Here's something to think about as you're eating that sweet treat today: scientists say sugar is killing you.
A team at UCSF published a paper in Nature this week, claiming sugar is a toxic, addictive substance that should be regulated by the government, and even banned when it come to children.
The scientists claim sugar is primarily responsible for a multitude of chronic illnesses that are reaching epidemic levels worldwide.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF, co-authored the paper. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Lustig says the only way to reverse this trend is with a public health intervention.
"Everyone talks about personal responsibility, and that won't work here, as it won't for any addictive substance," Lustig said. "These are things that have to be done at a governmental level, and government has to get off its ass."
Lustig and his co-authors - public health experts Laura Schmidt and Clair Brindis - say sugar is a bigger health threat than obesity. They cite studies which show 40 percent of normal-weight people have metabolic problems that can lead to diabetes and heart disease. The authors say sugar actually alters the body's biochemistry, making it more vulnerable to chronic illness. So, even if people don't gain weight from consuming too much sugar, they'll still end up with chronic health problems.
Americans eat and drink about 22 teaspoons of sugar every day. That's three times the amount we consumed 30 years ago. Lustig, Schmidt and Brindis say the biggest problem is that sugar sneaks into our diet without us even realizing it. Things like breads, cereals and processed foods often contain things like sucrose maltose, hydrolysed starch, corn syrup, and honey, all forms of sugar.
While the authors make a sound argument, not all health experts are convinced. The Chronicle spoke to a registered dietitian about the study:
"When you get into this argument about sugar in the diet, you also have to look at the type of food that has a high sugar content," said Jo Ann Hattner, who teaches nutrition courses at Stanford. "Those foods have few nutrients and little fiber, and that's not good for you. So is it sugar itself that's harmful?"
Of course, food and beverage industries deny sugar has a significant role in America's health problems. Industry representatives point to an overall trend toward inactive lifestyles and increased calorie intake as the cause.
Lustig and his colleagues say a personal changes to diets won't be enough to improve the public health. In their paper, they argue for taxes on heavily sweetened foods and drinks, banning sales of sugary foods to children, and even restricting advertising to children and teens.