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New Gary Taubes Article: "Is Sugar Toxic?"

NY Times website already has it up today even though it's slated for the Sunday Magazine. nothing new for those of us who have read his books, but thought i'd share anyway...

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/mag...

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  1. So, just like alcohol, sugar can be consumed in moderation without horrible consequences. Who woulda thunk!

    1. what's the story with taubes?

      either way the article is pretty troubling

      1. I read this with interest, and what I came away with was "sugar is bad if you have too much of it, but no one knows how much is too much." So. Not really that helpful.

        1. I came away from reading the article with different takeaways than linguafood and small h. Taubes seems to me to be saying that we don't know if consuming sugar in any amount is OK. And I do think that knowing about the probable sugar-cancer correlation is enlightening. Surely we would want a warning about a possibly toxic food ingredient, even if it might be OK to consume in small amounts.

          9 Replies
          1. re: sueatmo

            Which is a bit curious considering that humans have been eating sugar for 5000 years. Admittedly there people who claim that our diet has gone downhill since our ancestors stopped gathering and started growing grains. 'OK' in this context is a vague concept. Humans have lived to a hundred while eating sugar in 'normal' amounts. Others develop sugar related diseases like diabetes.

            1. re: paulj

              I agree that some can eat sugar in large amounts with no discernible problems. I also suspect that once someone researches a problem, he or she sees everything through the lens of that particular problem. Sort of like the saying about the man with a hammer.

              However, it is obvious that many of us who eat Western diets have obesity and diabetes. This problem has been around for a long time (I had obese grandparents, one of whom had diabetes.) but seems to be worse than before. The scary thing is the occurrence of type II diabetes in a younger population. So, something bad is going on in our diet, exercise patterns. and/or some other as yet unidentified thing.

              In terms of eating sugar for 5000 years, I'd have to take issue with your statement in part. I suppose that our ancient ancestors ate berries, small stone fruits and the occasional wild honey find, but their diets and the diets of subsequent generations until the 19th century were largely not sweet. Which of course made the introduction of refined sugar all the more sweet! (Pun intended.)

              I doubt very much that our present day diet of refined carbohydrates, sweet fruits and sweetened processed foods resembles in almost any respect, the diet of our remote ancestors, or even our ancestors of 200 years ago. The fact that remote peoples do not have Western diseases until they begin eating Western diets also illustrates the problem.

              You don't have to buy all of the generalizations to understand that the kernel of truth is this--too much sugar in our diets is not good for us. What you or I decide to do with that understanding is a personal decision.

              1. re: sueatmo

                "Crystallized sugar was reported 5,000 years ago in the Indus Valley Civilization"
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_cane

                Honey was an important sweetener in European Middle Ages. Beeswax was the preferred material for candles (tallow is not nearly as nice). They like mead, though it wasn't as ubiquitous as ale. British and French colonization of the West Indies was based on sugar cane, as was the triangle of trade with the North American colonies.

                No doubt consumption of sugar (and similar glucose and fructose mixes) has risen in the last century or two.

                ----------
                correction - the Wiki article on sugar, places the crystalized sugar in India in the 5th century AD .

                " The English word "sugar" originates from the Arabic word سكر sukkar, itself derived from Sanskrit शर्करा sharkara. ". The Spanish azucar retains the Arabic article.

                1. re: paulj

                  I been consulting my hazy memory, and I believe that the refining of sugar cane dates to the 18th century. The refining of another sweetener, sorghum, might predate it. American Indians were certainly producing some maple sugar earlier. So, while I agree that sugar has been around for a long, long while, I am positive it did not make up the large portion of most of the population's diet until recently. And that is the problem. Recently type ii diabetes has skyrocketed.

                  Of course humans evolved to enjoy sweet flavors. This preference is supposed to have saved lives, as toxins usually taste bitter. I totally get this. But this isn't any comparison to how we eat now as a culture.

                  I don't understand the quibble you have with this. All you have to do consult your own waistline OR, if you are lucky, the waistlines of your acquaintances and passers by. You can see the problem. If you know people who have diabetes and some of its complications, you can understand the difficulties that disease can bring. Do you imagine that this situation is happenstance?

                  I don't believe that sugar is the only culprit, by the way. I have become convinced that, for people like me, eating a much lower carb diet is best for our health. For years I tried to eat low fat, but I didn't maintain a lower weight doing this. Years of overeating carbs, some of it in the form of sugar, has given me prediabetes. I don't think I am unique.

                  1. re: sueatmo

                    Efficient refining, in the sense of producing a pure white substance is relatively recent (last couple of centuries), but production of a hard raw brown sugar is as low tech as production of maple syrup. Basically squeeze the juice out of the cane, and boil it down. That kind of sugar has the kind of nutrients we associate with molasses, but it is still a highly concentrated from of sucrose.

              2. re: paulj

                I'm sure that humans have not been eating sugar in the same quantities for 5000 years. And you offer no definition of 'normal' nor documentation on the diets of centarians.

                1. re: GH1618

                  It's been a year since I wrote that, but I think I was responding to " we don't know if consuming sugar in any amount is OK", arguing that sugar (and equivalents) has been part of the human diet for a long time. So 'some amount' is ok, at least as ok as any other part of human diets. Some people, now and in the past, clearly do eat too much for their own good, but that doesn't mean that everyone does.

                  I doubt if any one dietary factor determines the longevity of people, whether it be whole grains, yogurt, not alcohol, or no sugar.

                  At the current level of knowledge, 'excessive amounts of sugar' is just as poorly defined as 'normal amounts'.

                  1. re: paulj

                    I noticed after posting that it was old. Other posts in this thread are new as a result of someone restarting it in light of the recent 60 Minutes segment on the subject.

                    But in any case, you are mistaken. The consumption of significant amounts of fructose, either in the form of refined sucrose or HFCS, is a modern phenomenon, as Dr. Lustig has documented.

                    1. re: paulj

                      It was old, but I think what sparked interest in this again was the 60 Minutes show and the fact that the bulk of the interview/You Tube/show was just summarized on Digg yesterday.
                      Interesting topic!
                      :)

                1. re: pitterpatter

                  It is actually a good rebuttal, if overlong in the beginning. I do want to point out that for some of us, sugar is indeed evil. It does evil things to our bodies. For others, not so or not so much. If you or members of your family tend toward overweight and/or obesity, sugar as is normally consumed in our processed food culture, is not your friend. I find it interesting to know that it might also contribute to cancer.

                  I also feel, for what it is worth, that too much sweetness in our foods in general has corrupted our taste, as in what most people expect food to taste like. But this is a personal conviction, and I wouldn't insist too hard if others felt the opposite way.

                  1. re: pitterpatter

                    That wasn't a rebuttal, it was the musings of a cluttered and meandering mind, not to mention flat out dishonest:

                    "The notion that sugar is evil and the only dietary consideration that matters is, in a word, humbug."

                    It sure is. Thing is, neither Taubes nor Lustig have said that sugar is the only dietary consideration that matters. Dishonest and non credible argument known as the Straw Man Fallacy.

                    "Sugar, concentrated into the nectar of flowers, fuels the flight of hummingbirds. It is, in fact, the sole food source of these marvels of both aviation, and metabolic intensity. How evil can hummingbird fuel be?"

                    Just in case you thought Katz might have anything sensible to say... the comments below the article are illuminating, many of them.

                    1. re: mcf

                      I am mistrustful of this guy, but I thought he did a decent job of showing another viewpoint. Too much stuff at the first of the article though.

                      I really don't understand why our own observations, the experiences of family, friends and acquaintances, and our personal experiences don't lead us to believe that Americans are consuming too much sugar, and too many simple carbs. The evidence is right before our eyes.

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        I don't think he is arguing that we (collectively) are eating the right amount of sugars. Rather we should avoid simplistically blaming one substance for the ills of society.

                        The final paragraph is:
                        "As dietary guidance, the vilification of one nutrient at a time has proven as flighty as hummingbirds, propelling us from one version of humbug to another. My advice is to grasp firmly your common sense, and stay grounded."

                        1. re: paulj

                          He was just ranting, there was nothing of use, IMO, in the Katz article. Taubes is nothing if not assiduously researched and completely objective. I'd run, rather than walk, from any doctor who spends his time defending added dietary sugars.

                          1. re: mcf

                            Here's a slightly earlier blog on ONANT 'one nutrient at a time' falacy.
                            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-k...

                            He isn't defending excess sugar. He is advocating an overall healthy diet.

                          2. re: paulj

                            Refresh my memory. Is Katz the guy that has written that eating artificial sweeteners affects out metabolism the same as eating sugar?

                            My common sense tells me that sugar and simple carbs are bad for many people. My observations confirm this.

                            1. re: sueatmo

                              http://www.davidkatzmd.com/admin/arch...
                              is Katz 2004 article on Splenda. He does not claim it affects our metabolism the same as sugar. But it may feed our addiction for sweet things in the same way. As such he says it is no panacea.

                              1. re: paulj

                                He is correct. Splenda is not a panacea. The article I read was in 2010, so it must have been a different Huffington diet doc.

                                I do use Splenda, but I don't really like it. Except in DaVinci s-f syrups. In those, Splenda is divine.

                            2. re: paulj

                              "I don't think he is arguing that we (collectively) are eating the right amount of sugars. Rather we should avoid simplistically blaming one substance for the ills of society."
                              ______
                              It would be a very superficial reading of Taubes' article to interpret it as simplistic or as "blaming [sugar] for all the ills of society." Taubes' article takes pains to note that there is strong evidence that dietary fat intake plays an important role in cardiovascular disease; that much of the research into the subject is in its infancy; that the link to cancer is speculative. Among various other shades of gray fully evident upon a close reading of Taubes' article.

                              This rebuttal was more addressed to the title of Taubes' article than the substance of it (OK - really this is more of a rebuttal of a youtube video of Dr. Lustig, which I have not yet fully watched). The author makes no real substantive points until he's more than halfway through the article, and then doesn't address any of the stronger or more interesting points in the article. His main sticking point where he really thinks he disagrees with the article - that eating fruit, despite its fructose, is a fine part of a healthy diet - would probably not be disputed by Gary Taubes or Dr. Lustig.

                              Most of this rebuttal was just an off-topic rant, and even once it got to the point, it didn't say much.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                When someone takes many paragraphs to talk about background stuff before getting to his main point, red flags go up in my mind. I think you are right--there isn't much of a main point.

                                However, it was a sort of decent summary of why he disagrees. Most of us probably are in at least partial agreement with him, As you said, the cancer link is still unproven.

                                Until proven wrong, I tend to trust Taubes. (You never know about this sort of thing, unless you have true knowledge of the field. I remember trusting Adele Davis many decades ago, and then learning that she fudged a great deal of the supporting research she cited.)

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  Controversy is good. I have my own opinions about both of these guys, but I do know this: I hate sugar. I am a former pastry chef who always disliked sugar, and now I dislike it even more. This is why I weigh the same as when I was in college 40 years ago. I have friends who have a huge problem with sugar, and are constantly on a "diet." I have never been on a "diet' in my entire life. Yes, I know I am lucky, but I weep with my friends who are simply addicted to sugar, an addiction I will never fully understand, but I know it is real for them, and it is hard beyond reason to get them off of this powerful substance.

                                  1. re: pitterpatter

                                    You can be addicted to any simple carb. Sugar is awfully addicting. I've read descriptions of the brain on sugar. Apparently it is similar to the brain on drugs.

                                    If you don't have that problem, then yes, you are lucky. However a little sweetness is a very enjoyable thing. So, there is good and bad in everything.

                                    1. re: sueatmo

                                      Food in general is addicting. A total withdrawal can be painful, even fatal (HT to Katz).