Reality’s Calling: It Says Sugar Isn’t Poison

A few months after “60 Minutes” featured the absurd claim that foods are essentially legal cocaine, last night’s episode featured yet another food hysteria. This time, the show wondered aloud if sugar was “toxic.” And of course, that meant that the program sat down with Robert Lustig, the man who would card you for a soda or maybe slap Mary Poppins with an “R” rating.

Lustig didn’t say anything he hasn’t said before. But is his view part of mainstream scientific thought? Hardly. When his original commentary came out in February, responsible researchers and commentators pooh-poohed it.

A professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine noted that “there is no evidence that … [obesity and diabetes] … are caused by a particular food or nutrient.” A dietician at Sydney University in Australia was “disgusted” that the piece was published. An American Dietetic Association spokesperson noted that obesity has causes on the “calories out” side of the equation, too. Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink noted, “Restrictions on behavior often lead to unintended consequences.” Sure enough. Remember Prohibition?

Additionally, research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine completely refutes the “fructose is poison” hypothesis that undergirds Lustig’s policy agenda. Fructose isn’t the culprit; using fewer calories than you ingest is.

Even Marion Nestle, who initially dubbed Lustig’s commentary a “wake up call,” doesn’t buy the headline-grabbing theory. While arguing for more labeling disclosure in a new U.S. News and World Report piece, she concedes, “Sugars—plural to include all forms of caloric sweeteners—are not poison.” When the queen of the food cops thinks you’ve gone too far, you probably have.


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