Sugar: The sweetest poison?

Should sugar be regarded as a toxin equal to that of tobacco? Two documentaries focus on the sweet drug's damaging effects and on the sugar industry's attempt to trivialise them.
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: December 11, 2018

We know it’s not good for us, but we’re not necessarily aware of just how damaging sugar actually can be. Two documentaries focus on the sweet stuff’s many negative effects and on the food industry’s work to maintain the general impression that the intake of sugar will not cause serious illnesses.

The experts interviewed in Sugar Coated and Sugar Blues do not dispute that a moderate intake of sugar might not be particularly harmful. However, it seems clear that our intake of the sweet substance is far from moderate: In the last 30 years the world’s total sugar consumption has increased by 46 per cent, according to the Canadian documentary Sugar Coated – directed by Michèle Hozer. During the same period the number of obese people has allegedly doubled to 600 million, while the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has tripled to 347 million. In other words, and to get started with the obvious puns, the consequences of our excessive consumption of sugar aren’t so sweet.

The biggest epidemic in history

Sugar Coated also serves as a disturbing reminder of how deeply sugar is rooted in our culture. Sweet products like cakes and chocolate have become means of expressing both affection and celebration – if not to say symbols of love itself. Sugar plays a usually unquestioned role at birthday parties and weddings, as well as on Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. Also, the substance is to be found in far more food products than the typical sweets – for instance in cereals, sauces, bread and meat products. The documentary claims that Canadians have 56 different names for what is actually sugar: Fructose, glucose, agave, panocha, syrup, honey, table sugar, cane sugar – to name a few.

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One of the film’s central characters is paediatrician Robert H. Lustig – a devoted combater of the sweet threat – who does not hesitate to say that sugar in high doses is toxic. Lustig has written the book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, and his lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth has reached a wide audience online. Among his alarming claims is that sugar is a direct cause of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, probably also cancer and dementia.

He also argues that these illnesses have become more common than, for instance, HIV in …

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