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Sugar is the ‘alcohol of the child’, yet we let it dominate the breakfast table

By Robert Lustig for The Guardian |


I Quit Sugar - Sugar is the ‘alcohol of the child’, yet we let it dominate the breakfast table

Breakfast is considered by most nutrition experts, including Public Health England, to be the most important meal of the day.

It gets your brain and your metabolism going, and it suppresses the hunger hormone in your stomach so you won’t overeat at lunch.

But in our busy lives, it’s easy to turn to what is quick, cheap, or what you can eat on the go.

Cold cereal. Instant oatmeal. For those die-hard “I’m gonna serve something hot for breakfast” types, it’s microwaveable breakfast sandwiches. Gotta get out the door now? Granola bars. Protein bars. Yoghurt smoothies.

Sadly, as the National Diet and Nutrition Survey found, what you’re really doing is giving your children a huge sugar load while sending them on their way: half of their daily intake on average.

Dietary sugar fries your kids’ liver and brain; just like alcohol.

There’s a reason that the World Health Organization and the United States Department of Agriculture have provided upper limits of sugar – because dietary sugar fries your kids’ liver and brain; just like alcohol.

Alcohol provides calories (7kcal/g), but not nutrition. There’s no biochemical reaction that requires it. When consumed chronically and in high dose, alcohol is toxic, unrelated to its calories or effects on weight.

Not everyone who is exposed gets addicted, but enough do to warrant taxation and restriction of access, especially to children. Clearly, alcohol is not a food – it’s a dangerous drug, because it’s both toxic and abused.

There is no biochemical reaction that requires alcohol. Or fructose.

Dietary sugar is composed of two molecules: glucose and fructose. Fructose, while an energy source (4kcal/g), is otherwise vestigial to humans; again, there is no biochemical reaction that requires it.

But fructose is metabolised in the liver in exactly the same way as alcohol. And that’s why, when consumed chronically and at a high dose, fructose is similarly toxic and abused, unrelated to its calories or effects on weight.

And that’s why our children now get the diseases of alcohol (type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease), without alcohol. Because sugar is the “alcohol of the child”. Also similar to alcohol, sugared beverages are linked to behavioural problems in children.

On average, cereal contains a whopping 12g of sugar, all added, in a typical serving.

In the US, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in 2011 identified 17 breakfast cereals marketed to children in which added sugar constituted more than 50 per cent of calories, and 177 with 40 per cent or more.

Despite the notoriety of that disclosure, the EWG follow-up study in 2014 noted that not one of these breakfast cereals on the top 10 worst list had reduced its sugar content.



Don’t let your child be a loser by succumbing to corporate interests. Make sure they eat a real breakfast of champions.

This article excerpt was originally published in full on The Guardian.

Robert Lustig
Robert Lustig

Robert H. Lustig is an American paediatric endocrinologist. He is Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, where he specialises in neuroendocrinology and childhood obesity.

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