Heidi Turner is a medical nutrition therapist at The Seattle Arthritis Clinic. Michael Schwartz, M.D. is director of the University of Washington Medicine Diabetes Institute and the Nutrition Obesity Research Center there. Kristen Domonell interviewed both of them about sugar for the University of Washington Medicine website. Here are some highlights (bulleting added):
- Sugar is the universal inflammatory ... Everyone is sugar intolerant.
- Addictive qualities aside, there’s also a large social element at play, says Turner. Bad day? Turn to sugar. Celebration at work? Just add sugar. It’s both delicious and comforting, which is part of the reason it’s so hard to get away from, she says.
- The most potent way to activate the brain’s reward system is actually by combining sugar with fat, [Schwartz] says. And much of the American diet contains both of these components.
- I wouldn’t say people become dependent on it in the way they become dependent on a drug,” says Schwartz. “But for some people, the anticipation of eating something that is highly rewarding becomes an important focus for how they live each day.”
Finally, based on these interviews, Kristen Domonell herself writes:
- Eating a diet that’s high in added sugar is bad news for your heart, according to a major 2014 study. The researchers found that eating more than the recommended amount of added sugar [in this case 25 grams a day for women, 36 grams for men and 12 grams for children] may increase your risk of dying from heart disease. Even if you go to the gym and eat your greens regularly, you aren’t immune from the effects of sugar on your health. Eating a high-sugar diet can set you up for disease, even if you’re otherwise healthy, according to a new study. Researchers found unhealthy levels of fat in the blood and livers of men who ate a high-sugar diet, which may increase the risk of heart disease, they report.
- And while many people eat sugar as a pick-me-up, it could be having the opposite effect. One recent study found that men who ate a high-sugar diet were more likely to develop depression or anxiety than those who ate a diet lower in sugar.
- Sugar is hiding out where you least expect it—in everything from dressings and sauces to whole grain bread.
I really like the quotations above. But let me detail things in the article I disagree with. First, whole fruit is more problematic than they suggest. Most types of fruit have quite a bit of sugar in them, and despite the fiber content, most types of fruit have a substantial insulin kick. I discuss this in "Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid."
Second, the "recommended amounts of sugar" (25 grams a day for women, 36 for men and 12 for children) give the wrong idea that eating a little sugar is going to be OK. I discuss in "Letting Go of Sugar" why it is better to cut out sugar almost entirely.
In the same vein, it is strange when Kristen writes:
In other words, if you’re forced to choose between white table sugar and honey, go for the honey. But if it’s a choice between honey or no sugar at all, going sugar-free is your best bet.
The likelihood that someone will put a gun to your head and say "Eat either the table sugar or the honey, or I'll shoot" is quite low.
Finally, Michael Schwartz buys into what I think is a faulty evolutionary story:
Back when food was way scarcer, our ancient ancestors needed to take every advantage they had to consume high calorie foods. So the human brain evolved to perceive sugar—and fat—as very rewarding, says Schwartz. Today, our brains are still wired for feast or famine, even though you can buy thousands of calories of food for a couple bucks at the local convenience store.
Other than for hibernation, animals in the wild don't get terribly fat. There is a good reason. Being too fat would make the animal slow, which is bad for a predator and bad for a prey. In the environment of evolutionary adaptation, humans too, played the roles of predator and prey, and it wouldn't have paid to be too fat. The trouble for us is processed food, which didn't exist in the environment of evolutionary adaptation. On this, see "The Problem with Processed Food." In designing processed food in an effort to get people to eat a lot and buy a lot of each particular product, the food industry puts sugar into almost everything. That is a good indication of the power of sugar.
Don't miss these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:
- Stop Counting Calories; It's the Clock that Counts
- 4 Propositions on Weight Loss
- Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid
- Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon
- The Problem with Processed Food
- Anthony Komaroff: The Microbiome and Risk for Obesity and Diabetes
- Letting Go of Sugar
- Prevention is Much Easier Than Cure of Obesity
- Which Is Worse for You: Sugar or Fat?
- Our Delusions about 'Healthy' Snacks—Nuts to That!
- My Giant Salad
- Using the Glycemic Index as a Supplement to the Insulin Index
- How Fasting Can Starve Cancer Cells, While Leaving Normal Cells Unharmed
- Why You Should Worry about Cancer Promotion by Diet as Much as You Worry about Cancer Initiation by Carcinogens
- Good News! Cancer Cells are Metabolically Handicapped
- How Sugar, Too Much Protein, Inflammation and Injury Could Drive Epigenetic Cellular Evolution Toward Cancer
- Meat Is Amazingly Nutritious—But Is It Amazingly Nutritious for Cancer Cells, Too?
- The Keto Food Pyramid
- Sugar as a Slow Poison
- How Sugar Makes People Hangry
- Why a Low-Insulin-Index Diet Isn't Exactly a 'Lowcarb' Diet
- Hints for Healthy Eating from the Nurse's Health Study
- The Case Against Sugar: Stephan Guyenet vs. Gary Taubes
- The Case Against the Case Against Sugar: Seth Yoder vs. Gary Taubes
- Gary Taubes Makes His Case to Nick Gillespie: How Big Sugar and a Misguided Government Wrecked the American Diet
- Against Sugar: The Messenger and the Message
- A Conversation with David Brazel on Obesity Research
- Magic Bullets vs. Multifaceted Interventions for Economic Stimulus, Economic Development and Weight Loss
- Nina Teicholz on the Bankruptcy of Counting Calories
- Mass In/Mass Out: A Satire of Calories In/Calories Out
- Carola Binder: The Obesity Code and Economists as General Practitioners
- Carola Binder—Why You Should Get More Vitamin D: The Recommended Daily Allowance for Vitamin D Was Underestimated Due to Statistical Illiteracy
- Jason Fung: Dietary Fat is Innocent of the Charges Leveled Against It
- Faye Flam: The Taboo on Dietary Fat is Grounded More in Puritanism than Science
- Diseases of Civilization
- Katherine Ellen Foley—Candy Bar Lows: Scientists Just Found Another Worrying Link Between Sugar and Depression
- Ken Rogoff Against Sugar and Processed Food
- Kearns, Schmidt and Glantz—Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents
- Eating on the Road
- Intense Dark Chocolate: A Review
- In Praise of Avocados
- Salt Is Not the Nutritional Evil It Is Made Out to Be
- Confirmation Bias in the Interpretation of New Evidence on Salt
- Whole Milk Is Healthy; Skim Milk Less So
- Is Milk OK?
- How the Calories In/Calories Out Theory Obscures the Endogeneity of Calories In and Out to Subjective Hunger and Energy
- Putting the Perspective from Jason Fung's "The Obesity Code" into Practice
- 'Forget Calorie Counting. It's the Insulin Index, Stupid' in a Few Tweets
- Julia Belluz and Javier Zarracina: Why You'll Be Disappointed If You Are Exercising to Lose Weight, Explained with 60+ Studies (my retitling of the article this links to)
- Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities
- On Fighting Obesity
- The Heavy Non-Health Consequences of Heaviness
- Analogies Between Economic Models and the Biology of Obesity
- Debating 'Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid'
- Podcast: Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation
Also see the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see my post "A Barycentric Autobiography."