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Myth: Sugar is toxic

TRUTH:  Claims that sugar is toxic have become more popular recently due to Americans’ overconsumption of highly palatable foods (like soda, candy, cakes, cookies, etc).  At this point, it’s been clearly established that extra calories from any foods are stored in our bodies as fat.  But, the question remains – is sugar toxic?

Dr. Robert Lustig says yes.  In a very widely publicized segment on 60 Minutes, he claims that sugar is responsible for obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.

I agree with him on several points:

  1. Table sugar is no better or worse than any other sugar (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, honey, etc.).  Sugar is sugar is sugar.
  2. The extra calories from sugar and the effect that excess sugar has on our bodies is the major contributing factor to Americans’ expanding waistlines.  Our portion sizes, particularly of sugary foods, have increased tremendously over the last 50 years.
  3. There is evidence that suggests that consuming processed foods with added sugars increases LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol).  However, there is still a lot of contradictory evidence out there (particularly with regard to a low consumption of these foods and in those who get physical activity).

The researchers that Sanjay Gupta interviews for the 60 Minute segment have all run valid, scientific studies – but it’s important to note that they were studying the effect of excess added sugar consumption.  Any time you consume sugar (or fat or protein) in excessively high amounts, there are going to be negative impacts.

BOTTOM LINE:  Sugar is not toxic but moderate to high consumption of added sugar may increase the risk of weight-related disease. I revert back to my principle for all extreme claims – all or nothing, “toxic” or “superfood” – they’re just blown out of proportion.  Those claims sensationalize the dangers of consuming excessive amounts of sugar and suggesting that it’s ‘toxic’ is intended to be an attention-grabber.  And it worked – sugar has a bad rap.

Choose healthy sources of sugars, like fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy and whole grains because there are no health risks associated with their naturally occurring sugars.



  1. CBS News: Is sugar toxic?
  2. Today’s Health: Sweet and toxic: Is sugar really ‘poison’?

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