Sugar is toxic and should be regulated, or at the very least taxed, like alcohol and tobacco, argue three leading obesity researchers from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.
In the latest issue of the journal Nature, Robert H. Lustig, Laura A. Schmidt and Claire D. Brindis deem sugar is lethal in high amounts and responsible for diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease, which are traditionally blamed on fat, reported CBS News.
"Look, sugar is pleasure. Sugar is energy. Sugar is natural. Well guess what? So is alcohol, and a little bit is OK, but too much is a bad thing," Dr. Lustig, pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF's School of Medicine, told CBS News.
All added sweeteners—including high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and those in flavored water—are to blame for many life-threatening diseases, says Lustig. "It was never the fat. It's not the fat. It's the sugar."
Impetus for the researchers to conduct the study came from a 2010 United Nations report which revealed for the first time that more people are dying from chronic, non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, than from infectious disease, reported the Huffington Post. "The UN announcement targets tobacco, alcohol and diet as the central risk factors in non-communicable disease," wrote the researchers. "Two of these three—tobacco and alcohol—are regulated by governments to protect public health, leaving one of the primary culprits behind this worldwide health crisis unchecked."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a sugar intake of the equivalent of about a can of soda a day. But Lustig says Americans now consume nearly three times that much, on average. If sugar can't be regulated, it should be taxed, he says. "No one's ready for a $2 dollar can of Coke," Lustig said. "On the other hand, they weren't ready for an $11.90 pack of cigarettes in New York City, either."
Naturally, among Lustig's critics is the Sugar Association, which called his claims "irresponsible" and charged him with "instilling fear" in consumers. The American Beverage Association accused Lustig of drawing conclusions "without scientific merit."
Dr. Lustig first gained notoriety with his popular 2009 lecture "Sugar: The Bitter Truth"—a video that has gone viral with nearly 2 million YouTube views. In the video, Lustig argues that our bodies process fructose similarly to alcohol and other toxins. These empty calories not only contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes—in high doses, sugar consumption can cause several fatal non-communicable conditions, like cardiovascular disease and cancer.