With all the recent talk of fake news and the quantity of misinformation online, now more than ever it’s important for all of us to be critical and skeptical readers. It can be hard to find information we can really trust. That’s why I’ve written before about what to remember before trusting any health article. One thing’s for sure, though, when the research is funded by a group that has something to gain or lose by the results of that research, it’s fair to say that what they publish is meant to improve their business and make them more profitable as a result.
That’s how we now come to the sugar lobby, which is doing its part to spread lies and misinformation about what their products do to the people who eat them. As Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, has said, what they're doing "comes right out of the tobacco industry's playbook: Cast doubt on the science."
Why are they doing this now? Because local governments in the U.S., as well as in places such as the U.K. and South Africa, are considering sugar and soda taxes aimed at reducing consumption of Big Sugar's products. Why? Because the science is already in. Added sugar is not good for you. In fact, it's actually quite terrible for you. This is not up for debate, as much as Big Sugar would like us to think it is.
With that said, let’s look at why exactly this is true, and why the facts won’t change in the future.
Pure empty calories
The average American man takes in 2,512 calories per day. Say you decide to get a Big Gulp on a hot summer day. Even with 9 ounces of ice, you're still consuming 55 ounces of soda. That's 186 grams of added sugar and 744 calories, or practically 30 percent of your allotted calorie consumption for a given day. Every one of those calories comes straight from sugar and provides zero nutritional benefits. There is no other nutritional value attributed to these drinks. That means no protein, no fiber, no fat, not even any "healthy carbs." There's nothing redeeming about these drinks. Nothing. At. All.
The companies who funded this study know they can’t make us believe that soda or sweets are suddenly good for us, but they are trying to argue that they’re at least "not that bad." One of the authors of the study, Bradley Johnston of the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, said, "Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence."
Why his opinion is utterly wrong
The American Heart Association, World Health Organization, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and several government agencies around the world all say the same thing: They all agree that added sugar is bad for your health and that a large number of people around the world are eating far, far too much of it.
I understand the need to be skeptical and anyone’s hesitancy to question the validity of news stories, but these health organizations aren’t basing their recommendations on opinions, feelings or intentionally manipulated data. Sure, health agencies have been wrong in the past. They were wrong to make us so afraid of fat, but those recommendations came more than 50 years ago. The quality and quantity of research nowadays is much more thorough and sophisticated. Is it always correct? No, but there are literally thousands of studies confirming the dangers of excessive sugar consumption.
Manipulating the data
Want to know why the damaging effects of sugar were kept quiet for so long? It's the same reason why we thought fat was the real enemy. In 1967, a group called the Sugar Research Foundation wanted to "refute" concerns about sugar's possible role in heart disease. They paid for research to be carried out by Harvard scientists, which found exactly what they told it to find—cutting fat, not sugar, was the best way to help prevent coronary heart disease. They also cast doubt on all the previous studies on the harmful effects of sugar, suggesting "major problems" with the research.
Their efforts worked, and the blame was effectively shifted to fat. For the past five decades, they've worked to keep it there. Now, as the focus has finally started to shift back to sugar, these groups are redoubling their efforts through the spread of misinformation—or, more accurately, lies.
What do we really know about sugar?
Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in this country, and we should all be working toward reducing the risk as much as possible. When we remember that more than 100 million Americans are suffering from diabetes or prediabetes, doesn’t common sense tell us there might be a link? The American Heart Association says there is one. It's not just the sugar itself. It's what sugar does to our bodies. While it can provide a short burst of energy, it also disrupts or causes insulin resistance in our bodies. We feel less full than we otherwise would, and those cravings cause us to overeat and slow down our metabolisms.
Part of the problem with being healthy is that some people’s genetics make staying healthy easier or harder. So maybe having a Coke a day doesn’t do much damage to your friend’s gut bacteria but it wrecks your own. The only way to know for sure is to cut back on added sugar and see what happens to your body long term. I’ve tracked my own cravings and calorie consumption while I’ve decreased my sugar intake and come to a very simple conclusion: Less sugar makes it much easier for me to eat less. I feel full from smaller meals and get hungry less often.
Don’t buy the misinformation. Try cutting back on sugar and there’s a good chance you’ll have similar results.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He's on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.