No sweetness in bitter war against sugar
Fat has been given a reprieve as sugar gets the blame for everything from heart and liver disease to cancer
The alarm bell on sugar was most forcibly sounded back in July 2009 by Robert Lustig when his lecture, Sugar The Bitter Truth, was posted on YouTube. It has since been viewed more than 4 million times – not bad for an unchanging shot of a guy in a suit talking for 89 minutes about body chemistry.
As a professor of paediatrics Robert Lustig’s main preoccupation in that lecture was the obese children he was treating, and “an epidemic of obese six-month- old kids” – the babies were obese, he says, because their mothers were obese before they had conceived them.
Lustig pointed out that, “We all weigh 25lbs more than we did 20 years ago.”
But it is rising obesity levels in children and teenagers that most concern him, and particularly their consumption of drinks made with high fructose corn syrup, a substance he maintains can be metabolised only in the liver and consequently “is more like alcohol than anything else”.
In January 2011 Sarah Wilson, the former editor of the Australian edition of Cosmopolitan magazine, gave up sugar and wrote about it on her blog.
“It started as an experiment, but my energy, skin and wellness changed so dramatically, I kept going,” she writes.
A fanatically healthy eater she estimates she was eating 25 teaspoons of sugar per day, through alternative foods such as honey and muesli bars.
She felt sugar was causing her Hashimoto’s disease – an auto-immune disorder which leads to hypothyroidism – to flare up. She started a programme for her online followers called I Quit Sugar.
The site claims that over 180,000 people have completed its eight-week course.
Several sugar-free cookery books and a lot of enthusiastic testimonials later, Sarah Wilson has expanded her I Quit Sugar empire to the United States.
Wilson, like Robert Lustig, is the heir to John Yudkin who brought out two anti-sugar books in the early 1970s. Yudkin, who died in 1995, believed sugar was more conducive of heart disease than fat. His arguments were overtaken by the growing anti-fat lobby, and have only recently been revived.
If we are going to reduce our sugar consumption we’re going to have to readjust, yet again, our view of what constitutes healthy food.
Robert Lustig isn’t even in favour of fruit juice being consumed for its vitamin C content.
“There is no such thing as a good sugar beverage, including fruit juice,” he says. “Take a pill”.
Sarah Wilson tells her followers that she eats five to six whole fruits per week, because, “The chemical composition of sugar – whether it’s in a mango or a Mars bar – remains the same.”
For many campaigners sugar is now a government issue, just like alcohol and drugs.
“When you have something which is both toxic and abused at the same time that’s when regulation has to kick in,” says Robert Lustig.
“Sugar is . . . unavoidable and it has a negative impact on society. For sugar we have nothing. Mass behavioural change is going to be required.”