On May 26, 2009, UCSF Professor Robert Lustig gave a famous lecture on the ‘evils’ of sugar (or fructose and sucrose, to be more precise) and how Coke (Coca-Cola) conspired to increase America’s consumption of it.

The video, posted here on YouTube, now has over 1 million views.  Lustig and his ‘evils’ of sugar theory has recently been thrust in the spotlight again by a NYTimes article titled: Is Sugar Toxic?

Lustig certainly thinks it’s toxic, much like the ethanol in alcoholic beverages.  (He went so far as to call fructose a poison.)  Moreover, when consumed in large amounts, fructose disturbs the body’s ability to regulate weight gain and satiety and thus makes people obese.

He said a study showed that excessive sugar intake even adversely affects a person’s ability to lose weight through exercising.

Lustig blames it for obesity, diabetes, and a whole host of related diseases.  His scientific breakdown of why this is so starts at the 43 minute mark of the YouTube video and ends at the 1 hour 15 minute mark.

He also explained in his lecture how Coke allegedly conspired to get people to consume more of it.

He said the Coke drink contains salt and caffeine, which induce the body to excrete free water and therefore fails to satiate thirst and causes people to drink more. 

Normally, a salty drink like Coke would be repulsive.  However, as any cook knows, sugar masks salt, so Coke puts in a large amount of sugar in its soft drink.

In 1985, the company introduced the “New Coke” formula, which failed in just a few years.  However, it contained more sugar and salt.  Lustig said this was a “smoking gun” in his conspiracy theory and proves Coke knows what it’s doing.

Coke also increased consumption by jacking up the size of their bottles.  The original Coke bottle in 1915 contained only 6.5 ounces of liquid.  Assuming someone consumed 1 bottle per day, it would be equivalent to 8 pounds per year assuming the rate of 3,500 calories per pound.

In 1955, the bottle size was upped to 10 ounces, which translates to 13 pounds per year under the same assumptions.

In 1960, the ubiquitous 12 ounce Coke can was introduced, which translates to 16 pounds per year.

In 1992, the 20 ounce plastic bottle was introduced, which translates to 26 pounds per year.

He also said the supersize fountain drinks, which became available in places like Wawa in 1988, contains 44 ounces and translates to 57 pounds per year.

Coke isn’t the only culprit in Lustig’s speech.

He blames the mistaken study that said fat was responsible for heart problems and the subsequent campaign to cut fat out of diets.  Since the study, Americans have indeed reduced fat intake.  However, heart diseases have gone up and prove the study is wrong, said Lustig.

A byproduct of this fat reduction campaign is actually the introduction of more sugar to the American diet because fat-free products now rely on sugar instead of fat to make their products tasty.

Another big perpetrator is high fructose corn syrup. 

Sucrose (common table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup are not too different when it comes to their impact on the human body. However, fructose corn syrup is “economically” worse because it cost half as much as sucrose, said Lustig.

As a result, more and more processed food now contains fructose corn syrup because it’s so cheap.

In 1915, before food processing was introduced, fructose consumption for the average American was 15 grams per day.  Shortly before WWII, it was 16 to 24 grams.

From 1977 to 1978, it jumped to 37 gram per day, or 8 percent of the total caloric intake.  Incidentally, high fructose corn syrup was introduced to the US in 1975. 

By 1994, fructose intake jumped to 54.7 grams per day, or 10 percent of the caloric intake. 

Today, some adolescents take as much as 72.8 grams per day, or 12.1 percent of their total caloric intake.