Sugar the Poison

EXTRACT: Macleans Magazine - Health - May 12, 2014

The message behind Fed Up the documentary by Laura David is the reasons for and causes of the epidemic of obesity in North America. Of course the general idea is that we gain weight if overall calories consumed are greater than calories burned in exercise. However sugar, specifically high fructose corn syrup sugar added to food coincides directly with the tripling of obesity between 1985 and 2011.

Obesity is now seen in babies as young as six months and is a growing world crisis. The mantra of eating less and exercising more according to Fed Up is dead wrong. Not all sugar calories are created equal, some are worse than others. Not only is obesity skyrocketing but so too are diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, according to neurosurgical studies on insulin resistance Type 3 diabetes of the brain. In the Youtube video The bitter truth (viewed over 5 million times) according to U-California San Francisco’s Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of paediatrics - sugar consumed at today’s levels is a toxin – a poison.

Fed Up makes the point that the food industry today, especially the soft-drink makers are acting similar to the tobacco industry in denial of the harmful effect of the sugar they add. Coca-Cola runs ads suggesting their beverages “fit into a healthy lifestyle, depending on how much exercise you get”. According to dietary research, this is simply not true. There’s a war underway and consumers are at the heart of it – and it’s all about profits.

Canadians consume on average 110 grams or 26 teaspoons of sugar per day - making up over 20% of daily calories. That works out to 40 kg or 88 lbs of sugar per year. Males in their teens and twenties have the highest rate of sugar consumption – 63 kg or 138 lbs per year – the prime source of which is soft drinks. Of the 600,000 food items sold in grocery stores 80% have added sugar. It’s found in almost everything we consume – pasta sauce, white bread, salad dressing, peanut butter, etc.  One tablespoon of ketchup contains over a teaspoon of corn syrup fructose – one quarter of the content.


The World Health Organization has recently rung the alarm bell over added sugars, stating they should make up less than 5% of our energy intake per day. They currently exceed 10% on average and make up over 15% in North American youth. One standard can of soda pop is enough to reach the 5% level.

It is human nature to seek out a sugar rush. High-calorie food stimulates the same parts of the brain as drugs and alcohol. For most of human history we struggled to get sugar. In recent decades – due to heavy use of fossil fuels by factory farming agri-business we are buried in it. Before food-processing, when we got sugar mainly from fruits and vegetables, we consumed about 30 grams per day. Today we are going north of 110 grams. Sugar is not just added as a taste enhancer – it is the preservative that allows foods to sit in warehouses for months. Canadians today consume hidden sugars for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our palates now expect sweetness in everything, all the time.

Not all sugars are created equal. Cheaper, sweeter high-fructose corn syrup dominates. Fructose found in soft drinks, white bread, candy bars, Twinkie and even potato chips, is metabolized in the liver and stored as fat contributing quickly to extra weight. Sugars found in fruits, vegetables and nuts are metabolized in the gut and used mainly for energy. Hence, so called energy drinks – simply aren’t. Their “energy kick usually comes from the caffeine. (BTW - Diet soda studies now show they actually cause weight gain quicker than sugar).

When it comes to the food processing industry, developers consider everything – the ideal noise level of a chip crunch, the way ice-cream melts on the tongue as well as the perfect balance of salt, fat and sugar. The most deadly of these is now turning out to be sugar.