Imagine this scenario... You are sitting on an airplane. It's a 6-hour flight from LA to Boston and you have the window seat, you love the window seat. You have a couple good podcasts queued up and your neck pillow is in place, nothing could go wrong. The woman sitting in the middle seat is relatively small and does not seem particularly interested in the arm rest, jackpot. You close your eyes and listen to the sweet sounds of Tim Ferriss interviewing Dr. Dom D'Agostino about ketosis* and then all of a sudden, you smell something. What is that that smell? Is that, no it can't be. WTF! It is? It's cigarette smoke! Is this lady seriously smoking a cigarette on the plane?
*If you interested in a ketogenic diet and haven't listened to any of these episodes, I highly suggest you do so. Some of the best information on the benefits of ketosis with one the leading experts in ketogenic research. It's podcast bliss.
This could have been the case up until the early 1990's when a federal ban was passed by Congress officially banning inflight smoking (1). That wasn't very long ago. Nirvana was up there smoking on airplanes. If the Fresh Prince of Bel Air smoked cigarettes, he'd be able to do it on an airplane and it would still be possible today if government had not intervened. 20 years earlier, in 1970 Congress banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio. So, after congress banned cigarettes from being advertised because they were so unhealthy it STILL took 20 years for the airlines to get behind it (2). A few years before that, in 1964, the Surgeon General took a definitive stand and published a report regarding the risks and mortally damaging effects of cigarettes. The government took a stand 53 years ago on the dangers of smoking, and since then tobacco usage has greatly decreased and cigarettes have become very unwelcome.
These huge advancements came didn't happen overnight, as you can seer. The first state to begin taxing cigarettes was in 1921 and by 1950 40 states had adopted the same policy (4). Before the 1964 Surgeon General warning people generally viewed cigarette smoke as bad, but didn't truly know what kind of poison they were putting into their bodies. Many scientists argued against it, while some argued for it. It is pretty widely known now that many of those scientists were given unrestricted grants, which is basically just a legal way of saying they bribed them to position the study in a way that would give the cigarette companies the response they wanted to hear. But, once this became too difficult to argue the public relations tactics of tobacco shifted to a "there is no definitive evidence" approach, until the government stepped in and put the official stamp on it.
It seems like lunacy now though. In 2017 CVS doesn't even sell tobacco products at all and many cities, including many of the neighborhoods and surrounding towns of Los Angeles have banned smoking in public. You're a social pariah if you smoke cigarettes in 2017.
Now, let's talk about sugar...
Sugar has been the major topic of date of debate within the nutrition community for several years now. Many scientists and doctors are speaking up to talk about the dangerous and toxic effects that sugar plays in our diets, including Dr. Robert Lustig, a San Francisco based Pediatric Endocrinologist, "Sugars are toxic calories... Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease wasn't even a disease until 1980, and now it affects 35% of all Americans." He understands that this is a touchy subject, "Sugar is celebratory. Sugar is something that we used to enjoy. Now, it basically has coated our tongues. It's turned into a diet staple and it's killing us."
Several countries have enacted a tax on sugar sweetened beverages including several United States localities including San Francisco, Boulder, Philadelphia, Berkeley, Seattle and Cook County, IL.
However, this issue isn't as simple as tobacco. How are you supposed to tell someone what they can and can't eat? And the food industry is taking full advantage of the lack of regulation by hiding sugar in everything. Sugar has around 60 different names they can use on the back of a food label and it doesn't matter if it says sugar, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, honey or agave. Sugar is sugar and it's killing us.
And the worst offender of them all is fruit juice and the entire sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) industry. Now, many fruit juices claim to be "No Sugar Added" but that is still pretty irrelevant considering the fact that fruit juice is entirely sugar. For example, a single 12-ounce glass of orange juice has about 39 grams of sugar in it. The World Health Organization made the recommendation of limiting free sugars to 25 grams per day for significant health benefits (5). A glass of orange juice is 150% of that amount. When you concentrate fruits into juices or fruit candy all you are left with is the sugars. The fiber and much of the nutritional benefit is gone. Not to mention that much of this sugar is fructose, which is extremely damaging to the body. It can only be metabolized by the liver and the liver can only handle limited quantities of it, so when a flood of fructose hits your liver, which is the case with all sugary beverages because the mode of delivery is fast and requires less processing, your liver goes into panic mode and starts pushing it to fat storage or it builds up as fat in the liver. It also has wildly damaging effects to your insulin resistance (6,7,8).
Dr. Robert Lustig isn't the only one talking and this isn't exactly a new movement. Back in 1972 John Yudkin a British Physicist and Nutritionist wrote "Pure, White and Deadly" which detailed all the damaging and toxic effects of sugar that we are discussing today, he wasn't the only one either. It was getting more and more press, and the Sugar Association was fearful of being "legislated into extinction" as one previously confidentiality document mentioned. So, they pooled all their efforts and hired some very prominent Ad men to change the public perception, and they did a pretty good job. So, good that they won the Silver Anvil Award for its PR campaign to counter growing health concerns about sugar. The Silver Anvil is the Oscar Award of the PR world. It's the top award
The other problem was Yudkin wasn't a very charismatic guy, he wasn't a showman. On the other end of the argument was Ancel Keys, a handsome, witty and very charismatic Physiologist from the United States. In 1978 Keys published the Seven Country Study and it would go on to be one of the most influential publications the world has ever seen. It became the basis for much of the world's population. See, Keys was under the school of thought that dietary fats were the problem. He believed that dietary fats, particularly saturated fat was to blame for increases in obesity and chronic disease.
He was also heavily funded by the Sugar Association. The Seven Country Study showed a direct correlation between high levels of dietary fat and increased risk of heart disease. However, what he failed to mention was that he visited 22 countries and cherry picked the 7 that would fit his narrative. When all 22 countries were factored in there was no correlation at all, but the damage was done. The American Government made a recommendation to lower total fat consumption and to limit things like meat, dairy, cheese, eggs, butter, oil and lard on the basis that they had very damaging effects. After this John Yudkin faded into oblivion and his anti-sugar movement died.
But the fight is back on, this time with the power of the internet. We are living in a world with more transparency than ever and the people now have a platform and the audience is growing quickly. But, will it go as far as tobacco did? To ban advertisements and tax products?
Can you imagine the outrage? People would be beside themselves and the Food Industry would launch the largest "government can't control what we eat campaign" and strike dictatorship fear into the eyes of Americans, but at this point sugar causes far more deaths than cigarettes. So, is it time we take a page from the history books?
There are no charismatic showmen backing up sugar and blaming fat this time around either. And with popular diets like Ketogenic, Paleo, Whole 30, focusing on fat consumption and carbohydrate and sugar reduction it doesn't look like the war against sugar is going down this time. The numbers are too big and the internet is too loud and as more and more people get behind this movement, more people will see the incredibly positive impact of a sugar free life.
It' seems like it's time for the Government to step in.
Just like cigarette usage there is no smoking gun, no definitive evidence, because a definitive study of that magnitude in young people would be nearly impossible, not to mention pretty unethical. You would need to sample a large group of people, and have them follow a strict high sugar vs low sugar diet study, follow them for 50 years and then figure out which ones die or get sick. We have enough evidence for the government to say cut back on the sugar, Michelle Obama attempted back in 2008 but the campaign took a sharp pivot after corporate funding got involved. The focus was off of food and on exercise.
Who were her sponsors? Walt Disney, Nestle, Kellogg and General Mills -- to name a few.
We need a conclusive ruling on sugar and one free from big food and sugar industry intervention. They've maintained control of the narrative by paying for the studies and getting the answers they've wanted to hear. The answers that keep them in business.
Two industries who seem to have the same fate. Sugar did a good job fighting them off back in the 1970s and 80s but anti-sugar is back for round two and this time people are listening.
Learn more about sugar and the work being done by Dr. Lustig here with a short Ted Talk He did back in 2013: