Is Sugar Toxic?

Illustration: Kenji Aoki / The New York Times; Prop Stylist: Nell Tivnan. Source: UI.S.D.A. 2009 Estimates

How much do we love sugar? The amount may surprise you - the average American eat about 3,550 pounds of sugar and 313 gallons of high fructose corn syrup in a lifetime. And according to Dr. Robert Lustig, UCSF expert on pediatric hormone disorders and childhood obesity, it's killing us:

Lustig’s argument, however, is not about the consumption of empty calories — and biochemists have made the same case previously, though not so publicly. It is that sugar has unique characteristics, specifically in the way the human body metabolizes the fructose in it, that may make it singularly harmful, at least if consumed in sufficient quantities.

The phrase Lustig uses when he describes this concept is “isocaloric but not isometabolic.” This means we can eat 100 calories of glucose (from a potato or bread or other starch) or 100 calories of sugar (half glucose and half fructose), and they will be metabolized differently and have a different effect on the body. The calories are the same, but the metabolic consequences are quite different.


See also Lustig's fascinating lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, about how bad the sweet stuff is for us:

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And to think we never used to have sweeteners at all. Now we need them!!!!! Addiction! Of course they knew that which is why they put sugar in everything that is made. So that everything is somewhat addictive and sweet tasting.
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Reason why I've changed my diet to a more paleo/primal eating style (well modernized heh). I'm always amazed just how much sugar and HFCS is added and it's in frickin EVERYTHING.
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You should really be more clear in your article and graphics above that in his statements he is not really differentiating between HFCS and sugar (sucrose). This is not an HFCS debate (HFCS contains similar amounts of fructose, it's just not bonded at the time you ingest it), but a debate that any fructose consumption can have negative effects regardless of the original form.

For better or worse, you have to watch the whole thing to see the complete argument and the holes that he fills. In between the science he makes some broad opinionated comments that I think hurt his stance, but the science is certainly very interesting and seems sensible.
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I think I saw some type of graph or study somewhere that plots the intro of HFCS into heavy rotation in food conspicuously close to the recent rise in obesity.

There may also be some inflammatory effects that are different than other sugars for HFCS, as Corn Oil is an Omega 6.

I think there are a few studies out on how HFCS affects people differently and how sugar is not sugar is not sugar; ie: glucose really IS metabolized differently.

IIRC, the average human liver can only process 50 grams of Fructose per day; after that, the rest is stored as fat. -It may have been Lyle McDonald, Dan Duchaine or Chris Aceto, but I'm not sure.
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