Are Sugars Toxic?

February 9, 2012

This past September the annual American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) took place in San Diego. While I wasn’t able to attend in person, thanks to social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, I was able to keep up with what fellow RDs were learning in the sessions and what products they were tasting at the expo.

As a consultant to food and beverage companies, including the Corn Refiners Association, one of the information sessions of interest to me was about sugars and sweeteners. “Are Sugars Toxic: What’s Wrong with the Current Research?” was presented by Dr. John White, a nutritional biochemist with a specialty in caloric sweeteners. Sugars and sweeteners, especially fructose, are in the news pretty often as researchers are continually trying to understand their connection to obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. Many of the studies characterize fructose as a risk factor for these diseases, but as Dr. White makes clear, these papers are not necessarily applicable to the way people consume fructose. In his presentation, which you can see in full here, Dr. White explains how sugars became the focus of so much attention over the years, he describes the similarities and differences between sugars, and he answers the question “Are sugars toxic?” – something everyone seems to want to know these days.

Dr. White explains that the focus of the research on sugars is so narrow that it doesn’t take into account how people actually consume them. Often the research is very black and white – one group takes in one type of sugar and the other group doesn’t take in any sugar. However, most people replace one type of sugar for another, even though they both contain the same calories and same two components of fructose and glucose, so what happens in a study is not really an accurate portrayal of how people actually eat. The bottom line is that sugars are not a risk at the levels they are typically consumed and they can be part of a healthy diet when used in moderation. As usual, healthy eating comes down to enjoying all foods in moderation.

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