Chris Shugart Drops The Hammer
Loading the Ammo
The screenshot above is from the forum of fitness writer Chris Shugart. He recently posted a comment that would strike a chord with anyone who has studied nutrition or dietetics in a formal university setting. Before I get to that, let’s cover some background about why it was said. To state the obvious, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is controversial. My blog post critiquing Dr. Robert Lustig’s fructose lecture brewed up a torrent of discussion. This included a 3-round debate between Lustig & I, which Lustig quite obviously lost. A summary of the action can be seen in this follow-up post.
Just when you think the clamoring over HFCS has hit a crescendo, there’s always another peak. Last March, a Princeton University news release claimed that a study done at their home-turf finally showed that HFCS “prompts considerably more weight gain” than sucrose . However, this study has critical flaws that ultimately render it an interesting, but highly inconclusive piece of animal data. A few of the study’s important limitations are:
- Humans are not rats, especially when it comes to carbohydrate metabolism. The metabolic pathway where carbohydrate is converted to fat within the liver (called de novo lipogenesis, or DNL), is far more efficient in rats than in humans. I discuss this and other physiological differences in my research review.
- Dosing was irrelevant to human conditions. To quote a valid point made in a counter-release by the CRA, “Translating the study’s reported rat intakes to human proportions, the calories gained from high fructose corn syrup would be equivalent to about 3000 kcal/day all from that single source. In comparison, adult humans consume about 2,000 calories per day from all dietary sources.”
- There was no sucrose-fed control group for part of the short-term experiments and no sucrose-fed control group for the entirety of the long-term experiments in male rats. Missing sucrose control groups in the long-term phases of the experiment make it impossible to conclude that HFCS is uniquely lipogenic compared to sucrose.
- Inconsistencies in the results simply do not support the headline of the Princeton press release, nor the implications made by the researchers themselves. For example, in the only set of comparators that actually included a sucrose-fed group in the long-term phase of the study, no significant differences were seen in bodyweight or triglyceride levels. For details about the statistical problems of this study, check out this excellent review by James Krieger.
Bang Goes the Hammer
So what did Shugart say that really set things off? The discussion began after he posted a commentary against HFCS (claiming it’s more harmful than sucrose), which he attempted to support by citing the aforementioned Princeton press release. In response to criticism leveled at the research he cited, Shugart decided to take a stiff jab at the dietetics profession. Click the screenshot below to see one of the most disparaging statements I’ve seen towards dietitians and nutrition students.
It’s given that Registered Dietitians (RDs) are better known for their clinical skills than their work with physique competitors and athletic populations in general. In fact, I’ve done my past share of criticizing RDs as a group for not being current in their knowledge of sports nutrition. The difference is, being a former dietetics student, I saw this gap in the curriculum and responded by providing CDR-approved continuing education courses to RDs in order to help beef up their proficiency. Shugart, on the other hand, is quick to belittle and dismiss RDs, while having a considerably less rigorous education in nutritional science than them.
More importantly, however, he attacked their supposedly corrupt governing body instead of attacking the content of their argument. If it was a discussion about the intellectual or academic honesty of governing bodies, then T-Nation vs. the American Dietetic Association would be a fun comparison. Too bad the discussion was about the comparative metabolic effects of HFCS and sucrose.
Unfortunately for Shugart, a couple of fitness-savvy RDs lurking his forum responded in opposition. One member’s tone was strong enough for Shugart to delete his responses. I personally don’t care how aggressively someone comes off in a debate, but when their valid points get censored, you just have to shake your head. Thus far, Shugart has been unable to logically respond to the contentions put forth by the uncensored RD (and others) in this thread.
I think the moral of the story here is, in any discussion, place your focus on the data presented, not the decorations on the sleeve.
- Bocarsly ME, et al. High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2010 Feb 26. [Epub ahead of print] [Medline]