual Keith!

    • I tend to look at fruit (and fructose content) in a load-dependent way; in other words, I use fruit more as a condiment than a “side”, and I tend toward berries over “fleshy” fruits. Glucose is a load dependent phenomena as well, as evidenced by Asian cultures’ rice consumption as compared to that culture’s relative leanness — until recently, that is — after adoption of a more western diet.

      I think that Dr. Lustig’s failure to address the “glucose issue” stems from a desire to attack the bigger of the problem affecting society as a whole, i.e., fructose and HFCS. You can see how very small the full-on Paleo community is — we’re still a freak show to society as a whole. Remember, he’s addressing a general audience who (1) probably thinks Taubes is on the lunatic fringe, (2) still believes that weight control is a calorie in/calorie out issue, and (3) feel that government agencies are armed with “correct” knowledge and crusade in the populace’s defense.

      With all that said, though, I don’t believe the good doctor would buy-in fully to the Paleo way. He sounds to me more of the “moderate carbohydrate” camp, and, for the population as a whole, this is realistically the best we can strive for.

      • Two observations:

        (1) We’ve been buying frozen wild blueberries for a while. They make delicious protein shakes with a rich blue color. Recently, we purchased some fresh berries at the market that were about twice the size of the wild blueberries. I put some in the protein shake, and it turned a putrid orange-brown color. This color difference must have been due to the difference in the flesh-to-peel ratio. If anyone is interested in performing a home experiment to see for themselves the difference between domesticated and wild fruits, this is a good one.

        (2) While I haven’t looked into this matter thoroughly, I think it’s possible that our assumptions about “rice-consuming Asian cultures” are wrong. There is a cookbook by a man named Goku Homma available on Amazon in which he states that traditional Japanese rural cooking used rice very sparingly and relied heavily on foods that could be gathered in the mountains. This squares well with other random things I have read. For example, in the run-up to WWII the Japanese army recruited by promising daily servings of rice. Although many Japanese were not eating rice, rice was the conceptual basis of a “Japanese” food culture and therefore attractive. The army had performed studies that showed that soldiers maintained on rice did not perform well, but the studies were suppressed for various ideological and pragmatic reasons. Obviously, rice was a cornerstone of the Japanese economy and lifestyle for centuries, but (a) the rice moved upward from rural to urban and poor to rich and (b) I’ve never actually seen evidence for the extent of its real consumption in pre-modern times. Maybe it was consumed in large quantities only by a small percentage of the population, or maybe large amounts were allowed to decadently go bad by the wealthy and landed classes. Maybe the same was true in China and other parts of SE Asia. I doubt that pre-modern Okinawans had much land appropriate for rice cultivation although they are among the longest-lived. Also, I note that artistic representations of urban and wealthy Japanese portrayed them as quite rotund. Maybe the societies were divided and the rice-eaters died earlier and fatter. Again, our views of “traditional” Asian cuisine might be accurate or might not be. I need to look into this more, but it is way down on a list of things to do…

        • About the Okinawans. The topography and soil conditions on their island was NOT conducive to rice production. They relied more on a couple of varieties of small potatoes for starch. They also, contrary to the Paleo Diet group, did not eat any meat. The majority of their protein was derived from seafood. They also consumed a bitter little gourd type veggie, cooked in stir fry. For minerals, they ate a diet high in sea weed. This generation is outliving their children, who have relocated to Tokyo or some other large city.

          • To be sure, their omega 3/omega 6 ratio was skewed heavily toward the (more beneficial) omega 3 side. And this leads to an interesting question: if the omega 3/6 ratio is heavily skewed toward omega 3, does this mean that the optimum overall fat % in the diet can be drastically reduced?

  7. Dr. Lustig is one of the few to treat patients with drugs that inhibit insulin release. Apparently it works well with obese patients who are insulin hypersecretors, but not necessarily well for everyone.

    I still don’t buy into the idea that unlimited starches and glucose are fine either. I think he explains the diversion of glucose to fat via de novo lipogenesis as being a small minority of the total in the case of glucose, but not necessarily in glucose overfeeding, which we certainly do.

    Thanks for the interesting video.

  8. He certainly gets a great amount across in 1.5 hrs! He seems to be big on fiber, but I think that’s because he doesn’t want to tell people to eat super low carb. Would you agree that fiber is really only necessary in large amounts to counteract the effects of refined carbohydrate?

    He said it well in his line that God packages the poison with the antidote. Do we even need that much fiber in the absence of other carbs?

    • I agree. If fat content (good fats, of course) is high, and overall carbohydrate is low, then fiber is a non issue.

      • I second — fat is key as a lubricant.

        Either way, nuts like almonds provide fiber anyways, sans carbs.

        Sugar disrupts the bacterial composition of the digestive system, inflames vessels, and increases viscosity.

        It’s basic physics: fluid dynamics.

  9. Hey great site been following it for a couple of months now. Where is the ipod version of the video? I want to share this with some friends, it’d be easier to get people to listen to it on their commute to work rather than watching the whole thing at the computer…although it was quite engaging, began watching it when I started cleaning my place, and found myself constantly coming to sit at the table to really pay attention

  10. Keith, I’ve been saving this particular post to go through until today where I’m in the middle of spending 7 hours on a train. I went through your writings, the 1.5 hour youtube video and the comments… and, wow. In my readings I have come across many of these themes, but not in a way in which I understand now that products with high levels of sugar and (any!) HFCS will now glow green/red as if they’re radioactive when I stroll through the supermarket. In other words, message really really delivered with this one, and packaged in a way (with the good comments) that one could send to their friends who are seeking their way out of the sugar/HFCS trap. Cheers.

  11. I never drink any soda drinks and never will. However in the video it’s pointed out that the high sugar content in coke is to mask the high salt content. I checked the ingredients in a can of coke in a supermarket, here in The UK, and it would seem that there is no salt included at all. I just think the video is a little misleading if this is the case.

    • Hmmm. I can’t really speak to that; to be truthful, I’ve never been interested enough to actually check the list of ingredients. I wonder if the labeling laws are different in the UK? Or maybe Coke tweeks the formula to support different culture’s tastes?

        • I think Dr. Lustig’s point (of course I could be misinterpreting it) was that enough sodium was added so as to elicit a nice craving response, and that this amount of sodium (albeit relatively “small”) required sugar masking — otherwise, you’d end-up with the cola equivalent of an old fashioned “Gatorade-like” product. The attempt with “new Coke” was to jack the sodium (and accordingly, sugar) levels higher. Sodium + sugar = 1 hell-of-a one-two craving punch. And insidiously, the tastes tend to blunt one another.

          By the way, notice that the default size selection here is “child size”; you can have some serious fun on this nutritional site by selecting the “Super Size” option. “Holy healthcare reform nightmare, Batman!”

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