Be aware of how much you consume.
Fat was the food villain these past few decades but sugar is quickly muscling in to take its place. As rates of sugar-related disorders such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease climb, many experts believe that when Americans rid themselves of fat, they simply replaced it with sugar in all its forms.
But proving that the rise of the chronic diseases was actually linked to higher sugar consumption is a challenge. Dr. Robert Lustig, from the department of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who has made a name for himself publishing books and research addressing the question of sugar’s effects on the body, wanted clearer answers. Now, in a paper published Tuesday, he and his colleagues believe they have come up with the definitive evidence that sugar, as Lustig says, “is toxic.”
Lustig’s confidence comes from the unique study, described in Obesity, of 43 Hispanic or African-American children aged eight to 18 years old. He collected detailed food questionnaires from each of the adolescents to get an idea of the average amount of calories they ate per day, then designed a special menu for each of them for nine days that matched the total numbers of calories they would normally eat. The only difference in the nine-day diet was that most of the sugar the children ate was replaced by starch — the overall number of calories remained the same. The children weighed themselves daily, and if they were losing weight, they were told to eat more of the provided food in order to keep their weight the same throughout the study.
“Everything got better,” says Lustig. Some of the children went from being insulin resistant, a precursor state to developing diabetes, in which the body’s insulin levels can no longer keep up with the pace of breaking down sugar that’s coming in from the diet, to insulin sensitive.
The diet he provided the children isn’t considered ideal from a health perspective — starches are still a considerable source of calories and can contribute to weight gain. But Lustig relied on the starches to prove a point in a scientific study — that the effect sugar has on the body goes beyond anything connected to its calories and to weight. “I’m not suggesting in any way, shape or form that we gave them healthy food,” he says. “We gave them crappy food, s**** food, processed food — and they still got better. Imagine how much even better they would have gotten if we didn’t substitute and took the sugar out. Then they would have gotten even better yet. That’s the point.”