Sugar addiction for dummies


Vox just published a Q&A with Robert Lustig (“famous” for his viral “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” lecture), purporting to lay out the case for treating sugar like a dangerous drug.

The hyperbole about sugar (it’s like cocaine!) has become pretty standard fare by now, not least thanks to films like Fed Up, and the whole fat-loving, carb-bashing brotherhood (now with its first ever physical filter bubble conference).

But Lustig made a couple of points I thought might be handy to keep in mind:

1. Sugar is ‘addictive — weakly so, but addictive nonetheless.’

I had to Google just what ‘weakly addictive’ means, and most of the results lead back to Lustig and sugar, so that’s probably something that he pretty much came up with. But there was also something about heroine being ‘highly addictive’ in there somewhere, so I think weakly addictive counts as good news, no? As in, sugar is not as addictive as heroine? Caffeine is apparently also considered weakly addictive, but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

2. ‘In order to change behavior, there’s two forms: carrots and sticks. Neither work alone. But put carrots and sticks together, that’s when they work.’

So, eat your vegetables. And your wood.

3. ‘Of course [sugar]’s a drug. It’s very simple: a drug is a substance that has effects on the body, and the effects have to be exclusive of calories.

So in order to qualify it as a drug, the negative effects of sugar have to be exclusive of its calories. Is 100 calories of sugar different from, say, 100 calories in broccoli? The answer is absolutely.’

I’m confused by this line of reasoning, but maybe that’s just me.

4. ‘When bananas ripen, they brown. The sugar in the bananas binds to proteins in the bananas nonenzymatically, even in dead tissue. That’s called the cellular aging or Maillard reaction. That happens to everyone all the time, so we brown inside.’

We are all rotting bananas. (Which are actually the best kind of bananas to be).

So there you have it: sugar addiction for dummies. In closing, I’d like to propose the following track by the Notorious MSG to be our theme song. It’s called Dim Sum Girl, and it goes to some pretty dark places (trust me on this: the picture above is taken from this video).

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