Sugar: Just how bad is it?

Sugar: Just how bad is it?
Genetic, environmental and dietary factors impact how we absorb glucose from complex carbohydrates, says professor George O'Doherty.

A couple of weeks ago, science writer Gary Taubes — author of the book “Why We Get Fat” — wrote an article for the New York Times magazine in which he analyzed the debate over whether sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is the dietary cause of chronic ailments such as heart disease, hypertension and cancer.

George O’Doherty, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern University, considers the danger of consuming too much sugar.

Is sugar toxic?

This cannot be true. If sugar were toxic, then we would need to change our common definition of the word “toxic” or agree that everything is toxic and just a question of dose. Clearly, a high-calorie diet high in sugar can lead to higher blood levels, which in turn can lead to obesity and eventually diabetes. The question to ask is, is this news?

What makes sugar bad for you?

There are two main arguments. The more credible argument points out that high blood glucose concentrations can lead to a resetting of the appetite suppression mechanism and insulin response, which eventually causes obesity and diabetes.

The second, less convincing, argument begins with the fact that glucose and can be metabolized through separate pathways that store energy in different ways. The good pathway uses glucose and leads to glycogen as the energy-storage molecule, and the bad pathway uses fructose and leads to fatty acid synthesis. This argument is fundamentally flawed because the two metabolic pathways are not independent. In fact, these pathways are reversible and interconnected at several levels. Thus, the body can compensate for a lack of sugar from one by using the other. As a result, the difference in these two pathways is only revealed when both glucose and fructose are present in abundance, which may be the case in “The Typical Western Diet.”

If you wanted to limit sugar intake, it would be more effective to reduce your consumption of fructose over glucose, by drinking less soda, for example. Of course, even this is a simplistic view. There are a lot of genetic, environmental and dietary factors that go into how we absorb glucose from complex carbohydrates that affect our total calorie intake and choice of diet.

How much sugar and carbohydrates do you recommend we consume each day?

As a general principal, we should think of less rather than more. In trying to reduce caloric intake, we should reduce fructose and sucrose followed by the more complex carbohydrates. Having said that, I am not arguing for the choice of a potato (carbohydrates) over a tomato (fructose/sucrose). Similarly, when you examine the long-term effects from years of exposure, you have to wonder whether fructose or a substitute, like Sucralose, is better for you.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The not-so-sweet truth about sugar -- a risk choice?

Nov 22, 2010

More and more people have become aware of the dangers of excessive fructose in diet. A new review on fructose in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN) indicates jus ...

Fructose metabolism more complicated than was thought

Dec 09, 2008

A new University of Illinois study suggests that we may pay a price for ingesting too much fructose. According to lead author Manabu Nakamura, dietary fructose affects a wide range of genes in the liver that had not previously ...

Recommended for you

Jamaica Senate starts debate on pot decriminalization bill

48 minutes ago

Jamaica's Senate on Friday started debating a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot and establish a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical marijuana industry on the island where the drug ...

Can Lean Management improve hospitals?

6 hours ago

Waiting times in hospital emergency departments could be cut with the introduction of Lean Management and Six Sigma techniques according to new research.

Research finds 90 percent of home chefs contaminate food

7 hours ago

If you're gearing up for a big Super Bowl bash, you might want to consult the best food-handling practices before preparing that feast. New research from Kansas State University finds that most home chefs drop the ball on ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 04, 2011
high-fructose corn syrup could probably be a major factor in obesity. Not just because it is used in a LOT of food stuff here in USA, it is also not used much in Europe. OK Europeans do also smoke more than Americans (personal observation) but I do think that one cause to obesity is something in that high-fructose corn syrup. Perhaps too much of it in some peoples system causes some reaction that leads to accumulation of the 'bad fat'.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.