"Dr. Lustig says they (sugar and high-fructose corn syrup) are both toxic because they both contain fructose." -- Dr. Sanjay Gupta on "60 Minutes."
Yesterday was April Fool's Day, but statements such as that resonated throughout Gupta's "60 Minutes" segment on whether "sugar" was toxic.
Technically, the statement is true because sucrose is an equal mix of glucose and fructose, and standard high-fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose, 42% glucose. By Dr. Robert Lustig's logic, fruit is toxic.
"Since the 1970s, sugar consumption has gone down nearly 40%, but high-fructose corn syrup has more than made up the difference," Dr. Gupta notes.
Given where our health figures were in the 1970s, you might think a radical switch in major sweeteners isn't just a coincidence. If sugar — real sugar — not HFCS, is so toxic, wouldn't we have discovered this a long time ago? Or is it the impact of 30 years of high-fructose corn syrup on our food supply. Unfortunately, Gupta doesn't want to know the answer to that question.
"But as sugar and high-fructose corn syrup became cheaper to refine and produce, we started gorging on them." Uh, Dr. Gupta, sugar isn't as cheap as high-fructose corn syrup because of politics that makes HFCS cheaper and sugar more expensive.
Fortunately, we get to hear from Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist at UC/Davis. Stanhope is doing a 5-year study "which has already shown strong evidence linking excessive high-fructose corn syrup consumption to an increase in risk factors for heart disease and stroke."
"We found that the subjects who consumed high-fructose corn syrup had increased blood levels of LDL cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Stanhope. She pointed out that the changes occur within 2 weeks.
Gupta slips into "60 Minutes" mode at the end where the reporter confronts the person who has done the wrong and grill them on what they've done. Gupta remains consistent to his cluelessness about high-fructose corn syrup and interviews a guy from the sugarcane industry.
We quote again from Dr. Gupta's own words: "Since the 1970s, sugar consumption has gone down nearly 40%, but high-fructose corn syrup has more than made up the difference."
Of course, Gupta can't interview the high-fructose corn syrup people because they need to be protected. Mike Wallace wouldn't have done it this way.
Jim Simon, who is on the board of the Sugar Association, draws Gupta's ire.
"You must have looked at some of these studies. What do you say about that?" -- Gupta
"Science is not completely clear here." -- Simon
"But some of these studies exist." -- Gupta
Some of these studies exist, so others don't exist? And the studies that Gupta cites in the story aren't complete or well-known. And Lustig isn't the most credible guest. Of course, sugar from sugarcane isn't nearly as prevalent in American food as high-fructose corn syrup, even with changes in the marketplace.
Gupta did the story for "60 Minutes" because he is a doctor, but as we've seen, he is more concerned about protecting the status quo than in pursuing the truth. Those consumers who rely on "60 Minutes" and health news are probably more confused than they were before the segment aired.
The segment asks "Is Sugar Toxic?" We don't get the answer to that question. The better question to ask? "Is High-fructose Corn Syrup Toxic?" That is a question for "60 Minutes," as long as Dr. Gupta isn't asking the questions.