Did you know that the average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar a year? There is new research showing that beyond weight gain, sugar can take a serious toll on your health, worsening conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer. Some physicians go so far as to call sugar a toxin.
The chances are good that sugar is a bigger part of your daily diet than you may realize which is why this new 60 minutes story is so important. New research coming out of some of America's most respected institutions from actual Doctors and Professors is starting to find that sugar, the way many people are eating it today, is a toxin and could be a driving force behind some of this country's leading killers, including heart disease. As a result of these findings, an anti-sugar campaign has sprung up, led by Dr. Robert Lustig, a California endocrinologist, who believes the consumption of added sugars has plunged America into a public health crisis.
Dr. Robert Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco and a pioneer in what is becoming a war against sugar.
Motivated by his own patients -- too many sick and obese children - Dr. Lustig has concluded that sugar, more than any other substance, is to blame.
What are all these various diseases that you say are linked to sugar?
Dr. Robert Lustig feels from his research that Obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease itself are 75% avoidable and can be linked to sugar consumption.
While Dr. Lustig has published a dozen scientific articles on the evils of sugar, it was his lecture on YouTube, called "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," that brought his message to the masses.
By "bad food" Dr. Lustig means the obvious things such as table sugar, honey, syrup, sugary drinks and desserts, but also just about every processed food you can imagine, where sugar is often hidden: yogurts and sauces, bread, and even peanut butter. And what about the man-made, often vilified sweetener, high fructose corn syrup?
Dr. Robert Lustig also feels regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the exact same. They are basically equivalent they're both bad. They're both equally toxic.
Since the 1970s, sugar consumption has gone down nearly 40 percent, but high fructose corn syrup has more than made up the difference. Dr. Lustig says they are both toxic because they both contain fructose -- that's what makes them sweet and irresistible.
Central to Dr. Lustig's theory is that we used to get our fructose mostly in small amounts of fruit -- which came loaded with fiber that slows absorption and consumption -- after all, who can eat 10 oranges at a time? But as sugar and high fructose corn syrup became cheaper to refine and produce, we started gorging on them. Americans now consume 130 pounds per person a year -- that's a third of a pound every day.
Dr. Lustig believes those sweeteners are helping fuel an increase in the most deadly disease in America: heart disease.
But now, studies done by Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist at the University of California, Davis are starting to back him up. She's in the middle of a groundbreaking, five-year study which has already shown strong evidence linking excess high fructose corn syrup consumption to an increase in risk factors for heart disease and stroke. That suggests calories from added sugars are different than calories from other foods.
You often hear that a calorie is a calorie.
Kimber Stanhope thinks the results of the study showed clearly that is not true. Stanhope's conclusions weren't easy to come by. Nutrition studies are expensive and difficult. Stanhope has paid groups of research subjects to live in this hospital wing for weeks at a time, under a sort of 24-hour lockdown. They undergo scans and blood tests - every calorie they ingest, meticulously weighed and prepared.
Kimber Stanhope advise that no one is ever out of our sight. So we do know that they are consuming exactly what we need them to consume.
For the first few days, participants eat a diet low in added sugars, so baseline blood levels can be measured.
Then, 25 percent of their calories are replaced with sweetened drinks and Stanhope's team starts drawing blood every 30 minutes around the clock. And those blood samples? They revealed something disturbing.
Kimber Stanhope advised that they found that the subjects who consumed high fructose corn syrup had increased blood levels of LDL cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
And these adverse changes occurred within two weeks.
Kimber Stanhope's study suggests that when a person consumes too much sweet stuff, the liver gets overloaded with fructose and converts some of it into fat. Some of that fat ends up in the bloodstream and helps generate a dangerous kind of cholesterol called small dense LDL. These particles are known to lodge in blood vessels, form plaque and are associated with heart attacks.
And it turns out, sugar has become a major focus in cancer research too. Lewis Cantley, is looking at the connection.Dr. Sanjay Gupta: If you limit your sugar you decrease your chances of developing cancer?
Lewis Cantley: Absolutely.
Dr. Robert Lustig agrees -- we need a balanced diet -- but his idea of balance is a drastic reduction in sugar consumption. To that end he co-authored an American Heart Association report recommending men should consume no more than 150 calories of added sugars a day. And women, just 100 calories. That's less than the amount in just one can of soda.
Dr. Robert Lustig feels that this is a public health crisis. And when it's a public health crisis, you have to do big things tobacco and alcohol are perfect examples. We have made a conscious choice that we're not going to get rid of them, but we are going to limit their consumption. I think sugar belongs in this exact same wastebasket.