At the risk of sounding dramatic, sugar has become 2016's tobacco: It's terribly unhealthy for you, is widely available to kids, and is probably abused by ad agency executives.
Sure, it may not be physically addictive, but unlike tobacco, it actually tastes good, which keeps people coming back for more.
Sugar has followed in tobacco's footsteps in another important way -- the industry doesn't want you to know just how bad its product is for you. In fact, Big Sugar bribed scientists to skew scientific findings in favor of the sweet stuff, and while bribery may sound cool, it certainly hasn't had the best effect on America's collective waistline.
Despite all the information we now know about the health ramifications of too much sugar, the industry is pretending like everyone just needs to calm down based on the factual and not-at-all-biased points, as outlined on its Sugar.org website, Here are some of the biggest myths the sugar industry wants you to believe.
Sugar is the preferred source of fuel in the body
"Carbohydrates, including sugar, are the preferred sources of the body’s fuel for brain power, muscle energy and every natural process that goes on in every functioning cell." -- Sugar.org
Yes, carbohydrates are used first by your body for fuel, and yes, sugar is technically a carbohydrate. But it's a highly refined and processed one; not exactly the type your body needs to function.
"Sugar is used for metabolism," says obesity medicine specialist Dr. Nitin Kumar of the Bariatric Endoscopy Institute. "However, that does not mean that you need to consume a constant stream of sugar to continue powering your brain, muscles, and natural processes. Your body can convert other macronutrients (fat or protein) into energy."
A calorie is a calorie is a calorie
"With only 15 calories per teaspoon, sugar is no more fattening than any other 15 calories."
This has been sugar's main line of defense in recent years: Maintaining a healthy weight is all about calories in and calories out. If that were true, you could replace your daily healthy breakfast of Greek yogurt and berries with a donut and be none the wiser.
Sadly, not all calories are created equal.
"Sugar calories are not the same as fat calories, and not even the same as other types of sugar," Dr. Kumar says. "Sugar, particularly fructose, may stimulate insulin resistance, which can lead to increased blood sugar and more abdominal fat."
So when your body processes sugar, it uses it in completely different (and potentially harmful) ways compared to nutrients like fat and protein.
Sugar is all-natural, therefore it's healthy
"Because it’s all-natural, you can consume it with confidence."
Sure, sugar is "all-natural" (which is itself a BS marketing term), but so are magic mushrooms and dog poop; that doesn't mean you should start stuffing your face with it.
"There are a lot of all-natural foods worth avoiding; high-fat red meat is one example," Dr. Kumar says. "Additionally, we use this natural product in unnatural forms and quantities in the processed foods we eat today."
Adding a "natural" substance to a lab-created pile of chemicals and Frankenfood doesn't a healthy food make.
Cutting sugar specifically won't help you lose weight
"Since sugars are not uniquely fattening, replacing sugar with other caloric or artificial sweeteners is not a workable solution to weight management. Weight loss occurs by reducing the total amount of calories consumed or increasing caloric expenditure through regular physical activity."
Again, the calories in, calories out rhetoric. Despite the fact that your body processes sugar differently than other calorie sources, artificial sweeteners may actually have their place in moderation in a weight-loss program.
"It is true that weight loss is attained with negative calorie balance (burning more than intake)," Dr. Kumar explains. "However, artificial sweeteners can be beneficial when used to replace sugar in large quantities. For example, artificial sweeteners can replace relatively large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, a potentially unhealthy form of sugar. This is not the golden ticket to weight loss, but it can certainly help."
If the sugar industry were smart, it would team up with the folks who make artificial sweeteners to keep people hankering for that sweet, sweet sugary flavor. But it hasn't. Yet.
Sugar is better because it's used by the body immediately
"Carbs and protein are converted immediately into the fuels a body needs, while fats are initially stored in fat cells for later use."
This is just... wrong. Sure, your body may burn carbohydrates and protein first, but anything that's left over ends up being stored as fat; it's not like your body keeps carbs like sugar in suspended animation, ready to be burned before fat. That sugar turns into fat, it tends to do so more readily than other carbs.
"Carbs can also be converted to fat," Dr. Kumar points out. "One sugar that easily converts to fat is fructose, common in processed foods."
Sugar is good because it helps people eat more healthy (and otherwise bland) food
"The assertion that a food is less healthy just because it contains sugar is misleading and not science based. Numerous studies have confirmed that sugar makes many healthful foods palatable, which helps contribute to intakes of key vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain good health."
Oh, right, so sugar is totally cool because it helps people eat healthier. Drench a bowl of kale in high-fructose corn syrup and you'll be well on your way to getting the nutrition your body needs. All thanks to sugar.
"The argument against sugar is not that foods are less healthy because they contain sugar, it is that excess sugar, or excess sugar compared to other macronutrients as part of a balanced diet, is unhealthy," Dr. Kumar explains.
"Another criticism of sugar is that certain forms (such as high-fructose corn syrup) are metabolically unhealthy," he adds. "The second point, that sugar-sweetened foods may improve diet and do not adversely affect weight, requires rigorous scientific study in high-quality trials. We do know that studies show sugar-sweetened beverages can result in weight gain."
Sugar keeps you full better than anything else
"Studies show that sugar is uniquely satiating."
"Man, I feel so full and satisfied after downing that large soda and chocolate chip cookie," said no one. Although a 2003 study did find a correlation between sugar and satiety, it was only for the short term.
"Balanced diets are best for satiety," Dr. Kumar insists. "However, if you need to choose a macronutrient for satiety and reduce the others, protein seems to be the winner."
As amazing as it would be for all of this sugar propaganda to be true, like most industry-promoted info, it's just not. You're better off using common sense, and sticking to the recommended 25g (about 6tsp) of sugar a day or less.