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Is Sugar Toxic?

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Is Sugar Toxic?

Toxic is a strong word with strong implications, even though it seems to be thrown around pretty lightly lately. For the purposes of physical health, a toxin is a poisonous substance that has an ill effect on the body. We all know that sugar is a source of empty calories and is said to promote cavities, but is it toxic?

That is the complicated question Gary Taubes tackled in his lengthy New York Times essay last Sunday.

Partly inspired by a 2009 lecture Robert Lustig gave called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which was posted on YouTube (see on page two), the question has taken on a whole new legion of askers. And although it’s high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that has become Public Enemy #1, Lustig lumps both white granulated sugar (sucrose) and HFCS in the same messy, disease-causing bowl.

By the early 2000s, according to the U.S.D.A., Americans have increased consumption of sugar to more than 90 pounds per person per year. This increase happens to coincide with the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Taubes writes that in 1980, roughly one in seven Americans was obese, and almost six million were diabetic, and the obesity rates, at least, hadn’t changed significantly in the 20 years previously. By the early 2000s, when sugar consumption peaked, one in every three Americans was obese, and 14 million were diabetic.

Lustig’s argument is that sugar has unique characteristics, specifically in the way the human body metabolizes the fructose in it, that may make it especially harmful, at least if consumed in sufficient amounts. If this is true, it would mean that sugar is the likely culprit for several chronic ailments considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles—heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them.

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Read more: Cancer, Diabetes, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Health, ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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7:18AM PDT on Apr 26, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

6:00PM PDT on Jun 22, 2011

give me a break

1:59PM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

The mad and saddening part of the industrialization of our food is that it targets children the most, who for the most part are still developing and growing organs and tissues. It sets them on their path towards a pain filled stressed out and diseased future. This is insanity exchanged for profit. It will cost everyone in the end as people can not sustain and maintain their health and be productive members of society it slows the whole system down into a overwhelmed apathetic mess. Not to mention the cost of health care. Hope this information reaches far and wide the video is worth watching or listening to.

4:44AM PDT on Jun 5, 2011


5:16AM PDT on May 28, 2011

Thanks for the amazing article.

10:59PM PDT on May 20, 2011

Research seems to show something wrong with
everything we eat. What to believe?

9:12PM PDT on May 20, 2011


10:09AM PDT on May 19, 2011

Thanks for the info!

2:49AM PDT on Apr 27, 2011

I've been saying for years that all food isn't created equal. Obviously a whole potato with the skin on is better for you than the equivalent in instant mashed potatoes.

Moderation, people. Dark chocolate is good, if you only eat a little.

4:33PM PDT on Apr 25, 2011

Damn, why is everything I love habit forming and/or bad for me?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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