Skip to main content

Don't believe everything you hear about 'sugar'

By Andy Briscoe
updated 6:31 PM EST, Tue February 11, 2014
Andy Briscoe, head of the Sugar Association, says the media often confuse natural sugar for high-fructose corn syrup.
Andy Briscoe, head of the Sugar Association, says the media often confuse natural sugar for high-fructose corn syrup.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andy Briscoe says media reports involving natural sugar are often misleading
  • Briscoe contends recent studies linking excess sugar to poor health are inadequate
  • Too often, he argues, headlines confuse sucrose -- or sugar -- with high-fructose corn syrup

Editor's note: Andy Briscoe is the president and CEO of the Sugar Association.

(CNN) -- Just about every time an article about "sugar" is published, I get frustrated because of the effort by some to falsely target sugar.

Although reporters often ask the Sugar Association for scientific facts and data regarding sugar to use in their stories, the information we provide is rarely included. Often, it's completely ignored because it does not support the preconceived focus of their article.

Thus, a tremendous amount of factual, scientifically verified information about all-natural sugar (sucrose) is being left out of today's conversation. And, sugar, the natural version, is too often confused with the more prevalent man-made sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup.

That's misleading for consumers. And it's bad for advancing a real debate about solving the serious problem of obesity in America.

Andy Briscoe
Andy Briscoe

Opinion: The sweet secret that could kill you

I'm talking about a legitimate, credible discussion, supported by government data and independent scientific research, not hysteria and misinformation. Those using inflammatory and baseless phrases like "toxic" are often more concerned with a sound bite to sensationalize an article or TV appearance, and their claims have more to do with boosting their social media following or selling books than resolving genuine issues of public health. Targeting sugar alone is disingenuous, at best.

The most recent example of this trend is a study that appeared in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, and the media storm that ensued, condemning sugar as a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease.

Consider this: The authors of the study itself concede that an observational study like theirs is not proof of cause and effect. The authors fail to note the weakness of the self-reported data they used to estimate intake levels of "added sugar."

This inadequacy is demonstrated by the fact that study participants self-reporting higher levels of physical activity had a greater, not the expected lower, risk of cardiovascular disease. And the study's authors also simplistically lumped together all caloric sweeteners as "added sugar" rather than identifying them individually (more on this in a minute).

Yet that didn't stop headlines like "Sugar tied to fatal heart problems" or "Eating too much sugar may be killing you."

Report: Sugar raises heart concerns
Put down that sugar!
Can Oreos be as addictive as cocaine?

Sugar not only makes you fat, it may make you sick

These headlines -- and many others resulting from the study -- underscore the problem consumers are facing when seeking factual information on health.

Having worked with the U.S. sugar industry for more than a decade, I am becoming more and more dismayed by those habitually providing a megaphone for what "some" folks are saying while barely giving a thought to whether these claims reflect a consensus view that is either prevailing among qualified experts or is scientifically correct.

Although obsessing about sugar as "the" problem in our diets gives headline writers everywhere the chance to grab our attention with provocative puns, it undermines the worth of important work regarding other dietary and health concerns. It takes the focus and resources away from us supporting scientifically verified, proven interventions dealing with obesity.

The fact is that American per capita consumption of real sugar (sucrose) is lower now than it was 40 years ago by approximately one-third (34%). So of all the things we need to worry about in this world, "higher" consumption of sugar is not among them. Because we've been consuming less of it for decades.

And when critics talk about consumption of "sugar-sweetened" or "sugary beverages," they are often inaccurately lumping sugar -- from sugar cane and sugar beets -- with man-made sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup.

Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, for example, are different sweeteners. They are molecularly different. With U.S. Department of Agriculture data showing that more than 90% of the caloric sweetener used in beverages in the United States is such corn syrup, not sugar, how can the media, or anyone, continue to call them "sugar-sweetened beverages"?

So Americans just need to remember: Only sucrose, or sugar, is sugar. Sugar has been consumed safely for centuries and, when consumed in moderation, has been and should continue to be part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. That's a fact.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andy Briscoe.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT