60 Minutes Segment: Is Sugar Toxic?
Sugar Association Response to Inaccurate and Misleading Assertions
What is sugar?
Sugar/sucrose occurs naturally in almost every fruit and vegetable and most abundantly in sugar cane and sugar beets from which it is extracted. The sugar/sucrose in a peach or watermelon is exactly the same as the sugar in your sugar bowl. Sugar is all natural, only 15 calories per teaspoon and is an important ingredient that has been safely used for over 2000 years.
The media should use caution when reporting on preliminary science, hypothesis and opinion. It seems like every week a new study grabs the headlines. Many of these studies are preliminary studies and are by definition, just that: preliminary hypotheses, not conclusions, and need further investigation. The methodology used in many studies leaves room for interpretation by the scientist conducting the study and therefore room for personal bias that is less likely to withstand scrutiny when compared with the body of science on the same subject. The media should use caution when reporting on preliminary studies and hypothesis because the average person does not know how to assess the information in the larger context of the totality of scientific evidence.
What does the science say about sugar?
The most reliable scientific conclusions are those that result from major scientific reviews of the full body of scientific literature by panels of qualified experts. When the full body of science is evaluated during a major review of the scientific literature, experts continue to conclude sugars intake is not a causative factor in any disease, including obesity and diabetes.
Conclusion of two recent major reviews on sugar Following its extensive review of the scientific literature, the U.S. Institute of Medicine “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids” (IOM report) panel concluded in 2002:
Based on the data available on dental caries, behavior, cancer, risk of obesity, and risk of hyperlipidemia, there is insufficient evidence to set a UL (upper level) for total or added sugars.
The NAS report also stated unequivocally: “There is no clear and consistent association between increased intakes of added sugars and BMI.”
A conclusion consistent with the 2002 IOM report was reaffirmed in 2011 by the European Food Safety Authority after review of the scientific literature by its expert panel:
“Available data do not allow the setting of an UL (upper level) for total or added sugars, neither an AI (Adequate Intake) nor a recommended intake range.”
Is sugar addictive?
Addiction is compulsive behavior with medically identifiable physiological symptoms. Eating sugar or any other carbohydrate (or protein or fats) does not generate withdrawal, the medically distinct symptom characteristic of authentic addiction. The premise that sugar uniquely causes changes in brain chemistry is not the consensus of the scientific community. It is well known that other pleasurable experiences (one good example is exercise) generate comparable chemical responses in brain dopamine. Thus, all changes in neurochemistry do not equate to addiction.
Sugar’s impact on cells or cellular growth (cancer)
Sugar is 100 percent pure carbohydrate. The body converts all digestible carbohydrates into glucose. There is nothing unique about the glucose generated from sugar than the glucose resulting from any other carbohydrates that would impact the cells or cellular growth.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s Cancer causes: Popular myths about the causes of cancer.
“Myth: People with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar, since it can cause cancer to grow faster.
Fact: Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn’t speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn’t slow their growth.
This misconception may be based in part on a misunderstanding of positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which use a small amount of radioactive tracer — typically a form of glucose. All tissues in your body absorb some of this tracer, but tissues that are using more energy — including cancer cells — absorb greater amounts. For this reason, some people have concluded that cancer cells grow faster on sugar. But this isn’t true.”
Sugar: diabetes and insulin response
Sugar does not uniquely raise blood glucose levels and create an unusual insulin response. The premise that sugar causes a rapid rise in blood glucose or glycemic response which then triggers an abnormal production of insulin is not a physiological or scientific reality. In a scale of 0 to 100, sugar has a moderate glycemic index (GI 58), similar to that of wheat bread (GI 53).
The 2007 American Diabetes Position Statement:
“Substantial evidence from clinical studies demonstrates that dietary sucrose does not increase glycemia more than isocaloric amounts of starch. Thus, intake of sucrose and sucrose containing foods by people with diabetes does not need to be restricted because of concern about aggravating hyperglycemia (increased blood glucose response).”
Sugar: heart disease – There is a lack of rigorous science to support a link between sugars intake and heart disease
This line of investigation is preliminary and far from conclusive. In fact, an October 28, 2009 Journal of American Medical Association “Medical News & Perspectives” critique of the American Heart Association statement referenced in the 60 Minute segment states, “…some researchers emphasize the lack of scientific rigor behind the claims that sugar causes obesity and it associated adverse outcomes. The American Heart Association statement provided no new scientific evidence that linked sugars to heart disease. Further, the lead author went on to admit that its scientific evidence linking sugars intake to obesity was observational, which is the lowest level of scientific evidence. “We felt that the strongest evidence was in the area of obesity and added sugar… granted, it is observational, but we have an obesity epidemic…”