The Numbers on Sugar

(Uwe Hermann: Flickr)
(Uwe Hermann: Flickr)

Dr. Robert Lustig is perhaps the most outspoken anti-sugar critic out there. His 90 minute video, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, has netted 3.2 million views on YouTube; his latest book Fat Chance, which, among other things, links sugar to obesity and chronic disease, is currently #68 on Amazon's Top 100 bestselling books.

On Monday, Lustig was a guest on KQED's Forum and even though he was fighting a bad cold, he was his usual passionate self on many things related to the American diet, especially sugar. Lustig believes sugar is such a dietary menace that it should be regulated, much the same way alcohol is regulated.

He rattled off a lot of numbers during his discussion with Forum host Michael Krasny.

Nearly one-half cup of sugar per day

"Our current sugar consumption is 22 teaspoons per day, on average ... for all of America," Lustig told Forum's audience. For reference, that's nearly one-half cup. "The American Heart Association put out a scientific statement in 2009 recommending that we reduce that to six teaspoons a day for women and nine teaspoons a day for men."


To follow Lustig's recommendations, that means we would need to cut our sugar intake by two-thirds to three-fourths. How did we get here? Our sugar consumption has been climbing for two decades as cited by this 2010 analysis by the UC Berkeley Center on Weight and Health:

"All lines of evidence consistently support the conclusion that the consumption of sweetened beverages has contributed to the obesity epidemic. It is estimated that sweetened beverages account for at least one-fifth of the weight gained between 1977 and 2007 in the US population. Actions that are successful in reducing sweetened beverage consumption are likely to have a measurable impact on obesity.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to overall sugar consumption, but they are not the only one, Lustig says, pointing out that one-sixth of our sugar consumption comes from sweet things like desserts and ice cream. "But ... one-half of our sugar consumption is coming in foods that we didn't even know had it -- like tomato sauce, like salad dressing, like barbeque sauce." And the list goes on.

Lustig had plenty more to say -- and addressed criticisms of his science. Listen for yourself here: