Monday, April 25, 2011

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

Last night, a few friends and I did one of our semi-regular "Movie Nights." We started with Transcendent Man, a documentary about inventor and tech prognosticator Ray Kurzweil. This was interesting, but I would have liked to see more in depth arguments both for and against Kurzweil's singularity thesis, instead of relatively insubstantial sound bites from Kurzweil and his detractors. For example, the documentary could have shown some of the mathematical models Kurzweil uses to make his predictions, and the objections of the critics could have been explained in terms of the particular models he is using.

After the Kurzweil doc, we then watched "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," a youtube video of a presentation given by Robert Lustig about the harmful effects of eating sucrose and fructose. I first learned about this video after reading an article by Gary Taubes in the April 13th issue of the New York Times Magazine. According to Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at University of California San Fransicso, consumption of sucrose and fructose (but not glucose) is behind a lot of the health problems of modern societies, including the increased rates of obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Lustig claims that the harmful effects of sucrose and fructose are due to the way that these molecules are metabolized by the liver, and in his presentation he goes into considerable detail about the biochemistry of sucrose and fructose metabolism. He also presents a lot of compelling evidence linking sugar consumption to chronic ailments such as type II diabetes and heart disease. This aroused considerable interest in my friend Scott Hevner, who teaches biology, and Hadgu Hadgu, who is planning on pursuing a career in public health. I think we were all a bit surprised by how compelling Lustig's presentation was, given the controversial nature of his claims. I for one will be looking for more information about the health effects of sugar, and I have already decided to consume less fructose and sucrose as a preventive measure: even though the jury is still out among experts about the health effects of sugar, there seems to be enough evidence about its ill effects to be cautious.
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