overdosing on sugar

The obesity epidemic in the U.S. has been increasing alarmingly. The usual explanation is that we eat too much and exercise too little. But is every calorie we eat the same as every other?

Too Much Sugar?

Some scientists think that the explanation lies in the type of food now found in our supermarkets.

Americans consume more than 150 pounds of sugar each year, on average, which comes to about 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. Much of that is hidden in processed food.

Dr. Robert Lustig, pediatric neuroendocrinologist at UCSF, believes that the processed food in our diet has contributed greatly to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. He provides the biochemical explanation for why fructose is so damaging to children’s health. Adults suffer, too, from every excessive fructose calorie.

Is Sugar an Addiction?

Our other guest, Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, believes that sugar should be treated as an addiction. He tells how to kick the habit.

This Week’s Guests:

Robert Lustig, MD, (pictured) is professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. He also directs the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program there. His specialty is neuroendocrinology, with a specific emphasis on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system. Here is a link to his Mini Medical School presentation on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, is medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now and From Fatigued to Fantastic.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. Podcasts can be downloaded for free for six weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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Air Date:November 26, 2011

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  1. HJL

    Not simple at all. What you call natural healthy food to most means lots of fruit, which in fact is mostly just sugar. Oversimplification is dangerous.
    Many argue and recent science seems to verify, that higher in protein and fat
    diets are in fact better for dieting and simply put a calorie is not just a calorie when an overabundance of carbs causes fat to be stored on the waist and makes you hungry (sugar spikes). Not simple at all!

  2. HWF

    Other than natural healthy foods, it is hard to imagine ingested agents that don’t have side effects. The questions to ask are what they are, how severe, and how frequent? I’ll take my chances with a few teaspoons of Sucralose per day vs the problems of sugar ingestion. Even daily vitamin supplements can have unpleasant consequences for some people if taken in too large quantities. Consider the effects of caffeine, not the side effects.
    To lose weight, reduce calories. to maintain weight, exercise. Simple.

  3. Barbara

    Be careful of sugar substitutes. I go online to look for side effects. Someone recently mentioned Stevia, but it has side effects as well.

  4. Lara

    I do believe that sugar is addictive. I decided to give up on sugar – white sugar, turbinado, honey, anything of the sort (except stevia) – and it has been quite an experience. I had terrible cravings for the first few days. I might even go as far as saying I had withdrawal symptoms (albeit they were mild). After a few weeks I felt so much better. Giving up sugar is very difficult to do because it’s in just about everything we eat, but it is worth cutting out as much as you can.

  5. Sue

    Thank you for this very informative interview. It will either inspire people to change or disturb people to change – either way we must change.

  6. Herb

    HFCS is dangerous, but is really just another (cheaper) form of sugar. Sugar=sugar. All of it is useless calories and dangerous to those of us who have trouble regulating our weight or those who worry about diabetes.
    I do not eat any sugar at all – some may escape detection, but I still struggle with my weight. We have to face it; if we take in a certain number of calories, we must burn them away or store them as fat. I think the argument about obesity as a result of our eating habits is setting up a “straw man”. The problem is a lack of exercise – period! Few like it but we must do it or we will get fat by eating anything in excess of our needs.
    Much of our nutritional information comes from “nutritionists” who are, in actuality, spokesmen for one advocacy or another, and they offer us little real science. The food supplement industry, for instance is an unfunny joke perpetrated on consumers who have no way to know better.

  7. dmc

    Sucrose, your plain old table sugar, beet or cane, is still chemically half-fructose. Watch Dr Lustig’s video. Even if you have never had a chemistry course, you’ll get it.
    I had pre-med sciences in college, including nutrition and organic chemistry. No one taught us to look at the way fructose is special in the way it’s metabolized. Which is to say — your doctor is not likely oriented to see the problem. S/He is too busy trying to keep up with drug industry info and the wiles of insurance companies. Alas. But I think the changes patients will demonstrable by cutting out sugar will be the real heads up. The lab numbers will tell.

  8. dmc

    Yes, the Low Glycemic index is so misleading. For years, I read certain health magazines that touted the goodness of fructose. I switched to it; I sought it. What it left me with was a fatty liver. Since cutting out not just fructose, but its accomplice, sucrose, my gout (which plagued me even though I followed all the don’t-eat-uric-acid food and low-fat guidelines) is GONE. My liver tests and lipids are now good. I’m five years post kidney cancer (clear cell) and so far, all looks good.
    My q:I have an intestinal disease that required the removal of my sigmoid colon. Have I lost the important PYY 3 36 source?

  9. C.S.

    Dr. Lustig gave a good primer on the relationship between insulin, appetite, sugar and fiber. It was unfortunate that he combined his valid insights with comments that show a lack understanding of evolution. He spoke of apples as God’s way of inducing us to eat fiber through the lure of the apple’s sweetness. Apples are sweet to induce animals (including humans) to eat them, excrete their seeds elsewhere and thereby propagate their genes.
    Additionally, the apples we enjoy today are largely a product of selective breeding by humans, accounting for their increased size and sweetness. It was sad to see an otherwise scientifically-based discussion interrupted by a fairy tale with no explanatory power.

  10. Eric

    As a now recovering “Juiceaholic,” I thank you!

  11. JZ

    I really enjoyed the way that the information was conveyed during this interview. I thought that if you listened closely, you could have many eureka moments. Hopefully, this will change the behavior of your listeners.
    What I find so hard to believe is that mainstream doctors do not recommend taking sugar out of the diet for people who come in with symptoms like brain fog and anxiety. There are so many people out there taking anti-anxiety drugs and I’m starting to wonder if most of this is due to diet. I changed my diet over a year ago. I was having all kinds of strange symptoms.
    I went to lots of specialists who kept telling me I had to go to the next specialist to cross each “system” off the list. I finally stopped this tact when I realized the tests were becoming more and more invasive and expensive. I found a local acupuncturist who specializes in nutrition. He advised that I take sugar completely out for 6 mo. I removed gluten and limited dairy as well.
    My symptoms disappeared within 3 weeks. I lost weight and had a lot more energy. It’s been a year and a half and it is difficult to exist in a convenience based society. I feel like I’m the only one who cooks and I’m always fighting the constant influx of sugar from seemingly educated parents and teachers. It’s on the soccer field, it’s in the classroom, and I even found a wall of candy recently in a shoe store. Yes, it’s your child’s birthday but think of how many birthdays are being celebrated in their classroom throughout the year. Please get the message and bring in something healthy. I wish I could make every teacher in our school listen to this program. Thank you so much for airing it.

  12. sallym

    I recently read a book called “Why we gat fat”
    It’s very well written and even I w/my high school education, I could understand the way sugar ruins the body.
    My son at 36 has become addicted to coca-cola. W/ that he has gained 100 lb’s
    over two years. I am using this info to change his habits. He is slowly drinking less Coke, and I’m happy to say, losing weight.

  13. DWB

    All that bad eating will catch up with you eventually… just like cigarette smokers.Just give it a little more time and BAM!!! Wait and see.

  14. ehc

    My son is 16 and skinny as a rail. He drinks copious amounts of soft drinks and eats at fast food places most of the time. I have tried to help him eat healthy foods but with my job and him having to stay with parents or at a buddies house, it seems impossible to do! He is not obese by any means but I am just afraid of what it is doing to him internally. Any suggestions??
    People’s Pharmacy response: Providing healthy choices and setting a good example might be the best thing you can do now. It may take a few years, but young people in their 20s often return to the healthy eating styles they witnessed at home.

  15. Sharon

    I can’t say that sounds like the healthiest diet, Douglas, but I do think that too much is being made of the whole fat-sugar issue.
    I’ve just lost almost 30 pounds, and I eat at McDonald’s every morning! However, I’ve tracked calories in/calories out using an online food diary, so I know when enough is enough. The problem is that most people don’t. You obviously have a built-in calorimeter – or more willpower than most!

  16. Sharon

    Dr. Teitelbaum’s website clearly states:
    “You will not be charged for it, we will not add your email address to any sort of mailing list, and we will not give your email address to anyone else. This is 100% free with no tricks or hidden anything.”

  17. Cat H

    Listened to the show 11/27 returning from Thanksgiving holiday (and food overload). What an eye opener especially when I got home and read the grams of sugar in my daily yogurt.
    So two questions: 1) Is there a rule of thumb target ratio for sugar to fiber (following the logic that the fruit is good because there is fiber to offset the fructose, but the fruit juice is bad because it lacks fiber). 2) Is there a way to identify the type of sugar (fructose, glucose, lactose etc) from the food label? Now I think I will go pick some lettuce, spinach and carrots from my backyard garden (everyone should have one)!

  18. robert s

    Very well done. It brought many facts together for me.
    I would like to find out more about type II hypothyroid and metabolic syndrome. Also about the connection of fluorine/chlorine intake/low iodine intake and low thyroid function leading to metabolic syndrome. Many suspect a connection between the beginning of high fructose ingestion, lack of iodine in our diet and the adding of fluorine and chlorine to our water supply/toothpaste/mouth rinse etc.
    I love to listen to your program. Solving the remaining unknowns surrounding these facts may just help the Mississippi delta take a leap forward.

  19. Nick G.

    Thanks for having Dr. Robert Lusting on People’s Pharmacy, it really helps me how to stay healthy.

  20. LynnT

    I think I understand why Dr. T. made the point that this is a societal problem and not so much about personal responsibility. I think it is the “everyone is doing it” syndrome.
    For example, I have been influenced by my society for 30 years so that I have eaten too many hamburgers, drunk too much soda, eaten too much white bread, had too many fast food meals, eaten too few vegetables and too little fiber. All of that was normal and I did not realize there was truly a problem until I gained a lot of weight.
    I am surrounded by not just people but an entire society that assumes that all of the above eating habits/style are normal and so I have been like a lemming following the crowd. I imagine that Dr. T. would not dispute that it is only my personal responsibility that will dig myself out of the hole that I am in regarding my weight and health. Since, in my lifetime, there will probably not be enough society changes for society to help me.
    I was encouraged by this idea that it is a societal problem because it became immediately clear that the reason it is so hard to make the changes is because I am moving against “the tide” and I should not let that stop me.

  21. AMS

    The only way to be healthy is to make your own food. I had bad colitis for 10 years taking drugs and only thinking I might be eating wrong. Once I started investigating and then using an appropriate diet (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) I learned to make nutritious foods in balance and to stay away from all processed foods while becoming healthy and well beyond any past health standards. I now am writing a cookbook based on this diet and other adventures in the wonderful world of organic cooking.
    You can become extremely aware of your dietary needs once you start eating well. Most people think they can live on sweets and then a quick protein fix of some meat and never think of cooking a meal. It only takes about half an hour to map out what you should eat for the week, learn about the right foods, gather your supplies and cook regularly.
    Stop eating out, stop shopping for junk, make foods you are proud of and start to share with others. Then all the scientific results will make even more sense just because you, yourself, can experience the difference getting well. Awesome show! For many people, this was the only way they could get the message loud and clear. Thank you.

  22. susan

    I’m having a little problem with no mention of meat, eggs, fish, butter, cheeses, and in general… protein. To replace simple carbs with veggies and fruit and whole grains is fine, but it is the fats in foods that keep you satiated. So may be it should be, “eat foods from the ground, and from animals”. Also, remember the book…
    ‘sugar blues’ written in the 70’s… might be a good read again!!

  23. Larry M.

    Thank you for the program. I heard it while driving through Charleston, WV the 26th of November, 2011. It described me to the point I am going to purchase the books and hope to make a change in my life that will be of benefit for my health.

  24. Renee G

    Dr. Lustig’s interview was great! I have read some of the comments stating that people have tried to change their eating habits, but can’t. I do not believe it is a question of can’t, but won’t. Living healthy is a lifestyle it is not a game or a fad. If you choose to live healthy, then you have to commit to it or you are totally and completely wasting your time. You have to sacrifice things that are not necessary in order to be healthy. It’s okay to eat some “forbidden” things every now and then, but on a regular basis does not do your body any good.
    People have to stop and look at the big picture. Eating all this crap that you buy from fast food places, foods with sugars and preservatives, etc., will eventually catch up with you. Would you rather eat healthy and exercise regularly, and fight disease and old age? Or would you rather just give up and cash in your chips by filling your body with this mess? I have a lot to live for including my children, therefore, I chose to live healthy so that I can enjoy the finer things of life. And the finer things of life do not include eating at Mcdonald’s, having Krispy Kreme donuts every week, etc.

  25. PA

    If you substitute HFCS with cane sugar, you have the exact same problem. All sugars containing fructose are the problem. HFCS has the same amount of fructose as cane sugar. That’s not a defense of HFCS, its a condemnation of sane sugar as well as HFCS. Dont think drinking that “throwback” Pepsi with cane sugar instead of HFCS is helping. HFCS is bad because it’s so cheap (thank you government corn subsidies).

  26. SS

    There’s a horrible lot of “noise” around the subject of obesity. Dr. Lustig organizes the research-to-date in a way I’ve never heard or read before. It’s utterly logical. Since UCSF is one of the leading medical facilities in the US and he’s a faculty member, I’m inclined to trust what he says.
    If Dr. Lustig is correct in his conclusions – and I’m always wanting just a little more proof – I will put significant personal effort into spreading this “gospel.” I invite others to do the same.

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