Could eating too much sugar be the cause of the rampant obesity that is now being seen among Americans? Some experts, such as “Sweet Poison” author David Gillespie and “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” author Dr. Robert Lustig, feel quite strongly that America’s rising consumption of sugar, in particular the fructose component of sugar, is most probably responsible.
In fact, the circumstantial evidence against sugar is quite compelling. When sugar consumption in America is graphed against obesity, both rise in a similar manner. While correlation does not necessarily mean causation, writers like Lustig and Gillespie offer some very reasonable explanations for how high sugar consumption might cause obesity to occur.
Historically, sugar was quite rare in the human diet. During the summer, it was available primarily in the form of fresh fruit and vegetables, and maybe a little bit of honey if you were brave enough to do battle with the bees that produced it. Later, even after sugar began to be commercially produced in the form of cane and beet sugar, it was still quite expensive to obtain and usually regarding as more of a treat than something to be eaten on a daily basis.
In the previous century, however, things began to change and sugar began to be more readily available at affordable prices. Then, around 1970, when it finally became viable for a sweetener called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to be mass produced from corn at very cheap prices, is when sugar consumption really began to take off in America.
How did Americans eating too much sugar cause obesity to spike? Like table sugar, HFCS is composed of two types of sugar molecules: glucose and fructose. Glucose is actually fine to consume, these experts say, it can easily be used to fuel our brains and bodies. The fructose part of the these sugars is where we run into trouble. All throughout history, since it wasn’t readily available in nature, we have not had any great need to be able process large quantities of it. Yet, in recent times, our food supply has suddenly been flooded with it. It is especially prevalent in the form of soda, fruit juices and baked goods like cakes, pies and cookies; but, it can be found in lots of other processed foods as well, even in foods where you might not expect to find it, such as sauces and condiments.
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, we are really only able to process about 15 grams of fructose – about the equivalent of one to two pieces of fresh fruit – per day without running into problems like weight gain. Considering that the average can of soda contains about 22 grams of fructose, it’s easy to see how most people consume too much.
The reason that our bodies have so much trouble with fructose is that we have a limited ability to convert fructose into glucose, the sugar that gives our bodies energy to run on. Anything that we consume in excess gets processed by the liver into a fatty substance called triglycerides. Triglycerides are then stored by the body in the form of body fat.
Even more disturbing, however, is that because excess fructose tends to go directly into storage as fat, the body does not get to use it right away for energy. So, it does not register with your body that you have actually consumed those calories, causing appetite to not be satiated in the same way it would normally be. The net result is that, not only are you sending fat directly into storage, you are also still hungry for more food.
Yet, the horror doesn’t stop at obesity. These same experts have implicated high levels of fructose consumption with metabolic syndrome, a condition characterized by an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Is eating too much sugar really the cause of our current obesity epidemic? Even though the scientific community at large is still debating this issue, they do all seem to agree, for varying reasons, that eating less sugar is probably a wise idea.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening