Sugar a Toxin Deserving Consumer Tax?

One of today’s Yahoo! headlines included an article, “Sugar Should Be Regulated As Toxin, Researchers Say,” from

Researchers include Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who some readers here may have seen in a YouTube video excoriating fructose.

As the article says, “Today, added sugar, as opposed to natural sugars found in fruits, is often added in foods ranging from soup to soda. Americans consume on average more than 600 calories per day from added sugar, equivalent to a whopping 40 teaspoons. ‘Nature made sugar hard to get; man made it easy,’ the researchers write.”

Imagine eating 40 teaspoons of sugar! No one would do that, but when the sugar is spread across various foods, it’s easier to miss. Of course, the brain needs glucose to function properly, but even so, there’s a limit. Recall the chocolate factory scene in “I Love Lucy.” The pancreas is akin to the assembly line. Eating sugar keeps the pancreas secreting insulin to help glucose get into cells. But when the hands of the workers—Lucille and Ethel, or the insulin receptors on our cells—are all occupied, there’s nowhere for the insulin to go. This taxes the liver, which stores insulin as glucagon. And what the liver cannot store, gets stored as body fat.

I had my own epiphany around sugar in early 2004 after reading Sugar Blues. I was already on my way to eating better, but I believed by cutting back further on sugar, I would decrease the sugar swings even more. Still, I know my own consumption of sugar has gradually increased in the years since then. I eat few grains, so I don’t get it through complex carbs. But I adore in-season fruits and enjoy some apples and citrus in the winter. The main sources of sugar for me? Dark chocolate and yogurt. How could one complain about such things? Both have added sugar in the form of cane juice. I have yet to try plain cacao nibs to get my daily fill of theobromine and could probably shift to plain yogurt, but have yet to do so. And occasionally, I split a root beer with my partner. (Root beers, by the way, were often herbal remedies. That said, it’s hard not to want to use some sugar with roots, which are often bitter.)

I agree with the researchers: We truly are surrounded by sugar now. And the more that low-fat diets have been advocated in recent years, the more people have shifted to carbs to fill in the satiation gaps they would get from eating full-fat (not vegetable or seed oils, which quickly go rancid, but real fats in the form of butter or coconut oil).

What to do?

I don’t know about the recommendation to tax sugar. Even if manufacturers are taxed, they will pass along those costs to the consumer. The additional cost might prompt some to pause and reconsider, but we need to face facts: Many Americans are addicted to sugar. It’s a monumental task to kick the habit, as it is with any addiction. If I were so addicted, I would try to begin to eat as if I were diabetic. Not refined carbs, but good fats and proteins from animals that are raised on pasture, fruits in season, and properly prepared legumes and complex starches, including sweet potato and yellow, blue or red potatoes with lots of greens (chard, kale, collards). I would look to herbs that support the adrenal glands, such as licorice, and those that help regulate the pancreas, bitter melon, devil’s club, cinnamon, among them. And I would increase the amount of resistance-type exercises that I do, which could include T’ai chi.

Please note: Nothing in this article is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information here is provided for educational purposes only.

2 thoughts on “Sugar a Toxin Deserving Consumer Tax?

  1. Sugar must be on the collective brain–I hadn’t seen this article, but a few weeks ago it suddenly hit me that I am eating too much sugar and I felt compelled to reduce my intake. Since I generally “eat healthy” (and don’t drink soda) it’s been easy to think sugar wasn’t an issue for me. But even those whole-grain baked goods contain the sweet stuff! I’ve been much more aware of my sugar cravings and have tried to manage them with non-food inputs when possible–instead of trigger-eating when I’m tired/stressed/bored, I’ve been trying to rest/relax/get stimulated and not always reach for the snacks. Thanks for the additional info and links!

    • Brynn,

      Humans probably naturally crave it since in our evolution, we did not have easy access to it. In temperate regions, we had more access in the summer, less in the winter. And, if I recall correctly, cane sugar’s been around as a “new” world plant only since Europeans came to the Americas. That’s not a long time, relatively speaking. But it’s hard. We’re surrounded by the stuff! That’s why nutrient-dense foods that help to satiate our hunger and eating at regular times during the day can help ward off cravings. And what satiates one person may not satiate another, so it’s important that each person explore and discover what works best.

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