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They tried to hang me in 1981

By: Dr. W. Gifford-Jones

 | Mar 14, 2014 - 9:41 AM |
It is about time that health organizations get the message that sugar is a major factor in caloric intake. Supplied photo.

It is about time that health organizations get the message that sugar is a major factor in caloric intake. Supplied photo.

What had I done so wrong 33 years ago? I had written a column about the health hazards of excessive amounts of sugar. The Canadian Sugar Institute asked The College of Physicians and Surgeons to discipline me for making false charges.

It was only after many hours of testimony that democracy prevailed. The College decided that, as a journalist, I had the right to a personal opinion. So is the linking of sugar to heart disease a new idea?

A report in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, claims that those who consume 25 per cent or more of their daily calories from added sugar are three times more likely to die of heart disease.


The Heart and Stroke Foundation is now asking the government to develop guidelines for sugar consumption.

I wonder where they were in 1981. The only support I received then was from readers.

But associating excess sugar to heart disease is not a new idea. Remember, the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. For instance, Dr. John Judkin, formerly Professor of Physiology at London University, London, England, made headlines 42 years ago when he reported that cholesterol was not the cause of coronary heart disease. He was ridiculed by his peers.

Judkin pointed out there was a greater correlation between the intake of sucrose (ordinary sugar) and heart attack. For instance, a study conducted in 15 countries revealed that as the population consumed more sugar there was a dramatic increase in coronary disease.

History is also on Judkin’s side. 100 years ago, coronary heart attack was a rare event. In fact, so rare that Dr. Dudley White, Harvard’s famous cardiologist, remarked that when a case arrived in emergency at the Massachusetts General Hospital, other doctors were alerted so they could witness this disease first-hand.

Long before I was charged by the Canadian Sugar Institute, I warned readers of the potential dangers of consuming too much sugar. I recall being at a medical meeting and having lunch with one of the provincial Ministers of Health. He was unaware that there were 10 teaspoons of sugar in a cola drink. In fact, most people have no idea that this silent ingredient is in many of our daily foods.

Parents often start the sugar binge at breakfast when they give children breakfast cereals that are 50 per cent sugar. I have said, half in jest, it would be safer for these children to eat the box.

Surely it is about time that health organizations get the message that sugar is a major factor in caloric intake. After all, they’re coping with today’s epidemic of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart attack. Their economic cost is staring them in the face. Just how much evidence do they need?

But as much as I have criticized the “white devil” for years, it’s not the only culprit. It’s the total calories consumed that causes these epidemics, so don’t listen to anyone who says calories don’t count. That’s an outright lie.

The average person needs about 1,500 calories a day. The next time you purchase packaged foods look at their calorie count. You will be amazed at how easy it is to eat 1,500 calories. Consider that some sugar-laden cookies contain 200 calories and who eats just one?

We in the West have reached an ironic situation in our so-called civilized development. Millions of people in other parts of the world are dying of malnutrition. North Americans, on the other hand, are slowly, but surely, killing themselves from an overabundance of calorie-laden foods.

Will this trend change? My crystal ball says it would take draconian efforts to do so. Or famine to avert this oncoming caloric train wreck. Multinational food companies are intent on making a profit for shareholders and they will continue to do so by producing tasty time-saving meals, no matter what.

The only solution is to become a smart consumer. Buy a calorie book and start counting, read the labels on packaged foods and step on the scale every day. If it keeps going up you’re doing something wrong. Then ask yourself, “Do I want to develop diabetes or have a heart attack?”

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones (Dr. Ken Walker) has published a weekly medical column in Canada for the past 30 years. Visit his website docgiff.com and send comments to [email protected]. 

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