By: Kris Sollid, RD Date: 4/3/12
This past week, the boxing world lost a legend, a prolific writer, editor and commentator.
In a sport nicknamed “the sweet science,” it’s only fitting that one of its most colorful characters was named sugar. At the microphone or in print, Bert Sugar was the voice of boxing and was never at a loss for words—or an opinion for that matter. He was a Washington, D.C. native and a fellow University of Maryland Alum, so it’s with great honor that I engage in one of his favorite pastimes (no, not boxing), conversation; and what more appropriate topic than his surname.
Mention the word sugar these days and you’re bound to elicit a quick response—anything from, “Oh, I don’t eat sugar” to “OMG, I love sugar.” Interesting; how one word can generate such polar opposite reactions? Exactly what is it about the ingredient that has people seemingly so divided and so convinced? And what’s driving most perspectives on this issue, science or opinion? And yes, I like to ask questions.
Let’s get the science stuff out of the way first, as opinion sells way more magazines. The prevalence of chronic diseases in our country is concerning and sugar has been labeled as the cause by some. But what does the scientific evidence have to say about sugar’s effect on health? You may be surprised to hear that consensus to date shows inconsistent links between sugar intake and obesity. Additionally, sugar intake does not cause type 2 diabetes nor is it considered an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. You may also be surprised to know that Americans ate about the same amount of total sugars per capita in 2010 (131.9 lbs) as we did in 1990 (132.4).1 Unfortunately, these are not the research studies typically reported in the media, but I get it—science doesn’t sell, it informs.
Still, more research is needed in some areas and many researchers continue to study theories, health relationships and sugar’s potential effects. But science takes time to evolve before anything definitive can be declared. Unfortunately, this premise is directly opposed by the modern age of technology in which we live today—a world where answers are known as “apps” and they’re expected instantaneously. This raises a very important question -- have we lost patience for science? Do we now trust Google more than Galileo? And what unintended consequences may be involved? Watch this video about flavored milk in schools, which illustrates the problems hasty decisions can sometimes cause.
The internet is a powerful tool filled with endless amounts of useful information. But non-peer reviewed misinformed commentary and opinions are returned on Google searches too. Always consider the source—such “studies” don’t appear in PubMed, the USDA Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL), or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) Evidence Analysis Library (EAL).
While science informs, opinions sell. When the two are combined, informed opinion makes for great dialogue and the opportunity to hear unique perspectives, which leads to better understanding of the issue. This also creates a venue in which conversation can begin. A wise colleague once told me that the solution to every problem begins with a conversation. This is where we find ourselves with sugar today. So let’s talk, let’s use science-based evidence to inform our opinions and just like in boxing, let’s reserve judgment until the final bell.
Want to provide your opinion, answer any of my rhetorical questions posed here, or just engage in a conversation on sugars and health? Let’s talk. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.
For more information, visit our Sugars and Health Resource Page
Background on Carbohydrates & Sugars
Questions and Answers about Sugars
Questions and Answers about Fructose
Sweet News about Sugar
Sugars: 10 Facts You May Not Know
Fast Facts about High Fructose Corn Syrup
1 Economic Research Service, USDA. The Economics of Food, Farming, Natural resources, and Rural America. Table 50: U.S. per capita caloric sweeteners deliveries for domestic food and beverage use, by calendar year. 7/25/2011. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Sugar/Data.htm