Sugar scolding in the school of Robert “We I.D. (For Soda)” Lustig is the latest trend among America’s food police, but few ask how strong the case against the sweet stuff is. A Los Angeles Times contributor gave us a look at that case, and guess what: it’s weak.
Two of the studies the prosecuting contributor presents rely on providing subjects with extreme levels of sugars, specifically fructose (which Lustig calls “poison”). One study provided subjects with 200 grams of fructose per day (that’s 800 calories, more than a third of a typical 2000-calorie diet); in the other, subjects received “25% of their calories from either fructose or high-fructose corn syrup.” (It’s important to note that both high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar are comprised of about half fructose and half sucrose.) These levels are well above average compared to typical dietary intakes: Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Americans get only 14.6 percent of their total calories from all added sugars combined (a six-teaspoon-per-day decline from 2000, we would add).
It shouldn’t be surprising then that University of Minnesota in St. Paul nutrition professor Joanne Slavin told the Times that “Sugar isn’t a poison — diet is more complicated than any one single villain.” (Hmm, that sounds familiar.)
There’s also plenty of evidence that sugar in and of itself isn’t a problem. One Annals of Internal Medicine meta-analysis found: “Fructose does not seem to cause weight gain when it is substituted for other carbohydrates in diets providing similar calories.” An Australian study found that significant sugar reductions in that country didn’t make people skinnier. In layman’s terms, a calorie is (still) a calorie, and if you eat more than you use, you gain weight.
Unfortunately, food scolds like Lustig find it much easier to spread fear of particular ingredients rather than to promote balanced diets and exercise. Of course, there’s evidence that exercise can help people manage diabetes (among other benefits), but don’t expect that to stop the activists who can plaster themselves across the papers by trashing our favorite treats.