Sugar – sweet, sweet (toxic?) sugar

April 18, 2012, 7:39 a.m.

The added sugar found in soda, for example, is the kind of sugar one nutritionist called "toxic." (Credit: Matt/Flickr Creative Commons)

Move over, War on Drugs – it's sugar's turn.

A cursory glance at the typical American diet often evokes a sobering reaction: yikes. Cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes are at epidemic proportions, and those numbers are even more disproportionate in South Los Angeles.

Fast food and a lack of healthy food options have all taken the hotseat as the root causes, and now the L.A. Times is reporting there's a new culprit: sugar.

The average American consumes nearly 20 teaspoons of the sweet stuff every day, and that's added sugar – which means that doesn't account for natural sugar in things like fruits or vegetables.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture listed "added sugars" in their literature on "Foods and Food Components to Reduce," saying added sugars contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories to American diets. Added sugars are added to foods during processing, preparation or before consumption, and are meant to improve the "palatability" of food and drink.

But 20 teaspoons is a whole lot of sugar, especially since that's just an average, and it's been cause for concern for a lot of nutritionists. The Times says UC San Francisco's Robert Lustig is the "de facto" leader of the anti-sugar movement: He's tallied more than 2 million YouTube views for his lecture "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," and recently declared on "60 Minutes" that sugar is "toxic" and has "created a public health crisis."

In other words, Lustig doesn't think it's the innocuous cup of sugar that used to bring neighbors together in the olden days.

Lustig asserts that added sugars, according to the Times, are the primary cause of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors like high blood sugar, high blood pressure and decreased sensitivity to insulin, all of which come with their own negative health outcomes.

Others contest Lustig's claims, saying that the root of the problems with America's diet is multifaceted.

"Sugar isn't a poison," said Joanne Slavin, a professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul to the Times. "Diet is more complicated than any one single villain."

There are a lot of villains in South L.A. diets, and excessive consumption of processed food is one of the biggest of them all. Fast food joints make up nearly 70 percent of the area's eateries, and there aren't a lot of options when it comes to getting fresh produce (with no added sugars).

Photo by Matt via Flickr Creative Commons.

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