Is Sugar Toxic?


A couple months ago, 60 Minutes ran a special report called, Is Sugar Toxic?

It is about 15 minutes, is an interesting watch and should be worth your time. For those who just want the take away message… Yes, sugar is toxic. We aren’t sure just how toxic yet, but some researchers and health advocates are starting to think it may be one of the worst health offenders humans have ever encountered.

Here is a summary of the important points I got from the video…

Is Sugar Toxic?
Dr. Sanjay Gupta was the investigator and talked to a few experts to get to the bottom of this question…

Dr. Robert Lustig, UC San Francisco, Pediatric endocrinology and obesity researcher:
“The American lifestyle is killing us”
There is a public health crisis, we can’t deny that.
Fructose (evolutionarily) used to signal a “safe food” (fruit) meaning no toxins were present.
Fructose removed from natural state (sugar) is toxic.
Heart disease is directly linked to sugar consumption.
Sugar belongs with tobacco and alcohol.

Dr. Kimber Stanhope, UC Davis, Metabolism and nutrition researcher:
Calories from added sugar are different than from other foods.
Metabolic ward study completed, showing the immediate detriment from sugar.
Two weeks of 25% sugar was enough to create risk factors for disease.

Luis Cantley, Harvard, Cancer researcher:
Sugar drives insulin.
Insulin fuels certain cancers.
They are now working on drugs to block tumor’s access to sugar.

Eric Steiss, Oregon Research Institute, Addiction researcher:
Sugar stimulates similarly to cocaine.
Sweet taste equals a dopamine release.
Sugar could be the most addictive substance we know.
Frequent sugar consumption desensitizes you, so need more for reward signaling, like any other drug.

Sugar Industry representative:
Science is not clear.
More about calories and exercise than sugar itself.
We need a more balanced diet.

Overall, a good piece. Give it a watch and let me know what you think and what stood out to you.

A little overtime piece that wasn’t aired on the program…

Thanks for reading, have a sugar free day!


  1. This kind of stuff really interests me, as I just spent the last 2 years studying public health. Here are my thoughts:

    To say that sugar is toxic and causes cancer is misleading. There isn’t really strong causal evidence, though there are some linkages via other chronic diseases. There is an old saying that “the dose makes the poison,” and I wholeheartedly believe this. Having a small dessert or sweet treat one to three times per week is very different than consuming 3 sugary drinks per day. In the same vein, I also think there are different types of sugars, despite the fact that Dr. Lustig categorizes them together. People 100 years ago were also consuming sugar (at a much lower rate) and had lower incidence of the chronic diseases that are currently at the forefront of public health issues.

    They also mention putting sugar in the same category as tobacco and alcohol to limit consumption. I don’t actually think that there are any limits on the American public with respect to tobacco and alcohol- there are only financial penalties (ie- taxes). But what taxing these products does is help the push to educate the public. It is unbelievable how little the general public actually knows about nutrition. A sugar tax would call attention to the issue and potentially get the message out to the world to influence individuals’ behaviors. Even now, in New York, Mayor Bloomberg is trying to band sugary drinks that are more than 16 ounces. But no one will be able to successfully ban a culture staple, we can only try to dissuade people from using it.

    All in all I think we need better health education. We also need a way to help individuals make healthier choices that are still affordable. Everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, yet many people still choose to smoke. In a similar vein, everyone should have a choice about sugar- they just have the right to make an informed one.

    • Toriteachesfitness:
      Well said! I do think the dose makes the poison in most instances with most substances. Better awareness will certainly help lead us in developing a better relationship with sugar. We have eaten big amounts of it and not had it be as detrimental to our health as current times. We are also living in a world unlike anything humans have ever experienced and the impact of excessive sugar intake is likely being magnified by stress, lack of sleep, hormonal disruption, other toxins, other refined sweeteners and foods, industrial fats, genetically modified foods and on and on and on…

      I think if we can educate people to look a little more critically at their food habits, sugar consumption being a big one, we will all take some steps in the right direction. A little sugar isn’t going to be toxic for most people but if most people end up thinking it is a toxin and look at it more like they do alcohol or tobacco it might not be the worst thing in the world. 🙂

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

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