Sugar: The Sweetest Poison

Sugar, spice and everything nice. That’s what everyone loves. And its effects on public health with regards to metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyper-triglyceridemia, stroke, dementia, heart attacks) have been catastrophic in the past 50 years.

Chemically, sugar (sucrose) is made up of one half glucose and one half fructose (Figure 1). Fructose is the very matter that sweetens fruit, and is currently being added to virtually any food that is processed to promote sales.

Figure 1: Sucrose composition

Unbeknownst to the current general public, about 60 years ago, sugar also happened to be ground zero for a controversy that continues to this day.

This is Dr. John Yudkin (Figure 2), a British Medical doctor/nutritionist who wrote a book titled Pure, White, Deadly (1972, Penguin books) warning readers of the dangerous effects of sugar on health. He has also written other books advocating a low carbohydrate diet for health.

Figure 2: Dr John Yudkin

This is Dr Ancel Keyes (Figure 3), American physiologist who did the Seven Country Study (published 1978) outlining the effects of fat on health. Most current medical dietary advice follow his theoretical framework of consuming a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. The food pyramid was based on his study.

Figure 3: Dr. Ancel Keyes

In the 1970s there was a heated debate amongst the scientific community regarding the two theories and Dr. Ancel Keyes’ theory was picked as the chosen “winner”. The world then went into a frenzied phobia of fat, consumed carbohydrates (healthy grains) as its staple and this led to the current state of health in the world. See Figure 4 for Global Type 2 Diabetes statistics.

Figure 4: 2014 Global type 2 diabetes statistics

The food industry responded by developing products that were low in fat but high in sugar, giving the public products that they wanted, at the same time, revelling in the fact that food with fat removed will store better (freeze it, store it, ship it all over the world) since fat turns rancid quickly. This also provided the world with generally cheaper commodified, processed food. It was a win-win situation. Little did we know we were paying for it with our health. 

In 2009, however, an endocrinology Professor (physician who deals with hormones of the human body), Dr. Robert Lustig delivered a lecture entitled “Sugar: the Bitter Truth”, exposing all that the food industry has been hiding these years. To date, his lecture has been viewed 7.2 million times on YouTube. Since then, other medical doctors such as Dr. Jason Fung, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, Dr. Mark Hyman & Dr. Stephan Guyenet have come on board debunking the food pyramid while advocating low or no dietary sugar for prevention of diseases. It had never been the fat, it’s always been the sugar. It lurks sinisterly in every manufactured food now, from spaghetti sauces to bread.

Dr. Lustig argues that that obesity is a hormonal imbalance rather than a caloric one and succinctly pinpoints the root cause of the current global health disaster to one food additive: Sugar. He also contends that the food industry, which spends millions in R&D engineering, ensures every food product fulfills the “Bliss Point” (go ahead, google it), keeping the consumer hooked and coming back for more. In other words, food addiction is a manufactured ailment, backed by research science. The point of this article is: most of us are addicted to sugar without realising it, as was the writer before he tried to give up everything that had sugar in it. You’ll never know if you don’t try it.

Reference list

Keys, A. (1980). Seven countries. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Sugar. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21, 2018, from

Yudkin. J. (1972). Pure, White and Deadly. London: Viking.

Rahmat Jasmani has 12 years of working experience in emergency clinical nursing with Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore and currently teaches student nurses in training at the School of Health Sciences, Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore.

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