Friday, June 16, 2017

The Case Against Sugar

The Case Against Sugar. Gary Taubes. 2016. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: What if Roald Dahl and Michael Pollan are right, that the taste of sugar on the tongue can be a kind of intoxication? Doesn't it suggest the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy, and can do so when taken by mouth. It doesn't have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to infants it provokes a feeling of pleasure so profound that intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

Premise/plot: Taubes argues in his newest book that sugar--both sucrose and high fructose corn syrup--is the principal cause of several (in fact many) diseases that are most likely to kill us. Taubes' book is a thorough examination of the subject.

Chapters include:
  • Introduction: Why Diabetes?
  • Drug or Food?
  • The First Ten Thousand Years
  • The Marriage of Tobacco and Sugar
  • A Peculiar Evil
  • The Early (Bad) Science
  • The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  • Big Sugar
  • Defending Sugar
  • What They Didn't Know
  • The If/Then Problem: I
  • The If/Then Problem: II
  • How Little Is Still Too Much?
Essentially, he argues against the status quo of nutritionists and scientists, those that would say it's dietary fat that makes you fat. That it is fat and salt in our diets that lead to disease. He argues against the idea that it is overeating and sedentary lifestyles that are making us fat--obese--and leading to more health problems. He carefully examines the evidence, the research. Just because someone claims to back up their claims with "the latest research" doesn't make it legit. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of ways to approach studies for research. Some more reliable than others. The results of studies have to be interpreted. And two people looking at the same set of facts can reach two very different, often contradictory conclusions. Research studies with humans often fail to consider all the factors going on. And animal studies, well, they may prove how mouse or rat biology work, but, don't always correlate well with us. Taubes argues that there is bias involved as well. If your research is funded exclusively by the sugar industry, well....let's just say that the sugar industry has spent decades defending sugar and excels at public relations. (And the sugar industry is not alone.)

Taubes examines both sides in a way. He looks at the research that says dietary fat is to blame and that sugar is harmless. He critiques those studies, those conclusions. He then presents his own views. How does the body digest sugar? What is the effect of sugar on the body? What are the short-term effects? What are the long-term effects? What if scientists have gotten the cause and effect mixed up? What if its sugar which leads to obesity which leads to metabolic syndrome which leads to diabetes which leads to heart disease which leads to this that and the other? What if sugar isn't harmless? Why are people so unwilling to consider the idea that sugar is the culprit? Why are people more willing to give up meat than sugar--to blame fat than sugar? To blame ANYTHING than sugar? Why aren't people asking more questions and looking at things from a common sense approach?

Whether your interest is in history, science, nutrition, or culture, Taubes' book may keep you reading. One thing it is not is a diet book, a how-to-lose-weight-and-be-the-best-you book. I'd describe the book as thorough, well-documented, and logical. It is his attempt to reason with you--with skeptics, with critics, with anyone and everyone who assumes that sugar is harmless and that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.

My thoughts: I'll be honest. I wanted to file this one in the horror genre. Some of the facts are truly horrifying in terms of what it means to human society, to the human race. At times I felt Taubes was a bit pessimistic, abandon hope all ye who have ever eaten sugar.

I'm going to guess that most readers will find his "no amount of sugar is safe to consume" guideline a bit too unrealistic and strict. 

But regardless of whether Taubes motivates you to give up processed foods and sugar, his book is thought-provoking. He gets you thinking about what you're consuming that's for sure.

Diabetes is a subject that I care very deeply about. I think it's a dangerous disease because the dangers--the effects of the disease--are not immediate. It's really easy to think it doesn't really matter if I eat that cookie or not. It's easy to cling to the idea that you'll straighten out your diet tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. That there is always time to get it under control. But the truth is every day counts. That it is serious, that it should be taken seriously. That it can lead to head-to-toe health problems. If you've ever witnessed someone die from complications related to diabetes, you know what I'm talking about.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Susanne said...

My hubby would enjoy this one. He has not had refined sugars for more than a year now and feels totally better. Doesn't get the afternoon slump anymore.