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Research Concludes Sugar is Unsafe

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I’m not one to judge. I reward my children with sugar. When they do well at school, I buy them a cookie. If they show good sportsmanship at soccer, I buy them ice cream. We trick-or-treat on Halloween until the plastic Jack-o-Lanterns are full. They expect stockings stuffed with candy canes and, at Easter, foot-tall-chocolate rabbits. They get sweets all ... the … time.

But if you believe in research, as I do, you know refined sugar in all forms appears to be about as good for our kids as injecting them with a needle full of heroin. In reality, sugar has all the characteristics of a certified toxic substance.

So why are we willingly consuming it? And why are we using it to reward our kids?

This week, the World Health Organization advised “daily sugar intake should be 5 percent of one’s total calories — half of what the agency previously recommended.”

Dr. Robert Lustig, professor at the University of California, San Francisco, is a leading expert on sugar. You may recognize his name thanks to a YouTube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which has been viewed more than 4 million times. He's also the author of “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.” A professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at UCSF, physician and neuroendocrinologist, Lustig performs research and clinical care on patients with obesity and diabetes. He is also president of the nonprofit Institute for Responsible Nutrition.

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His message is clear: sugar is addictive; kids and adults eat way too much of it; sugar is a toxin and does nothing but harm your health. “This is not a lifestyle issue, it’s a public health issue,” Lustig said recently at a lecture sponsored by the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.

We know for a fact sugar causes obesity and diabetes, but even more dangerous, Lustig says, is metabolic disease. While this presents itself as obesity, there are American kids who suffer even more from diseases associated with obesity. In "Fat Chance" he writes, “You don’t die of obesity; you die of the diseases that ‘travel’ with it. Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and dementia — the things that kill you are collectively packed under the concept of ‘metabolic syndrome.’”

“I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can,” Thompson told me, “because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.” Cantley put it this way: “Sugar scares me.”

To prevent metabolic disease and its traveling scourges like cancer, Lustig suggests people remove the majority of added sugars from the Western diet. “Make your diet clean. That starts with sugar. It is the single thing in your diet you do not need. Sugar is addictive and it is also a toxin, because of the effects it has on the liver and at the cellular level.”

Soft drinks, he notes are the biggest perpetrator of the sugar influx into the American diet – particularly in children. But fruit juices without fiber are also a culprit. When the fiber attached to fruit is removed through juicing, all that is left behind is sugar. So, axe the juice boxes. When juicing at home, Lustig suggests juicing mostly vegetables.

Creating smoothies or juices in a machine like a Vitamix helps in this process, by pulping the skin which contains fiber as well. Fiber in fruit acts as a lubricant in the intestines, allowing some of the sugar to pass through the body and not into the bloodstream.

Lustig also enocurages people to become involved in changing the way the food industry “laces” food with sugar. “What if you had a cereal manufacturer who laced your kids’ Fruity Pebbles with morphine? Would that be OK? This is the legal equivalent.”

In the AP story, Lustig also says, "If the sugar threshold is lowered, I think breakfast cereal is going to have a really hard time justifying its existence.”

Lustig is not the only researcher to conclude sugar is toxic. In 2011, writer Gary Taubes wrote “Is Sugar Toxic?” in the New York Times. The writer interviewed Lewis Cantley, former director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, and Craig Thompson, president of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. They told Taubes that they try to avoid sugar completely.

I would do anything for my kids — anything — so why can’t I “Just Say No” to sugar?

“I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can,” Thompson told me, “because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.” Cantley put it this way: “Sugar scares me.”

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So why aren’t we scared too? Scared enough to stop? I would do anything for my kids — anything — so why can’t I “Just Say No” to sugar? How have we gotten to the point that teaching our children to chase the sugar dragon has clouded our ability to make good choices on behalf of them? I know, rationally, I should make my house sugar-free, but like any toxic drug, sugar has its claws in me so tightly, both physically and culturally, I almost don’t feel right without it. I need an intervention. I’ll put my money down that we all do.

For more visit the new website SugarScience.org, a great source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health.

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