Su­gar, not fat, causes heart at­tacks

Antelope Valley Press - - VALLEY LIFE -

What can we learn from his­tory? Dr. John Yud­kin, Pro­fes­sor of Nu­tri­tion at Queen El­iz­a­beth Col­lege of Lon­don, made head­lines in 1972 when his book was pub­lished, “Pure White and Deadly.” Yud­kin’s re­search con­vinced him it was not fat that caused heart at­tacks, but su­gar. So has his­tory proved him right? And is su­gar the main rea­son for to­day’s epi­demic of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and other health prob­lems?

Damn­ing su­gar ob­vi­ously did not win Yud­kin pop­u­lar­ity with the su­gar in­dus­try. It’s sad that great ef­forts were taken, even by aca­demic col­leagues, to dis­credit his work. In fact, one re­searcher la­beled his stud­ies “science fic­tion.”

But Robert Lustig, pro­fes­sor of en­docrinol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, has hailed Yud­kin’s re­search as “prophetic.” He says that ev­ery­thing Yud­kin wrote was “God’s hon­est truth” and that su­gar should be la­beled as a toxic sub­stance just like to­bacco and al­co­hol.

It was An­cel Keys who claimed his re­search showed that sat­u­rated fat was the ma­jor cul­prit of coro­nary at­tack. This sent the mes­sage that ev­ery­one should eat a low fat diet. And it also pre­sented food com­pa­nies a golden op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide cus­tomers with a host of low fat yo­gurts, desserts and bis­cuits.

But Yud­kin be­lieved there was a greater as­so­ci­a­tion with heart at­tacks by the in­crease in su­gar con­sump­tion in sev­eral coun­tries than in the con­sump­tion of fat. Af­ter all, peo­ple had been eat­ing but­ter for cen­turies with­out see­ing an in­crease in coro­nary artery deaths.

Yud­kin, how­ever, faced a ma­jor prob­lem. His re­search was ob­ser­va­tional, not the hard ev­i­dence of lab­o­ra­tory re­search. So it was not un­til the 1980s that sev­eral dis­cov­er­ies gave cre­dence to Yud­kin’s the­o­ries.

Stud­ies re­vealed that fruc­tose, one of the main car­bo­hy­drates in re­fined su­gar, and present in many prod­ucts, is pri­mar­ily me­tab­o­lized by the liver. And that ex­ces­sive amounts of fruc­tose are con­verted into fat. Glu­cose, the other com­po­nent of su­gar, found in bread and pota­toes, is burned up (me­tab­o­lized) by all cells.

His­tory shows an­other ma­jor trend. In the 18th cen­tury, su­gar was con­sid­ered an ex­pen­sive lux­ury. In fact, so much so that su­gar boxes were pro­vided with a lock and key! As su­gar has be­come af­ford­able, its use has dra­mat­i­cally in­creased over the years.

Two hun­dred-fifty years ago, the Bri­tish con­sumed four pounds of su­gar a year. In 1972 it had in­creased to 50 pounds an­nu­ally. The same is true for the rest of the world. In North Amer­ica, the av­er­age per­son con­sumes about 19.5 tea­spoons of su­gar daily or 66 pounds a year. To­day it’s es­ti­mated that 68 per­cent of pack­aged foods con­tain added su­gar.

Years ago, I la­beled su­gar the “white devil.” The su­gar in­dus­try was again not amused and de­manded the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons dis­ci­pline me. I was re­quired to de­fend my views be­fore the Col­lege, a time con­sum­ing, stress­ful process. But I was not dis­ci­plined.

I have not changed my views about su­gar. Added su­gar has be­come a part of so many prod­ucts that North Amer­i­cans are un­aware of the amount of su­gar they’re con­sum­ing. And ac­cord­ing to Robert Lustig and other nu­tri­tional ex­perts, it has ad­dic­tive qual­i­ties like al­co­hol and to­bacco.

Su­gar also con­tains calo­ries. But su­gar is un­like fiber in ap­ples which has a fill­ing ef­fect. One nor­mally does not de­sire a sec­ond ap­ple. A can of cola loaded with su­gar does not sat­isfy our hunger re­flex.

But as much as I blame su­gar for be­ing a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in nu­tri­tional prob­lems, it’s ex­cess calo­ries of all kinds that are re­spon­si­ble for the epi­demic of obe­sity, Type 2 di­a­betes and coro­nary deaths. Re­mem­ber the Gif­ford-Jones Law that stresses one bad prob­lem leads to an­other and an­other.

In the end, we are all ar­chi­tects of our own follies. Shake­speare was right when he wrote cen­turies ago, “The fault, dear Bru­tus, is not in our stars, but in our­selves.”

So al­though his­tory re­deems Yud­kin’s work over Keys, it’s hu­man na­ture that is guilty. Obe­sity is of­ten self-in­flicted. So I’ve of­ten said, the scale is the an­swer. Step on it ev­ery day. If it keeps go­ing up, re­al­ize you are eat­ing too much of ev­ery­thing. Then get smart.

W. Gif­ford-Jones M.D.

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