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"Teh Ebil" Sugar

Published 1.4.2017
Gary Taubes has a new book to flog, The Case Against Sugar,and his new villain is sugar, because his previous villain carbohydrates (carbs) proved to be too broad. Too many populations thrive on diets high in unrefined carbs for low carb diets to be required for health or leanness. Much like Ray Cronise, Taubes treatise hinges on excess caloric intake. If you don’t eat more than you expend, sugar is not killing you even if you eat a lot of it. Taubes doesn’t accept that. He seems to believe that sugar in any amount is harmful.

Sugar is sweet and people enjoy it. Mix it was fat, and you’ve got most Christmas treats that Gary the Grinch is telling you to avoid. Taubes is now a Yudkin fan, but so much of that is already known and has been flogged by others, he seems behind the curve. Yudkin wrote the book Pure, White and Deadly Pure, White, and Deadly, and can be considered the father of anti-sugar brigade.
Daniel Engber of The Atlantic reviewed the book. People have been arguing about sugar and whether it’s healthy for a long time. As in back in the 1600s a doctor was warning against too high of a sugar intake.

According to Taubes, and the mostly European researchers whom he champions, these accounts are far too subtle. All of these Western ailments appear to be related to one another, and they’ve followed major changes in our diet. Should we really start with the assumption that this diet happens to contain not one but four or five different toxic substances, and that these toxic substances happen to produce an overlapping pattern of disease? He suggests that we proceed from a simpler premise—namely, that these conditions share one cause.

Taubes thinks the issue can be explained with a single word, sugar. No need to consider the energy balance or the number of calories eaten, just don’t eat sugar.

Taubes’s account leaves out half the story, though, as I guess a prosecutor’s brief is wont to do. Allow me some reluctant words for the defense. It’s true that Keys, Stare, and their associates were taking sugar money, but Yudkin had his own ties to the food industry. According to David Merritt Johns, a Columbia University public-health historian who has studied the sugar/fat dispute, Yudkin took funding from Nestlé and the U.K.’s National Dairy Council, as well as from H. J.  Heinz, Unilever, and other food-related businesses. He was also sponsored by the public-relations arm of the egg industry. On the first page of Pure, White and Deadly, he offers thanks to “the many firms in the food and pharmaceutical industry that for 25 years have given me such constant generous support,” claiming that “for many of them” the results of his research “were often not at all in their interests.” Johns says this sort of coziness with industry appears to have been common in the field.

This reviewer knows the facts, and that Taubes isn’t telling all of them. Popular [not sure that’s the adjective I want there] food types (oils, wheat, eggs, sugar) have marketing behind them, and all people tend to try and use facts and data to their benefit. This does not make them evil, it makes them humans living in a capitalist world.

And the case against sugar was never dropped. People have been droning on about too much sugar for a long time. And yes, they’ve been droning on about saturated fat for as long. The problem with saturated fats comes down to eating animals. If you limit the amount of animal meat you eat, you automatically limit saturated fat. If you skip dairy, you eliminate even more. But people don’t want to eat less meat and dairy.

That’s why guidelines default to "sciencey" words like saturated fat. Because to tell the truth is unpopular. That doesn’t mean be vegan, it does mean don’t have have huge amounts of meat multiple times a day. Although what it actually means is DON’T GET FAT [don’t eat more than you expend] because the body compensates until it cannot. If you eat more than you expend, then you overwhelm the body’s ability to compensate. It’s at that point that things become problematic.

Taubes is a zealot, who the reviewer claims admits his bias explicitly, rather than implicitly as follows:

Taubes asserts that the damage to the diet-soda business had been done. “Artificial sweeteners had been … irrevocably tainted,” he writes. “In the 1980s, when food-industry analysts were predicting a surge in diet-soda sales that failed to last, one explanation was that consumers continued to think of these substances as far more noxious than sugars.”

That’s not at all what happened, though. With the introduction in the early 1980s of Diet Coke—made with aspartame, a better-tasting artificial sweetener—demand for sugar-free soda took off. Bold predictions of the market’s surge were met, and then exceeded. Diet soda’s share of total soda sales climbed steadily throughout the ’80s and ’90s, even through the peak years of the low-fat craze. The market reached its ceiling only in 2007.

The 1980 guidelines were not pro-sugar the way Taubes (and the los carb shills) assert endlessly. No guideline has ever said, “go to town on sugar.” Particularly refined sugar. Sugar consumed in its natural state along with the fiber and other phytonutrients is not generally a problem. Now, if you eat only fruit, you might be able to create a problem for yourself if you body can’t compensate for such an abnormal diet.

Engber isn’t trying to disprove Taubes’ thesis, he’s pointing out the inconsistencies, and noting that it’s not the slam dunk that Taubes presents. The case against sugar can’t be proved, nor can it be disproved. Thus another "Big Tobacco" is born.

Taubes states that all data from all sources should be considered skeptically, however, so should the conclusions of zealots. Taubes does admit that there isn’t evidence to prove his case, just enough to suggest that there is one. I don’t believe for an instant that Taubes knows more than most nutritionists. Nor do I believe that most don’t know that table sugar has fructose. That’s high school chemistry. Nor do I believe that Taubes is an “expert” though certainly he puts himself forth as one.

Engber suggests that Taubes is now an activist with an agenda, I say definitively that he is. Taubes ignores results that don’t support his thesis. I don’t think sugar is the answer. I think too much food is the answer. And yes, avoiding processed foods avoids a lot of sugar— it also avoids a lot of fat (saturated fat) and salt. Taubes apparently doesn’t think salt is a danger, but most salt is consumed as processed food. Avoid processed foods, and most of the problems are avoided.

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