The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 947: Why Overdosing on Sugar Could Be Killing You

Low fat diets are too often high in sugar and fructose, leading to insulin resistance and obesity. How can you stop overdosing on sugar?
Robert Lustig, MD

The dogma that weight control is a simple matter of “eat less, exercise more” has dominated debates about the obesity epidemic for decades. Yet the frightening prevalence of excess weight, especially among our children, has not yielded to calls to action. Can it be attributed to overdosing on sugar?

Why Advice to Eat Less Fat Has Backfired:

There is growing evidence that not all calories are created equal. Although Americans have been told to avoid fat because it can make us fat, this advice has resulted in higher amounts of sugar, fructose, and other highly refined carbohydrates in our diet. Dr. Robert Lustig finds that processed foods, high in sugar and low in fiber, are the most likely culprits that are truly making Americans fatter. He offers scientific evidence that we are overdosing on sugar, and he has practical advice on the solution: eat real food!

This Week’s Guest:

Robert Lustig, MD, MSL, is Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, and Member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at University of California, San Francisco. He is a neuroendocrinologist whose clinical research has focused on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system. His books include the bestseller Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease and The Fat Chance Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes Ready in Under 30 Minutes to Help You Lose the Sugar and the Weight. Dr. Lustig is also President of the non-profit Institute for Responsible Nutrition, a think  tank  devoted  to improving  our food  supply.

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Buy the CD

Download the mp3

Rate this article
5- 2 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 9 comments
Add your comment

I was very glad to hear Dr. Lustig promote eating real food and removing refined sugar from the diet as much as possible. And I was glad to hear him mention the hormone leptin, which is made in our fat cells and regulates some of our most basic bodily functions, such as rate of metabolism and satiety.
I was very disappointed, however, that Dr. Lustig did not mention the simple but profound habit of not snacking, in order to control healthy insulin levels and prevent both insulin resistance and leptin resistance.
Insulin is released when we eat food. After 3 hours or so, insulin levels drop. The drop in insulin is THE SIGNAL for the rise of another pancreatic hormone, glucagon. Glucagon tells the liver to make blood sugar from the energy that insulin delivered to it. This sustains energy until the next meal.
If a snack is eaten, glucagon will drop (if it ever had a chance to rise in the first place), and insulin will again enter the blood stream.
When snacking is a common habit, insulin will be in the blood too often. This will lead to insulin resistance. In addition, the liver can become clogged from all the sugars delivered to it by insulin, which it never had a chance to convert because insulin kept bringing more and more.
Look at old photographs of groups of people from the 1950’s and before. Almost all of them were “normal” size. I grew up back then and I remember — people did not generally eat snacks. They ate 3 meals a day, and they were generally both satisfied and healthy.
In addition to snacking, a lot of people sip sweetened drinks throughout the day. Or perhaps they spend the evening drinking beer or wine. Wouldn’t it be wiser to drink these things with a meal, and to drink water or unsweetened beverages between meals?
In many schools, children are now given snacks between meals. No wonder they are becoming overweight and diabetic!
When people have become leptin resistant because of snacking too often, it can be hard to resist snacking. But if they try hard to eat only 3 meals a day (and a high protein breakfast sure helps), eventually insulin and leptin levels will normalize and they will be able to do it easily and comfortably.

This was a great interview, though it didn’t lay out step-by-step and in as much detail the scientific process by which sugar causes obesity, compared to the last time Dr. Lustig was on your show.
I encourage anyone who is at all confused by the connections Dr. Lustig was making between sugar and obesity to revisit that interview; he does an amazing job of explaining it.
The really remarkable thing about this episode (947) is the drastic change in the amount of skepticism Joe and Terry had for Dr. Lustig’s claims. The first time they talked, Joe and Terry sounded very skeptical, and that has all but vanished. It says a lot about the growing level of acceptance the link between sugar and obesity has. And that’s a really good thing!

Ms. Haigler, thank you for the congratulations; it seems as though you’re on your way, too! As a guy, I may not be fully understanding of women’s sizes, but 16 to 10 sounds significant. Good for you!
If you are interested in the book, it’s available in hard copy or ebook at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and as an ebook at Apple’s iBooks. I’m including this link not because I’ve a preference among them, but so you can see the cover.
And if you do get it, my contact info is inside; I’d love to be apprised of your progress.
Keep up the good work!

Wonderful information about the cause. I believe Dr Michael Mosley’s 5:2 diet as shown on a PBS broadcast last year is the best way for adults to change their metabolism and recover from insulin resistant or diabetic state.

Congratulations on your success! I began a lifestyle change about a year ago after hearing audio of interviews with Dr. Lustig on NPR or youtube as wellas Gary Taubes. I also read articles they published and Mark Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint.”
Although I did not have any medical problems and was not on any medication, I knew I was getting too close to 200 pounds. I knew that I was obese because I am only about 5 feet tall. I have dropped from a size 16 to a size 10 and I continue to take it one day at a time. I will add “Shrink” to my summer reading list!

The events leading to the obesity epidemic are not as Dr. Lustig portrays them. I agree with many if not most of Lustig’s comments but the real science has yet to be done.
Dr. Lustig has spent the last 15 years dealing with patients poisoned by fats – some from before birth. I practiced medicine in a poor area with the worst food available other than wild game in SE MO. In one county, every EKG I read on children had progressively worse conduction abnormalities – why were they having chest pain in the first place? (The nearest grocery with 25% safe food choices was 30 miles away from these families.) the same children had insulin resistance and along with adults eating fast food got fat.
Sugar did not change dramatically in the 80’s but fat and plastics did change. We can travel to see the Swiss, Germans and French eat sugar which makes few of them sick – but the Hungarians where cheaper fats have been used have higher diabetes rates for similar amounts of sugar and HFCS.
Start some real research outside the clutches of the maniacal food industry. Buy some NC and MO pigs but instead of slaughter, put them on your diet given to children. If you starved them they would die fat. If put on a weight loss diet, the cheap pigs (but not my pigs) will die from clots and tumors and they will have insulin resistance. The food industry controls all the research now but the truth will eventually emerge.

I was nearly deliriously happy to discover Dr. Lustig was this week’s guest, and only regret that this show was (I’m assuming) recorded in advance, rather than have been live, allowing for calls from the audience; I SO would have liked to thank him, as he’s become one of my heroes. He – and others – changed my life.
Like so many, I’d gained extra pounds and those pounds resisted my best efforts to lose them. In the summer of 2011 I heard Gary Taubes on this show, read his book and changed what, not how much I ate. Approximately two months into my changed eating pattern and very pleased with the results, in November of that year, Dr. Lustig was a guest on TPP; through that discussion, I better understood why it was working.
I returned to my 20s physique in just 5 months; whereas the previous, unsuccessful attempts were difficult, this proved to be easy. Moreover, it’s over two years; the regimen remains easy and the weight remains off.
Frequently asked how I did it, I ultimately wrote a book called, “Shrink!” In it, I chronicle my previous failures, explain the how and why of my success, and frequently cite Dr. Lustig and others (some of whom have been guests on TPP) for providing and explaining the information I found so useful. His case is compelling; my own success is demonstrable evidence of his truth.
Dr. Lustig, should you happen to read this…thank you!

Thank you for presenting this information so well. I listened to it this morning and will be ordering CD’s because so many friends I know are unaware of this, and this seems to be an acceptable way to present it.
Obesity is an issue that affects all of us. I also cannot help but think that processed food and sugar in particular is involved in much of the dementia and autism currently sweeping our populations in developed countries. I don’t think it is just the sugar. I believe it includes additives and preservatives that are perhaps the “generators” of the problems. The sugar and its’ sources are processed, as are every ingredient allowed in processed food. Almost all food grown in agribusiness is adulterated with things our bodies cannot deal with, so it winds up in our cells and arteries and brain. It changes the way our brains work and they cannot receive the signals they need to be healthy because of it.
Natural, organic food is harder to come by, since our planet is polluted. We are altering human beings with the poisoning of our land, air and water. This has been talked about for the last century. When will we learn that greed hurts all of this planet? Again, I thank you for being so brave as to present this kind of information. Education is the key to change.

This report was very important and insightful as it shares several perspectives of how to evaluate scientific data. Information applicability is based upon the acceptance or rejection of presented data. Data is often colored to support a particular perspective. The utility of the data may be valid in that specific perspective, but may also fail to fully embrace the more meaningful implications of the presented data.
The insight shared regarding the business imperative of food and nutrition information driven by profit, over the greater health benefit to the consumer was courageous and profoundly pointed. Thank you for you vibrant advocacy of human health outcomes.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^