Weekend Bonus: Sugar Is Poison

      20 Comments on Weekend Bonus: Sugar Is Poison

I saw this video mentioned on Mike Eades’ blog and gave it a look.  It’s a 90-minute lecture that’s heavy on biochemistry in some parts, but worth the effort.  In a nutshell, the doctor making the presentation explains how consuming fructose — which makes up about half of both sugar and HFCS — produces most of the same biochemical effects as drinking alcohol, minus the buzz.  The takeaway:  if you wouldn’t serve your kid a beer, don’t serve him a soda either.


He also gives a nice wrap-up of what’s wrong with the Lipid Hypothesis and the current advice to eat high-carb and low-fat.  Enjoy.

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20 thoughts on “Weekend Bonus: Sugar Is Poison

  1. Cynthia

    Dr. Lustig has also treated obese patients with octreotide, an inhibitor of insulin secretion. It apparently works pretty well, especially in insulin hypersecretors.

    Haven’t heard of that. Guess I’d better look it up.

  2. TonyNZ

    Disclaimer: Haven’t had time to watch the video yet.

    Just two nights ago I was talking to a guy and telling him how liver disease is going to go through the roof in 20 years as a large number of young folk are drinking alcohol in the form of RTDs (ready to drinks) that often have more sugar/HFCS than soda.

    My point was, as far as alcohol is concerned, there is a toxic threshold at which you start causing damage to your liver. When you consume alcohol with sugar, they are cotoxic and you hit that threshold much more quickly than when you drink alcohol in the form of, say, 15 year old Laphroaig.

    I remember drinking Boonesfarm wine in high school — you may not have ever seen it in NZ. It’s basically fruit soda with alcohol. Awful stuff, in retrospect.

  3. Ellen

    Wow! Great video. I stopped eating HFCS a long time ago, because I knew it increased triglycerides and caused the buildup of fat in the liver.. Now I understand how it works. Thanks for sharing.

    I also enjoyed understanding more about the process. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed GCBC so much; it explained the science instead of just listing the results.

  4. Stargazey

    Please be careful when you watch this video. The first hour or so is about fructose, and he gives lots of biochemical evidence for what he says.

    But by the end of it, he drifts away from evidence-based findings and starts presenting the standard mantras: glucose is the energy of life; lots of fiber is good for you; exercise helps you lose weight. Gary Taubes has presented study results that argue against each of those ideas in “Good Calories Bad Calories.” Although Dr. Lustig’s guidelines for eating complex carbohydrates, getting lots of fiber and exercising for weight loss are popular in the medical community, you’d never know from his lecture that none of those recommendations has definitive support in the scientific literature.

    He stated pretty clearly that eating less and exercising more doesn’t work well for weight loss.

    I did have an issue with the “glucose is good” part of his lecture, but I also believe glucose is less of a problem than fructose when it comes to liver damage and other health problems. We need a little bit of glucose, but of course we don’t have to get it by eating carbs.

  5. Felix

    What got me thinking was his question “What do the Japanese Diet and the Atkins Diet have in common? – They both work.” This makes a good point. And it’s a point I found made in William Dufty’s great book “Sugar Blues” (an absolute must-read). First, it leads one to refined carbs, namely refined flour and sugar. Second, it avoids the conclusion of the low-carb community, which means banning all carbs, saying that they are all sugar. Dufty dropped sugar and refined flour (and only that) and with it 50 pounds of weight. I was thinking recently that maybe it’s just the refined carbs that are the problem. Sugar, white rice, white flour,etc. One of the things that pretty much all diets do is reduce these items. I’ve started reading Terry Shintani’s work on how he (successfully and published in the medical literature) treats his diabetic patients on a whole grains-based diet, which is about 70-80% carbs. They drop the insulin they take and lead a normal life again. This is odd and according to low-carb thinking couldn’t possibly work. At least I can’t figure it out with what I find in GCBC. The Kitava-tribe eat 70% carbs and are healthy. They eat mostly carbs at every single meal, but show no signs of insulin resistance. The Pima (of Gary Taubes fame) ate mostly unrefined carbs and were a sign of health before they went on government ratios and turned fat. The rise in obesity in the US came with a rise in the consumption of low-fat-high-processed carb junk-foods and sugary sodas. So I am now in an experiment of eating lots of whole grains and potatoes to see if I can get my neglected carb-burning machine up and running again. I expect some weight gain in the beginning: Glycogen stores filling up + the water that goes with that and also some fat because probably the (at times very low) low-carbing didn’t help with my insulin-resistance. But it should level out if there is a homeostatic system inside of me and unrefined carbs are not the problem.
    I’ll tell you how it works out. I’ll probably do this for the rest of the year. That should be enough time to find out and avoid the trap of mistaking initial switch-effects for real problems. Sometimes it sucks to be a sceptic. You have to make all the mistakes yourself. 😀

    Sounds like a worthwhile experiment, and I’d be curious to find out how it works for you.

    I think it’s pretty clear that refined carbs are the worst, perhaps because they mess with our livers and insulin levels the most. Our grandparents didn’t live on low-carb diets, but they ate far fewer of them — and definitely fewer refined carbs — than people today. We may have hit a tipping point in the past generation or so that led to the marked rise in obesity and diabetes. Some people would probably do just fine on diets that included potatoes and whole grains if they skipped the sugar and white flour.

    But I also have to consider the differences between hunting tribes and farming tribes who lived at the same time and in the same geographic locations. The farming tribes didn’t have the technology to make refined carbs from the grains they harvested, and yet they clearly had worse health outcomes. They were shorter and had more bone deformities, for example.

    When my wife was in the Peace Corps, she lived in a village where the dietary staple was millet, which wasn’t refined at all. She saw lots of lean villagers, but also some obese ones. She also gained weight for the first and only time in her life. She lost the weight when she returned home and resumed a diet with far fewer grains.

    So in comparing a diet of whole grains versus a diet with more refined flour and sugar, we could be comparing a diet that isn’t ideal with one that’s truly awful. Switching to whole grains in that case would lead to improvements, but still not be ideal.

    I suspect that people have wildly varying tolerances for carbohydrates; as we introduce more and more refined carbohydrates into the diet, more and more people cross the threshold where health problems manifest.

    The bottom line for me is that I feel healthier and have an easier time controlling my weight when I skip the sugars and starches almost entirely, save for what I get from non-starchy vegetables and a bit of low-sugar fruit.

  6. Laurie

    I highly recommend the book by John Yudkin, “Pure, White and Deadly” that the lecturer mentions. I learned about Yudkin from Taubes. I snagged the copy I read through inter-library loan. There is a US version called “Sweet and Dangerous”. William Dufty’s “Sugar Blues” is fascinating too. What I find most compelling about all these pieces of the puzzle- Taubes book, Fat Head DVD and this online’ mini medical school ‘lecture, and about 10 other books and these blogs and journal articles that I’ve devoured, is that I had not heard about ANY of this as late as last June ’08. And I’m a biochemistry laboratory instructor for Pete’s sake. This is complex and individually variant but I say BRING IT ON. I want to hear and know more about this in all its gory and confusing and contradictory detail. I also like to say I can handle the truth. But I can’t evaluate this information if it’s kept from me. I feel like the truth was kept from me until recently by the agricultural-pharmaceutical-industrial complex. This annoys me.

    You should’ve heard me yelling when I started poring through research for the film. The fact that you work in biochemistry and didn’t know this stuff underscores exactly what Taubes pointed out in his book: a handful of people have dominated the research, the journals and the textbooks.

  7. Andy

    Hi Tom,
    Just one off topic request while I wait for the region 4 version of your DVD to come out. Could You put a download of the “sugar song” from your DVD on the
    site. Love your site and blogs.

    Tom Monahan, the composer, created about a 50-second song for the film. Several people, myself included, have encouraged him to turn it into a full-length song. It’s catchy and has real potential. He agrees, but there’s that little matter of writing, recording, etc.

    When he does finish the full song, our plan is to put all the music from the film on iTunes.

  8. Dave, RN

    Get this:

    “eating sugar is not deadly. It does not cause obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypoglycaemia, hyperactivity, cancer or lead to micronutrient deficiencies. On a positive note, sugar is a tasty, low-cost energy source that helps make a variety of foods more palatable and desirable. Given the wide-spread prevalence of undernutrition (chronic energy deficiency) throughout the world, the positive contribution that sugar can make to increasing energy intakes among the poor should be stressed. Concurrently, the role that sugar can play in combating obesity by lowering the energy density of high-fat diets should also be noted.”

    OK, now lets guess who published this swill. If you said the 1997 Asia Pacific Sugar Conference, you’re right.

    Criminals. All of them.

    Can’t remember his name, but I believe there is or was some researcher at Harvard who parrots the same lines. He just happens to get a lot of funding from the sugar industry.

  9. Mark

    I’m very curious about fiber intake as I’ve noticed that since switching to a lower carb diet my fiber intake has dropped dramatically. How important is fiber? How much should we be consuming? I find it almost impossible to get a high amount through cutting carbs from my diet. I do still eat oatmeal, a couple of fruits a day (or some berries) and maybe some sweet potato at lunch but that’s pretty much it. Any recommendations or advice on this subject?

    I don’t each much fiber, and I don’t see how hunting societies could’ve eaten much either. I consume a fair amount of green vegetables and nuts, so my diet isn’t fiber-free, but I’m not getting the 100 grams some experts recommend.

  10. Mark

    Recently watched your movie and loved it (after waiting for about a month to get it from Netflix). I’ll be putting it on my Amazon Wish List for my Oct birthday so I can show it to others. In the meantime I send them the link to this site, which is also great.

    Speaking of sugar, I just saw this article about the AHA deciding that people should limit the amount of sugar they consume (and the “very disappointed” reaction of the sugar industry): http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090824/hl_nm/us_heart_sugar_4

    A line from the article: “Too much sugar not only makes Americans fat but also is a key culprit in diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, according to the report.”

    Looks like they’re starting to get the message.

    Considering they’ve been the leaders of the anti-fat hysteria for 40 years, they’ve got some explaining to do. More on that in the upcoming post.

  11. TonyNZ


    Mike Eades said the following in a post a while back:

    “Fiber, who needs it?”

    You should eat a reasonable amount of greens, though more for micronutrients than fiber.

  12. Laurie

    I have a minor hypothesis about sugar. I’m very fair and I have Northern European ancestors. (By the way, sucrose is plant antifreeze.) We of the transparent skin -I like to say I can sunburn in a full moon- tend to have higher blood sugar and that acts as antifreeze for us as well as plants. Why? This is postulated to have been protective and adaptive during ice ages for the northern dwelling folks. Fast forward to the late 20th and early 21st centuries and now I’m being poisoned by excess blood sugar. My forebears also cultivated cows and other milk producers earlier than Middle Easterners and Africans because the north had a shorter growing season. The majority of the people on the planet can’t tolerate milk, but I can. Milk consumers of yore got most of their vitamin D, fat and calories in the cold, dark north this way probably.
      Anyway, I have some health problems that I think were caused because of all the sugar, wheat flour and Frankenfats I consumed up until about 1 year ago. I’m annoyed further.
    I forwarded the lecture to a science colleague. She read Taubes on my suggestion and says she will be showing the lecture in her class after the unit on metabolism. Another colleague says he will be using Taubes for teaching “Good Science, Bad Science”. I’m preaching the low-carb gospel to anyone and everyone who will listen, and to some who don’t at first appear interested.
    On a lighter, unrelated note, from Jimmy Moore I’ve gotten a recipe for cauliflower fauxtatoes I can’t stop making. Steam a head until mushy; mash in a pot with melted butter and add 1/4 cup heavy cream. Then add salt and pepper and as much grated cheese of any variety you like until the cheese melts. I go through a couple of heads of ‘liflower per week and I drive my kids nuts by using the word fauxtatoes too much and every chance I get.

    We’re big on the mashed cauliflower in our house. Haven’t heard the anti-freeze theory, but it’s interesting.

  13. Laurie

    There’s a legend (maybe only in chemistry circles) about the Titanic. There was ‘open bar’ as it was sinking and the story is that a few who imbibed and were drunk ended up in the water. They lasted long enough for a half-filled life boat to retrieve them because of the antifreeze properties of ethanol. Of course they would not have lasted too much longer, but long enough to be rescued. There are stories of drunks outside in winter not dying of exposure due to these antifreeze properties. I read about the hypothesis of Northern Europeans tending to higher blood sugar for its antifreeze properties during ice ages. Glucose is a polyalcoholic aldehyde that is related to ethanol. And sucrose (one fructose y one glucose) is definitely considered plant antifreeze. We’ve just figured out how to extract and concentrate it to levels that human bodies can’t adjust to.
    I have discovered that no longer eating sucrose, HFCS, no wheat and no Frankenfats has positively changed my life. I’ve also started intermittent fasting (or feeding), IF, and I feel so much better than I have in a very long time. I got my 22 year old to watch ‘FAT HEAD’ and ‘My Big Fat Diet’ and she has been persuaded. Last Christmas, I was worried about her college partying ways. I made her a huge soft sculpture molecular sculpture ethanol pillow. That’s what she gets for having a chemist, goofy mother. I told her I would rather she sleep on an alcohol pillow than drink too much of the stuff. It made her laugh. Laughter is the best medicine and the best teaching tool too. Luckily she is being bombarded by all this life-saving information from you and Taubes and Wortman and she seems to be believing it. Thank you.

    Interesting. I do seem to recall images of Saint Bernard dogs being sent out to rescue people stranded in cold climates, with that little barrel attached to their collars. I believe the barrel contained hard liquor.

    Anytime a 22-year-old listens to advice from a middle-aged balding guy like me, I’m a happy man.

  14. Dave Wilson

    The danger of being in the water, post-Titanic, would be more from Hypothermia and less from actual freezing solid. Alcohol accelerates hypothermia because it dilates the capillaries in the skin (causing the flush we have seen from drinking) which counters the body’s attempts to conserve heat in cold conditions by withdrawing blood flow from the extremities and saving it around the vital organs.

    This happens at far higher temperatures and shorter exposure times than actually freezing tissues.

    If the core of your body is actually freezing solid, you are likely well past the point of hypothermia and into the dirtnap phase.

  15. Kevin

    Hi Tom,
    I’ve watched this lecture several times now. It’s definitely an eye-opener. Prior to it he conducted a radio interview on KQED covering the same subject. I that one, he delves a little more into nutrition and public policy. Unlike your views expressed in Fathead, however, Lustig is a strong advocate for government intervention and he describes his position on that in the radio interview. In this lecture and the interview he points out that government policies created many of the dietary problems we faced already, but advocates for further intervention nonetheless. Although he tries to support his belief with an example of McDonald’s sometimes being the only clean, air-conditioned restaurant in some poor neighborhoods, Fathead points out that one can still make healthier choices once inside the restaurant. BTW, I LOVED Fathead and eagerly showed it to my mom. Thank you.

    That’s where I part ways with some of the researchers who understand the dangers of these foods. I believe the answer is education and persuasion — and Lustig is persuasive. If people want to continue screwing up their livers with sodas after learning of the risks, so be it. Once we start outlawing everything the experts believe is bad for us, it’ll never stop.

    Glad you enjoyed the film.

  16. Ellen Ussery

    Somewhere in this talk didn’t he say that long chain fatty acids stimulate insulin production?

    If so ,you can you or anybody else tell me how that works?

    It can’t be a simple and direct as it sounds, could it. If so that would mean that eating those fats would be bad for someone who is very insulin resistant and over producing insulin.

    That statement surprised me as well, and I’ve tried to find more information about it online. So far, nothing.

  17. Diogenes

    does this mean I shouldn’t eat grapes, berries, bananas, or strawberries? They have lots of fructose but also lots of nutrients and vitamins. I don’t have fructose ‘meals’ but I do eat some fruit that has high fructose but also high nutrients.

    Keep in mind that the fruit produced today has been genetically engineered to be sweeter than what our ancestors consumed. I stick to low-sugar fruits such as strawberries and blueberries.

  18. Diogenes

    blueberries and strawberries still have some fructose. I eat these kinds of fruits several times a week, almost everyday. However I also love low sugar fruits like avocado, grapefruit, etc. Is it dangerous long-term to enjoy these nutrient snacks several times a week cause of apparently ‘poisonous’ fructose?

    I sincerely doubt it. It’s a matter of dose. There’s some fructose in fruit, but also good nutrients, as you noted. But nature never intended for us to be consuming loads of fructose in snacks, sodas and bread.

  19. Diogenes

    “But nature never intended for us to be consuming loads of fructose in snacks, sodas and bread”

    doesn’t fruit contain the most fructose than out of the above items?

    Sodas are the worst. The fruits we eat today were genetically engineered to be sweeter and therefore higher in fructose than what our paleolithic ancestors consumed, and of course they could only eat fruit when they found it in season … no one was shipping it in from Brazil.

    Even so, a little bit of low-sugar fruit is probably fine. The trouble is, people drink orange juice, eat bananas, then fill up on candy and sodas as well. It’s an overdose.

    Jimmy Moore interviewed someone — can’t remember his name — who tried one of those all-fruit diets and turned himeslf into a type 2 diabetic.

  20. Kathy from Maine

    In his list of the seven foods on the McDonald’s menu that don’t contain HFCS, where the heck was beef, chicken (the broiled chicken, not the McNuggets), and the fish, not to mention the “cheese” that goes on top?

    Also, the guy was flat-out wrong about the amount of fiber in a Paleolithic diet and the benefits of fiber. As another commenter stated, check out Dr. Michael Eades’ posts on fiber. Finally, how can he talk about the Paleolithic diet without mentioning meat?

    The guy had a great message, but he needs to check his facts on some of his statements. He gets a bit sloppy at the end. There was something right near the end (in the last 10minutes) where he seems to be mixing up body fat with fat in the diet. I’ll have to watch the ending again to be sure.

    Not sure if you’re still accepting comments here, but thought I’d try. I just found your blog the other day (actually, I’ve always known about it, having lived the low-carb life for about 12 years now, just never took the time to read it). Since then I’ve started from the beginning and have been reading every post. Ordered the Fat Head movie, too. Keep up the good work! You have yet another new fan!

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