"Did all of a sudden the entire world just become a bunch of gluttons and sloths? All at the same time? I mean, get real." - Dr. Robert H. Lustig
There are many things wrong with the modern diet... but the massive amounts of added sugar may just be the worst.
Numerous studies show that sugar, more than any other ingredient in the diet, may be driving some of the world's leading killers... including heart disease, diabetes and even cancer (, , ).
The above (hat tip to ) - is from ABC's , a popular science program in Australia.
The first dietary guidelines for Americans were published in 1977, giving birth to the low-fat "revolution."
At this time, the main public health message was that people needed to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol... that is, less of traditional foods like meat, butter, full-fat dairy and eggs.
Unfortunately, the food industry complied and brought a plethora of low-fat "health foods" to the market.
But removing the fat from foods makes them taste horrible.
That's why the food industry added a whole bunch of sugar to their foods to compensate for the lack of fat.
Although sugar wasn't actually endorsed by public health guidelines, the primary emphasis was on reducing saturated fat, essentially distracting people from the stuff that actually matters.
Today, people are eating massive amounts of added sugars, usually without even realizing it.
According to , in the year 1822 we ate the equivalent of a 12 ounce can of soda every 5 days.
Today, we're eating the equivalent of a 12 ounce can of soda every 7 hours.
On average, Americans are eating about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or 355 calories. This amounts to 70 pounds (32 kg) per year ().
Keep in mind that these are averages. Young males are eating about a 100 pounds of sugar per year... and many individuals are eating much, much more.
Bottom Line: When the low-fat guidelines first came out, food manufacturers removed the fat from foods but added a whole bunch of sugar instead.
The thing is... most people don't have a clue about how much sugar they're actually eating.
They're not pouring 22 teaspoons per day in their coffee or on their breakfast cereal, they're getting it from conventional foods.
These days, almost every processed food has sugar in it. Just go to the supermarket and look at the labels, you may be surprised... even many so-called "health foods" are loaded with sugar.
Food manufacturers often use confusing terms (like "evaporated cane juice") for sugar, in order to deceive the consumer and hide the true amount of sugar in their foods.
Even foods that are often considered healthy, like many breakfast cereals and low-fat yogurt, have so much sugar that they're not much different from a candy bar.
The worst part of it is... sometimes the mainstream health organizations actually endorse these seriously unhealthy foods.
For example, the Australian Heart Foundation puts their "Tick" of approval on various high-sugar junk foods like breakfast cereals, low-fat yogurt, breads and others.
How are people supposed to have a chance of eating healthy if the organizations that are in charge of protecting the population's health are literally advising people to eat this crap?
Bottom Line: People are getting a lot of sugar from conventional foods, without even realizing it. Many of these processed, high-sugar foods are endorsed by health organizations like the Australian Heart Foundation.
Added sugar can have severe harmful effects on metabolism ().
The main reason is that it supplies a large amount of fructose, a simple sugar that is metabolized strictly by the liver ().
In the context of a high-calorie, high-carb Western diet, this is a complete disaster.
The sugar get turned into fat in the liver, leading to and a host of metabolic problems ().
It is well known that fructose is uniquely efficient at causing the buildup of visceral fat, that is fat that collects in the liver and around the organs (, ).
This type of fat is much, much worse than the fat that builds up under the skin. It actively secretes pro-inflammatory hormones into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on your health ().
The ability of sugar and refined carbohydrate to induce insulin resistance and increase visceral fat accumulation is now believed to be among the leading drivers of many of the world's most serious chronic diseases.
It is also known that liquid sugar (as in sugary soft drinks and fruit juices) has a uniquely fattening effect. Liquid sugar calories aren't "registered" as food by the brain, so we don't compensate by eating less of other foods instead (, ).
Sugar is terrible... but when consumed in liquid form, it is even worse.
Overall, sugary soft drinks (and fruit juices) are probably the unhealthiest and most fattening aspects of the modern diet, by far.
Keep in mind that this does not apply to whole fruit, which also contain fiber and make people feel full before they can overeat on fructose.
Of course, there are many things wrong with the modern diet. No one is saying that it's only sugar.
Refined carbohydrates, seed oils and processed foods in general are also a huge problem, without regards to whether they contain sugar or not.
But there is now overwhelming evidence that sugar is uniquely harmful, perhaps more than any other aspect of the diet.
If you care about your health and want to live a long and disease-free life, then you should avoid added sugar like the plague.