Is sugar consumption a part of a healthy diet and lifestyle?

Sugar Smarts

Remember the TV show “Get Smart”?

I thought about secret agent Maxwell Smart recently when I came across some comments made by Andrew Briscoe, president and CEO of the Sugar Association. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Sugar Alliance (ASA) last month, Mr. Briscoe said, “The Sugar Association promotes the consumption of sugar as a part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.”

If Mr. Briscoe were Max Smart, he might feel the need to come back with: “Would you believethe Sugar Association promotes the consumption of sugar as part of a HAPPY diet and lifestyle?”

And finally: “Would you believethe Sugar Association promotes the consumption of sugar?”

That one I would believe.

Pretzel logic

If you’re the CEO of an industry advocacy group, your primary function is to sing the praises of your industry from morning to night. But if your industry produces something of questionable value, you might find yourself occasionally putting lipstick on a pig. For Mr. Briscoe, this requires a little twisting of logic.

At the ASA meeting Mr. Briscoe said, “We believe in calories in and calories out. Sugar is not a part of obesity issues.” He added that lack of exercise and increased consumption of calories are the causes of obesity.

He’s absolutely right. But he’s ignoring the elephant in the room: good nutrition.

By Mr. Briscoe’s beautifully simplified logic, if you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll be just fine. So as long as you do your push ups and run a mile every day, you can back up the sugar truck and let it flow. But this completely overlooks the fact that sugar does not supply quality calories compared to calories from fish or fruits or vegetables.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence that sugar intake will contribute to health problems over the long haul.

More than simple addition

Two of sugar’s negative effects on the body are nicely illustrated by a study in the August 2005 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers in Denmark begin by noting that dietary glycemic load has been associated with elevated C-reactive protein (CRP). As most HSI members are aware by now, CRP is an inflammation marker that plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries).

For 10 weeks, more than 40 overweight men and women consumed food and drink supplements that contained either sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Over the study period, those in the sugar group increased sugar intake by more than 150 percent, while sugar intake was decreased by more than 40 percent in the artificial sweetener group.

Contrary to what Mr. Briscoe and the Sugar Association would have us believe, subjects in the sugar group gained more than three pounds (on average), while subjects in the sweetener group lost more than two pounds.

The researchers also measured three inflammatory markers: haptoglobin, transferrin and CRP. In the sugar group these markers increased by 13, 5 and 6 percent respectively. In the sweetener group the markers decreased by 16, 2 and 26 percent respectively. So on average, ALL inflammation markers were reduced by cutting sugar consumption.

Obviously there’s much more to sugar intake than just calories in, calories out.

Keeping it artificial

Solooking for a safe artificial sweetener? Just go to our web site at, choose “HSI e-Alert archives,” and then use keywords to search for these e-Alerts:

“Keep it Sweet” (2/25/03) This e-Alert examines the pros and cons of various sugar substitutes, including sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Nutra-sweet), Xylitol and stevia.

“The Sweet Life” (3/10/03) In a follow up to “Keep it Sweet,” several HSI members offer additional information about artificial sweeteners. This e-Alert also discusses a remarkable herb known as gymnema sylvestre, which is reputed to reduce high blood sugar levels. But this herb has another unusual trait: When it comes into contact with taste buds it blocks the ability to taste sweetness.

“No Link Between Sugar and Obesity – Sugar Group” Reuters Health, 8/10/05,
“Effect of Sucrose on Inflammatory Markers in Overweight Humans” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 82, No. 2, August 2005,