Episode 252: The Bitter Truth About Sugar | Dr. Robert Lustig on Wise Traditions


Dr. Robert Lustig is an endocrinologist, author, and sugar expert.

Dr. Robert Lustig and host Hilda Gore dig into sugar’s detrimental effects on a cellular level, impact on immunity, and tips for smarter grocery shopping.

Host: Hilda Labrada Gore AKA Holistic Hilda (@holistichilda)

Websites: robertlustig.com and Eat Real

“The Fat Chance Cookbook” by Robert Lustig available for free during pandemic

Key takeaways

  • Sugar’s negative effects on the human body are better known today than ever before
  • Sugar addiction is different than traditional addiction because often, we are unaware it’s in the food we’re eating
  •  Fructose drives the main sub-cellular pathologies that cause metabolic diseases 
  • We assume metabolic syndromes are diseases of aging, but they are diseases of diet
  • “If a food comes with a label, it’s a warning label.” – Dr. Robert Lustig
  • “Processed food has to be considered poison at this point.” – Dr. Robert Lustig

Why Sugar Addiction is Different

  • We think we have a weak willpower, but part of the equation is sugar addiction
  • Sugar addiction is different than traditional addiction because often, we are unaware it’s in the food we consume
  • There are 56 names for sugar so the food industry can more easily trick consumers with even the best intentions
  • USDA and FDA allow the food industry to get away with high amounts of added sugar for financial benefit
  •  “Any food that protects the liver and feeds your gut is a healthy food. Any food that does neither, is poison. Any food that does one but not the other is in the middle somewhere.” – Dr. Robert Lustig
  • In processed or pre-packaged foods, most of the time fiber has been removed for shelf life and sugar has been added for palatability
  • Sugar has been added to processed foods but real foods are naturally lower in sugar and higher in fiber 

Glucose vs Fructose

  • Because of the biochemistry of the fructose molecule, sugar is still doing damage even if it’s in moderation
  • Fructose and glucose are the two molecules in dietary sugar
  • Glucose is unsweet, needed by the body, and not as bad as fructose
  • If you don’t consume enough glucose, your body makes it
  • Fructose is the other molecule in sugar which makes sugar addictive
  • There is no biochemical reaction in the body that requires fructose but it stimulates the reward center and keeps you coming back for more
  • Two main toxic side effects of fructose: 1) normal liver turns into a fatty liver driving chronic heart disease and diabetes, and 2) causes Maillard aging reaction by binding to proteins in the body and making proteins less flexible, leading to clogged arteries in heart and Alzheimer’s in the brain
  • Fructose drives aging 7x faster than glucose

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

  • Prior to 1980, if someone had fatty liver disease it was attributed to alcohol
  • In 1980, we began to see non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Today, 20% of children and 45% of adults have NAFLD from sugar
  • Fructose, alcohol, branch chain amino acids, and trans fats are metabolized almost identically in the liver and contribute to the metabolic syndrome
  • Fruits have fiber which limits absorption in GI system so less gets to the liver and more feeds intestinal bacteria

Mechanisms of Fructose Breakdown Contributes to Aging

  • Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of diseases – type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular-lipid problems, NAFLD, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cancer, dementia, etc.
  • At its core, metabolic diseases all have mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Fructose drives sub-cellular pathologies that cause diseases of metabolic syndrome through the following processes:
  1. glycation:  glucose binding to proteins
  2. oxidative stress: hydrogen peroxide released
  3. mitochondrial dysfunction: mitochondria turn the liver into fat
  4. insulin resistance: extra liver fat drives pancreatic insulin secretion
  5. membrane instability: membranes of the cell can break and release contents, causing inflammation
  6. methylation: metabolic processes in the body are dysregulated by methylation of DNA
  7. autophagy: clearing out old senescent cellular debris
  • We assume metabolic syndromes are diseases of aging, but they are diseases of diet
  • Sugar ages cells and changes telomere length which is a marker for biological aging
  • Sugar is also a contributor to wrinkles, cataracts, and cardiovascular disease because it causes decreased flexibility of arteries

Damaging Effects of Sugar on The Immune System

  • Sugar has direct and indirect effects on the immune system
  • The direct effect is mediated through a leaky gut
  • In leaky gut, toxins escape the gut and enter the bloodstream, triggering an immune system reacts which can lead to metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disease, or food allergy
  • Food allergies, autoimmune disease, and metabolic syndrome have all been on the rise the past 50 years
  • We think fructose depletes intestinal cells ATP (cell energy), leading to leaky gut
  • Indirect effects are broad – anything that generates a high insulin level is going to alter the immune system

How Does Sugar Affect COVID-19 Susceptibility?

  • COVID-19 uses the ACE2 receptor as a “door” to enter the body
  • Insulin regulates ACE2 so the higher your insulin goes, the more doors you have for COVID-19 to enter through
  • The most vulnerable populations to COVID-19 are: Black, obese, pre-existing conditions (such as metabolic syndrome)
    • All three categories of people consume higher rates of processed foods  
    • Black people consume 60% more sugar per capita versus Caucasians
  • “Eating right is, unfortunately, a privilege in this country, not a right.” – Dr. Robert Lustig
  • Diet is one of the things that distinguishes social disparity in disease

Grocery Shopping Tips to Avoid Added Sugar

  • Start at the grocery store, buying real foods
  • “If a food comes with a label, it’s a warning label.” – Dr. Robert Lustig
  • Shop around the outside of the grocery store where meats, dairy, and produce are located
  • “Anything on a shelf must be assumed toxic unless proven otherwise.” – Dr. Robert Lustig
  • Best to shop at a farmer’s market

If You Could Do One Thing to Improve Health, What Would It Be?

  • Be a discerning shopper! Read the food label
  • Even though food labels don’t tell the whole story, there is information to glean
  •  “It’s not what’s in food, it’s what’s been done to the food that matters.” – Dr. Robert Lustig
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Notes By Maryann

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