The Bitter Truth About Sugar by Robert Lustig (Full Transcript)

Robert Lustig

Robert H. Lustig, a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), here details and explores the real truths about sugar that you perhaps never heard about much before. We thought it might be useful for our readers. So we decided to do a full transcript on his about 90-minute YouTube video called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”. Hope you find it useful and informative. Please use the “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” slides below while reading this transcript…

The Bitter Truth About Sugar by Robert Lustig Slides (PDF)



I’m going to tell you tonight a story and this story dates that about 30 years. This story has a little bit of something for everybody. It has a little bit of biochemistry, a little bit of clinical research, a little bit of public health, a little bit of politics, a little bit of racial innuendo. The only thing it’s missing is sex. But well, we can see what we can do about that too.

By the end of the story, I hope I will have debunked the last 30 years of nutrition information in America. And I would very much appreciate if at the end of the talk you would tell me whether or not I was successful or not.

Atkins versus Japanese diet

Okay. So in order to get you in the mood as it were, let’s start with a little quiz. What do the Atkins diet and the Japanese diet have in common? Anybody? Well you have the answers right – yes, never mind, that’s right. You have the answer right there.

So the Atkins diet of course is all fat, no carb. The Japanese diet is all carb, no fat. They both work. So what do they share in common? They both eliminate the sugar fructose. With that, think about what it means to be on a diet and what macro-nutrients you are eating and which ones you’re not. And then we’ll go from there and I’ll try to explain how this all works.

So you’ve all heard about the obesity epidemic. Here are the numbers. These are the Anne Haines database body mass index (BMI). Everybody knows what that is now. Histograms marching ever rightward as time has gone on… this was what was projected for 2008 in blue. We had so far exceeded and surpassed this – it’s not even funny – from 2003. The reason I show this is not just to show that the obese or getting obese, or of course that’s true, but in fact, the entire curve has shifted. We all weigh 25 pounds more today than we did 25 years ago, all of us.

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Now it is often said that obesity is the ultimate interaction between genetics and environment. But having said that our genetic pool did not change in the last 30 years. So tonight we’re going to talk about the environment rather than genes.

Obesity epidemic

Now in order to talk about the environment we need to talk about what is obesity, and of course, you’re all familiar with the basic concept of the first law of thermodynamics, which states that the total energy inside a closed system remains constant. Now in human terms, the standard interpretation of this law is the following: If you eat it, you better burn it or you can store it. Now who here believes that? Oh come on, you all do.

I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. I think that’s a mistake. I think that is the biggest mistake and that is the phenomenon I’m going to try to debunk over the course of the next hour, because I think there’s another way to state the law, which is much more relevant and much more to the point. Before I get there, of course, if you believe that these are the two problems: calories in, calories out, two behaviors – gluttony and slough. After all you see anybody on the street, he’s a glutton and slough. You know Tommy Thompson said it on the TV show, “we just eat too damn much”.

Well, you know if that were the case, how do the Japanese do this? Why are they doing bariatric surgery on children at Tokyo Children’s Hospital today? Why are the Chinese? Why are the Koreans? Why are the Australians? I mean, all these countries who have adopted our diet all suffer now from the same problem, and we’re going to get even further in a minute.

There is another way to state this first law. And that is, if you’re going to store it, that is biochemical forces that drive energy storage – we will talk about what they are in a few minutes – and you expect to burn it, that is normal energy expenditure for normal quality of life, because energy expenditure and quality of life are the same thing. Things that make your energy expenditure go up, make you feel good — things that make your energy expenditure go down, like starvation, hypothyroidism, make you feel lousy. And how many calories you burn and how good you feel are synonymous.

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So if you’re going to store it, that is an obligate weight gain set up by a biochemical process and you expect to burn it, that is normal energy expenditure for normal quality of life, then you’re going to have to eat it. And now all of a sudden these two behaviors, gluttony and slough are actually secondary to a biochemical process, which is primary. That’s a different way to think about the process and it also alleviates the obese person from being the perpetrator but rather the victim, which is how obese people really feel, because no one chooses to be obese. Certainly no child chooses to be obese.

Oh, you say, oh yes, sure I know some adults who don’t care. You know Rossini, the famous composer, he retired at age 37 to a lifetime of gastronomic debauchery. Okay, maybe he chose to be obese. But the kids I take care of an obesity clinic do not choose to be obese. In fact, this is the exception that proves the rule. We have an epidemic of obese six-month olds.

Now if you want to say that it’s all about diet and exercise, then you have to explain this to me. So any hypothesis that you want to proffer that explains the obesity epidemic, you’ve got to explain this one too. And this is not just in America, the six-month old obese kids but these are around the world now. So you’re your minds and let’s go and figure out what the real story is.

Calorie intake & leptin

Now let’s talk about calorie intake, because that’s what today is about. We’re going to talk about the energy intake side of the equation. Sure enough we are all eating more now than we did 20 years ago. Teen boys are eating 275 calories more. American adult males are eating 187 calories more per day. American adult females are eating 335 calories more per day. No question. We’re all eating more. Question is why? How come? Because it’s all there, you know what it was there before. We’re all eating more.

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There is a system in our body which you’ve heard about over the last couple of weeks called leptin. It’s a hormone that comes from your fat cell, tells your brain “You know what, I’ve had enough. I don’t need to eat anymore. I am done and I can burn energy properly”. Well, you know what, if you’re eating 187 or 335 calories more today than you were 20 years ago, your leptin ain’t working, because if it were, you wouldn’t be doing it whether the food was there or not.

So there’s something wrong with our biochemical negative feedback system that normally controls energy balance. And we have to figure out what caused it and how to reverse it, and that’s what tonight is about. But nonetheless there are 275 calories we have to account for. So where are they? Are they in the fat? No, they are not in the fat. 5 grams 45 calories out of the 275, nothing. In fact, it’s all in the carbohydrate. 57 grams, 228 calories, we’re all eating more carbohydrate. Now you all know back in 1982, the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association and the US Department of Agriculture admonished us to reduce our total fat consumption from 40% to 30%. Everybody remember that? That’s how Entenmann’s fat-free cakes came into being.

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