Sweet Little Lies – The Bitter Truth About Sugar

Published 6/16/10
Singularity Hub

The world is hooked on sugar. Ray Kurzweil calls it the “White Satan.” And he might be onto something. The futurist guru has found overwhelming evidence that consuming refined sugar is linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes and even cancer. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day and men no more than 9. At 22 teaspoons of sugar consumed by the average American each day, it’s no wonder that our excessive habit is so costly.

Scientific innovation is pushing human longevity past the traditional limits. Yet despite this upward trend, we’re still not much smarter about what we put in our bodies. And, according to recent studies, food manufacturers and the U.S. government aren’t doing much to curb our voracious appetite for sugar. We found a video featuring a talk by University of California professor Robert Lustig that exposes the bitter truth about sugar. Make sure you check it out below.

Here at the Hub we think the world of technology. It’s thought that by the year 2030 there will be about one million people living in the triple digits. If we lose a tooth because we ate too much sugar, we will one day replace it with our stem cells, but one simple truth remains: state-of-the-art medicine and brand-name prescriptions can’t—at least not yet—compare to a good dose of common sense. As the singularity’s fiercest advocate, Kurzweil stands by the power of human reasoning, but he also might say that in the battle against sugar, willpower isn’t to blame. The fight can seem futile at best for the more than 17 million Americans currently diagnosed with diabetes. And it seems as though the U.S. government and product manufacturers aren’t doing their share to balance a system that caters hand and foot to sugarholics.

For one, many foods that aren’t considered desserts actually contain more sugar than their seemingly sweeter counterparts. Some foods considered more natural, like salads, might be higher in sugar if served with a sweet dressing. There isn’t much to alert consumers to this misnomer. In fact, the FDA has yet to issue regulations to control claims of what is and isn’t “natural.” Sugar is everywhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the common aliases of sugar found in most food products, and links to resources that explain how to navigate those misleading product labels we frequently forget to read. But what good is a nutritional label if it lists dubious information? The World Health Organization puts the safe amount of sugar in a healthy diet at no more than 10 percent, whereas the sugar industry in the United States has claimed that 25 percent of our diet can safely consist of sugar—a disagreement with an obvious agenda.

Sugar is subtle. Manufacturers bombard us with half-truths and misleading information on boxes and product labels are skewed to make ingredients seem more benign. It’s been suggested, for instance, that nutritional information be made less confusing by replacing “per serving” quantities with what’s present in the entire container for some products. This popular breakfast cereal is described as “lightly sweetened” on the box, yet sugar is the second ingredient listed (ingredients are generally listed in order of prominence). Websites are no different. Coca-Cola advocates for an “active, healthy lifestyle” on its nutritional information page. Here’s a novel idea: how about skipping soda altogether? Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology would agree. In a recent video presented by the UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Lustig exposes a few dietary myths, going so far as to call high-fructose corn syrup “poison.” It’s a long video, so if you don’t have time to watch it through (which you should), there are a few highlights not to miss: at 15:50 Lustig links Type II diabetes to sugar sweetened soft drinks; find out how juice can cause obesity at 27:21; and at 34:50 who would have thought that doughnuts could unite the world? Check out the video below.

Sugar is addictive. Sugar—along with chocolate, cheese and meat—releases an opiate-like substance that activates the brain’s reward system. So kicking the habit isn’t quite as easy as taking everything in moderation. But we as consumers have more power than we think when it comes to dictating food industry trends, which could advocate for a healthier population in the long run.

Health and longevity is on everyone’s mind. But what good is immortality if we’re riddled with disease and calamity—all because we can’t exercise a little discipline? What good is modern medicine when we demand no less than a miracle? Are we expecting technology to take the place of a healthy lifestyle? If we really want to live longer, we need to take responsibility for our bodies and stop expecting technology and medicine to clean up the mess when we can’t say ‘enough is enough.’