Not Sweet on Sugar

Monday, January 14, 2013

Robert Lustig, pediatric endocrinologist and obesity expert, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, offers his take on the link between sugar and the public health obesity crisis and what to do about it.


Dr. Robert Lustig

Comments [42]

Michael Zullo from New York City

Very good interview. Wow - "my wife told me don't bring any more potato chips home from Food Emporium anymore when we watch a DVD movie". Yikes - there goes my McDonald's french fries right out the window too. Now, I have to raid the refrigerator and throw out my wife's yogurt. Mike Z, Upper Eastside, Manhattan

Jan. 15 2013 10:29 PM
Prof. Richard Feinman from Brooklyn, NY

I am a Professor at Downstate Medical Center where I teach Biochemistry to medical students. I know Dr. Lustig and and he knows that I definitely do not teach that a calorie is a calorie. I have many other disagreements with his presentation as in my blogpost at (Like me, Dr. Lustig is from Brooklyn and he can take it as well as dish it out). In particular, he has grossly exaggerated unique effects of fructose. Practically, if you take out sugar and put in those high-fiber whole foods with high starch, you will probably not accomplish much.

More generally, if you are not accurate about the science, you are looking for trouble. Although we do agree on the failure of low-fat-cholesterol story, there is no evidence that fructose causes metabolic syndrome; fructose is a sugar and is inter-converible with glucose; there is very little that metabolism of fructose has in common with metabolism of alcohol; glucose is more important in diabetes than fructose.

I would be very interested in discussing this on the Brian Lehrer show. Lustig, after all, is as ubiquitous as high fructose corn syrup itself. Your listeners might want to hear a different POV.

Richard David Feinman
SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Jan. 14 2013 11:01 PM
nathan from Hoboken, NJ


a- People who are saying nonsense about thermodynamics are completely missing the point, I suggest you read the book and maybe take a bio class. Common sense even says that a calorie from fat is not the same as one from sugar because, to get more technical, you have different metabolic pathways to process them.

b - I used to think that food deserts were a joke, then I worked in Newark for three years. I could not for the life of my find healthy food. Whereas when I worked in mid-down it was kind of hard to find bad food. I used to this this was a race issue, but through this experience I realized it is a class issue ($).

c - The bottom line needs no debate, when the guest mentioned "real food" I clapped in my house! That is what it is about. I eat nothing with silly ingredients in it. I try to eat whole foods the best I can. I have zero health problems, people think I am 10 years younger than I am, and at 40 I can run rings around 30 yr olds :) !!! If you think the source of your calories and content of what you build your body with doesn't matter you are sadly mistaken.

Jan. 14 2013 04:56 PM
Zack from New Jersey

Graham Walker from Bronx wrote:
This discussion shows a woeful lack of a science education. The first law of thermodynamics CANNOT be violated!!!!!!! A calorie IS a calorie!!! The only way metabolism affects this issue is if the body temperature is higher for people with a "higher metabolism rate", or if CO2 production is greater for people with a "higher metabolism rate". What I want to know is are either of these two cases true. Doctor never address this fundamental thermodynamic question.

If you think that the outcome for a guy who eats 2000 calories a day in Milky Way bars and runs 10 miles a day for exercise vs. that same guy eating 2000 calories a day in fresh vegetables and meat and exercising the same would be identical just because of the law of thermodynamics means you don't understand how metabolism works to partition the food into energy reserves. Eating food is not like filling your gas tank in your car.

Jan. 14 2013 03:00 PM
Romulo from NYC

@ Bernie fm Broolyn
The population of most ghettoes eat junk because they do not know any better and because they were brought up on it, not because they prefer it.

The junk proffered at most fast food outlets is not much cheaper than real food. The big difference is that real food requires that you prepare it - wash it, peel it, cut it, cook it - labor that most persons that work would rather avoid. However, the benefits are less man-made additives, less by-products, less fats, less sugars of any kind, less non-nutritive fillers, more nutrients, more flavor, more health.

You can either pay the grocer for healthy food, or you can pay the medical establishment a few years down the road. Your choice, but without education the people of the ghettoes do not know they have a choice.

Jan. 14 2013 12:01 PM
Graham Walker from Bronx

This discussion shows a woeful lack of a science education. The first law of thermodynamics CANNOT be violated!!!!!!! A calorie IS a calorie!!! The only way metabolism affects this issue is if the body temperature is higher for people with a "higher metabolism rate", or if CO2 production is greater for people with a "higher metabolism rate". What I want to know is are either of these two cases true. Doctor never address this fundamental thermodynamic question.

Jan. 14 2013 11:50 AM
Romulo from NYC

@ Bernie in Broolyn

Most people who work out do it to be fit, healthy and to feel good.

1- Most men do not have a problem adding pounds if it is sculpted muscle.

2- Women who work out to look good have come to recognize that it is not important to LOSE pounds but it is better to look toned, tight and feel more energetic.

If you are carrying more weight than your age / frame / height warrant, then you need to adjust your diet to ELIMINATE added sugars and saturated fats (for life, not just for a short run) and increase your activity level (metabolic rate).

Bottom line put down the remote, change your lifestyle from mouse potato to "active participant" and eat as healthily as you can afford. You will find out that you look as good as you feel.

Jan. 14 2013 11:46 AM
Rachel from Jersey City

I am insulin resistant, but was not diagnosed through testing, because my symptoms vary, according to stress and metabolism. My best guage is simply the way I feel, and I feel nauseous as soon as I ingest a lot of sugar at once. Usually fiber is a mitigating element, but I will admit that oranges make me feel as sick as a candy bar will. Of course oranges provide nutrition and are good for people who are not diabetic...but sugar is sugar.

Jan. 14 2013 11:41 AM
Romulo from NYC

America is adicted to sugar as a result of the foods marketed by the junk food manufacturers. A fact that has not escaped the attention of most fast food manufacturers and owners of restaurants.

I used to live in restaurant row, on the corner there was an Italian restaurant that catered to those of us who appreciate food cooked as faithfully as local produce allowed. When the area became the northern extension of Chelsea (NOCHE) a new Italian restaurant opened across the avenue and overnight the clientele grew to the point of spilling out onto the side walk.

Looking at their menu which showed prices about 5% lower, my curiosity piqued I sat down to try the gnocchi with marinara - as simple and basic as it comes and the best way to judge the talent of the chef - the first forkful into my mouth revealed a sauce that had so much sugar added that it almost qualified as commercial ketchup. Horrified I quizzed the waiter, his take was that the patrons loved it and claimed this as the reason for their popularity.

There is no good reason to find some form of sweetener added to Spaghetti sauce wether freshly cooked or from a supermarket jar. The only reason for the proliferation of sweeteners added into all prepared foods is the decades of the practice having resulted in an addicted population.

Even the so called Natural Food manufacturers have jumped onto the band wagon. I picked up a bag of Wasabi flavoured Rice Chips for my drive back home on Sunday - WOW this was the first time in my life that I have tasted sweet wasabi! and a lesson for me that I now have to read the labels EVEN AT MY LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORES.

Jan. 14 2013 11:29 AM

Graham Walker, a calorie isn't a calorie because energy balance is not the only contributor to health. That is only one part of the complex biochemical orchestration of the body. It not only matters how many calories go in and out, the peaks and valleys of energy balance can make a difference as well. Furthermore, there are many complex nutrients that we have only really barely identified. Haven't you seen how the food industry keeps coming up with a new nutrient every few years that will help you stay healthy, have boundless energy and live forever? Nutrients in isolation are not the same as nutrients consumed in combination from real food.

Jan. 14 2013 11:10 AM
Zack from New Jersey

Graham Walker from Bronx wrote:
As an engineering I would like a docot to explain why a calorie is not a calorie from a first law of thermodynamics. Energy Storage (increase in weight) = Energy in (food calories) - Energy out (Exercise). So where do different diets make a difference? Carbon Dioxide output? Energy out vis stool?

Your hormones respond differently to different foods. Calories don't tell you anything about how your body handles them. Proteins, fats and carbs are metabolized differently by the body. This is why the law of thermodynamics doesn't effectively apply.

Jan. 14 2013 11:05 AM
John A

He said something like "there's no study that says exercise alone will give you health". That was a little crazy, otherwise it was a fairly useful segment.

Jan. 14 2013 11:04 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Once again people oversimplify "types" of diabetes. There is no pure "type 1" and "type 2." There are 300 genes involved in diabetes, and everyone is somewhere is somewhere on the continuum. Fat speeds up the absorption of every sugar, so the kind and combination complicate things as well. Oh, when will people will stop oversimplifying and trying to come up with the "next great diet" book!!!!!! ???

Jan. 14 2013 11:04 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Yeah Bernie, below is the link of the alien using your name said, just in case you forgot.

Jan. 14 2013 11:01 AM
bernie from bklyn

@MC- i'm not a racist. i'm puerto rican and i grew up in the ghetto. i'm very familair w/ the astoria houses and the stores around it. the stores sell garbage because the people buy the garbage. ever go to a poor chinese neighborhood? poor mexican neighborhood? they sell healthy food. why? because the people demand it and buy it. also, the residents of the astoria houses live very close to places that make and sell delicious, healthy food. put the orange soda and mcdonalds down and go get some greek food. it's right there- 5 min walk away from the "desert"...

Jan. 14 2013 11:00 AM

We are also teaching our children to shove the food down their throats!
In elementry school the lunch period is so short 20 mins (to sherve and eat)so children only get 8-6 mins to eat! ITS ALSO HOW WE ARE EATING!

Jan. 14 2013 10:58 AM
Susan from Upper West SIde

The calorie versus quality issue used to be debated vociferously in international nutrition circles until Dr. Alfred Sommer showed that correcting vitamin A deficiency dropped child mortality rates by 30%. No one believed him. I remember going to Niger in 1985 after the famine and all the aid organizations were dumping food into the area, but not providing vitamin A. Turns out that children died FASTER because as their metabolic rates increased from eating more calories, they became more deficient in vitamin A. Then they went the other way -- sort of the "nutrification of foods" of looking only at micronutrients, instead of looking how to increase availability to foods.

Jan. 14 2013 10:58 AM
Barbara Sulcov from westchester

I think your advice is great. But why did you still eat bagels? You admitted that to Alec Baldwin. Also, insulin resistance can be detected by a 3 hour glucose tolerance test.

Jan. 14 2013 10:57 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Really Bernie, cut and pasted from Lehrer's "body image Black women and fat" on 8/12

Bernie from Brooklyn:

"black women could never be responsible for their weight. of course it's the socio-economic conditions that women of color have to live under. they live in food deserts where the only goods available for purchase are unhealthy, greasy, fatty, carb-filled junk foods that we, as a society, virtually shove down their throats via the socio-economic conditions created by non-people-of-color. when young, fat, black women fail to use contraception and are impregnated as teens, it's not their fault. the responsibility falls on society for creating these socio-economic conditions for women of color that negate any personal responsibility for anything. when the nyc greenmarkets began accepting WIC/EBT they were just wasting their time because fat, women of color are basically required and forced by us, as a society, via the socio-economic conditions, to only buy 2 liter bottles of orange soda and a 24pc fish stix/chicken wing combo from the c-town prepared food section. please don't place blame on these blameless, big, beautiful women of color. because as we all know, they can never be held responsible for anything at all, ever."

Jan. 14 2013 10:57 AM
Graham Walker from Bronx

Or is your body temperature higher? I would like a docot to address this argument.

Jan. 14 2013 10:56 AM
bernie from bklyn

good job doctor...encourage people to NOT exercise. this guy is a crank

Jan. 14 2013 10:55 AM
LTM from NYC

People need to read the labels of all foods they buy. Used to think Agave was fine -- not any more. Sugar is in ketchup, yogurt, "healthy cereals." Lost weight cutting out sugar and carbs. Waist line reduced. Firmly believe that a Calorie is not a Calorie.

Jan. 14 2013 10:55 AM
Meredith from nyc

Please ask the guest on air--
Is there an agreed upon upper limit of grams of sugar we should eat per day? Not teaspoons but grams, like our food labels. Seems many foods have a few grams of sugar, before we ever eat a dessert. What's too much--for health, for weight loss, etc.

Jan. 14 2013 10:54 AM
Kate from Washington Heights

Can I have ANY sugar? I like having dessert and I like some sugar in my coffee. Do I have to stop, if I otherwise eat a sugar-free, healthy diet made up of real food?

Jan. 14 2013 10:54 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

What does he think about Splenda?
Or Truvia and Stevia?
Or sweetners made from chicory root?

Jan. 14 2013 10:54 AM
sugarholic from Manhattan

What is the least harmful sugar?

Jan. 14 2013 10:54 AM
Graham Walker from Bronx

As an engineering I would like a docot to explain why a calorie is not a calorie from a first law of thermodynamics. Energy Storage (increase in weight) = Energy in (food calories) - Energy out (Exercise). So where do different diets make a difference? Carbon Dioxide output? Energy out vis stool?

Jan. 14 2013 10:52 AM
Xtina from E. Village

Caller - don't buy into the hype that's something wrong with whole milk! It's a whole food, healthier than fractionated varieties - skim, low fat etc. The body, especially a growing body, needs fat to grow.

Jan. 14 2013 10:51 AM
Stephen Klein from prospect heights

Difference between between sugar and corn syrup?

Jan. 14 2013 10:51 AM
MC from Manhattan

Ahhh so bernie is the racist in the woodpile here. Any one that does not believe in food deserts needs to visit the Astoria Houses in western queens and see what the choices are for people who need to buy food in their neighborhood...

Jan. 14 2013 10:51 AM
Mike from NYC

Is fruit okay? What fruits are beneficial even though they have sugar?

Jan. 14 2013 10:50 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

This segment is GREAT! We tend to over complicate all issues in our society, but this is really simple, as the doctor says, "real food."

Jan. 14 2013 10:50 AM
el from Upper East Side

Hi Brian,
Please ask your guest if he thinks different types of sugar are better or worse, including glucose vs fructose?


Jan. 14 2013 10:49 AM
bernie from bklyn

@sheldon- i've never ranted about black women and their WIC cards.

Jan. 14 2013 10:49 AM
MC from Manhattan

Thats how you know they are liars ... when the gun lobby and the sugar beverage lobbies use the same logic.

Jan. 14 2013 10:49 AM
Robert from NYC

Ok here we go again. Let's get it straight we don't legislate what people can eat or drink we EDUCATE people what the are healthy foods. I'm not arguing against the bad side of sugar (and maybe it's only side) I'm arguing that it is what we should teach to people and educate them as to why sugar (carbohydrates) intake should be limited and controlled and how to control it EDUCATE DON'T LEGISLATE, got it!

Jan. 14 2013 10:48 AM

Cured my Fatty Liver Disease with Sugar Busters Book.

Jan. 14 2013 10:47 AM
antonio from baySide

Just saw that duckfat is actually pretty good for you and better than butter the way it handles with temperature threshold etc.

Jan. 14 2013 10:47 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Yeah Bernie, please make one of your off topic rants about "black women and their WIC cards."

Jan. 14 2013 10:46 AM

Jan. 14 2013 10:44 AM

did you say government and obesity problem?If so count me out.

Jan. 14 2013 10:43 AM
bernie from bklyn

ok, here we go...bring on the talk about the myth of food deserts, people of color not having anything good to eat, blahblahblah

Jan. 14 2013 10:42 AM

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