*Photo by Antoine Hunt
*Photo by Antoine Hunt

Sugar is a simple ingredient in our daily diet but is causing a global health crisis.

It is quite simply, “the elephant in the kitchen”, according to Dr Robert Lustig.

Although its role in obesity and diabetes is huge, we don’t talk about it.

Dr Lustig, a paediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and writer (Fat Chance, The Real Truth About Sugar), was introduced at TEDx as “a fighter for social justice that starts in the kitchen”.

And what he explained really was food for thought.

“Seven-eighths of people with diabetes don’t even know they have it,” said Dr Lustig. We are blind to diabetes until we become blind from diabetes.”

He said: “Medicare (in the US) will be broke by 2026… This healthcare crisis is due to chronic metabolic diseases.”

He said last year the US spent $245 billion on diabetes.

Up to 30 per cent of 240 million adults (72 million) are obese, 57 million of whom are sick with a metabolic dysfunction.

Of the 168 million citizens of normal weight, 67 million also had a metabolic dysfunction. Anyone is vulnerable to Type-2 diabetes.

Dr Lustig said: “The only thing that works is prevention, so what does this mean? This means that we are screwed; we can’t afford this.”

You could not blame obesity on a lack of personal responsibility; it was the result of a wider problem in society.

Dr Lustig said freedom to choose was underpinned by knowledge, access and affordability.

But many of us in western civilization do not have that choice, as we are dependent on processed foods. Many companies deny us the knowledge we need.

Dr Lustig said: “It’s 40 years old now; it’s called the western diet, the processed food diet.”

It has insufficient fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients, but too many trans fats, Omega-6 fatty acids, alcohol and amino acids.

However, sugar “is the big Kahuna which blows the rest out of the water,” said Dr Lustig.

“If you consume one soda a day, your risk of diabetes goes up 29 per cent,” he said.

“Twenty-nine per cent of all the diabetes in the world is due to sugar, and sugar alone.” However, “80 per cent of foods in American grocery stores today are spiked with sugar”.

The American Heart Association advises six to nine teaspoons of sugar a day. But a bowl of Froot Loops cereal and a glass of orange juice for breakfast is 11 teaspoons alone. Dr Lustig called for better food labelling. Food companies fail to disclose all the information. For example, the ‘dietary value’ for sugar is “none”, because “they don’t want you to know how much”.

“Public information is kept secret,” he said.

There is also an issue of affordability when it comes to ‘real food’. “Society can’t afford it”, said Dr Lustig.

“The food industry… they’ve taken your food and your wallet, and your health”.

“What we need is real food. The only way we can solve this is by kicking that elephant out of the kitchen.”