Is Sugar a Drug as Bad as Cocaine?

Monday Dec 2 | BY |
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Last week I watched on Netflix the documentary “Food Matters,” which makes an honest attempt to convince its viewers to abandon processed foods and opt for whole, natural foods.

There are plenty of good points being made in the movie, but one thing bugged me. It was the constant claim that white sugar, and/or high-fructose corn syrup, is pretty much the root of all evils and that it is just as addictive as cocaine.

Many of the experts interviewed seriously compared white sugar to cocaine and heroin. One expert claimed that when we serve drinks containing sugar to children, we might as well “inject heroin straight in their veins.”

Now, I will go against the grain today by claiming that white sugar is NOT a toxic drug and that a healthy person can consume some white sugar on occasion (and God forbid, even some high-fructose corn syrup) without getting fat, becoming addicted, and ending up in a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous along with fellow cocaine and heroin addicts.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think that sugar is a healthy food. However, my point is that the truth is a tad bit more complex than the simplified message we’ve received from many health advocates.

White Sugar: the Modern Drug?

In an article published in the Huffington Post, a Dutch health official was quoted as saying that “sugar is the most dangerous drug of our time.”

“Paul van der Velpen, head of Amsterdam’s health service, suggests that food and drink with high-sugar content should come with health warnings. He suggests introducing hard-hitting campaigns similar to the anti-smoking messages found on cigarette packets.”

Such anti-sugar statements, meant to scare away the public, have been popular ever since the book Sugar Buster was published in 1995.

Granted, sugar contains empty calories. Eat a lot of it on a regular basis and you’ll harm your health in more than one way.

But comparing sugar to a drug like cocaine or even tobacco is totally inappropriate. Anyone who has given up tobacco or other truly addictive drugs can certainly attest to that. Nobody has ever stolen a car stereo to get a Mars bar!

The desire for sugar is hardwired inside of us, as opposed to the desire for nicotine, caffeine, heroin, and other drugs. The body actually requires glucose — the main type of sugar found in white sugar — in order to function.

The reward centers of the brain are activated when sugar is consumed. Because the reward centers of the brain are also activated when cocaine and heroin are consumed, our health advocates have taken this leap in imagination to call sugar “just as bad as cocaine.”

The truth is that sugar, in itself, isn’t bad. The body requires it in one form or another. Most foods we consume on a daily basis contain some sugar, either in a complex form or a simple form (as in fruit). And if the food is healthy it will also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals alongside protein and perhaps some fat.

It’s Very Difficult to Get Fat with Sugar Alone

People like to blame the obesity crisis in the United States to sugar and sugar alone, as well as other forms of carbohydrates.

But let’s take a look at some data to make up our minds.

sugar slides.001


sugar slides.002

sugar slides.003

The tables above show changes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake from 1990 until 2008. And then calorie intake, as well as the result on BMI (body mass index).

What we can see is that Americans today consume 49% of their calories from carbohydrates. That number is actually DOWN since 1990, when the number was 52%.

Actually, in every other country represented, carbohydrate consumption is down since 1990.

On the other hand, protein consumption is stable in ALL countries. One difference is that fat consumption is up, and most importantly, total calories are up.

The BMI evaluates the weight of an individual versus the height, and is a good indicator of a healthy weight, especially for populations at large. In all countries, people have gotten fatter.

Americans were overweight in 1990, and they are still overweight today, only more so. But as we look at three countries, we find that the more carbohydrates are consumed, the slimmer the population is. Americans consume the fewest carbohydrates and are the fattest. Thai people consume the most carbohydrates by calories and are the slimmest. Of course, they consume fewer calories in general.

We could play with numbers all we wanted, but the bottom line is that carbohydrates, in general, DON’T make people fat. The real culprit is caloric intake.

Now someone could say that sugar intake is up since 1990, and could blame obesity on this. But the truth is that ALL food intake is up. Calories are up. Fat intake is up. Carbohydrate intake is up, not by percentage of calories, but in actual grams consumed.

Do People Consume Sugar Alone?

We tend to look at certain sugary junk foods as “sugary sweets” — things like ice cream and chocolate bars. But in fact, the majority of calories in those foods come from fat, NOT sugar.

sugar slides.005

Is Sugar Really Turned Into Fat?

One of the biggest claims made about sugar (especially high-fructose corn syrup) is that it’s turned into fat in the body.

In other words: eating sugar will make you fat.

This process is known in science as de novo lipogenesis, or the production of new fat from other caloric sources (namely carbohydrates).

Some animals, such as cows, have a physiology that makes it very easy for them to convert carbohydrates into fat for long-term storage. For example, cows eat grass, which is a carbohydrate that’s indigestible for humans (but they have the ability to use the energy in it), and cows can store an incredible amount of fat from this food source.

Humans are very inefficient at converting sugar into fat.

In a lecture on Fructose, Sucrose and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Dr. James M. Rippe presented the current research on the subject. A few highlights:

– Americans consume between 100 and 150 grams of fat a day. How much of  body fat is generated from their sugar or carbohydrate intake? About one gram!

– In one study, they gave young healthy males up to 50% added carbohydrates. That’s 1500 calories above their regular diet! How much fat was produced by their bodies on this excess? 3.3 grams on average. That’s on a diet containing over 700 grams of carbohydrates.

– To put it in perspective, one pound of fat is 450 grams.

So when you feed people an extra 1500 calories from sugar or carbohydrates, and about 3 grams of extra fat are generated by the body, where is the rest going?

Essentially, to glucose.

You can make somebody fat by feeding them extra sugar and carbohydrates, but it’s NOT because it’s turned into fat. It’s because it’s preventing the fat in the diet to be turned into energy, which is called the oxidation of fatty acids.

In other words, here’s what happens:

1) People eat sugar
2) They eat other forms of carbohydrates
3) The average American eats between 100 and 150 grams of fat in their diet
4) The carbohydrates they eat are turned into energy. Only one gram on average is turned into fat.
5) The body STORES the extra calories coming from fat into body fat, instead of burning them off as energy.

Whenever there’s an imbalance in energy (too many calories in, not enough calories out), the body will store excess calories as fat. But those calories essentially come from the fat in your diet, not the carbohydrates!

That’s why high-carbohydrates, low-fat (less than 10% of calories) programs are still effective ways of losing weight. I saw it with my own eyes when I put my own mother on such a diet, and she lost over 60 pounds without ever gaining it back.

Low-carbohydrate, low-sugar diets are also effective, but that’s because they increase protein — decreasing total caloric intake. So the equation still works: fewer calories in than out.

It’s true that fructose increases fat production more than sucrose, in terms of percentage. But when we look at actual grams of fat produced by the body, it’s not a significant difference and certainly not a health threat (in a balanced diet that doesn’t contain much refined sugar).

Fatty Liver Disease

A lot of misinformation has been circulating in health circles lately about fructose. Namely, that consuming fructose from refined or even natural sources can cause fatty liver disease.

In one study quoted by Dr. Rippe, a group of more than 300 people were consuming 8, 18 or 30% of their calories as HFCS or sucrose. There was no increase in fatty liver at the end of the study in either group.

Sugar and Diabetes

Sugar causes diabetes, right?

It turns out that the truth is more complicated. As we’ve seen, countries in the world with the highest carbohydrate intake appear to be the slimmest.

In the United States, the incidence of diabetes mellitus is 12.3% of the population.

In Thailand: 7.70%

In Japan: 7.30%.

Rural Africa and Asia (as opposed to the urban populations of Japan and Thailand) have some of the lowest rates worldwide of diabetes. They traditionally consume a diet that is very rich in carbohydrates, even by our standards.

The highest rates of diabetes are found among Hispanic, Polynesian and African-descent people who adopt an American-like diet and lifestyle.

Research actually shows that:

A high-carbohydrate diet actually makes the body’s insulin work more efficiently.

In one study, researchers took carbohydrate consumption from 45% to 85%. Researchers concluded:

Fasting plasma glucose levels fell in all subjects and oral glucose tolerance (0 to 120-minute area) significantly improved after 10 days of high carbohydrate feeding. Fasting insulin levels also were lower on the high carbohydrate diet. These data suggest that the high carbohydrate diet increased the sensitivity of peripheral tissues to insulin.” (Reference)

In a more recent study, this time in Northern Ireland, researchers looked at the effects of high sugar intake on insulin resistance in non-diabetic men. The group receiving 25% of their calories from sugar (sucrose) as part of a diet otherwise balanced and containing adequate calories saw no difference in their degree of insulin resistance during the 6-week period, compared to the group getting 10% of their calories from sugar.

Researchers concluded:

“Sugar has traditionally been linked to the development of diabetes. These findings challenge that thinking, and show that intakes of more than double that currently recommended do not appear to have an adverse effect on markers of diabetes risk.”

So if a high carbohydrate or even high sugar intake does not cause diabetes, what causes it?

It seems clear that excess calories and a sedentary lifestyle, leading to excess body fat, along with genetic factors, are the main causes. Other factors such as excessive drinking and tobacco use are also at play.

High-fat diets DO lower insulin sensitivity, so when high fat intake is combined with high sugar intake, along with excess calories in general, you have a recipe for disaster.

People on low-carbohydrates, higher-fat, higher-protein diets don’t typically develop diabetes because they are keeping their caloric intake under control. Even though this type of diet will make insulin less efficient, as long as total calories are kept in check, you can see miracles happen.

But the reverse is also true. Programs like the Fuhrman “Eat to Live” diet, Dr. Esselstyn’s plan, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. McDougall and others all promote a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes.

I’ve communicated with type 1 diabetics who went on Doug Graham’s 80-10-10 diet, consumed insane quantities of fruit sugar (often a lot of dates) and managed to dramatically lower their insulin needs on that diet.

To prevent type 2 diabetes or even reverse it, many experts recommend staying active, lowering your body fat to a healthy and even level, keeping total calories in check, and eating a whole food diet as the best way to go. In their experience, lowering fat consumption and increasing carbohydrates from whole sources, even with lots of fruit, can give great results.

Dr. Fuhrman’s approach to diabetes involves reducing fruit intake and refined carbohydrate (including white potato and white sugar), making beans and low-glycemic starchy foods the main source of carbohydrates in one’s diet.

Sugar and Athletes

One thing is for sure: consuming too much fructose, especially from refined sources, is not desirable for the sedentary individual. However, during fitness activities, fructose seems to be the greatest thing ever. Gretchen Reynolds writes in her wonderfully well-researched book The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer:

“In general, fructose seems desirable for athletes. When cyclists in one large study downed a sports drink sweetened only with glucose during a two-hour bout of moderate pedaling, they rode faster during a subsequent time trial than riders who had drunk only water. But if the sports drink contained both glucose and fructose (in a two-to-one ratio), the riders were 8% faster in the time trial than those drinking glucose-sweetened fluids alone.”

How Much Sugar is Safe to Eat?

White sugar is not a health food. But it’s also not the great evil it’s painted out to be. Granted, eat a lot of white sugar on top of a high-calorie diet and you’ll gain weight. You’ll ruin your teeth and experience all kinds of problems.

But a little refined sugar here and there is not going to hurt, when you keep things in perspective.

People eat out at a Thai restaurant and worry about the 1 teaspoon or two of sugar that was used in their Pad Thai, not really thinking about the multiple tablespoons of vegetable oil used to stir-fry the whole thing! The sugar amounts to maybe 30-40 calories, while the oil gives at least 300-400.

When you think about all the junk food that most people crave (chocolate comes to mind), those foods are primarily high in fat.

Some people drink colas all day to get their sugar high, but if it were not for the presence of caffeine in those drinks, they would likely be much less addicted.

Overall, you probably shouldn’t consume more than 100 to 150 calories a day from refined sugar. The fewer, the better. One tablespoon of white sugar or syrup (like honey or maple syrup) is around 50 calories.

But if you’re active and at a healthy weight, a little sugar is not going to harm you. It may even help your performance and your recovery, although getting it from whole food sources is always better.

I’m personally more worried about hidden fat than hidden sugar. Don’t worry about the little sugar that’s found in your sushi rice. Worry about the generous quantities of mayo used in the roll instead!

There’s only so much sugar we can eat before feeling that it’s nauseatingly over-sweet. But hidden fat can be added to almost no end.

From the article I wrote on the book Salt, Sugar, Fat:

“Food manufacturers had known for a long time that the bliss point of sugar was fixed: it was a specific point of pleasure, and a strict limit at the same time for the sugar content of any food. But for fat, it seems there was no ‘break point.’ No matter how rich the food was, people never got the signal that there was simply ‘too much fat.’ The body just wants more and more fat. One researcher said ‘if there was a break point, it was somewhere beyond heavy cream.’

I personally eat a lot of fruit, so I don’t crave refined sugar very much. But I don’t mind eating something (artificially) sweet once in a while with absolutely no adverse effects.

Some people are more sensitive to sugar intake, reporting “blood sugar swings” whenever they eat something sweet and often experiencing the effects of low insulin sensitivity. A high-fat diet is often a hidden cause of lowered insulin sensitivity.

My goal in this article was not to convince you to eat refined sugar, but rather to demystify the topic and also redeem the important role of carbohydrates in the diet. Carbohydrates have been blamed for the obesity epidemic, when in fact the slimmest nations in the world eat a high-carbohydrate diet.

What about you, what is your personal stance on sugar: never, always, or sometimes a little?



Body Mass Index by Country:
Global Nutrition and BMI:
Sugar, Coated with Myths –
Sugar is an addictive drug?
Now Sugar is Addictive:
Carbohydrates, fat, and insulin action.
Sugar not linked to diabetes
Symposium: Fructose, Sucrose and HFCS (Search on YouTube) 

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Mel says:

    Well….I agree with your article….but…I must say I’m a total sugar addict (I *would* steal the car stereo for the Mars bar!). I gave up 20 Marlboro Red in a nano-second plus gave up a huge consumption of alcohol (I could easily have 20 drinks without an issue)…..but sugar. Can’t seem to beat it and I’ve tried everything I can think of (including all the anonymous groups). And I still consume a TON of the stuff (totally addicted to chocolate…and fruit, which I consider healthy and works well for me).

    However that said…so far at least….my blood sugar is good (I never feel faint or have any issues and I’m athletic so put it to the test quite frequently as I’ll do longer endurance events) and my bloodwork is (thankfully) always good. On some level I agree that sugar is tolerated better than fat and that we do have thresholds of “too much sweet” (I can eat a box of chocolates but I wouldn’t touch – purely on taste – a cup of coffee with sugar and would detect sugar in anything I consider savory and not enjoy it. Even the sorbitol in toothpaste and mouthwash is too sweet!). However I do think perhaps too much sugar can lead to mineral imbalances.

  2. Jenny says:

    I experience low blood sugar. It has been mostly under control, except when I was living and eating a Puerto Rican diet. I thought it was all the white rice, but their diet is very heavy in oil. I’ve always been a supporter of fat (due to the low fat dieting as a teenager). I think fat plays an important part in brain health and satiety. That being said, I don’t eat fried food frequently simply out of preference. But I don’t blink an eye putting butter or coconut oil on my vegetables or other food. I am back and forth on grains, I love their nutrients, but am not crazy about the “buzz” I get from them. I’ve had better luck when the grains are sprouted or fermented, but don’t always have time for that. I would like to see more info on sprouting and fermenting.

  3. Bronwyn says:

    I haven’t had time to read your whole article yet, but I agree with what I have read. If we want to encourage people to think about their health and, to consider whether their food choices support good health or not, these phoney, fanatic scare tactics are not going to work. In fact, I believe it will turn off far more people. I think the affect will be to disregard the good based on the radical. I can tell you as a previous probation officer and, child welfare worker that making the claim that sugar disrupts life in anyway like heroin does,,,,,is nothing short of irresponsible, offensive and ridiculous. I truly believe in North America we eat too much sugar but, let’s stop the nonsense of equating that to hard drugs that destroy individuals and families.

  4. Superb and Sensible article. Refreshing and well Researched. Totally Appreciate and Agree comments on Food Matters DVD. Thank you for being such Reliable Health Advocates.

  5. CmdrSoCal says:

    Processed(crystallized) sugar is bad as well as honey because they have little to no vitamins and minerals. Sucanat/Rapadura/Mascobado whole cane juice contains rich amounts of vitamins and minerals and the sugars(glucose/fructose/sucrose) are balanced. Calcium is the most important nutrient as it is important in sugar digestion, eating too much processed sugar and honey will rot teeth. Silica(horsetail powder/oatstraw powder) helps re calcify. Iodine(kelp) helps as well.

    • Dust says:

      Honey is only bad if you are getting the crap honey from china or elsewhere. If you are getting good quality honey then it isn’t bad for you. Get honey from the organic farms in hawaii or the few in the US that are known to have reputable sources. There is a major difference between good and crappy sources for any bee product.

      At least processed sugar should never be eaten, once you get off of the addiction to it and all the artificial sweeteners one leads a much more peaceful life, I know cause once I finally got off them 6 years ago my body finally started to detox, lost a bunch of weight (wasn’t overweight, but lost and stabilized again) and felt better than I felt my entire life, but that is me and you experience may vary.

  6. Hi Frederic,

    I love reading your articles but I think your missing the point here. The issue is not whether sugar makes you fat or not (the main focus of your article) but rather does consuming excess sugar (not hard to do considering it is insidiously in just about every product on our supermarket shelves) have an adverse effect on our health and a precursor to more serious risks and the overwhelming evidence seems to be saying yes it is. I would be more concerned about the other health risks white refined sugar (not the best source of glucose anyway) can pose rather than getting fat.

    Kind regards,

  7. Janet Crase says:

    The above comments are good except for the thought that GMO grains or Hybrid Grains have in their effect. GMO’s are by far the worst, we should always avoid if it is known to be an ingredient, because they can change our cells the most. Hybrids are a crossbreed that sometimes are an accepted way to eat when the choices are few. Mules are an example of crossbreeds in animals that come to play also in plants that are not after the plan that GOD laid out in GENESIS 1, “Whose seed was in itself”, “after his kind”, like GOD originally made it. GOD saw everything that HE had made was good that should Replenish the earth. Some evil results can be remedied by a teaspoon of Green Clay in 8 ounces of water which has sat over night and drink only the water. Bentonite Clay may be used instead of Green Clay and doesn’t have to sit over night. This should be repeated after a questionable meal or even one we may think is good. Unknowingly we take in toxins which only pure clay can remedy. He, (JESUS), is the POTTER. I am the CLAY. GOD formed man of the “dust of the ground”, GENESIS 2:7 (The CLAY).
    “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by Every WORD that proceedeth out of The Mouth of GOD” MATTHEW 4:4.
    JESUS used clay many times in the Bible records for healing.

  8. Your logic and your research are just fine, but you’re not looking at the hormonal impact of sugars which is the most interesting and relevant.

    Fructose is extremely lipogenic (probably a survival thing… great except we get too much)
    Fructose causes almost no satiety (pretty easy to eat 10 mangos in one sitting)
    Sugars of all kinds elevate insulin and lead to both insulin and leptin resistance (yes, fructose too)

    That doesn’t mean don’t eat fruit or don’t eat sugar, I do all the time, but I’m aware of what it does and try to do it responsibly.

    If you JUST eat sugar, and keep the fat and protein to nearly nothing, and eat whole food sugars, it’s true you can lose some weight. Many (but not all… I know some overweight fruitarians) will lose weight. Your body gets fat and protein from your tissues instead of your food. I did a pure fruit diet for awhile, got down to 4.5% body fat. My body was eating its own fat and muscle stores to replace that lost in diet. I felt ok, but I lost a ton of strength and my brain wasn’t very clear.

    For people eating a diet sufficient in fat and protein, sugar is the most lipogenic thing in their diet, fructose and alcohol sugars being perhaps the most. People describe this as a bad thing, I don’t think it is. I think it’s the genius of our body taking fruit sugars and turning them into some fat as quickly as possible. But there is LOTS of fructose and other sugars around.

    You said it’s difficult to gain weight eating sugar. If you starve the other macro nutrients, that’s true, but if you’re eating sufficiently the others, it’s actually very very difficult to gain fat without eating sugar. Very hard. If you’d like a challenge, I’d dare you to try:) I’m not sure if you’ve ever done a strict ketogenic diet, but it’ll take you about 12 hours to see what I mean. You’ll eat your brains out and your body won’t hold onto any of it. Not to say you should do that, but all the arguments/counter-arguments aside, you can then see and feel the hormonal impact of food rather than caloric effect. It’s worth doing.

    “Total calories” is a really crude model of measuring food, it’s outdated, but more importantly, it’s just not accurate, doesn’t work. Electrically, chemically, and hormonally, our bodies don’t metabolize food the way oxygen does a macronutrient. “Potential for energy” and “hormonal impact” are much better measures with food, in my experience (albeit limited).

    I love your skepticism, but I’d encourage you to do some experimentation. I recently did some with agave, for example. I was never a fan, literally never ate the stuff, but I unknowingly got a raw dessert made with it and my blood sugar levels went to 140 thirty minutes after. Normally I could never get it above 120 even with starchy/sweet deserts. I’ve been doing lots of blood glucose testing this year, so I know the impact of just about everything. How can a “fruit sugar” like agave do that? It did/does. For me anyway, and I don’t think anyone will argue that 140 blood sugar is not ok.

    I’m excited for real-time insulin and leptin tests to become affordable. You can do a lot with a blood glucose monitor and heart rate variability, but I think real time, metrics-based health assessments will help us nutrition geeks stop arguing about carbs and instead just compare notes. Hopefully:)

    – Lucas

  9. Susan Myers says:

    This was an interesting article. I myself will eat real sugar rather than artificial sweeteners. What was not addressed in your article was the fact that manufacturers are now listing sugar or granulated sugar on labels and people assume that it is cane sugar. A large portion of sugar or granulated sugar now comes from sugar beets and a high percentage3 of that is now GMO sugar beets. I can eat cane sugar without any problems but when I eat sugar or granulated sugar that comes from sugar beets I get stomach pains and heartburn from it. My local convenience store uses sugar and I noticed the packets do not say cane sugar. I asked about it and was given the name of the company that produces it (can’t recall the name now0. I contacted them and found out that their sugar comes from sugar beets. they did not know if those sugar beets were GMO sugar beets.
    We can no longer assume that the simple products with names that we grew up with are indeed the same.
    Sugar may or may not be cane sugar and may or may not be GMO. We need to become more informed and not just assume that white sugar is the same sugar we had growing up!!!!!

  10. Susan says:

    Dr. Mercola interviewed Dr. Clemente, the director of the Hippocrates Institute. Dr. Clemente said that some raw foodists were and are sugar addicts. They trade cake, candy and etc for mango and watermelon. He said the people who can handle a raw diet consisting of mostly fruit are athletes. Doug Graham was or is an athlete. A woman who promotes his program in my State is a runner. I don’t think these people, including Doug Graham, have enough nutritional background or research to be promoting a raw fruit diet or primarily raw fruit diet to people. It appears that the diet should be directed toward athletes. My point is: sugar addicts aren’t just the people eating white sugar, based on what Dr. Clemente said.

    Thank you for your thoughtful article.

  11. Durianrider says:

    We go thru bags of organic sugar, boxes of organic bananas and dates. All our blood tests are always great. Even glycated hemoglobin values!

    i think Fred is a bit too advanced for the readers here based on their replies lol!

    I remember in 2009 in Thailand Fred telling me he had some white sugar and survived to tell the tale. We were drinking sugar cane juice at the time but i was still surprised he didnt die lol!

    Sugar sure is the best weight loss food on the planet. Add it to your fruit smoothies if the fruit aint sweet enough. Sure cuts the hunger drive in its tracks so you don’t end up eating things you regret.

    Fat you eat is the fat you wear.
    Sugar you eat is the energy you can live with.
    Fruit is the best source of sugar. Most nutrients per calorie.
    Unfortunately most modern fruit is picked so green it never reaches its full brix values and some organic sugar added can boost those brix values and give added dietary satisfaction.

    Since we have DRASTICALLY cut nuts, seeds and oil from our diet, we are able to stay olympic athlete level lean on bare bones training and NO drugs/stimulants like caffeine/crackao etc.

  12. Riley says:

    Yeah, you make some fair points for sure, but you should have stressed the point that not everybody is the same and has the same needs. Some people do better on a higher fat and lower carb diet. Biology and activity are extremely significant factors. When you compare people in the United States with people in Japan and Thailand, you neglect to consider the fact that there are significant biological differences between most Americans and Asians who have been eating ridiculous amounts of rice for most of their history.

  13. Suzi says:

    I agree that a little consumption of white sugar here and there is not going to harm you BUT I do not know of any person who only has a little bit of white sugar here and there. I constantly come across people who go nuts over sugary foods, addicted and simply cannot give up the white poison. To say that a little here and there is very naive of you, nobody does it! White sugar wasn’t around for thousands of years and human beings survived perfectly without it. Stealing a car? now look who’s going over the top? You can just go down the road at your local store and get your fix of sugar and its CHEAP!!!! Honestly……

  14. kimber says:


    I must wholeheartedly agree with the point that sugar is highly addictive. In my own past experience, and hearing person after person tell their stories of difficulty quitting sugar. How many people in our culture with chronic and life-threatening issues who cannot , or are unwilling to eliminate sugar, knowing its massive impact on their health. It is undeniably like a drug, activating the same neuro-chemicals as recreational drugs. It may not be true for the author, but being a health practioner, it is true for a huge part of the population. How else could the companies who produce packaged, sugar-laden products, be such huge profit makers? No doubt in my mind!

  15. Casey says:

    What about sugar and the cancer patient or for people with a family history of cancer?

  16. Jan says:

    I have to agree with Lucas calories in versus calories out is old school. I have always been a calorie watcher and recently did low carb. I lost the weight on low carb eating allot more calories. I also consumed more fat then ever before. But the point that carbs in other countries are higher and they are thinner also makes me wonder why does high carb work too.
    Great article makes you think but confuses me on what I need to do!

  17. Just a few technical points:

    According to your tables:
    1. American carbohydrate consumption INCREASED from 1990 to 2008: 1825g to 1847g (52% and 49% of 3510 and 3770 respectively)
    2. Americans consume the HIGHEST amount of carbohydrate: 1825g to 1847g is more than from any of the Japan and Thailand years (between 1630g and 1796g)

    But anyway:
    3. You can’t use numbers about carbohydrate consumption as a proxy for refined sugar consumption (which I think is the focus of the article). If you don’t have the numbers for sugar consumption, at least point out that in their absence this is the best you’ve got but they can’t really tell you anything about sugar consumption.
    4. I haven’t looked into this but from knowledge of the Thai and Japanese diets, I would bet that a pretty small proportion of their carbohydrate comes from sugar (East Asians in general routinely consume very few sweet treats) and the vast majority comes from rice and some noodles. This makes the choice of these three countries potentially particularly misleading if you’re trying to make a point about sugar.
    5. You can’t infer trends from THREE countries. Ecological data (comparing countries) is notoriously unreliable, making the comparison of three pretty meaningless (just saying at least make this caveat). Even Ancel Keys used seven!
    6. You certainly cannot infer causality from Ecological or Epidemiological data, that’s just plain bad science, re: “We could play with numbers all we wanted, but the bottom line is that carbohydrates, in general, DON’T make people fat.”

    7. The quotes from the James Rippe lecture say nothing about how added carbohydrate compares to added fat. Adding extra carbohydrate certainly only seemed to add a little extra fat production, but perhaps the same amount of extra fat would have added even less or even perhaps reduced fat production. Or not. We don’t know from those quotes alone.
    8. “Low-carbohydrate, low-sugar diets are also effective, but that’s because they increase protein”. Most low-carb advocates in the last decade or so have advised moderate protein and high fat.

    There is some confusion as to whether this article about carbohydrates or sugar, which is a shame. I do agree that hysteria helps no one, though when mainstream dietary advice is so entrenched I can understand why making an OTT remark might at least get people’s attention.

    Thanks for the article

    • Andrew J says:

      I agree with Adrian on all his points. Carbohydrates and sugar cannot be used interchangeably and mean the same thing. Perhaps a study on refined sugar would have suited this article more (these should be in abundance).

  18. Elizabeth says:

    I have a problem with comparing some of these Asian population’s carb consumption with North America. Asians have larger pancreas and can handle large carb intake (primarily white rice). I get jittery, panic symptoms when I eat high carb and need more protein. Sugar, I try to eat in moderation (as most things) I am naturally lean (both on a high carb or high protein diet) I think you like to skew these results to suit your own higher carb leanings.

  19. Also just thought…

    The article’s title (is sugar a drug as bad as cocaine) does not reflect its contents and is actually not answered at all. That is aside from the author’s anecdotal remark that giving up sugar is not as bad as giving up smoking or drinking. It would have been interesting to go into this and actually explore the addictiveness of sugar. Indeed surely giving up something that is ‘hardwired’ as it was put is no small matter.

    Instead, the focus is on weight gain. No one has claimed that heroin and cocaine make you fat! Indeed, these drugs would score very highly in epidemiological analysis of BMI!

  20. Great topic and discussion! As I write this there are 20 comments showing. I had wanted to comment last night/morning when I believe there were nine showing. Since some of the additional 11 comments strongly made most of my points (the difference between focusing on white sugar (and high-fructose corn syrup or HFCS) and carbohydrates (as a whole), and the rice consumption levels in Japan and Thailand), the wind is not as strong in my sails.

    By the way, I appreciate your writing, Frederic (as I appreciate Kevin’s). I find it thought provoking and often educational. Your recent piece on coffee and caffeine was quite balanced and informative.

    While I agree with many of your points (calories count (all right, maybe not perfectly, but for practical purposes), for most people moderation in the consumption of white sugar is “acceptable,” and the food/diet subject is a very complex one), I likely would be closer on the “scale” to the “sugar (and HFCS) detractors” than you are, at least in terms of possible HEALTH CONCERNS.

    However, WEIGHT LOSS is another matter (to me, anyway). I have successfully lost over 110 pounds over the course of the last seven plus years. Much of that occurred in the earlier part of that time frame, with a few modest “setbacks,” and quite a few stubborn plateaus. All in all, I consider it to be a big success!

    The relevant reason for mentioning that (besides shameless self-promotion!) is that the quality of the food that I ate (on various common “scales” (there I go again with that pun!)) was often much worse than much of the food that I ate in some previous “fatter” periods. There was an extremely high level of highly processed foods, often cheap ones (due to “budgetary concerns”).

    Furthermore, my exercise patterns were far from my best ones, too!

    And yes, I wrote about it and created two ebooks!

    But, back to the contribution to this blog:

    Frederic, you compared two years in your main contention. Other commenters brought up some concerns with those comparisons. Still, it added to the “bigger dialogue.” But, how about going back a little further in time to 1978 when Covert Bailey unleashed his classic, “FIT OR FAT?”? With the help of others, a Low Fat Revolution swept through the land in the ’80s and beyond. It got to the point where manufacturers decreased the fat content of their highly processed snack foods (adding to the percentages of sugars) The other main point of Covert Bailey’s thesis was pulse monitored aerobic exercise.

    But did all of that significantly improve the fitness (and lower the obesity) of Americans? Do your own research, if you are interested.

    Now, I am not totally bashing Covert Bailey’s ideas, but I don’t believe in them as much as I once did. While I did improve my fitness (and decrease my body fat percentage) as a result of his leadership, it was a number of years before my longer-term weight loss success.

    Well, I guess that I had enough things to write about, after all (and I even have more ideas, but this will suffice!)!

    Warren Freedlund

  21. Mark says:

    Great article. I personally, don’t think sugar is the enemy. Sure and overcompensation of it can lead to many illness and diseases, but that can be true of a lot of things. I believe, the best way to go about your sugar intake is to do so in moderation. Don’t be super strict, or restrict it completely. Rewarding yourself every once in awhile will not do you permanent damage.

    I also write for my personal fitness blog at where I teach people to build muscle and live a healthier life.

  22. Marie Z. says:

    I did not read every comment, but I’ve heard
    that cancer cells feed more so on sugar.
    Does anyone know the truth to that?
    Would that be any kind of sugar? Carb?

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