Is sugar toxic?

Scott Edmed

Consider your sugar intake in future...|People love sugar, but is it healthy?|Moderation of sugar is key

Consider your sugar intake in future...|People love sugar, but is it healthy?|Moderation of sugar is key

Time to defend sugar… According to data from the U.S. in 2008, people are consuming over 28kg of added sugar per year and this does not include fruit juices. (1) We are frequently warned about the dangers of excess sugar consumption, it being ‘toxic’ and ‘sugar causing the obesity epidemic,’ but is sugar toxic and to blame for obesity? Sugar generally is not poisonous, lots of natural occurring foods like fruit, vegetables and milk contain sugar, and our body needs sugar to produce energy, especially our brain which preferably uses glucose as an energy source. To say sugar is "toxic" with no dosages mentioned is misleading. It implies that the sweet substance is dangerous even at 1g, but of course, it's the dose that makes a poison poisonous. Water can be poison if consumed in adequate amounts. The World Health Organization recommends that women consume no more than 24 grams of "added sugar" (sugar not found in fruits/veg or non-sweetened milk) each day and for men, that number is 37 grams. The NHS advises that added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your calorie intake. But this is dependent on your size, your age and how active you are. Currently, it is thought we consume 2x that and much of that comes from sodas, desserts and sweets, and eating too much of any specific calorie increases the risk of putting on weight and disease. Eating sugar in shed loads is obviously unhealthy, I am not going to deny that, but to claim it is toxic without mentioning any dose is absurd. Also excess sugar is not the SOLE cause of diabetes. It is important to know that type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and type 2 diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors, sugar being one of them, but not the sole cause. - [caption id="attachment_3515" align="aligncenter" width="650"]People love sugar, but is it healthy? People love sugar, but is it healthy?[/caption]

Previous sugar studies

But what about all the studies carried out on rats showing it’s toxicity? Most of these studies fed the rats a ridiculous amount of sugar, far more than you would ever eat in a day, and remember rats are not humans; metabolisation of sugar has been shown to be very different in humans compared to rats. I would like to quote Dr. Mike T Nelson in regards to this research in rats; 'Measuring acute toxicity is commonly done with the LD50 aka the Lethal Dose to kill 50%. Mortality is what researchers called “a hard endpoint”. It is easy to measure; you are either alive or dead. The downside in humans is, well, if you surpass the dose you are dead. The LD50 of table sugar for a rat according to the MSDS sheet (1) is 29,700 mg/kg per sitting. If I wanted to die via sugar (assuming rat PK translates to humans directly) here is the math. I weigh 235 lbs (estimate it at a 100 kg for simple math), that would be about 29 GRAMS / kg X my weight of 100 kg which clocks in at 2900 grams. I would need to consume 2900 grams of sugar in one sitting! A can of pop (soda for you), has about 33 grams of sugar; hence I would need to drink about 88 cans in order to die from sugar.’  - Dr. Mike T Nelson What you need to understand is everything has an LD50 value and so anything can be toxic at certain dosages.


So what about fructose? In a meta-analyses examining human studies, John Sievenpiper found no harmful effects of typical fructose consumption on body weight, blood pressure or uric acid production. (1) 2011 saw a study, confirmed that people almost never eat fructose by itself, this is important as fructose is blamed for causing over eating, because it does not elicit an insulin response, but fructose is mostly always accompanied with glucose (HFCS for example) which does cause an insulin response. What has also been found out was that fructose did not have any positive associations with levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, nor any significant link to body mass index. (2) For a quick source of energy, nothing beats sugar, as shown by olympians, endurance athletes and sportsman consuming sports drinks and sugary food. In my opinion sugar from fruits, veggies and naturally occurring foods should not be limited or feared at all! Processed sugars should be enjoyed occasionally and in moderation by everyone and not avoided. Look to include nutrient dense minimally processed foods 80% of the time and the other 20% coming from ‘unclean’ foods. It’s rather impossible to give an exact quantity because individual circumstances vary, but if calories, macronutrients and fibre are controlled and you are training sufficiently, you will find it hard to consume too high levels of sugar which will cause health problems. [caption id="attachment_3516" align="aligncenter" width="420"]Consider your sugar intake in future... Consider your sugar intake in future...[/caption]

Who to blame

Is sugar to blame for the obesity epidemic? I would like to quote Alan Aragon to answer this… ‘Here’s the latest from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), which tracked the percent of total daily calories of the range of food groups from 1970-2007. (3) Meats, eggs, and nut kcals decreased 4%. Dairy kcals decreased 3%. Percentage of fruit kcals stayed the same. Percentage of vegetable kcals stayed the same. Flour and cereal product kcals increased 3%. Added fat kcals are up 7%, Added sugars kcals decreased 1% Total energy intake in 1970 averaged 2172 kcal. By 2007 this hiked up to 2775 kcal, a 603 kcal increase. Taking a hard look at the data above, it appears that the rise in obesity is due in large part to an increase in caloric intake in general, rather than an increase in added sugars in particular.’  (4) Several experiments have been carried out to compare calorie diets made up of solely sugar compared to other carbs. A meta-analysis by Sievenpiper et al looked at the effect of fructose on body weight in controlled feeding. 'Fructose does not seem to cause weight gain when it is substituted for other carbohydrates in diets providing similar calories. Excess calories modestly increased body weight, an effect that may be due to the extra calories rather than the fructose.’ (5) Surwit et al found that a 'high intake of sucrose from a low fat, low kcal diet did not adversely affect weight loss or other metabolic indexes when compared to a low fat, low sugar diet.’ Surwit’s experiment compared a high sugar diet containing 43% of kcal’s from sucrose compared to a low sugar diet with 5% or less of kcal’s from sugar and found no significant difference between diets. (6)

More questions

[caption id="attachment_3517" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Moderation of sugar is key Moderation of sugar is key[/caption] Am I saying eat a diet, solely of sugar? No of course not. I look to consume a wide variety of foods with the majority of my calories (approx 80%) from whole nutrient dense minimally processed foods, getting sufficient micronutrients and fibre each day, but every now and then I choose to enjoy some processed sugars, like sticky toffee pudding or apple crumble and custard. Is there a limit for ADDED sugar in your diet? Again, this depends on a number of variables, size, weight and activity levels not the least of which are an individual’s physical activity level and lean body mass.  The NHS advises that added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your calorie intake. Others advise levels up to 100g is safe, where as others say levels as low as 25g should only be consumed. It's hard to pin point an exact gram, due to an individual’s circumstances varying widely. To keep things simple the solution is managing your caloric balance (calories in vs calories out) and physical activity, to quote the British Dietetic Association (BDA) - “Sugar is not bad for you as part of a balanced diet,” The final word is adding excess amounts of fat via any food source is unhealthy. It very well may be true that excess consumption of fructose, because of the unique way in which we metabolise, can cause fat to accumulate in our livers followed by insulin resistance and other illnesses, but this is a relatively unknown area of research and no link has been found yet. It is more likely that excess calories are associated with non alcoholic fatty liver disease than sugar. (7) We are consuming more calories than ever before now (8), so following a calorie controlled diet, filled with a variety of foods and macronutrients, that allows you to consume added sugar from your favourite processed foods in MODERATION is going to do you no harm as long as your body fat is controlled.  Banning foods completely is going to do you harm, both mentally and physically. Let me leave you with this thought. People are claiming that sugar lights up the same pleasure censors in the brain, as drugs, which is leading to an addiction and over consumption in toxic amounts. However, these are the same pleasure senses that are lit up by laughing, sex and enjoying yourself. It's strange how people can be claiming sugar to be toxic and ‘evil’ even at small amounts, when it hits our pleasure senses. Following this logic, sex must be toxic and bad too! Further Reading Follow me over on Twitter & Facebook for more fitness tips, and let us know what your macro intake is down in the comments section below. References -
  1. Sievenpiper, John L.a,b; de Souza, Russell J.c; Cozma, Adrian I.a,d; Chiavaroli, Lauraa,d; Ha, Vanessaa,d; Mirrahimi, Arash. Fructose vs. glucose and metabolism: do the metabolic differences matter? February 2014 - Volume 25 - Issue 1 - p 8-19.
  1. Sun SZ1, Anderson GH, Flickinger BD, Williamson-Hughes PS, Empie MWFructose and non-fructose sugar intakes in the US population and their associations with indicators of metabolic syndrome. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Nov;49(11):2875-82..
  2. Jean A Welsh, Andrea J Sharma, Lisa Grellinger, Miriam B Vos. Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr September 2011 vol. 94 no. 3 726-734
  1. Sievenpiper JL1, de Souza RJ, Mirrahimi A, Yu ME, Carleton AJ, Beyene J, Chiavaroli L, Di Buono M, Jenkins AL, Leiter LA, Wolever TM, Kendall CW, Jenkins DJ. Effect of fructose on body weight in controlled feeding trials: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Feb 21;156(4):291-304.
  2. Surwit RS1, Feinglos MN, McCaskill CC, Clay SL, Babyak MA, Brownlow BS, Plaisted CS, Lin PH. Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Apr;65(4):908-15.
  3. Mei Chung, Jiantao Ma, Kamal Patel, Samantha Berger, Joseph Lau, Alice H Lichtenstein. Fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or indexes of liver health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr September 2014 ajcn.086314. 

Tagged: Nutrition

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