- Diet isn't the most important factor in maintaining metabolic health, according to Edward Archer, a physiologist and nutrition scientist. Instead, he asserts in a review published by Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, that lack of physical activity is more significant and that an overemphasis on dieting to be healthy is one reason why sugar has been demonized.
- Archer called this focus "diet-centrism" and said that a variety of groups and individuals set out to vilify sugar over the past 50 years. He stated that obesity and Type 2 diabetes are not related to diet but are metabolic conditions due to overnutrition and complicated by a lack of exercise throughout the generations.
- "It was established nearly a century ago that 'sugar' is the main source of energy for most physiologic processes — from thinking to running," he told NutritionInsight. "Thus, both science and common sense explain why sugar and fat are not metabolically harmful if you exercise regularly. We are not what we eat; our metabolic health is the result of what our bodies do with what we eat and our physical activity is the only major modifiable determinant of our total caloric intake and nutrient-energy partitioning."
For Archer, turning sugar or any other item into public enemy No. 1 doesn't make sense. Many diets gain a lot of their energy from sugar, and there can be no useful dietary recommendations from taking a one-size-fits-all approach, he said. He found that most people have different metabolic controls, and it is shortsighted to take the position that foods such as sugar, which are an essential part of human health, are suddenly responsible for the increasing global prevalence of obesity.
Those findings, however, may not resonate with Americans. Consumers have become increasingly concerned about how much sugar they eat and drink. One-third of Americans link sugar with weight gain, 71% read the sugar content on ingredient labels and 46% strongly want to reduce their consumption of sugar, according to two recent surveys.
Whether sugar is in fact that bad for people seems to depend on whom you ask. Many nutritionists and other medical professionals maintain that it is. Two medical doctors — James J. DiNicolantonio and James H. O’Keefe of the Department of Preventive Cardiology at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in St. Louis — responded critically to Archer's review.
"The truth is you really can't outrun a bad diet, especially when it comes to overconsuming refined sugar," the two wrote in a letter to the editor. "While it's true that exercise may reduce the risk of obesity from overconsuming refined sugar, it doesn't prevent dental cavities, inflammation of the gums, or inflammation that occurs in the intestine, liver and kidneys when the body processes large amounts of sugar."
Even people who prefer to limit sugar in their diet are willing to indulge on occasions when nothing less than a sugary treat will suffice. Some believe that cutting back most of the time and then splurging for certain events or celebrations isn't going to cause any real health problems. This trend has encouraged the development of sugar alternatives and no- and low-sugar products that automatically wear a health halo for those looking to reduce sugar consumption.
More food companies are reformulating recipes and reducing sugar where they can to accommodate the consumers that want to see labels without high sugar, although that's not an easy or cheap process. For some, seeing a product that is low in sugar automatically makes them assume it is a better-for-you product. Archer's findings could help big food brands with higher sugar levels if consumers believe his findings.
But while Archer's position on sugar may play well in some circles — after all, physical activity for optimum health makes sense for many people — it's not likely to convince everyone. People who have gained weight, developed cavities and other problems from excess sugar consumption could be especially reluctant. Chances are people who have already committed to reducing sugar in their diet and have seen positive results will continue to follow that path, interspersed with the occasional indulgence of a sugary treat.