Shedding Light in the Darkness

Sugar Blues Part 3 – How Sugar Fries Your Liver

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“Sugar starts to fry your liver at about 35 pounds per year, just like alcohol would at the same dosage,” reported Dr. Robert Lustig in a Los Angeles Times Opinion piece in March. “This is because fructose — the sweet molecule of sugar — is metabolized in the liver just like alcohol. It’s not because of the calories. Alcohol is not dangerous because it has calories; alcohol is dangerous because it’s alcohol. It’s the same with sugar. And we’re at 100 pounds per year, triple our limit. That is why children now get the diseases of alcohol consumption — type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease — without ever drinking alcohol.”

Dr. Lustig, the author of books like “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease,” has been trying to wake people up to dangers of over consumption of sugar for years. He is a professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, where he directs the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health Program.

In an interview with KQED radio he noted: “Only the liver can metabolize the sweet part of the molecule called fructose, which causes liver fat to build up. We now have an epidemic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that is actually bigger than the obesity epidemic because 33 percent of all adults in America currently have fatty liver: 45 percent of Latinos, 33 percent of Caucasians, 25 percent of African Americans.

“Considering that this phenomenom, non-alcoholic fatty liver, hadn’t even been diagnosed in anyone until 1980, the fact that one third of all America has it right now, that is actually the biggest epidemic. How did the liver fat get there? The answer – sugar.”

As the only organ in the body that can metabolize fructose, instead of generating energy, it ends up generating fat. When your liver generates fat, it becomes insulin-resistant (hepatic insulin-resistance).  So, if you’re eating a high-sugar diet, you’re on a high-fat diet.

As much as the sugar industry tries to downplay research about sugar’s disastrous impact on health, research indicates that – daily sugar-sweetened beverages have been linked with increasing the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, according to a new Tufts University report in the Journal of Hepatology. “Regular sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was associated with greater risk of fatty liver disease,” said study author Jiantao Ma, Ph.D.

A report in the January 2014 issue Today’s Dietitian warned: “Growing evidence suggests that the epidemic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is closely related to the Western dietary pattern and an increased intake of simple sugars, especially fructose.”

A landmark study, reported in Contemporary Pediatrics, that examined the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in 742 autopsy specimens of children who had died of an accident, found that 17% of the children aged 15 to 19 years had the disease.

An alarming Macleans (Canada) 2014 article, “Death By Sugar,”  highlighted how food and drink companies try to dismiss these findings. “The industry is responding to obesity exactly how tobacco responded to concerns about lung cancer,” says New York University dietician Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. “Attack the science, undermine the critics, (pay for) industry-funded studies.”

The same article warns about a possible link between sugar and the rising Alzheimer’s epidemic. “Suzanne de la Monte, professor of neurosurgery at Brown University, suggests that Alzheimer’s might be a form of insulin resistance in the brain—a “Type 3 diabetes,” as she calls it. “You can’t really explain this soaring increase in Alzheimer’s disease on the basis of genes alone,” de la Monte says.”

For more information on what Dr. Lustig has to say about sugar check out his YouTube video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which has more than 5 million views.

“Sugar in excess is a toxin,” he says. “We have to do something about it, or there will be no healthcare.”

After a pertinent comment on this piece, I need to add Lustig is most concerned about processed food and added sugars. He’s not talking about fructose in whole fruits, which is not a problem. But too much fruit juice is an issue.

Here’s a quote: “When you take the fiber away (by juicing) there is nothing to slow the absorption. So you are getting that sugar (load) directly to your liver, the same way Coke does. But when you eat a piece of fruit you are delaying the absorption of that sugar. I have nothing against fruit, because it comes with its inherent fiber, and fiber mitigates the negative effects.”


2 responses to “Sugar Blues Part 3 – How Sugar Fries Your Liver

  1. Orr Katherine July 4, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    Hi Jon, It’s very important to make the distinction between the added sugars in processed foods and the sugars found in whole (unprocessed) fruits and vegetables. Dr. Lustig is talking about the added sugars found in processed foods. In one of his longer lectures (online) he mentioned, in passing, that none of what he was saying applied to whole fruits. Again: none of the damning stuff he was saying about sugar applies to eating whole fruits (100% “whole fruit juice” is still juice, it is not a whole fruit). This distinction between processed foods and whole foods is of key importance because many people, including professional dietitians, have been misled into thinking that fruits are dangerous because of their high fructose content. In fact, fructose is not dangerous when it remains in its original packaging within a whole (unprocessed) food. The key distinction between healthy and unhealthy sugars is found in the word “processed”, just as the key distinction between healthy and unhealthy carbs is found in the word “processed”. Dr. Lustig knows this. So why does he usually (always?) fails to clarify to his audience that processing is the problem, not sugars and carbs, per se. In our culture, most people consume their complex carbs and simple sugars in processed foods, and most of the scientific research is done on isolated ingredients from foods rather than on the whole foods themselves. Bottom line: the problem is the processing, not the complex carbs and simple sugars consumed as/within whole foods. Whole fruits and vegetables are virtually all “high carb” foods (check this out for yourself at ). I point this out to help us let go of the myth that carbs are bad.., what’s bad is eating processed foods containing isolated, added ingredients, which is not the same as eating healthy whole foods. A good resource to learn about what the latest nutritional science says about all this is at
    So by all means lets encourage everyone to cut back on high-sugar processed foods. But let’s continue to emphasize the importance of eating lots of whole fruits and vegetables (which are healthy high-carb UNprocessed foods).


  2. Orr Katherine July 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    PS Rereading my post, I was sorry I didn’t make it more clear that I really appreciate your article. I’m just adding information to help clarify for readers a point where the public tends to remain quite confused. There is so little money to be made in studying whole foods and fresh produce that this arena, although it supports our good health and can reverse chronic disease better than any drugs, gets overlooked.


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