Why fructose sugar makes us sick.
In 1972, British physiologist, nutritionist and physician John Yudkin summarized years of research on the dangers of eating too much sugar in his book Pure, White and Deadly. Julia Llewellyn Smith’s recent article, “The man who tried to warn us about sugar,” details how the sugar industry ruined Yudkin’s scientific reputation, led scientists astray, and postponed action by health authorities for decades.
With sugar overconsumption now firmly established as a major cause of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, Yudkin is seen as a prophet. But in the 1970s, an opposing theory was that saturated fats were the primary cause of heart disease. Its leading proponent, University of Minnesota epidemiologist Ancel Keys, engaged in a highly personal attack on Yudkin in the scientific literature: “Yudkin has no theoretical basis or experimental evidence to support his claim… [it] is disproved by many studies superior in methodology and/or magnitude to his own.”
Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and an expert on childhood obesity, writes in the introduction to a new version of Pure, White and Deadly: “The Pharisees of this nutritional holy war declared Keys the victor, Yudkin a heretic and a zealot, threw the now discredited Yudkin under the proverbial bus, and relegated his pivotal work to the dustbin of history.”
So, fat became the culprit. The food industry was quick to come out with a wide range of “low-fat” products. Consumers were told these products were healthy — even when laced with sugar. And the cost of adding sugar to other foods declined significantly after some clever Japanese chemical engineers developed an enzyme-driven process to transform corn into high-fructose corn syrup.
Fructose — the sweetest of the natural sugars, found in fruits — is now produced in huge amounts and added to a wide range of processed foods and drinks. According to United States Department of Agriculture statistics, Americans now consume a staggering 10 million tonnes of high-fructose corn syrup annually, mostly in sweetened beverages. Average individual consumption of corn syrup increased from 0.5 pounds per year in 1970 to 43.5 pounds per year in 2010.
On March 5, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a consultation on a new draft guideline on sugar intake. In 2002, WHO recommended that sugars comprise no more than 10 per cent of dietary calories. It now proposes that sugar intake be reduced to 5 per cent of total calories: about 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons per day for an average adult. WHO points out that “A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of sugar.”
A March 11, 2014 article in the journal Nature, “Storm brewing over WHO sugar proposal: Industry backlash expected over suggested cut in intake,” points out that the US Sugar Association, a Washington-based lobby group, pressured the U.S. government to defund the WHO after it issued its 10 per cent sugar guideline in 2002. Average Americans of all ages still exceed this guideline. Sugar currently comprises over 15 per cent of the dietary calories of children aged 2-19.