making us sick?
of scientists at the University of California in San Francisco
believes so, and theyíre doing something about it. They
launched an initiative to bring information on food and drink
and added sugar to the public by reviewing more than 8,000
scientific papers that show a strong link between the
consumption of added sugar and chronic diseases.
common belief until now was that sugar just makes us fat, but
itís become clear through research that itís making us
sick. For example, thereís the rise in fatty-liver disease,
the emergence of Type 2 diabetes as an epidemic in children
and the dramatic increase in metabolic disorders.
Schmidt, a UCSF professor at the School of Medicine and the
lead investigator on the project, SugarScience, said the idea
is to make the findings comprehensible and clear to everyone.
The results will be available to all on a website (SugarScience.org)
and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
sugars, Schmidt said, are sugars that donít occur naturally
in foods. They are found in 74 percent of all packaged foods,
have 61 names and often are difficult to decipher on food
labels. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
requires food companies to list ingredients on packaging, the
suggested daily values of natural and added sugars canít be
is considering a proposal to require food manufacturers to
list information on sugars in the same way they do for fats,
cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein. But because so
much added sugar is dumped into so many products, one average
American breakfast of cereal would likely exceed a reasonable
shows that a calorie is not a calorie but rather that the
source of a calorie determines how itís metabolized,"
said pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, a member of the
SugarScience team and the author of "Fat Chance: Beating
the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and
Disease." Lustig said that more than half of the U.S.
population is sick with metabolic syndrome, a group of risk
factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes
and liver disease that are directly related to the excessive
consumption of added sugars in the Western diet.
from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the
category of heart attack/stroke as the leading cause of death
in the United States. Every day, 2,200 Americans die of
cardiovascular disease. Thatís about 800,000 a year, or one
in three deaths.
latest statistics from the American Diabetes Association show
that 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent, have diabetes. Of
that number, 21 million have been diagnosed and 8.1 million
have not, and the numbers continue to grow, according to the
stop there. The American Liver Foundation says at least 30
million Americans, or 1 in 10, has one of 100 kinds of liver
widely believe that obesity is the cause of metabolic disease.
Although it is a marker for these diseases, Lustig said, itís
not the cause. "Too much sugar causes chronic metabolic
disease in both fat and thin people," he said, "and
instead of focusing on obesity as the problem, we should be
focusing on our processed-food supply."
average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (78 grams) of sugar a
day, substantially more than the amount recommended by the
American Heart Association. The association sets these limits:
6 teaspoons (24 grams) for women, 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for
men, and 3-6 teaspoons (12-24 grams) for children, depending
on age. Just one 12-ounce soda contains 8 to 9 teaspoons
(32-36 grams) of sugar.
sugar in sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks is the leading
source of added sugar in the American diet. That represents 36
percent of all added sugars consumed, according to the
Department of Health and Human Services. And because liquid
does not include fiber, the body processes it quickly. That
causes more sugar to be sent to the pancreas and liver than
either can process properly, and the resulting buildup of
sugar leads to heart disease, diabetes and liver disease.
too much sugar causes the level of glucose sugar in the
bloodstream to increase. That, in turn, causes the pancreas to
release high levels of insulin that cause the body to store
extra calories as fat.
insulin also affects the hormone leptin, a natural appetite
suppressant that signals the brain to stop eating when full.
But the imbalance of insulin levels caused by the intake of
too much sugar causes lipid resistance, and the brain no
longer gets that signal.
member of the SugarScience team, Dean Schillinger, is a
professor of medicine at UCSF and a practicing primary care
doctor at San Francisco General Hospital. He believes the
overconsumption of added sugars is a social problem, not a
problem of individual choice and freedom.
are becoming literate about the toxic effects of sugar,"
Schillinger said, "and have more understanding of the
idea that high doses are bad for oneís health." He sees
evidence that those in a higher socioeconomic bracket are
taking steps to limit intake of sugar when compared with
poorer, less literate people.
food is expensive and less readily accessible in poorer
neighborhoods, and because corn is so abundant and cheap, it
is added to many food products. "Dumping high fructose
corn syrup into cheap foods, sodas, sports drinks and energy
drinks is toxic to the body, causing epidemic metabolic
diseases and a serious health crisis," Schillinger said.
underscore the scope of the problem, he pointed out that
during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 1,500 American soldiers
lost a limb in combat. In that same period, 1.5 million people
in the U.S. lost limbs to amputations from Type 2 diabetes, a
preventable disease. "We have yet to mobilize for a
public health war," he said, "but the time has come
to do so."
war would have to take on the root causes of the problem. As a
nation, Schillinger added, we would need to look at our food
policies, food pricing, availability of healthy foods, and the
marketing being carried out by food and beverage industries to
hook the public on unhealthy choices loaded with added sugar.
a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard
School of Public Health, is not a SugarScience researcher, but
he agreed that the amount of sugar consumed by the American
public is too high. SugarScience, he said, is being helpful by
bringing the information about added sugar to public
just about impossible," Hu said, "to know from food
labels what kinds and amounts of sugars are in a
product." Thatís why he thinks the FDA should require
food companies to list those amounts on all food labels so
people know what theyíre eating, in what amounts theyíre
eating it, and what amounts are safe.
labels are important, Schillinger said, and they need to be
revised, but the most important change needed is to make the
healthier choice the easier choice.