Don't be a casualty in the war of sweet subterfuge
by Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics, UCSF.
Whether you know it or not, you may soon be a casualty of war. Most wars are fought for hearts and minds. This war is for your liver. The goal: money, of course. The casualty: you, when you develop diabetes because of a fatty liver.
Big Soda and Big Sugar are in the fight of their lives. Public opinion has slowly turned against them. American annual sugar consumption, which rose from 4 pounds in 1820 to a high of 115 pounds in 2000, has drifted down to 105 pounds.
It's not because we've lost our sweet tooth, heaven's no. It's because the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity have finally registered in the American consciousness, and Americans have started to vote with their mouths -- and their wallets.
Yet America is still eating destructive levels of sugar, by a factor of three. Sugar ruins your liver at about 35 pounds per year, just like alcohol would at around the same dosage. This is because sugar and alcohol are metabolized identically by the liver. That is why children now get the diseases of alcohol -- type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease -- without ever drinking alcohol.
Before 1980, no child had type 2 diabetes. Now, one-third of new cases of childhood diabetes are type 2. Before 1980, there was no "non-alcoholic fatty liver disease." Now, one-third of adults and one out of every six children have it. A quarter of teens have diabetes or prediabetes.
Science has shown that sugary drinks are causative for fatty liver disease, diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. And it's not because of the calories. Alcohol is not dangerous because it has calories. Alcohol is dangerous because it is alcohol. It's the same with sugar.
How can we protect California families? This is the crux of the soda warning label bill, SB203. If people -- especially parents -- know that sugar causes diabetes, obesity and tooth decay, they will be able to make informed decisions.
But Big Soda isn't happy with their current "liver share." Americans drink 42 gallons of sugary beverages a year -- sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened teas -- containing 39 pounds of sugar. Some of them sound so healthy, don't they? But Big Soda wants more, and they'll stop at nothing to get it. And because the war is not going well for them, they've called in reinforcements.
Witness the latest salvo from dietitian Lisa Katic, a marketing consultant who represents the industry, titled "Beverage warning labels distract from the big picture of public health," published on March 14. She says "calories are calories, and sugar is sugar." Ah, sweet subterfuge!
The diabetes crisis is not about the calories. It's about your liver. Table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (used in soda) are combinations of glucose and fructose. Glucose raises insulin to drive weight gain. But fructose is metabolized like alcohol within the liver; and it's fructose that turns your liver into foie gras.
Many in the nutrition community are so incensed with the greed and reckless disregard for science of those like Katic that a new organization has formed, Dieticians for Professional Integrity. They don't take money. They know that sugar is the villain in this story.
Similarly, California's dietitians (represented by the California Dietetic Association) and the California Diabetes Association are supporting SB203.
Cigarettes are toxic. They have warning labels. Alcohol is toxic. It has warning labels. Well, guess what? Sugar is toxic at the doses we are currently consuming. And half of it comes from a single source: soft drinks. It's time for a warning label.
SB203 is not about calories for a good reason: because it's not about the calories -- it's about your liver. A warning label on sugary beverages will arm Californians with the information we need to rethink our dose of added sugar.
Don't be a casualty of this war. Don't turn your liver into foie gras. Fight back.
Robert H. Lustig, M.D., M.S.L. is professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and president of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition. He is the author of "Fat Chance: the bitter truth about sugar," "Sugar Has 56 Names: a shopper's guide," and "The Fat Chance Cookbook." He doesn't take industry money.
This article was first published at ContraCostaTimes.com website on March 28, 2015.