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Sweetened to Death: Exposing Sugar for What It Truly Is

What you don’t know IS hurting you… and I don’t just mean weight problems. I mean chronic disease. I mean a whole generation dying younger than their parents for the first time in modern history.(1) If you were ever looking for a single smoking gun for obesity and health problems, this is it; I’m talking about sugar. And you’re about to learn how to dodge the bullet and come out on top.


Addictive substance.

Alcohol without the buzz.

Worse than cocaine.

The reason we can’t stop eating.

The culprit behind the chronic disease epidemic of our times.

These are just a few of the things it’s been called.

And that’s not by extremists or fanatics… but by some of the most influential and respected medical experts on the planet.2,3,4

But you know it as sugar.

And right now, we’re all eating it in unprecedented amounts, often without even knowing it.5,6

And it’s doing far worse things in our bodies than just making us fat… though it’s definitely doing that, too.

Sugar is killing people. And I’ll prove it in this article.

I’ll show you how it managed to dominate your diet and how unnatural it actually is.

I’ll show you how it behaves in your body like both cocaine and alcohol. (It does this in your children’s bodies, too.)

I’ll also show you how to overcome the need for it. It’s very doable… and very necessary.

And no, this doesn’t mean you can’t have anything sweet. Trust me on this. I’ll explain everything.

Really quickly, though… Before I get down and dirty on sugar, let me address something a few people have asked me about the articles I’ve been writing lately:

What am I selling?

I’m on the Board of Directors for Nucific, a health supplement company. So, naturally, people often ask what I’m selling in these Food Truth blogs.

The answer is this:

As a policy, I don’t sell anything within the Food Truth Letters series… other than making healthier choices.

I believe in honoring a lifelong commitment to my customers. That means truly helping people… not just pitching them products at every turn.

And when I do sell products on other parts of this site or on the mailing list, it’s in response to customer feedback.

Nevertheless, since I do have a supplement line… I lean heavily in these blogs on the findings of brilliant people who don’t.  In today’s post, I make quite a few references to the work of two pioneering doctors: Robert Lustig and John Yudkin.

Both are complete strangers to me personally and professionally. (Yudkin, in fact, died in 1995.) However, I’ve spent a great deal of time looking at their work… and now, I want to show you some of the incredible things they’ve uncovered.

So, let’s get started.

April 1973.

Senator George McGovern was presiding over the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. This was the Committee’s first meeting on diet and disease.7

Being questioned by McGovern was Dr. John Yudkin, a distinctly mild-mannered English physiologist. Yudkin had spent most of his career as one of the most respected nutritionists in Europe.8

However, just a couple of years prior, he’d retired to write a controversial book titled Pure White and Deadly: The Problem of Sugar.9 In it, he proposed that sugar — not fat — caused obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.10 This flew right in the face of the popular low-fat diet advice of the time.11,12

After Yudkin explained his sugar theory to the Committee, Senator McGovern, in utter disbelief, asked:

“Are you saying that you don’t think a high fat intake produces the high cholesterol count? Or are you even saying that a person with a high cholesterol count is not in great danger?”

Yudkin responded in his usual polite, precise manner:

“If we are talking about the general population, I believe both those things that you say.”

Yudkin went on to insist that cutting dietary fat was not the answer to the growing public health concerns. But McGovern, unable to accept this, responded:

“That’s exactly the opposite of what my doctor told me.” 13

And after the hearing, things went straight downhill for Yudkin. He was shut out of international nutrition conferences, and several prominent scientists who supported the the low-fat theory publicly blasted him.14

One of these scientists was Ancel Keys, the most famous nutritionist in America. He published a scathing critique of Yudkin, calling his research “propaganda.”15

Scientists everywhere then began to distance themselves from Yudkin and his theories. Almost overnight, he went from being England’s premier nutritionist to being a complete outsider.16

After all, he’d contradicted the establishment. Right or wrong, he had to pay the price. And no one else wanted to end up like him.

Sheldon Reiser, another prominent nutritionist of the day, later recalled:

“Yudkin was so discredited. He was ridiculed in a way. And anybody else who said something bad about sucrose (sugar), they’d say, ‘He’s just like Yudkin.’” 17

By the time Yudkin died in 1995, his book was out of print, and he had faded largely into obscurity.18

Meanwhile, the low-fat diet advice of Keys and his colleagues became mainstream and was treated as gospel, giving rise to dangerous U.S. Government health recommendations.19

The food industry responded with sugary low-fat and fat-free foods. The American public responded with growing waistlines and declining health.20,21,22,23,24

In fact, it wasn’t until 36 years later that everyone finally started to realize that Yudkin had been right all along. And it was largely thanks to a prominent endocrinologist named Robert Lustig.25,26,27

And this brings us to…

May 2009.

“Am I debunking?”

Professor Robert Lustig was just over a half an hour into a lecture on sugar at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). A charming public speaker, he’d gotten a few laughs from the crowd over the past 30 minutes. But now, the lecture hall was dead silent.28

“Let’s keep going.”

UCSF was one of the top-ranked medical schools in the world.29 And Lustig, its star pediatric endocrinologist, had just steamrolled over the past 30 years of undisputed nutrition guidelines. He was going against the grain with a vengeance.30

You see, most nutrition advice had been based on Ancel Keys’ legendary Seven Countries Study — the one that landed him on the cover of Time Magazine.31 And Lustig had just spent the past several minutes pointing out flaw after flaw in that study’s science.

And this was only a third of the way in. The lecture was almost 90 minutes long. Lustig was just getting warmed up.

He spent the next hour using a mountain of research to thoroughly make the case for sugar being most damaging toxin of our time.

Two months later, UCSF posted a video of the lecture on YouTube, and it promptly went viral. To date, it has more than 6.4 million views.32

Lustig had clearly struck a nerve. People were tired of being fat and sick. The nutrition advice they’d gotten their whole lives hadn’t been working at all.

In the aftermath, several New York Times Bestsellers emerged highlighting the dangers of sugar.33,34,35 Articles on the topic appeared in multiple newspapers and journals.36,37,38,39 News programs like 60 Minutes did stories on it.40

Not to mention, Yudkin’s book — Pure White and Deadly — was re-released to a more welcoming public.41 After all, Lustig had made several references to it in the lecture.42

The tides had finally shifted. Sugar — in all its forms, including high-fructose corn syrup — was now being called out for the poison it was.

And on that note, it’s about time we got into the nitty-gritty of sugar’s toxicity.





Lately, I’ve heard many people say, “Cane sugar is natural. How can it be poisonous?”

Red kidney beans are natural, too. Yet, as the FDA’s own Bad Bug Book points out, eating just five of them raw can land you in the hospital.43

Natural doesn’t mean healthy. Most toxins are natural. Cyanide is perfectly natural.

And I should also point out that sugar manufacturing starts with this:

…and ends with this:

What’s natural about a man-made process that turns dirty sticks into sweet, paper-white, granulated crystals?

The truth is that it’s an extensive operation that involves multiple rounds of high-temperature treatment, evaporation, filtering, and spinning.44 Not to mention, industrial chemicals like sulfur dioxide are bubbled through the sugar to bleach it.45

Long story short: You won’t find this stuff anywhere in nature.

And yet you’re likely eating it at every meal.

However, as bad as this all sounds, simply being unnatural isn’t what makes sugar so harmful. You’re about to find out what is, though. Read on.

The devil’s in the details.

I’ll get right to it. There’s one thing above all else that makes sugar poisonous. And that thing is fructose.

You see, sugar, otherwise known as sucrose, is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Fructose is the sweetest part of sugar. It’s the thing that makes your favorite candy irresistible.46

And it’s not just in sucrose. Fructose is highly present in high-fructose corn syrup (55%), agave syrup/nectar (84%), honey (50%), and any other syrup/added sugar you can think of.47,48,49

And why is fructose so bad?

Well, unlike glucose, which is mostly broken down by insulin, fructose is 100% processed by the liver. This is very similar to how alcohol behaves in the body.50,51 In the process, the following things happen:

  • Fat deposits in your liver increase, which ultimately leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.52 (Hint: It’s essentially the same effect as alcoholic liver disease.53)
  • Insulin resistance increases, which makes your pancreas start producing way too much insulin. This shortchanges your brain’s ability to read signals that you’re full, causing you to overeat.54,55 It also leads to Type II Diabetes.56
  • The insulin resistance elevates insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which can dramatically increase your risk for multiple types of cancer.57
  • The fats in your blood rise out of proportion, skyrocketing Pattern B LDL — the worst cholesterol in human nutrition. This condition is known as dyslipidemia, and it’s a MAJOR marker for heart disease.58,59,60
  • Uric acid, a byproduct of fructose metabolism, rises in your blood. This cranks up your blood pressure (hypertension). It also increases your risk for developing gout.61

And here’s something that will really shock you…

30% of the fructose you consume becomes fat in your body.62,63

Yep, you read that right. 30%. And that’s compared to around 2% of glucose (think potatoes and rice) turning into fat.64,65

So, take a look at that sugar cube next time you want to drop it into your coffee. You can actually see the portion of it that will become fat inside you.

And there’s another feature of fructose that makes all of this much, much worse…

Sweet Cocaine?

Perhaps the most insidious part about sugar is how hard it is to stop eating it. Sugar is, in fact, genuinely addictive.66,67

And much of this addictiveness has to do with reward signals in your brain — specifically, the sweet reward, which is supplied directly by fructose.68,69

The effect is so powerful that scientists in France, the U.S., and Canada have observed cocaine-addicted rats demonstrating a clear preference for the sweet reward over the cocaine they were addicted to.70,71,72

And it doesn’t stop there. Fructose actually reprograms your body to overdose on sweet food.

You see, fructose messes up two things your brain uses to regulate your eating:73

  1. It blinds your brain to leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full.
  2. It fails to stop ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry.

This brutal 1-2 punch turns you into an unstoppable eating machine. Combine this with the drug-level addictiveness of the sweet reward, and you have a serious problem on your hands.

To experience this effect in the real world, eat your fill of raw vegetables. When you feel like you can’t eat anymore, grab a piece of your favorite chocolate or candy and put it in your mouth. Chances are, you’ll reach for seconds.

In fact, if you’re anything like me, your eyes probably dilated at the thought of tasting that candy just now. Perhaps you even considered going and getting some.

Now you know why you can’t stop eating.

And now you know that what you can’t stop eating is a toxin.

And it gets even worse…

It’s everywhere you turn.

The absolute worst part about sugar (and the fructose it carries) is that food manufacturers put it in so much of what you eat. Here’s a few of the less obvious things that have added sugar in one form or another:

Sneaky Sugar Foods:

Beef jerky hides a surprising amount of sugar.


Beef Jerky
Pasta Sauces
Barbecue Sauces
Pretty Much ANY Sauces
Salad Dressings
Canned Soup
Peanut Butter
Dried Fruits
Canned Fruits
Instant Oatmeal
Anything labeled “lowfat” or “fat free”
Anything processed

And then, there’s the matter of what we drink, which is one of the main ways we’re getting way too much fructose.

Sodas, for example, are loaded with fructose. And fruit juice has even more fructose than sodas.74 Both drinks are bad news. And do you like to sweeten your coffee? How about your tea? Do you like flavored waters?

Thanks to the food industry’s penchant for feeding us sugar, fructose is coming at us from all angles.

You see, for most of our existence, we consumed 16-20 grams of fructose per day. Most of that came from whole fresh fruits. However, we’re now consuming 85-100 grams per day.75

And most of that has happened in the last 30-40 years.76 Is it any wonder we’re having so many health problems?

So, what do I do?

You’ve stayed with me through the bad news, so here’s the good news:

While the problem is complicated, the solution is not.

Lustig made key suggestions I agree with in his presentation, and I’ve added some of my own. Here’s the combined list:77

1) Cut out sugary drinks. This includes fruit juice.

This will remove a HUGE amount of fructose from your diet. If you do nothing else, do this. And avoid sugar in your coffee and tea. If you must sweeten it, use stevia. Drink water (regular, unflavored) more than anything else.

2) When you eat carbs, eat them with fiber.

Fiber slows the absorption of sugar, helping to keep your insulin from spiking. It also increases feelings of satiety. This is why whole, fresh fruit — despite having fructose — is fine to eat. Want something sweet? Eat fruit.

3) When you’ve eaten, wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds.

This gives your brain a chance to get the signal that you’re full. When that happens, your hunger shuts down, stopping you from overeating.

4) For every minute you spend watching videos/movies/shows, exercise for one minute.

In other words, buy your watching time with exercise. You see, exercise does a few things:

  • Decreases stress and cortisol release, helping to keep you from stress-eating and storing fat.
  • Speeds up metabolism. Basically, you burn off the sugar before it can turn into fat.
  • Reduces insulin resistance, and all the problems that come with it.


5) Drink MORE water. PLAIN water.

I have to mention drinking one more time. We often confuse being thirsty for being hungry. Staying hydrated keeps you out of trouble in far too many ways to list here.

6) You can take 1 cheat day per week.

ALWAYS make it on the same day. On this day, you can have all your forbidden treats. When the clock strikes midnight, though, shut it down and go back to eating healthy.

It’s far easier to stick to a diet when you know you never have to do it more than 6 days at a time. Eventually, though, you might even lose the desire for a cheat day!

7) Finally, engineer accountability for yourself.

Tell your spouse, your friend, or your doctor about your plan for getting healthier. Consider placing a bet with them that would be painful to lose. Have them check in regularly. The point is, answer to someone. Accountability is powerful. It’s the whole reason personal training, life coaching, etc., exist as careers.

And there you have it. The truth about sugar, and how to deal with it.

I urge you to start acting on these steps today. But don’t worry… You don’t have to do the whole list on the first day.

Many people incorporate these 7 steps one at a time. Take your time, and pay attention to how you feel. And don’t forget to congratulate yourself on your progress!

And as always, I hope you’ve found this enlightening. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you’ve found this information helpful…

Don’t forget to share it with your friends and family!

There are social media buttons at the top and bottom of this page.

And if you’re not already subscribed and want me to keep you updated on more posts like this and everything I’m doing with Nucific…

Be sure to sign up for the mailing list at the top right of this page or below the citations.

And stay tuned. The next Food Truth Letter — eating healthy on a budget — is coming soon!

Thank you for reading.

Stay healthy,

Dr. Amy Lee, MD
Nucific Board of Directors


1 Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, et. al. Special Report: A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century. N Engl J Med. Mar 17, 2005; 352: 1138-1145. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsr043743.
2 Taubes G. Is Sugar Toxic? The New York Times. April 17, 2011: MM47.
3 Leslie I. The Sugar Conspiracy. The Guardian. Published April 7, 2016. Accessed May 18, 2016.
4 Gupta S. Is Sugar Toxic? 60 Minutes. Aired April 1, 2012.
5 Lustig R. Sugar: The Bitter Truth [Video]. UCTV YouTube Channel. Published July 30, 2009. Accessed April 23, 2016.
6 Schroeder M. Sniffing Out Sugar: How to Cut Back on the Omnipresent Sweet Stuff. U.S. News and World Report. Dec 22, 2015. Accessed May 19, 2016.
7 Taubes G. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. New York, NY. Anchor Books; 2007: 122.
8 Leslie at 1.
9 Id. at 1.
10 Yudkin J. Pure White and Deadly: The Problem of Sugar. New York, NY. HarperCollins Distribution Services; 1972.
11 Taubes (2011) at MM47.
12 Leslie at 1.
13 Taubes (2007) at 123.
14 Ibid. at 1.
15 Keys, Ancel. Coronary Heart Disease – The Global Picture. Atherosclerosis. Sep-Oct 1975; 22 (2): 149–192. DOI: 10.1016/0021-9150(75)90001-5.
16 Leslie at 1.
17 Taubes (2011) at MM47.
18 Leslie at 1.
19 Id. at 1.
20 Lustig (2009).
21 Winters D. U.S. Obesity Rate Climbs to Record High in 2015. Gallup Website. Published February 12, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2016.
22 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.
23 Menke A, Casagrande S, Geiss L, Cowie CC. Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012. JAMA. Sep 8, 2015; 314 (10): 1021-1029. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2015.10029.
24 Hyman, Mark. Eat Fat, Get Thin. New York, NY. Little, Brown, and Company; 2016: 4.
25 Leslie at 1.
26 Taubes (2011) at MM47.
27 Lustig (2009).
28 Lustig (2009).
29 U.S. News Best Grad School Rankings: University of California—San Francisco. U.S. News and World Report Website. Accessed May 19, 2016.
30 Ibid.
31 Safran, B. Physiologist Ancel Keys (Cover Picture). TIME. Jan 13, 1961; 77 (3): Front Cover.
32 Lustig (2009).
33 See for example: Hyman, Mark. The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. New York, NY. Little, Brown, and Company; 2014.
34 See for example: Lustig R. Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. New York, NY. Plume (Penguin); 2012.
35 See for example: Teicholz N. The Big Fat Surprise. New York, NY. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks; 2014.
36 See for example: Park, A. Sugar Is Definitely Toxic, a New Study Says. TIME. Oct 27, 2015. Accessed May 19, 2016.
37 See for example: Watts G. Sugar and the heart: old ideas revisited. BMJ. Jan 15, 2013;346: e7800. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e7800.
38 See for example: Martin S, Dahagam C. Sugar and Your Heart: the Not-So-Sweet Truth. U.S. News and World Report. Nov 11, 2015. Accessed May 19, 2016.
39 See for example: Taubes G. Is Sugar Toxic? The New York Times. April 17, 2011: MM47.
40 Gupta (2012).
41 Yudkin J. Pure White and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It. New York, NY. Penguin Books; 2012.
42 Lustig (2009).
43 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Bad Bug Book (Second Edition). FDA Website. Published 2012. Accessed May 20, 2016.
44 Canadian Sugar Institute. The Process of Cane Sugar Refining. Canadian Sugar Institute Website. Accessed May 19, 2016.
45 Andrews LS, Godshall MA. Comparing the Effects of Sulphur Dioxide on Model Sucrose and Cane Juice Systems. ASSCT Journal. Jun 2002; 22: 90-100. Accessed May 20, 2016.
46 Lustig R. Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. New York, NY. Plume (Penguin); 2012: 118.
47 Lustig (2009).
48 Willems JL, Low NH. Major carbohydrate, polyol, and oligosaccharide profiles of agave syrup — Application of this data to authenticity analysis. J Agric Food Chem. Sep 5, 2012; 60 (35): 8745-54. DOI: 10.1021/jf3027342.
49 Nutrition Facts: Honey. SELF Nutrition Data Website. Accessed May 20, 2016. Citing: USDA-SR21.
50 Lustig (2009).
51 Lustig (2012) at 123.
52 Ackerman Z, Oron-Herman M, Grozovski M, et. al. Fructose-induced fatty liver disease: hepatic effects of blood pressure and plasma triglyceride reduction. Hypertension. May 2005; 45 (5): 1012-8. DOI: 10.1161/01.HYP.0000164570.20420.67.
53 Ibid. at 125.
54 Lustig (2009).
55 Page KA, Chan O, Arora J, et. al. Effects of Fructose vs Glucose on Regional Cerebral Blood Flow in Brain Regions Involved With Appetite and Reward Pathways. JAMA. Jan 2, 2013; 309 (1): 63-70. DOI:10.1001/jama.2012.116975.
56 Basciano H, Federico L, Adeli K. Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia. Nutr Metab (Lond). Feb 21, 2005; 2 (1): 5. DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-2-5.
57 Giovannucci E. Insulin, insulin-like growth factors and colon cancer: a review of the evidence. J Nutr. Nov 2001; 131 (11 Suppl): 3109S-20S. Accessed May 20, 2016.
58 Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et. al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. May 1, 2009; 119 (5): 1322–1334. DOI: 10.1172/JCI37385.
59 Lê KA, Ith M, Kreis R, et. al. Fructose overconsumption causes dyslipidemia and ectopic lipid deposition in healthy subjects with and without a family history of type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. Jun 2009; 89 (6): 1760-5. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.
60 Lustig (2009).
61 Nakagawa T, Hu H, Zharikov S, et. al. A causal role for uric acid in fructose-induced metabolic syndrome. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. Mar 2006; 290 (3): F625-31. DOI: 10.1152/ajprenal.00140.2005.
62 Hellerstein MK, Schwarz JM, Neese RA. Regulation of hepatic de novo lipogenesis in humans. Annu Rev Nutr. Jul 1996; 16: 523-57. DOI: 10.1146/
63 Lustig (2009).
64 Ibid. at 523-557.
65 Ibid.
66 Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. Jul 2013; 16 (4): 434-9. DOI: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8.
67 Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008; 32 (1): 20-39. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019.
68 Lustig (2012) at 118.
69 Id. at 127-128.
70 Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH. Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PLoS One. Aug 1 2007; 2 (8): e698. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000698.
71 Connecticut College. Student-faculty research suggests Oreos can be compared to drugs of abuse in lab rats. Connecticut College Press Release. Published October 15, 2013. Accessed May 19, 2016.
72 Levy A, Salamon A, Tucci M, Limebeer CL, Parker LA, Leri F. Co-sensitivity to the incentive properties of palatable food and cocaine in rats; implications for co-morbid addictions. Addict Biol. Sep 2013; 18 (5): 763-73. DOI: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2011.00433.x.
73 Lustig (2012) at 127-128.
74 Lustig (2012) at 119.
75 Basciano et. al. at 5.
76 Vos MB, Kimmons JE, Gillespie C, Welsh J, Blanck HM. Dietary Fructose Consumption Among US Children and Adults: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Medscape J Med. 2008; 10(7): 160.
77 Lustig (2009).

About the Author

Dr. Amy Lee

Dr. Amy Lee has board certifications in internal medicine, physician nutrition and obesity medicine specialty. She practices internal medicine with a heavy emphasis on nutrition, wellness and weight management. Her Clinical nutrition fellowship training at UCLA has allowed her to incorporate realistic lifestyle modification in all her medicine patients.