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Monday, August 06, 2018

The Case Against Sugar (2017) by Gary Taubes

Book Review
The Case Against Sugar (2017)
by Gary Taubes

  The problem with arguments based on science is that they require evidence, so if the conclusion you support is resistant to the creation of such evidence, it becomes impossible to establish scientifically. What, then is a writer like Gary Taubes, who has made a best-selling career out of attacking "big sugar" and the substance itself, to do.  In The Case Against Sugar he makes a "prosecutor's case," which allows him to supply both direct (not much) and circumstantial (alot) evidence that sugar is in fact a poison and responsible for a variety of ills ranging from the familiar, diabetes, obesity to less so, cancer, for one.

  In America, feelings about sugar cluster around two poles: those obsessed with it and not in a good way and those who don't care to think about it. People who "don't care" about sugar tend to be obese, people who do care tend to be incredibly annoying.   Either way, it's hard to have a conversation about sugar without using arguments that were developed by "big sugar" to combat the decades long attempt to refashion processed sugar into a type of poison along the lines of cigarettes.

  Whether Taubes is right or not about his scientific suppositions, his chapters about the role that big sugar has had in supporting pro-sugar research and public relations are based on solid evidence, and I found the most enlightening portions of The Case Against Sugar to be those pages where Taubes recounts how various pro-sugar arguments have filtered into the mainstream and are often used- even by people who think sugar is a poison.

  Taubes also is careful to refine his target, not all sweeteners, but specifically refined sugar, and more specifically the use of refined sugar in processed foods and soft drinks.  To use the example of soft drinks, which are probably the biggest single target of the case against sugar, Taubes starts from the point that you can put an incredible amount of processed sugar into a soft drink.

  The amount of sugar in ONE "full strength" soda is equivalent to eating yourself sick on fresh fruit and is worth a thirty five minute run to burn off the calories.  Big sugar has successfully introduced a variety of arguments to mitigate the grotesque amount of sugar added to soft drinks: that sugar calories are the same as other calories and perhaps most nefariously- that diet soda is itself a threat to public health.  For me, the idea that the sugar industry itself was behind attempts to discredit diet soda was a real mind fuck.  Basically, that is the sugar industry targeting it's own biggest client.

    After soda, the next most substantial target is the introduction of sugar into processed foods, which are themselves a huge problem.  It is here that Taubes makes his most difficult arguments, equating the rise of "western diseases" with the rise of processed food, and pointing to sugar as the reason that the rise of processed food has caused the rise in diseases.

   Taubes most substantial argument not tied specifically to a use of sugar is the role that big sugar has played in pinning the rise in "western diseases" on fat, and specifically saturated fat.  This appears to be an argument that has largely been won- with the low fat diets on the decline, and oodles of counter research showing that there is nothing wrong with a diet high in saturated fat, so long as one remains active and not sedentary, etc.

  It's a compelling case in mind, particularly if you actually travel to parts of the "west" where people consume sugared soda.  People there are just fat. Super, duper fat.  You can notice the difference between Los Angeles and Nashville, let alone San Francisco and Iowa. People in one place are fat, people in the other are not.  People in one place drink two liters of coke with their children, people in the other do not.  Maybe that isn't a scientific argument, but it's all the evidence my eyes need to know that it is best not to drink sugared soda, and best to look at the labels of the foods you buy at the grocery store.

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