Sugar: A Poison?

After hearing one too many times from family members that sugar is poison, I decided to make a list and do some math. This is apparently a common theme for me!

Skittles (2 oz): 43.2 grams
Apple: 19 g
Mango: 46 g
Pear: 17 g
Grapes (1 cup): 15 g
Pineapple (whole fruit): 89 g
Pineapple (1 cup): 16 g
Watermelon (whole fruit): 280 g
Watermelon (wedge): 18 g
Banana: 14 g
Raisins (1.5 oz box): 25 g

Conclusion: If you eat a mango, you’ve just consumed more sugar than is in a bag of Skittles. If candy is poison due to sugar content, so is most fruit.

The LD50 (lethal dose for 50% of the population) of sugar in rats is 29700 mg/kg. Assuming it’s the same in humans (and it is generally similar), the average human of 180 pounds would need to consume more than 5 pounds of sugar without expelling any waste. Even a baby of 20 pounds would need to consume more than half a pound of pure sugar to experience toxicity.

For comparison, the LD50 of Vitamin C is 11900 mg/kg in rats. That’s almost three times as toxic as sugar (using severe rounding). Just 4 ounces would kill most 1 year old children. Adults are more resistant by virtue of weighing more, needing to consume over 2 pounds of Vitamin C to experience toxicity. Side note – chewable Vitamin C tablets are bad for your teeth, because Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and acid is unsurprisingly bad for your teeth.

Conclusion 2: If sugar is poison, so is Vitamin C.

Just for fun, let’s compare arsenic, an actual poison, as well as alcohol, aspirin, and table salt.
Arsenic: LD50: 15 mg/kg in rats, adult of 180 pounds: 0.04 ounces, infant of 20 pounds: 0.0048 ounces
Aspirin: LD50: 200 mg/kg in rats, adult of 180 pounds: 0.57 ounces, infant of 20 pounds: 0.064 ounces
Alcohol: LD50: 7060 mg/kg in rats, adult of 180 pounds: 20.1 ounces, infant of 20 pounds: 2.3 ounces
Salt: LD50: 12357 mg/kg in humans, adult of 180 pounds: 35.2 ounces, infant of 20 pounds: 3.95 ounces

Fun chart:

Salt is way more lethal to rats than to humans, which is interesting.

None of this means that eating candy is necessarily good for you. Eating candy to excess is probably worse for you than eating mangoes to excess, because mangoes obviously contain a lot more than just sugar.

Skittles, and I assume most other candy, are made largely of sucrose. Sucrose is fructose and glucose. Most fruit contains mostly fructose and not an equal amount of glucose, which is why we can make corn into high fructose syrup so easily and cheaply, but you never see high glucose or high sucrose corn syrup. (Yes, corn is pretty much a fruit grain. It’s weird.) You can argue that sucrose is worse than fructose, and you might be right, but then high fructose corn syrup can’t be villainized. Many of those who villainize candy also villainize high fructose corn syrup.

Here’s another side note of an interesting fact found during this research. For poison, Skittles sure are good for kids with hypoglycemia.

It is extremely easy to eat far more candy than you should. This is because nature doesn’t have a lot of foods with high sugar content that are widely available, and none where there is sugar without fiber or vitamins. As a consequence, humans never evolved so we would feel full from sugar. You can feel full from bread really quickly, if it’s the right kind of bread, because it’s full of fiber. You can eat candy all day and never feel full (not that I would know from experience or anything *cough*).

As I see it, here’s how this boils down. If you believe in a loving god, deny evolution, and think sugar is poison, you have to ask yourself some questions. If sugar is bad, why do we have such a taste for it and why is it so prevalent in nature? Why do we, as a species, have literally an insatiable appetite for it?

The fact is, calling sugar a toxin or a poison is a misunderstanding of how bodies and foods work. The simplest way I’ve seen it put yet is as follows:

Eliminating sugars from a diet can’t constitute playing it safe, in that it means getting calories elsewhere—just as the advice to cut out fat in the 1980s is blamed for making people increase their consumption of sugar. Too much fat is bad, too much protein is bad, and too much starch is bad. Everything is good, and everything is bad.

That’s from an article called “Being Happy with Sugar“, and I encourage anyone who thinks sugar is toxic to read it. It goes much more in depth, with much more facts, than I’ve presented here. There are even cute cartoon drawings explaining the differences between sucrose, glucose, and fructose!

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