On Easter morning, my husband and I will watch our three young children tear into their Easter baskets overflowing with small toys and all sorts of delicious, colorful candy. They will have a breakfast of hollow chocolate bunnies, peanut-butter-filled eggs, jelly beans, gummy bears, and, of course, Peeps. This jolt of sugar will help fuel them as they run feral around our backyard competing to find hidden Easter eggs.
This is a cherished once-a-year tradition in our family. Yet to some, my husband and I will be doing nothing less than poisoning our children. One prominent doctor, now supported by the mainstream media, argues that two ingredients in candy, soft drinks, juices, and other much-loved treats — sugar and high-fructose corn syrup — are toxic.
Just in time to ruin everyone’s favorite candy-filled holiday, the Grinches who stole Easter over at 60 Minutes ran a story last week on Americans’ consumption of sugar and asked, “Is sugar toxic?” But 60 Minutes and guest reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta weren’t really interested in examining that question. They’d already accepted the emphatic “yes” provided by Dr. Robert Lustig, a California endocrinologist and a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who has a particular interest in childhood obesity.
In 2008, Lustig delivered a lecture on obesity that blamed sugar consumption not only for obesity, but for a variety of other deadly diseases (the lecture was eventually uploaded on YouTube and has received over 2 million views). Lustig bases his theory on the fact that while sugar consumption is down 40 percent, Americans consume more high-fructose corn syrup than ever before, and this rise in corn-syrup consumption has gone up in conjunction with rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, Lustic believes sugar and corn syrup are the silver bullets — the things killing Americans. In Lustig’s opinion, eradicating these products from our diets will cure cancer, heart disease, type-II diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
60 Minutes usually at least tries to present itself as practicing investigative journalism, but this segment barely allowed time for another point of view. In fact, the nearly 14-minute segment dedicated just one minute and 16 seconds to Louisiana sugar-cane farmer and Sugar Association board member Jim Simon’s perspective, and within that time frame, Simon actually spoke for only 18 seconds.
This is no surprise. The mainstream media has colluded with would-be government regulators for years — scaring the wits out of Americans about everything from tuna fish to eggs, salty snacks, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, milk, soft drinks, ground meat, and even red M&Ms, just to name a few items that have been in the food nannies’ crosshairs over the last decade.
It’s perfectly appropriate, of course, for the medical and research fields to examine sugar and other food items’ impact on the human body. Yet Americans should be warned that Lustig and his allies don’t just want to raise awareness about potential health concerns. They want to solve America’s sugar “problem” through increased government regulation and taxes on sugar, sweeteners, and the food that contains them.
We’ve seen how this government meddling works. In fact, as Gupta reminded his 60 Minutes audience, it wasn’t always sugar that was the bad guy. In the 1970s, fat was the boogeyman, and Congress, led by Senator George McGovern, held multiple hearings on the need for Americans to reduce fat intake. As a result, Congress issued guidelines to the general public and pressured the food industry to reduce fat in their products. Industry complied, and, as one researcher admitted in the 60 Minutes piece, the food tasted “like cardboard.” To improve taste and texture without violating government’s new dictates, food manufacturers increased other ingredients, such as salt and sugar.
Fast forward to today. According to Lustig and many other doctors and researchers, fat was never really the problem. Oops! But don’t worry; sugar has taken fat’s place as the great toxic ingredient.
Before Americans buy into this latest food scare, they should ask themselves: In 20 years, will this “sugar is toxic” narrative be revealed as another scientific oopsie? And just how far are we going to allow government to go in encouraging us to cut out the sweet stuff? How about higher taxes? Or should they just outlaw candy, sugar, and other sweeteners completely?
Reasonable people understand that they need to make food choices all the time, and not every day should be treated like a holiday. Losing weight and living a healthy life have a lot to do with making good food decisions, limiting portion sizes, getting a moderate amount of exercise, and practicing self-control. Yet demonizing one ingredient over another is a recipe for diet disaster — and a pretty boring Easter morning.
— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.