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Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine featured a long cover story asking a single question:

Is sugar toxic?

Some excerpts:

• On May 26, 2009, Robert Lustig gave a lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which was posted on YouTube the following July. Since then, it has been viewed well over 800,000 times, gaining new viewers at a rate of about 50,000 per month, fairly remarkable numbers for a 90-minute discussion of the nuances of fructose biochemistry and human physiology ... The viral success of his lecture...has little to do with Lustig’s impressive credentials and far more with the persuasive case he makes that sugar is a ‘toxin’ or a ‘poison,’ terms he uses together 13 times through the course of the lecture, in addition to the five references to sugar as merely ‘evil.’ And by ‘sugar,’ Lustig means not only the white granulated stuff that we put in coffee and sprinkle on cereal - technically known as sucrose - but also high-fructose corn syrup, which has already become without Lustig’s help what he calls ‘the most demonized additive known to man’.”

• “Lustig certainly doesn’t dabble in shades of gray. Sugar is not just an empty calorie, he says; its effect on us is much more insidious. ‘It’s not about the calories,’ he says. ‘It has nothing to do with the calories. It’s a poison by itself.’

“If Lustig is right, then our excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. But his argument implies more than that. If Lustig is right, it would mean that sugar is also the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles - heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them.”

• “It’s one thing to suggest, as most nutritionists will, that a healthful diet includes more fruits and vegetables, and maybe less fat, red meat and salt, or less of everything. It’s entirely different to claim that one particularly cherished aspect of our diet might not just be an unhealthful indulgence but actually be toxic, that when you bake your children a birthday cake or give them lemonade on a hot summer day, you may be doing them more harm than good, despite all the love that goes with it. Suggesting that sugar might kill us is what zealots do. But Lustig, who has genuine expertise, has accumulated and synthesized a mass of evidence, which he finds compelling enough to convict sugar. His critics consider that evidence insufficient, but there’s no way to know who might be right, or what must be done to find out, without discussing it.”

• “The Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association have ... portrayed the 1986 F.D.A. report as clearing sugar of nutritional crimes, but what it concluded was actually something else entirely. To be precise, the F.D.A. reviewers said that other than its contribution to calories, ‘no conclusive evidence on sugars demonstrates a hazard to the general public when sugars are consumed at the levels that are now current.‘ This is another way of saying that the evidence by no means refuted the kinds of claims that Lustig is making now and other researchers were making then, just that it wasn’t definitive or unambiguous.”

• “What we have to keep in mind, says Walter Glinsmann, the F.D.A. administrator who was the primary author on the 1986 report and who now is an adviser to the Corn Refiners Association, is that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup might be toxic, as Lustig argues, but so might any substance if it’s consumed in ways or in quantities that are unnatural for humans. The question is always at what dose does a substance go from being harmless to harmful? How much do we have to consume before this happens?”

To read the whole story, click here.
KC's View:
A troubling report, because there is no answer. But the Times article has one thing right - it is a subject that requires discussion because there are so many implications.