Thousands of studies spanning many decades show excess sugar damages your health,1 yet the sugar industry successfully buried the evidence and misdirected the public with manipulated science. According to the sugar industry, sugar is a harmless source of energy and may even be an important part of a healthy “balanced” diet. 

Dr. Cristin Kearns, a dentist and fellow at the University of California, made headlines when she published a paper2 detailing the sugar industry’s historical influence on dietary recommendations. Evidence also shows how the sugar industry influenced the scientific agenda of the National Institute of Dental Research (now the National Institute of Dental and Cranial Research), which back in 1971 created a national caries program, downplaying any links between sugar consumption and dental caries.3

The documentary, “Sugar Coated” — which features Kearns, investigative journalist Gary Taubes, author of “The Case Against Sugar,” and Dr. Robert Lustig, a leading expert on sugar metabolism and obesity — investigates the sugar industry’s once secret PR campaign, showing how it normalized excessive consumption by deflecting evidence implicating sugar as a cause of ill health. As noted in the film’s summary:4

“In order to continue sweetening the world’s food supply, thus securing continued profits, the sugar industry turned to the very same deceptions and tactics lifted from the tobacco industry. Using big sugar’s own internal documents on this strategy, ‘Sugar Coated’ reveals the well-oiled tricks of the trade to confuse the public about what is really driving the global pandemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”

Processed Food Is the Primary Source of Added Sugars 

In the past three decades, obesity rates have doubled and Type 2 diabetes has tripled. How did this happen? Evidence implicating sugar has steadily mounted, but as noted by Taubes, definitive proof has remained elusive. The lack of indisputable proof — and the manufactured lack of consensus — is what has kept the sugar industry motoring forward, at each turn deflecting suspicions by pointing out conflicting evidence. 

Fueling uncertainty has been the primary defense strategy that has allowed the sugar industry to thrive while health statistics plummet. “If the evidence gets definitive, they’re done,” Taubes says. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, teaches that sugar — when consumed in the excess amounts we’re consuming today — acts as a metabolic poison. 

Lustig doesn’t really see himself as the “anti-sugar guy,” stressing he’s really anti-processed food. The thing about processed foods is they contain massive amounts of added sugar. Seventy-four percent of packaged foods contain added sugars, which hide under 61 different names, many of which are unfamiliar. Examples include barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, just to name a few. 

Metabolically, however, there’s no difference between these sugars, Lustig says. Even health foods and baby foods can contain shockingly high amounts of processed sugars.5 Take Krave Jerky, for example. A modest size bag (3.5 ounces) of Krave Chili Lime Jerky contains a whopping 39 grams of sugar.6

What Is Moderation? 

Lustig stresses it’s the excessive consumption of sugar that is dangerous, not the sugar in and of itself. But how much is too much? At which point does it become a “poison”? Sugar in “moderation,” he says, would be 6 to 9 teaspoons (25 to 38 grams) of added sugar a day. 

This is about the max that your body can safely and effectively process. Europeans consume, on average, 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The American average is 19.5 teaspoons a day. For historical perspective, in 1812, people ate approximately 9 grams or just over 2 teaspoons of sugar per day.7  

According to a 2014 study,10 percent of Americans consume 25 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of added sugars, and those who consume 21 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar are twice as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who get 7 percent or less of their daily calories from added sugar. 

The risk was nearly tripled among those who consumed 25 percent or more of their calories from sugar. That means at least 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. are in this tripled-risk category.