Another outrageous "expert" comment

For the second time in a week, I find myself flummoxed by the declaration of an "expert," and so I must disclaim again: I'm neither a doctor nor a scientist, but I do read a lot.

This time it's Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto, who blog on eating disorders and nutritional news at In this post, Matsumoto tells us the "truth" about sugar addiction, which is that it doesn't exist.

Matsumoto is a freelance writer who is co-author, with Herrin, of "The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders." And Herrin founded the Dartmouth College Eating Disorders Prevention, Education and Treatment Program, so they would appear to have some cred.

But on this question, their comments (actually, Matsumoto is the only writer, but she invokes Herrin) border on the wacky. Here's the concluding paragraph:

The bottom line is that sugar is not addicting, pure and simple. Yes, you may crave it, but we find that by eating sufficient protein, those cravings will abate. Our Food Plan also recommends regular servings of dessert after dinner, and even lunch. This serves to signal that the meal is over, provides a sense of satisfaction and satiety that protects against bingeing. A balanced meal plan that includes adequate servings of protein, carbs (including sugar), fat, fruits and vegetables, is the best way to normalize eating.

Got that? First, it is "plain and simple" that sugar isn't addictive. Try telling that to Bart Hoebel and his team at Princeton (Ivy League rivalry?), or to Serge Ahmed of the University of Bordeaux in France, who showed that lab animals preferred sweetness to intravenous cocaine piped directly into the brain, by a multiple of more than eight. These are are but two examples of a considerable body of research, so to say it is "plain and simple" is not only absurd but also calls into question the credibility of the whole post, does it not?

Second, Matsumoto appears to conflate sugar with dessert (why not; they're practically the same thing, right?) when she says, in the middle of her explanation, that their food plan recommends dessert because it actually "serves as a signal that the meal is over [and] protects against bingeing." Her implication, if not her words, is: Eat sweets, you'll binge less.

I do concede that Matsumoto is fully committed to her proposition. Earlier in the post, she writes that "staff at eating disorder inpatient and residential programs report an increase in patients whose eating disorder is in part triggered by anxiety over the belief that common ingredients such as sugar are addicting or 'bad' for health, and/or cause weight gain. In this way, fear of 'sugar addiction' is similar to what is called orthorexia nervosa, a fixation with healthy or “righteous” eating." So now, we've taken another impressive step away from the research — sugar's not only not bad for you, but the fear of eating it might be. Breathtaking!  

Matsumoto also writes that individuals who worry that they must avoid sugar at all costs become more anxious, so therefore they shouldn't be told to avoid it. This notion is consistent to what I objected to in Dr. Christine Courbasson's comments earlier this week. To them, the issue is not biochemistry but psychology: Don't say anything that will raise patients' anxiety! To the contrary, I derive peace of mind by not putting the substance into my bloodstream.

Now that I'm near the end of my screed, I'll make one caveat that Matsumoto did not: When I talk about sugar, I'm careful to draw the line between sugar, the naturally occuring substance, and processed/refined sugar. I eat fruit and vegetables, and love the sweetness that develops, say, from roasting. I often eat my veggies first, not our of rectitude but because they taste so sweet. It seems to me that they got a lot of sweeter, relatively speaking, when I removed the intensified processed sugar from my palate.

It's a very important distinction, but as I say, it's not one Matsumoto made. She's in the "pure and simple" category.


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