Sugar Buzz: The Latest News on the Latest Drug

The battle over the obesity epidemic in our country may very well be turning into a new “war on drugs” as national attention is focused more and more on the dangerous way that sugar affects our brains and bodies. The addictive properties of sugar are all too clear, if not through research, then through our own personal experience.  In a Vox interview with German Lopez, Robert Lustig, medical expert at the University of California, San Francisco , and longtime proponent of the drug-like dangers of sugar, comments:

There are two phenomena attached to addiction: one's called tolerance, the other is withdrawal. It turns out sugar does both of those as well. If a substance is abused and addictive and it contributes to societal problems, that's criteria for regulation.”

Whether sugar is classified as a drug or not, it just so happens that this week the city of New York is siding with Lustig’s philosophy and once again attempting to regulate sugar consumption. Last Wednesday in the NY Court of appeals, City attorney Richard Dearing argued for revisiting former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed rule in 2012 banning the sale of large sodas. The backlash to the proposed rule was fueled by anti-regulationists and Big Beverage companies arguing that it would hurt business and that it would not achieve its intended goal. In summation of Dearing’s argument, Chris Dolmetsch and Danielle Sanzone write in their Bloomberg News report:

Several judges asked Dearing where the line is drawn on such initiatives and whether the board could decide to limit the portion size of foods such as hamburgers and hot dogs. 

Dearing said it would depend on the scientific record that is developed.

If we had the scientific evidence to show they were a unique and serious contributor to the obesity problem we could take an appropriate step,’ the lawyer said.”

And what of all of that evidence and research? Marion Nestle wrote a short and sweet (please forgive the pun) blog post reminding us that sugar research funding matters and can directly influence results. Nestle explains that two simultaneous reports were published last week on the fructose content in high fructose corn syrup (HCFS); one funded by NIH finding that fructose content is often higher than we normally expect, and another funded by the International Society of Beverage Technologists (ISBT) finding that fructose content is very close to what we expect. The ISBT has a vested interest in maintaining the public’s perception that all HFCS has a fructose content of 55% because of the latest debate on the dangers of fructose. Nestle cynically comments:

Really, these kinds of results are so predictable that all I have to do is see the results to guess who must have funded the study.”

While explaining some of the concern behind fructose and delving deeply into the world of sugar this week, James Hamblin of the Atlantic writes on the various views and perceptions about sweeteners. In a somewhat rambling, stream-of-consciousness style, Ramblin leads with the story of the rise and fall of agave to walk us through research and professional opinions about the role that fructose and HCFS may have to have play in the obesity epidemic. Though his conclusion seems to be an apathetic distrust of most current research and nutrition advice, this article is chock full of useful information and ultimately advocates for healthy eating. He writes:

Yesterday agave was in, and today it’s out. “Natural” has little meaning for health outside of produce aisles. Eliminating sugars from a diet can’t constitute playing it safe, in that it means getting calories elsewhere—just as the advice to cut out fat in the 1980s is blamed for making people increase their consumption of sugar. Too much fat is bad, too much protein is bad, and too much starch is bad. Everything is good, and everything is bad. Even looking back, the basic tenets of the original 1980 USDA nutrition guidelines really do seem to hold up: “Eat a variety of foods; avoid too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; eat foods with adequate starch and fiber; avoid too much sugar; avoid too much sodium.”

So, Warriors, keep your eye on your own sugar consumption as we keep an eye on that of the nation’s.


  Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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