Oddly enough, the fact that sugar is bad for you remains a somewhat controversial fact–so much so that prominent science writers feel compelled to write books to “make their case.”
I’m referring to author Gary Taubes, who published a fascinating book in December of 2016 called The Case Against Sugar. It’s a fascinating read, and a necessary one… sadly.
It’s important to note that Taubes makes his case using existing research on the effects sugar has on health. That means, the knowledge is out there. Taubes isn’t necessarily saying anything new or revealing any new research. He’s simply done us the service of compiling some of the most relevant info on sugar and its effects on health into one place.
Among the more salient points Taubes makes:
- While you and I make acknowledge the clear link between sugar and things like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc… the shocking truth is that the scientific community as a whole is very hesitant to make the same acknowledgement.
- The average American eats roughly 150 pounds of sugar every year. The average American woman weighs 166 pounds (which is too high honestly). The point is, we’re eating almost the equivalent of an adult American female in sugar every year.
- The majority of the sugar we consume isn’t in things like candy bars, donuts, cake or anything else we categorize as “sweets.” The majority of the sugar we consume is woven into processed foods and even deliberately added to seemingly incongruent foods like canned vegetables, loaves of bread, soup or lunch meat.
- Sugar is a major factor in premature death. Simple as that.
Perhaps Taubes most interesting argument is that sugar should be considered a drug, as dangerous and addictive as cocaine or heroin. His point is that sugar is a highly refined substance (like cocaine or heroin) that has far-reaching negative health effects, is highly addictive (like cocaine or heroin) and affects the brain’s pleasure centers (like cocaine or heroin).
The book is lined with interesting historical side-trips. Something not many people (I’m assuming) know about cigarettes is that they would be unsmokable without sugar. When tobacco leaves are dried, they become highly alkaline–which means the body cannot absorb the nicotine from the inhaled smoke. Cigarette manufacturers actually soak their tobacco in a sugar sauce to make it more acidic, and cigarettes are actually very sugary!
It’s really no surprise these two industries would team up.
The politics of sugar
Tauber walks the reader through the sordid political history of the sugar industry–with the interesting side effect of making the reader realize that American politics hasn’t changed in over a Century.
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the sugar lobby was as powerful as the pharmaceutical lobby is today. And the effects of all that power still reverberate into today’s political climate.
The sugar lobby, with government assistance, has unleashed propaganda on the American people for decades. These campaigns of misinformation have convinced us that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” paradoxically even if it consists of donuts or sugary processed cereal or pastries.
They’ve managed to make us believe–very strongly I might add–that it is dietary fat that makes us physically fat. It’s not sugar, it’s fat. They are very good at redirecting attention. Currently, as Tauber points out, that redirection effort is pointed toward artificial sweeteners. The sugar industry is generating scientific research and messaging efforts to convince the American public that artificial sweeteners are incredibly unhealthy (which is true), but their aim is to make their product the only option for satisfying America’s sweet tooth.
After a journey through politics, history and science, Tauber concludes with solid evidence that it is sugar that leads most Americans into the arms of the medical and pharmaceutical industries. He draws a very scientifically-sound line from sugar consumption to diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, hormone disruption, metabolic disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.
It’s unlikely that Tauber’s book will be what breaks sugar’s stranglehold on our society, but it certainly helps. And for me, at least I know what to recommend to patients if they want more information on exactly how and why sugar is so absolutely destructive.