He is modest, soft-spoken and shy.  Hardly the man you would expect to be in a new movie.  He is also one of the world’s experts on sugar.  He has been studying sugar and its impacts on the human body for more than three decades.  He is Professor Jean-Marc Schwarz of Touro University in Vallejo.  The new movie is called “Sugar-Coated: How the Food Industry Seduced the World, One Spoonful at a Time.”

Professor Schwarz’s research is propelling a new understanding of the harms of sugar.  For forty years dietary fat has been blamed for diabetes and heart attacks, but thanks to Professor Schwarz’s research and that of others, what is becoming clear is that the real culprit is sugar, not fat.  By sugar I mean sugar in all of its forms, white table sugar (sucrose), high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, corn syrup, and even agave nectar.

This is a scientific revolution!

Professor Schwarz has shown that consuming sugary drinks leads to a fatty liver.  The fatty liver becomes insensitive to the hormone insulin.  Insulin is a key hormone in fat and carbohydrate metabolism and the body cannot do without it.  When we are deficient in insulin, we develop diabetes.  The pancreas is the organ charged with making insulin.  When sugar-sweetened beverages cause a liver to fatten and become insulin insensitive, the pancreas goes into overdrive to produce excess insulin to stimulate the insensitive liver.  Eventually, the overworked pancreas poops out.  That’s where the diabetes comes from.  And when you think of diabetes you worry about amputations, kidney dialysis, and loss of vision.

But, no need to despair.  Professor Schwarz has also shown that an overweight person with a fatty liver can reverse the process by abstaining from sugar.  It may take some doing, but it can be done without suffering hunger pangs.

Sugar is now in many processed foods.  We now each consume more than one hundred pounds of sugar each year.  At the time of the Declaration of Independence we each only consumed four pounds per year.  Our livers were simply never meant to deal with such a high sugar diet.

The worst culprit in our diet is sugar-sweetened beverages because a very large dose of sugar gets immediately absorbed and sent to the liver where much of it gets converted to unhealthy fats.  That leads to obesity and fatty liver disease and as explained, ultimately diabetes.  The unhealthy fats also clog up our arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes.  Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and fatty liver disease are all due in part to excess sugar.  We can protect ourselves, and our families by avoiding as much of the sweet stuff as we can.

The easiest dietary substitution to make is tap water or spa water for sugar-sweetened drinks.  Spa water is a mix of tap water and fresh fruits and/or vegetables and spices to add flavor.  Another rule of thumb is to eat your fruits, not to juice them.  Juicing just concentrates the natural sugar and eliminates the healthy fiber.

This may not be the news you were hoping to read this post-holiday season.  Perhaps you loaded up on sweet desserts and sugar sweetened beverages during and after your holiday meals.   No need to panic, remember Professor Schwarz’s research shows that the wheel can spin both ways.  Excess sugar intake fattens the liver and predisposes us to diabetes and heart attacks.  Removing the sugar from our diets decreases the liver fat and makes us less prone to diabetes and heart attacks. This may be just the right time to update your New Year’s Resolution to begin foregoing the sweet desserts and especially the sugar-sweetened beverages.

Our planet earth is unique in that it is covered with water.  Without water, there is no life.  This amazing liquid is truly the life-blood of the planet.  We are mostly made up of water.  For 150,000 years, we humans have satisfied our thirst with water.  It’s what our bodies expect.  Do the right thing for your health.  Satisfy your thirst with water.  It is nature’s beverage of choice.


Ritterman Head shot for TouroDr. Jeff Ritterman, M.D., Assistant Clinical Coordinator, Joint MSPAS/MPH, Touro University