What’s Wrong With Sugar? (Part 1)

When I first started out as a personal trainer in London, I knew sugar was something that my clients should cut down on, but I didn’t realise how much resistance I’d come up against, and the extent to which clients were totally convinced that the only thing that makes you fat is dietary fat. This is largely thanks to the brainwashing effect of the junk-food lobby over several decades.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the junk food industry worldwide has spent millions in its (largely successful) attempts to persuade the consumer and governments that sugar is harmless, and the only dietary cause of obesity is saturated fat.

George McGovern (the best president the United States never had, beaten by Nixon) wrote a set of nutrition guidelines in the 1970’s recommending that the population cut down on salt, fat, and sugar. But the powerful sugar lobby crushed the report’s section on sugar. This led to an era of ‘low fat’ junk-food, a whole new profit source for the junk-food industry.

Low fat, but high sugar. This was the new marketing ploy of the food industry, to advertise junk-food as low fat, remain silent about the sugar content, and entice everyone who wanted to lose weight with sweet and tasty (and addictive) foods. The problem is that excess sugar leads to excess body-fat, but the sugar lobby did everything in its power to suppress and discredit this fact.

In 1972, John Yudkin, probably the leading UK nutritionist of his day, wrote a groundbreaking book called ‘Pure White and Deadly’, implicating sugar in more diseases (primarily diabetes) than those caused by saturated fat. He followed up with ‘Sweet and Dangerous’ in 1978. His warnings were largely ignored, because the ‘low fat’ junk-food market was very profitable, and government was reluctant to make an enemy of the food industry. Sugar had replaced fat as the addictive element in many foods, and the majority of the population were unaware of the damage it was doing to their health.

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) began to realise the extent of the problem, it recommended that governments persuade the food industry to reduce the sugar content in food and drinks. In the States, the powerful Sugar Association persuaded the US government to threaten the WHO with total withdrawal of funding, unless the WHO withdrew its recommendations. The WHO backed down.

Meanwhile, President Nixon was faced with growing public anger at rising food prices, so he provided funding for the development of an extremely cheap foodstuff called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

This highly calorific and very sweet ingredient was gold-dust for the food industry, which proceeded to pump HFCS into fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, and a whole range of manufactured foods. The public loved it because it was sweet and tasty, and rates of obesity, diabetes, and associated diseases began to rise sharply.

Table sugar (ie sucrose) is a manufactured sugar composed of glucose and fructose (fruit sugar) in equal amounts.  But high fructose corn syrup has a much greater proportion of fructose. On the face of it, this seems healthier, after all, fruit is good for you, so fructose must be ok, or so the public thought.

The problem with fructose is that it can only be metabolised by the liver, whereas glucose can be metabolised by all the cells of the body. An excess of fructose is rapidly converted into fat, whereas excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen (stored energy) and only converted to fat when glycogen stores get full up.

There’s an excellent video clip on YouTube called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” by Robert Lustig, which goes into the science of fructose, and it’s well worth watching.

So if fructose is damaging in excess, and fructose occurs naturally in all fruit, is it possible to eat too much fruit? The answer is yes.

In my very first year as a personal trainer,  I had an obese client who was eating large quantities of crisps, chocolate, cakes, and biscuits. In my naivety I advised him to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables instead. Little did I realise that he would interpret this advice as “eat as much fruit as possible, and no vegetables”.


excess fruit makes you fat

So when his weight wasn’t going down, I got him to keep a food diary for a week, and discovered that he was gobbling whole punnets of strawberries, boxes full of mangoes, and handfuls of bananas. Anything in excess of around 3 portions of fruit a day was converting to body fat. I should have specified “eat 3 portions of fruit a day, not all at the same time, and eat no more and no less than 3 portions. And eat more vegetables than fruit.” I learnt my lesson pretty fast.

In part 2 of this blog post, I will explore the various diseases and other adverse effects of sugar. Meanwhile, cut right down on fizzy drinks, and all refined and processed foods, most of which are crammed with sugar in various forms.