Chocolate frostedComment is Free has published an article by Dr. Aseem Malhotra. Writing on obesity, he states

Professor Robert Lustig has studied the toxic, addictive and appetite-driving properties of sugar on the body, leading to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer…Sugar is the new tobacco…

Really? Hrm. I’ve run into Malhotra before, when he declared that…

It is estimated that diet-related diseases are responsible for 35 million deaths worldwide…

Googling one of the claims in his new article I was reacquainted with this “35 million deaths” claim. Following the publication of Professor Lustig’s article in Nature about the evils of sugar journalists began to blame them on this single macronutrient. Max Pemberton of The Daily Telegraph proclaimed…

According to a startling commentary in the journal Nature, by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, sugar…contribut[es] to around 35 million deaths globally each year.

Alice Smelley of The Daily Mail agreed…

A growing number of American scientists believe the sweet stuff contributes to 35 million deaths worldwide each year.

Fox News was not going to be left out…

…scientists said that sugar consumption tripled worldwide over the past 50 years and now is contributing to 35 million deaths a year.

The same assertion was propounded on the websites of Time, CBN, Shape Magazine, 4th Estate, The Orlando Sentineland the University of California. There was one main problem with it. It was bollocks. Pardon the acidity of that remark but there is no way to sweeten my judgement. If we turn to the first sentence of the Nature article we are told

Last September, the United Nations declared that, for the first time in human history, chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes pose a greater health burden worldwide than do infectious diseases, contributing to 35 million deaths annually.

I am sure that you have grasped what these journalists did not: the “35 million” statistic refers to all deaths from heart disease, cancer and diabetes. These include those caused by genetics, alcohol, tobacco, fat intake, nutritional deficiencies, stress, asbestos and radiation, among other factors. The implication of these journalists’ claim, then, is that someone who died last year after a lifetime of smoking a packet of fags a day could have evaded their demise if they had not been drinking orange juice.

The obvious point to make here is that we are poorly served by our journalistic class. The people who have made and repeated this claim either had reading comprehension that would not earn you an AS Level or failed to read the article that they were referencing. I’m not saying I am perfect but, then, I am neither paid nor widely-read. We should not stand for this miserable laziness.

The other point, however, is that I dislike the vehemence of Malhotra’s rhetoric. To say sugar “leads to” these diseases is a bit like saying that alcohol leads to violence. It depends on the form in which it is consumed. The heavy consumption of refined sugars is damaging, yes, but if you consume sensible amounts in the form of whole foods you are doing yourself good. I hope that a doctor is not claiming fruit is bad to eat.

I am not defending the state of modern diets. The food industry, as Dr Yonni Freedhoff discusses, promotes sickly sweet and nutritionally worthless products and people throughout the West and, increasingly, the world have grown attached to them at the expense of their insides. The problem, though, is not merely with sugar but with processed foods. Demonise the former and I’d fully expect it to be replaced with bad fats and refined starch. This is not to say people should not attempt to reform but that more emphasis should be placed on the positive case for the consumption of nutrient-dense whole foods that are more liable to fill us up; make us feel good; save us money; do the world a favour and reduce the need for people to get so worked up.

About these ads