The sugar industry was a big deal

"Sugar is not a major nutritional sin"

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If the world of action films has taught us anything, it is that something that has magical superpowers always needs an archenemy equal to it. While there are some contestants who could be the potential archenemy of our brave superfood heroes, the Lex Luthor of junk nutrition is our old friend the sugar these days. In a bizarre and unexpected twist, a bit like Terminator 2, when we realize that Arnold Schwarzenegger is actually on the good side, the once vilified saturated fat became our friend. The real enemy is refined carbohydrates, which are a dangerous, shape-shifting symbol of evil that hides in every food.

While there are millions of different gurus armed with online certificates, personal health stories, and differing views on how to holistically detoxify the body from within, they all agree on one thing: sugar is bad. Worse than bad, it's a nasty poison that destroys our bodies and makes us fat, depressed, sick and broken. Sugar is all evil in this world, its consumption fueled by corporate greed and designed in the minds of corrupt scientists. Sugar is a sweet poison, more addictive than crack or cocaine, more destructive than crystal meth, a silent killer and a plague for all of us.

If you think I'm exaggerating - here are some funny quotes:

  • From Madeleine "Get the Glow" Shaw: This white powder is known as the mastermind behind diseases like diabetes and our growing obesity epidemic. The problem is that sugar is in everything we eat, often masked as glucose or other syrup (...) There are many studies that suggest that sugar is a highly addictive substance (...) French Scientists reported that rats preferred sugar to cocaine (...) even though the rats were addicted to cocaine!

  • From Doctor Mercola's website: Their soft drinks are full of sugar, as are fruit juices, sports drinks, and the sugar is also hidden in almost every manufactured food - from sausage to pretzel sticks and Worcestershire sauce to processed cheese. And today, most baby food contains as much sugar as a can of Coca-Cola, poisoning the metabolism of infants from day one.

  • Out Natural News: The full range of symptoms of drug addicts have been observed in people with sugar addiction. With sugar addiction there is a desire, an escalation of the tolerance limit and dramatic withdrawal symptoms, which are similar to those with medically prescribed (sic!) As well as illegal drugs.

  • From Goop, the website of actress Gwyneth Paltrow: Sugar gives you a kick at first, then you crash, then you want more, so you eat more sugar. This series of ups and downs creates unnecessary stress in your adrenal glands. You get anxious, moody (sugar is a mood-altering drug), and eventually feel exhausted. Sugar is also linked to many chronic ailments, such as reduced immune defenses, chronic infections, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, pain syndromes, irritable bowel syndrome, ADD, chronic fatigue and Candida fungus.

From infant poisoning to global obesity, we are left in no doubt: Sugar is toxic and addictive, and it may even be the sole cause of all our health problems. We are the dependent slaves of a malicious, despicable food industry. In the discussion about sugar, anger, indignation and disgust play a role. There are evil villains who seek our destruction and brave fighters who will avenge us. The sugar opponents promise to lead us through detoxification, to break our cycle of addiction and to expose the greedy and corrupt institutions that have harmed us out of pursuit of profit.

Still, to keep the balance, sugar seems to have its good side in getting rats away from cocaine; well, where there is shadow ...

Sticky business

So that you know right away - sugar is not entirely exonerated of all guilt. Most of us eat too much of it. A number of sensible institutions, including the UK National Health Service, and the World Health Organization, state that if we want a healthy and balanced diet, we shouldn't get more than five percent of our calories from "added sugar". Although it is very difficult to get a true statement about how much sugar we actually consume (especially how much added sugar), the renowned UK National Diet and Nutrition 2014 study estimated that adults had about 12.1 percent of their energy so relate. It paints a far worse picture for children; for four to ten year olds, added sugar makes up 14.5 percent of their calorie consumption; among the eleven to eighteen year olds it is a shocking 15.6 percent.

Too much sugar in our diet can cause a whole range of health problems. Consumption definitely increases the likelihood of tooth decay, especially if you eat sweet snacks between meals. Also, while the science here is nowhere near as clear-cut as many would like it to be, high sugar consumption can lead to weight gain and the associated health problems. Sugar encourages superfluous calorie consumption, and many high-sugar products are very tasty ways to consume a lot of excess energy, but that alone doesn't make sugar a catalyst for obesity.

I have no problem with appeals to reduce sugar consumption to a reasonable, balanced level. Given that we all overeat and can create a number of serious health problems as a result, I believe these appeals are perfectly justified. I love food and I want people to have a healthy relationship with their diet. No matter how nice bubbly cola bottles are, anyone who gets 15 percent of their daily calories from added sugar probably won't care about the variety of foods available to us anyway.

The problem I have with the sugar debate is twofold. First, it's the pseudoscience, misunderstandings, and conspiracy theories that are involved in the discussion. They only confuse people and do not help address the obesity issue at all. Second, and perhaps even more regrettable, the language of guilt and shame plunges me into despair. In this text I want to address these problems. As with many others who want a world in which we have a sensible, realistic, and balanced relationship with our food, sugar is an issue that gives me sorrow. If you want to see a disappointed, middle-aged chef raging against the world, then this chapter is for you.

The sweet conspiracy

There is a well-repeated conspiracy theory about sugar that assumes that there are powerful lobby groups - the enigmatic people of Big Sugar - who have been illicitly collaborating with scientists on dietary guidelines to increase sugar consumption since the 1960s. There was a huge surge in heart attacks in the US in the 1950s and 1960s, and some scientists, most notably the charismatic nutritionist Ancel Keys, attributed this to the increased consumption of saturated fats in the standard American diet. In 1980, after much research and debate, the US government published dietary guidelines to address this growing health crisis, recommending that people eat fewer saturated fats and cholesterol. In 1983 the British government acted similarly to address domestic problems.

Although these measures were taken with a view to improving public health, many people believe that they have had dramatic, unintended consequences. Data shows that obesity rates, which were fairly low until 1980, skyrocketed shortly after the guidelines were published, a trend that has continued almost unabated to this day. We can see a similar trend in the UK, which has the highest obesity rates in Europe. A number of high profile activists have suggested - many quite emphatically - that the new dietary guidelines have led to the rise in obesity. (At this point I would like to remind readers of the dangers of confusing correlation and causality.) More than that, sugar is often blamed heavily because food manufacturers looking for reduced-fat recipes respond to the new demand often replace fat with sugar to maintain palatability. Refined starches and sugar replaced milk fats, butter was left out in favor of sweetened, low-fat spreads, and high-sugar breakfast cereals replaced higher-fat options like eggs and bacon.

Activists argue that these diet changes made the world fat because they boosted sugar consumption. To them, the evidence is clear. In 1980 the guidelines were changed and people should eat less saturated fats. The food industry planned it, and lobbyists bribed scientists and governments for obsessing over the population to consume more sugar. Everyone changed their diet: lots of sugar, little fat. Everyone got fat. The conspiracy goes on because scientists refuse to admit they were wrong and because Big Sugar has the world of nutrition and public health firmly in its clutches. We are told that overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of fat and against sugar is being ignored and that the dietary guidelines published around the world are fundamentally flawed.

This story is supported by a number of academics and activists (including Robert Lustig, David Gillespie, Zoe Harcombe, and Aseem Malhotra) who cite a large body of evidence on the nutritional evils of sugar and fructose. Many refer to it as a toxin, something we cannot digest, and they say the weight gains had nothing to do with excessive calorie consumption, but more to do with the metabolic damage caused by our soaring sugar consumption. Many of these activists also claim that saturated fat has been unjustly reviled.

I'm not too keen on going into scientific detail here, but in my opinion the correlation between the rise in obesity rates and changes in dietary guidelines is a near-perfect example of the rabbit sitting next to a nest of eggs. In addition to the assumption of causality, a long and complex story of conspiracies, bad scientists, and good versus bad food was also invented.

The evidence tips

Did the Diet Guidelines published in 1980 cause obesity? Maybe they were a factor, but when it comes to a problem as large and complex as obesity, any kind of causal link to a single food is all too simple. In truth, the guidelines back then stated that one should eat “a more balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and a lot of fiber”. The guidelines even stated that they should eat less sugar in addition to fat. But it is true that the rules have been communicated more strongly to the public in the direction of “fat is bad”. Fat was vilified quite loudly by the media and the nutrition gurus of the time. Fat, and saturated fats in particular, have been blamed by many people for all of our health problems, which led to a practical, simple story that failed to understand the true essence of the guidelines. People are never interested in subtle changes to make small improvements to their health - they prefer big changes and revolutionary improvements, like the lean options. Eliminating fat from their diets became the sole goal of many, ignoring all other aspects.

While there have been countless individual reports of dietary changes in people between the 1980s and 1990s, as well as a host of new low-fat food alternatives, one of the most scathing pieces of evidence against conspiracy theory is the stark lack of evidence that the dietary changes actually led to changes in sugar consumption. Even if the USA recorded a per capita increase and sugar consumption there shows a strong correlation with obesity, the so-called Australian paradox provides an indication that some population groups even consumed less sugar after 1980, but the obesity rate there nonetheless increased. While consumption data is known to be very unreliable and the “Australian paradox” has been the subject of much debate and allegation, it does appear to at least suggest that the causes of obesity are more complex and varied than a simple increase in food consumption.

In the UK, the Office for the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs conducted annual UK food surveys using food diaries and receipts, and there was much evidence that sugar consumption was decreasing. Despite a sustained rise in obesity rates, these studies show a 16 percent decline in per capita sugar consumption since 1992. English data also show that sugar consumption fell by 7.4 percent between 2002 and 2012, although this was accompanied by an average weight gain of two kilograms in adults. The British Heart Foundation's 2012 report by the Foundation for the Study of Cardiovascular Diseases, the British Heart Foundation, writes: “The total intake of calories, fat and saturated fat has decreased since the 1970s. This trend is accompanied by a reduced consumption of sugar and salt and an increased consumption of fiber and vegetables. "

This will surprise some people, especially since these figures come from such a recognized institution, are in a serious report and completely contradict the conspiracy rhetoric that is much more common in the media. Emotions are running high and the writers of The Australian Paradox received a lot of malicious comments, accused of academic misconduct (which was withdrawn). The very fact that even the authors of the paper saw it as a "paradox" shows the strength of the belief that sugar consumption and obesity are essentially the same problem. While there are indications that the two are related in the US, the lack of supporting figures from other countries should at least raise the question of whether there is a disruptive factor here. But that is mostly ignored and those who write about it are defamed. Nevertheless, no one has yet been able to provide counter-evidence.

Anti-sugar activists believe that consumption increased dramatically around the world after 1980 because it fits so well with their theory and personal accounts. Many people of a certain age like to think back to delicious, full-fat milk and thick buttered ham sandwiches, but this belief in a golden age is not based on detailed food diaries, just on a romantic notion that "everything was better in the old days". We fantasize about a magical time before the world became corrupt and broke, before "science" dictated what we should eat with its guidelines and controls. A time when we all lived in harmony and had perfect, natural nutrition. Reality may not be that simple. I'm old enough to remember the time before the guidelines - sugary sodas, candy, and donuts weren't invented until 1980.

The lack of per capita diet statistics to support the sugar conspiracy hypothesis is not yet definitive evidence that there is no link. (Or, as Joseph Heller once put it, “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.”) Obesity affects individuals, not populations, and obesity is not rising steadily. If there were unmistakable scientific evidence that the two are related, then that might be more convincing. In 2014 the specialist magazine published Advances in Nutrition reviewed all available research on the relationship between sugar and obesity and found that current research on the types of sugar commonly consumed do not support a specific relationship between obesity, metabolic disorders, diabetes, risk factors for heart disease or non-alcoholic fatty liver.

On obesity, they examined the combined data from three new systematic reviews of sugar intake and body weight. What they found: "Taken together, these meta-analyzes of randomized controlled trials show that replacing sugar with other equivalent energy macro-nutrients has no effect on body weight." Therefore, any causal link between these two elements should at least be are up for debate.

Anyone who works in health care will tell you that the real problem with dietary guidelines isn't the advice: the problem is, nobody follows them. If the cause of obesity was simply a change in policy, then we shouldn't have to worry about it. Many health authorities around the world have recently reviewed guidelines on sugar consumption. This led to a large reduction in the recommended amount and different strategies to curb consumption (the aforementioned amount of five percent is the value after reduction. Most guidelines had previously stated ten to eleven percent). If the public follows the government's guidelines so slavishly, it will certainly cut sugar consumption in half, but I'm afraid the reality will be different (that's the keyword here for the anti-sugar activists who shout that this is only the case, because we have become addicted to sugar in the last 30 years).

Frosting for the truth?

Let's imagine we were the supporters of the sugar conspiracy theory and started all over again in 1980. Let's look at the feasibility. We are determined to get the world to stop eating saturated fats, but we know beforehand that immense amounts of sugar will replace the fats. We must have enough power to convince nutritional science to spend millions of dollars on false news that will scientifically support the new guidelines. We then have to pay bribes at every level of government to enforce these guidelines on an unsuspecting public. After that, we must continue to ensure that they are implemented and pay severance payments to medical professionals, the World Health Organization, various charities, public health institutions and nutritionists around the world. And we need to keep producing systematic reviews that the
Show the link between saturated fat consumption and a higher risk of heart disease.

And who exactly is funding this project? Who will benefit from the wrong guidelines being published? The mysterious powers of the
"Big Sugar"? Maybe. But let's be honest - what do you think, which part of the food industry has the greatest power, the most money and the greatest influence - the sugar producers or the combined weight of the meat, milk and edible oil industries, all of which have a legitimate interest in it To beautiful the guidelines in favor of high saturated fat consumption? Who is more powerful in the agricultural world and can influence politics, big sugar or the enormous power of the US beef and dairy industry, not to mention the fast food restaurants that sell millions of products with saturated fats ?

The guidelines, published in 1980, were the first to actually encourage people to cut their consumption a little. Are we really supposed to believe that the food industry has a legitimate interest in policies telling people to eat less? Would the food industry really withhold information that there is no link between fat consumption and disease and that high-fat products are safe to consume?

Everyone who works with food knows that the key to tasty dishes is not the use of fat or sugar, but a combination of both. It is at this delicious point where sweetness and richness combine - in chocolate, cakes, icings, donuts and sweet cream - that is exactly what makes them almost irresistible treats. These are the sources of calories that are most likely to make us eat a lot of them, despite their low nutritional value. Few people over the age of six would eat a spoonful of pure sugar. Few people could digest a whole packet of butter or drink a mug of pure cream. But when you mix the sweetness of the sugar with the richness of the fat, you have a perfect combination to boost sales of a food. A nefarious food industry with full control over dietary guidelines would require it to be able to sell that very combination with impunity.

If saturated fats had no effect on heart disease, there would be a great many powerful people in the food industry who would love to share this information with the public. The idea that the food industry influenced dietary guidelines to force increased sugar consumption is one of the most absurd conspiracy theories of our time - yet it is widely and popularly believed. Here some examples:

  • In a debate in the House of Lords, the conservative nobleman Lord McColl of Dulwich spoke about how the body digests fat: this is a well-balanced mechanism that prevents us from overeating and thus avoiding obesity. It is not surprising that the food industry does not like this wonderfully balanced mechanism because it consumes less food and thus makes less profit. So she teamed up with some (sic!) Rather dubious scientists to produce research that falsely claimed to show that fat is bad and carbohydrates are good.

  • From www.mercola.com: In short, the federal dietary guidelines have little to do with actual nutritional science and much to do with promoting certain foods for the benefit of the junk food industry, not public health.

  • From a summary of "The Sugar Conspiracy": This compelling investigative documentary reveals the systematic theft of scientific studies by the US sugar industry to erase evidence that sugar is indeed toxic. For 40 years, "Big Sugar" has been fighting off the threat to its multi-billion dollar empire.

We fear obesity, a huge and unmistakable health crisis, and with that fear comes outrage. We really want to blame someone. We want clear explanations and simple solutions. The terrifying truth is that obesity has landed in our world. Nobody knows exactly why and nobody can remedy them. It is a deep, structural problem and, unless we return to a dark age of food shortages, it may even be one that we cannot solve. This is one of the most difficult things for us to accept, with our innate desire that everything in the world make sense.

We want control and explanation - both may be more addicting than cocaine - and even the brightest and best of us will cling to far-fetched stories that take away a bit of the fear of the unknown. If we can blame a malicious food industry, at least someone is in control, which we still prefer to the bitter truth that no one is in control at all.

The bitter use of language

Sugar is not a major nutritional sin, and while we overeat and do some restraint to many, sugar consumption is demonized to an extent that is at best not helpful and at worst irresponsible. Conspiracy theories annoy me, and it frustrates me that certain activists get more media coverage than necessary, but the vocabulary of shame upsets me the most.

In a world that is struggling with obesity, it sometimes seems that struggling with harsh conditions has become acceptable. People can say what they want as long as their intent is to "cure" diet-related health problems. Or, to put it another way, lying, denouncing, and prejudice are fine as long as the hatred is directed against fat people.

The language used to describe sugar in the mainstream media is shocking. We are regularly told that it is a drug, a nasty white powder, highly toxic, no matter how much or how little it is consumed. In order to free ourselves from slavery, we must be guided through detox by our avenging sugarless gurus. Be forewarned: we will go through cold withdrawal, experience the desolation of the dependent soul, we will tremble and languish, but when we have escaped the evil grip of this demon we will be free. Free from this filthy poison, free from corporate and government conspiracies. The promised land of perfect health and vitality awaits those who have the strength to fight.

Here are some book titles from the last few years. Such books dominate the health and nutrition literature bestseller list, and their authors lead the battle against the most pernicious of enemies:

  • No Sugar Diet - Complete 7 Day Detox Plan

  • Sugar Detox for Beginners - Easy Guide to Stop Sugar Addiction

  • Sugar Busters - Quick and Easy Cookbook

  • Goodbye Sugar. Sugar-free happy in 8 weeks. With 108 recipes

Obviously you get bonus points if you also mention the word "detox".

We all eat sugar every day. You can't live sugar-free. There is some sugar in every type of diet because sugar is found in every piece of fruit, vegetables, and grains and in all dairy products. Sugar is neither a poison nor a drug. In reasonable quantities, it can be part of a balanced diet. If you want to avoid sugar completely, you should only eat fat and protein - and you will get very sick.

Not a single diet that claims to be sugar-free is truly sugar-free. Nobody who claims to live sugar-free really does. Such people may have reduced their sugar intake - and I'm happy for them because I firmly believe that this could help everyone - but these people do not live sugar-free. And if you think that I'm just quibbling here and that it doesn't really matter, I'll tell you why it does matter after all.

Many of the diets and eating habits I mentioned favor the use of clever "natural sugar substitutes" like honey, date syrup, maple syrup, agave syrup, or the like. Some of the new sugar-free gurus (I'm looking at you, Sarah Wilson) are even selling some of these "natural sugar substitutes" through their websites. They are all effective sugar substitutes because they contain sugar. And a lot. They are mostly made up of sugar.

The concept of a “natural” sugar substitute is actually quite bizarre, because sugar is of course also natural, it is extracted from plants without any chemical modification. Refining does not soak it in any poisons or make it more or less harmful than the same chemicals in a slightly different shape or a pretty bottle.

Fruit contains sugars that are very similar to the refined sugar you buy at the supermarket, but as long as it is in the fiber and pectin structure of the whole fruit, the body absorbs the sugar more slowly, so it affects the body differently . But if this structure is broken up, for example in any form of the common sugar substitutes or when making juice or a smoothie, this advantage is lost.

Sugar is just sugar. He's not good or bad. It's only poisonous if you eat too much of it, to the same extent as any other food. (Remember, poison is always a matter of dosage, and you can die if you drink too much water.) With sugar circulating inside you, your body doesn't care how expensive the bottle was.

To put a language of toxicity and addiction on food that we cannot do without at all means as much as emptying buckets of caustic malice and mockery on all of us. Giving a child a bowl of corn flakes and a glass of orange juice makes us socially outcasts found guilty of the most heinous abuse, poisoning our own child. If you allow your child to eat candy, something that many loving and caring parents no doubt do now and then, you must feel like you might as well have rubbed crack under their eyelids. If you don't live sugar-free, if your children don't live sugar-free, then you are toxic, contaminated. You and your loved ones are depraved and hideous junkies who are no longer worth medical attention. Contaminated and beyond hope - destined to die fat, lonely, unhappy and addicted.

That is the language of shame, and it is applied to something that, when properly dosed, does no harm. Even in the dark days of the demonization of fat, there was nothing so extreme. The media can humiliate obese people, accuse them of ignorance and stupidity. To blame people because of their appearance and to accuse them of negative character traits is the purest form of prejudice. That would be unacceptable in any other context, yet denouncing weight, disparaging the fat, and believing that their condition implies moral weakness has become commonplace. This got the hell out of hand and has to stop!

The bitterest irony

What's even more incomprehensible is the idiotic irony of the whole sugar conspiracy theory. “Look,” they say, “how stupid we were in the 1980s to point our finger at saturated fat as the devil of diet.” How stupid to blame it all, how silly to believe it Would trigger heart disease and health problems. How could we overlook the dangers of blaming saturated fats alone? We were shortsighted and blind, with reductionist arguments and language that explained a single nutrient as the cause of a complex problem.

“Now we are one step further and far more sensible. With all the progress we've made and the lessons we've learned, we realize that sugar is responsible for all of our problems. Sugar alone makes us fat and sick. We have finally found a single nutrient that is causing a complex problem. "

And as it all continues, they'll claim the science is flawed. They will announce that it comes as no surprise that scientists cannot be trusted because they keep changing their minds about what we should and shouldn't eat.

Don't these people realize that we are in danger of staggering from one unbalanced diet to the next? Whatever the conspiracy theorists say, dietary advice has changed little over the years. The answer was always available. Here it is, the Holy Grail, the answer to the big question: WHAT SHOULD WE EAT? Actually, I think I should save this secret for later, just in case you all put the book down at this point, go away, and lead a perfect life with beautiful, shiny hair.For now, let's just say that we shouldn't spend our lives staggering from one great evil to the next, always looking for the secret that will free us from an imaginary demon. There is no secret, there is no demon. It's all just food. If it were really harmful, then it would be illegal to sell it as food - like bleach, for example. Never drink bleach.

Sugar is important. It's the sweetness of freshly picked peas. It lies in the happiness of strawberries warmed by the sun. The sweetness of food can enrich our lives, it can bring us enjoyment and joy. Sweetness is a staple of any chef's palette, and real sweetness only comes from sugar. From the tip of a knife to balance the acidity of a sauce to deep indulgence in a rich caramel candy, sugar has a permanent place when it comes to enhancing the enjoyment of food and its palatability; about enriching the relationship with what we eat and intensifying a life of culinary delights. To qualify and reject sugar based on a misconception of toxicity is to misunderstand healthy eating. A healthy diet is nutrition with enjoyment, not rejection and denial.

In essence, the dietary guidelines have never really changed. Reputable scientists don't argue about whether saturated fats or sugars are bad because in reality they are both not. None is bad, none is poisonous. Neither of the two foods should be excluded, but neither should they be consumed completely carelessly. The message has always been the same: you can and should eat both. Just not too much. And a lot of other things too.


Anthony Warner exposes pseudoscientific nutrition tips in his book. He brings to light a few fallacies about eating trends and why people get so weird about nutrition
Believe things. Warner's blog "The Angry Chef" also talks about idiotic trends and lies about food.

Editor: Theresa Bäuerlein. Final editing: Vera Fröhlich. Photo editor: Martin Gommel (lead photo: iStock / Anna Shkuratova).