Tag Archives: sugar

A Can Of Soda A Day Keeps Your Last Years Away

Researchers from UCSF looked at roughly 5,000 adults with no diabetes or heart problems and asked themselves how sugary beverages affect lifespan. They analyzed drinkers of normal, sugary sodas, of sugary flat drinks, of diet sodas, and of 100% fruit juice drinks. To figure out lifespan, they looked at telomeres, which are endcaps on chromosomes, and which have been shown to correlate with how long a person lives. Those with shorter telomeres tend to age faster, die earlier and have more cancer. And it turned out that people who drink sugary sodas regularly, have shorter telomeres.

Warning label on a can of soda

Diet sodas didn’t seem to have any correlation with telomere length, though there are other problems with them. Non-carbonated sugary sodas had no correlation either. Regularly drinking fruit juice correlated with longer telomeres, though eating the actual fruit, instead, has the added benefit of healthy fiber. But for sugary sodas, extrapolating additional aging from how much the telomeres were shorter, the study found that drinking 8oz per day (about two-thirds of a can) shortened lifespan by 1.9 years, and 20oz shortened it by 4.6 years — the same amount as smoking.

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From American Journal of Public Health, via Time

Nerdy Ways To Get Around Giant Soda Bans

New York City’s giant soda ban was supposed to go into effect tomorrow, but a judge today banned the ban, citing both the regulatory overreach of the city’s health board, and the ridiculousness of a ban that has loopholes as big as the sodas of which it tries to rid us. However, this is hardly going to be the last word on the issue — the city promised to appeal — so here are some interesting ways to still get your fix, in case the worst does happen:

Giant soda hacks

A Klein Bottle is a theoretical surface that cannot exist in our three-dimensional universe.

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From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Evaporated Cane Juice Is Actually Just Sugar

This is a sugar cane. Looks tasty, right? If only we stuck to eating things that look good before processing...

That term, ‘evaporated cane juice’, is everywhere now — because it sounds more natural. But it turns out evaporating cane juice is simply how sugar is made: you get the juice out of some cane, dry it out (meaning, evaporate it), then separate the molasses from the crystals and voila: white sugar. The only difference with evaporated cane juice is that the molasses aren’t fully separated out — so all the evil sugar is still in there, plus some brown goo. And no, molasses are not good for you.

In fact, juicing anything is not good for you: it’s like extracting the crack from a cocaine plant. An apple, orange or what have you contains a lot of fiber, so when you eat it you get its fructose — which has a lot of energy but is not great for you — but all the fiber will keep you from eating too much of it. (The fiber will also do wonders for your digestive system.)  But when you juice fruit, all you’re doing is getting rid of the great fiber and concentrating the high-calorie part of the plant into a liquid. So stop processing perfectly good plants:  just eat the much healthier unjuiced fruit.

But back to the main point: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice — same poison, different names.

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From NPR


The NYC Big Soda Ban Is Really Toothless

Filmmaker Casey Neistat made an interesting video explaining New York City’s proposed ban on sodas over 16 oz. At first glance, sodas at most fast food restaurants will be banned since, with some exceptions, most small sodas are somehow still over that size. The large ones are sometimes four times over the allowed size. But, the ban has a few caveats:

  • It only applies to restaurants that the city regulates. Fountain drinks at stores like 7-Eleven are not covered by the ban. Or you can buy a two-liter of Coke at Duane Reade and put a straw in it.
  • It only applies to sugar added by the vendor: you can still pour all the sugar you want into an unsweetened iced tea, coffee, or whatever.
  • It doesn’t apply to beverages containing more than 50% milk, so sugary lattes of any size are still fair game.
  • And of course, you can always buy three 16oz sodas and drink them one after the other, or even all at once.

So in effect, the only thing the ban does is to make it slightly harder for people to buy a lot of soda. What’s the point of it then? According to Mayor Bloomberg, it’s to educate people. Which begs the question of why laws are being used to educate people, rather than maybe a public health campaign. It’s kind of like banning unprotected sex to educate people about social diseases. Unfortunately, even though traditional means of public education have been proven to work quite well, more and more we see politicians passing morality laws in an effort to be our mom: they don’t just tell you that your choices are bad for you (not anyone else), but also add a penalty or ban, because the nanny state can’t trust you to make your own decisions about your own life.

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From YouTube, via Laughing Squid

Bloomberg Is Banning Giant Sodas In NYC

Somehow, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg got it into his head that the people of New York elected him to be their nanny — and maybe they have, since he’s been re-elected twice, and once since he banned smoking in some public places like parks, as well as banning trans fats in restaurants. Riding that wave, after a failed attempt to institute a state-wide soda tax, his latest idea is to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16oz in restaurants in the city. This largely applies to sodas, but also to sweetened juices and coffee drinks. It does not apply to diet drinks, even though those don’t seem to be good for us either. And while it’s quickly becoming clear that sugar, in the quantities we consume it, is toxic, it’s not clear at all if taking away freedom by instituting sales bans is an effective way of limiting consumption — even if it were the right thing to do.


Mayor Bloomberg with sodas and the equivalent amount of sugar cubes in them. Photo by The New York Times.


A few months ago, a group of scientists proposed treating sugar like alcohol, and this measure would certainly be a nod in that direction, but limiting the sale of alcohol has certainly not slowed down its consumption, and the same goes for cigarettes and illegal drugs. The only thing that has ever worked is education: most people like doing what’s good for them, but many don’t like being forced to make choices, good or bad. And as members of a free society, we should be able to make all the bad choices we want, as long as they don’t harm others.

Update, 1 June 2012: Jon Stewart had a funny reaction to the news that the ban would “combine the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect”:

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From The New York Times, via NPR

The Obesity Epidemic Is Caused By Overabundance Of Food

The New York Times has an interview with an applied mathematician who graduated from MIT and now works at The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (which could benefit from dropping an ‘and’). He’s been studying obesity — probably because of how it affects diabetes — for a number of years and used his mathematics background to develop a model for how the body responds to food. From this model, they created a simulator and put it on the web, so that anyone can use it to find out how much to change their eating and exercising habits in order to hit a target weight.  He also figured out why the obesity epidemic started happening, which essentially boils down to lack of will power: there’s too much food available, and it’s too inexpensive.


Along with the economy, the powers that be have been tinkering with the food supply since the unprecedented government expansion following The Great Depression. Due to the permeating despair of the time, a school of thought became very popular which advocated a middle way between socialism, in which the government completely controls the economy, and libertarianism or classical liberalism, in which the government doesn’t control the economy at all. This middle way is now known as Keynesian Economics and advocates for some level of government control over the economy, the idea being that smart people in charge can make better decisions than the market can. Economists from the libertarian camp — known as the Austrian School — included influential figures such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who over the decades persuaded government to swing its pendulum somewhat back toward libertarianism, because systems like the economy were too complex for any person to grasp, and therefore it was impossible to predict all ramifications of policies. Interestingly, after the 2008 recession, both the Keynesian and Austrian schools of thought experienced a resurgence, since both are touted as the best strategy for the economy, by their respective backers.


Returning to the food supply: during the late 1800s, after the Civil War, the government heavily encouraged farming by subsidizing land; the most famous of these measures was the Homestead Act, which gave people 160 acres of free land west of the Mississippi if they built a farm on it. The subsidy was extremely successful and resulted in populating the West, as well as turning America into the world’s breadbasket. Unfortunately, it also resulted in overproduction of food, which caused a drop in the price of food, which created a class of impoverished farmers that couldn’t sell enough crops to make ends meet.

Rather than let the surplus of farmers work itself out, during the Great Depression in the 1930s, another subsidy was introduced, this time to raise crop prices: the Agricultural Adjustment Act paid farmers to destroy crops and livestock in order to keep food prices from plummeting. Some forty years later in the 1970s, this backfired in a period of drought during which food prices rose, so yet another adjustment was made: instead of limiting the food supply to keep crop prices high so that farmers can make a living, they simply decided to get rid of the farmers. Subsidies for small farms were ended and new tax subsidies on corporate farms were introduced, since they would be big enough to deal with low crop prices. This resulted in the best of both worlds: cheap food and no impoverished farmers.

However, agricultural policy is a lot like a game of Whack-a-mole: one problem gets whacked, and another pops up. The new corporate farms starting producing corn on a scale never seen before, and they needed a way to sell all of it. They started feeding it to cows, making fuel with it in the form of ethanol, and making sugar out of it in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Cows now had high-energy, cheap food, so livestock production rose and hamburgers became cheap. Cheap sugar also meant cheap sodas and cheap desserts. Add in cheap potatoes and the fuel for the rise of fast food becomes obvious. But cheap food didn’t stop at the fast kind: for a few dollars more, you could hire some cooks and waitresses and open a cheap sit-down restaurant. The result: Americans now eat out an average of five times per week, and are rewarded with ridiculously large portions for doing so.


To recap: we solved conquering the West with the Homestead act, which resulted in poor farmers, which we solved by paying some of them not to farm, which resulted in high food prices, which we solved by converting farming into a corporate venture, which resulted in the current obesity epidemic. The average American now eats 1,000 calories a day more than in the 1970s, two out of three people are overweight, and half of those are obese. All thanks to Manifest Destiny, good intentions and lack of willpower.

On the other hand, in spite of what the signs of homeless people will have you believe, we live in the land of milk and honey: every person in the country has access to enough food, be it for free from a food kitchen, inexpensively from grocery stores, McDonald’s or Applebee’s, or for European prices at Whole Foods and Carrabba’s. Take into account the similarly falling price of entertainment — free music, movies, news and series on TV and the Internet — and we have the modern version of the Roman panem et circenses (bread and circuses). Hopefully, it won’t be followed by a future president marching the army on Washington.

The name of the country in which Hunger Games takes place, Panem, comes from "panem et circenses"


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From The New York Times

Diet Sodas Definitely Aren’t Good For You

NPR highlights three studies on diet sodas, none of which do them any favors:

  • A study on how diet sodas relate to metabolic syndrome, which is generally found in fat people and causes heart disease and diabetes. The researchers created three groups and measured how many of them developed the disorder. The first group drank diet sodas and had an awful diet (think McDonald’s all the time). The second group drank diet sodas and were on a healthy diet (fruit, fish, nuts, veggies). The third group didn’t drink sodas at all and were on the healthy diet, too. Metabolic syndrome was highest in the diet soda + bad food group, followed by diet soda + healthy food one, and lowest in the no soda + healthy food collective.
  • A study on how weight change relates to various lifestyle factors, including amount of exercise, of TV watched and various foods eaten, found that diet sodas didn’t affect people’s weight. The study did find out factors that correlated with people losing weight: exercising and eating healthy (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and yogurt). They also found out what factors correlated with people gaining weight: watching TV, drinking, smoking, sleeping too little or too much, and a poor diet (potatoes, potato chips, sugary drinks, processed meat, and red meat).
  • Just to conflict with the one above, another study showed that people who drank diet sodas gained more weight than ones who didn’t.

But no studies showed that there’s anything diet about diet sodas. They either do nothing, or make you fat. What all of this sums up to is diet soda being at best a crutch that doesn’t help your health; more likely though, it’s a crutch that slowly kills you. Just stick to water.


From The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, The New England Journal of Medicine, via NPR and CBS News

More Evidence For The Toxicity Of Sugar

Almost a year ago, The New York Times reported on Dr. Robert Lustig’s theory that the amounts of sugar present in the typical Western diet is toxic, because it causes heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and probably cancer. Since then, it’s been confirmed that sugar consumption does indeed raise the risk of heart disease, and Lustig and his team have begun lobbying that the government regulate sugar like it does alcohol.

The heart of Lustig’s theory is that in nature, sugar is locked away inside fibrous fruit, which makes it impossible for us to eat too many sweets. But in these modern times, through the wonder of technology, we can cheaply extract the sugar like heroin from poppy, then add it to everything under the sun because it tastes good and acts like a preservative: drinks, desserts, bread, sauce, peanut butter, etc, etc, ad nauseam. As a result, the amount of hidden sugar we actually eat is so heavily disguised, that we don’t even notice the raw quantities we eat — quantities that would make us sick in the form of table sugar, and quantities that would be physically impossible to eat solely from fruit.

This past Sunday, 60 Minutes got into the game too, with a segment featuring Dr. Lustig and other scientists, all telling us why they’ve quit eating added sugar:

  • A study at UC Davis showed that within two weeks of eating 25% of their calories in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (which is the same thing as sugar), subjects had increased levels of LDL cholesterol and were are higher risk for plaque in their arteries, as well as heart attacks.
  • A Harvard professor and biochemist explains how eating sugar increases the risk of cancer: a third of common cancers have insulin receptors; eating sugar causes insulin to spike, which in turn is ingested by the receptors on tumors, which fuels the tumors and causes them to grow
  • A neuroscientist shows, via fMRI brain scans, how sugar activates reward centers in the brain in the same way that drugs like alcohol and cocaine do, which makes it very addictive. As with those other drugs, people also develop a tolerance to it, and need more and more to get the same pleasure from eating it.
  • A spokesman for the sugar industry is skeptical, and says the science “is not completely clear”.

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From 60 Minutes, via a vigilant reader

Cadbury Eggs Of Sugar

The method in this xkcd comic makes it really easy to visualize exactly how much sugar is in sweet drinks.


As we’ve seen before, excess sugar — like its cousin, excess alcohol — causes heart disease and probably diabetes and cancer. The movie Supersize Me had a similar visualization in the form of a tub of the 30lbs of sugar Morgan Spurlock ate during the month of filming, but the Cadbury egg is much easier to relate to on a daily basis.


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From xkcd

Scientists Say Sugar Should Be Treated Like Alcohol

In April of 2011, Robert Lustig was featured in a New York Times article as leading the charge that sugar, in the quantities we are consuming it, is toxic. He is a neuroendocrinology professor at UCSF, and his theory is that the amount of fructose we get from the excessive quantities of sugar we eat (sugar is half fructose) wreaks havoc on various systems in our bodies, most notably the cardiovascular and endocrine ones. This in turn is responsible for the Western epidemic of heart disease (the leading cause of death), diabetes (7th leading cause of death) and some cancers (2nd leading cause of death). To bolster his theory, in late 2011, a study verified that eating a lot of sugar causes heart disease even in thin people.

Robert Lustig


A couple of weeks ago, Lustig and two other scientists from UCSF wrote an opinion piece in Nature (paid subscription required — Time has a good synopsis) arguing that sugar is dangerous enough that it should be regulated like alcohol: sale to minors should be curbed, a sin tax should be enacted, and vendors should be licensed for the sale of sugar.

It’s an unfortunate habit that America has gotten into:

  1. Discover something is bad
  2. Ban or regulate it
  3. Problem solved

It definitely worked with the War on Drugs. But consuming half a cup (1/4lb) of sugar a day is also an unfortunate habit America has gotten into it. Of course, turning to the nanny state because we have no sense of personal responsibility is not the answer to kicking that habit. Education, however, is a good answer, and for example, is probably the sole reason smoking rates are half of what they were 50 years ago: no one ever quit because smoking was too expensive, just like no one ever gave up heroin because they ran out of money.

Morgan Spurlock ate over 30lbs of sugar while filming Supersize Me


People quit or cut back because most humans want to live as long as possible; and the ones that don’t care if they die tomorrow, that’s their prerogative as members of a free society. But while their political recommendations may be misguided, the scientists’ hearts are certainly in the right place: sugar is bad news, and it’s time to quit.

And if you’re still on the fence about the science, Lustig has a good hour and a half lecture on YouTube. It’s been viewed 2 million times.

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From Nature, via Time