General Fat Guy Stuff

Is Sugar Just the Worst?

I grew up in a family that was pretty anti-sugar.  Growing up in the early 80s, it was all about the ‘good’ cereals like Chex and Grape Nuts, diet sodas like Tab, watered down Orange Juice (well, that maybe more because I used to drink it all so quickly), and desserts saved for special occasions.  We were pretty skinny, even my 30+ year old parents.

These memories were in the back of my mind as I read a book called The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes.  As a scientific journalist for the New York Times, Taubes wrote a controversial piece in 2002 called “What if its All Been a Big Fat Lie?” in which he challenged the conventional wisdom that the solution to the growing obesity epidemic was a low-fat diet.  At the time, the article and surrounding voices helped launch the Atkins revolution as well as other low carbohydrate dieting approaches.

Taubes has written other books regarding nutrition and the failures of nutritional science.  The Case Against Sugar is simply his latest effort, demonstrating a clear, historical correlation between the introduction of industrial sugar production and the rise of documented diabetes and obesity in Western civilization.  He also points to similar correlations that arise when other populations of people switch from their more traditional diet to a diet that looks more ours in the West.

According to Taubes, most people during most time periods since the proliferation of sugar have known that sugar was bad for us.  My mother was not alone!  Not only did sugar make us fat but it also rotted out our teeth!  But we seem adept at fooling ourselves.

 What teenager didn’t kill a box of these in the 90s?


At some point during the late 80s, into the early 90s, we got told that fat was killing us.  Bacon and eggs for breakfast, and butter on our toast, were making us obese and giving us heart attacks.  Nobody drank whole milk anymore, and we replaced our butter with margarine.

Nobody got thinner, though.  Everything got way worse.

We also got told that saccharin was going to give us cancer!  Tab practically disappeared from the face of the earth.  With fat and artificial sweeteners being blackballed, sugar became health-food!  Low fat yogurt and low fat cookies taste terrible, but much better with a little sugar.  And everyone continued to pack on the pounds like crazy!

Sugar is resilient.  Companies tried to replace sugar with high fructose corn syrup, but many people today think that sugar is the healthier option.  Atkins took on sugar hard for a few years, but people couldn’t give up their sugar, and now many people consider low-carb eating a passing fad.

Today, moderation is the name of the game.  Most cling to the idea that whole grains, organic fruits and greens, and grass fed meats are better nutritional options, but that almost anything is fair game, as long as it’s taken in moderation.  Even sugar.

On closer inspection, moderation of sugar may not be so easy.  Once you start eating something sugary, it can be difficult to stop.  The same can be said of sugar’s dietary cousin, refined grains.  Both nutrients are easily and quickly digested in the body, causing the blood sugar to rise so quickly, that it crashes, leading to more hunger.  Before you know it, the entire bag of chips is gone, or that bag of gummy worms.

And if you mean to avoid sugar, you usually run into the problem that sugar is in everything:

  • added to fruit to create jellies and jams that last longer
  • added to bread to make it last longer
  • combined with tobacco to make cigarettes more palatable and easier to ingest
  • makes soap less sticky
  • added to low fat foods to make them edible

All this sugar in the diet adds up, even if your aim is moderation!

Not only is the sugar industry happy to continue to supply all of this sugar, they are at least partly responsible for the damnation of saturated fat in the first place, by funding scientists from Harvard to downplay the role of sugar in heart disease.  Online articles are easier to read than the book I read by Gary Taubes, so here’s a little food for thought:

What’s happened though is that a lot of people still consider a diet high in simple carbohydrates healthier than a diet of saturated fat and cholesterol.  They’ll go for that bowl of cereal with skim milk, even if they’re hungry moments later, and avoid a breakfast of bacon and eggs like the plague, even if that breakfast is far more likely to keep them away from the cabinet for a few more hours.

The result of The Case Against Sugar as well as Taubes’ subsequent work, and the work of similarly-minded activists, does not have to be a complete condemnation of sugar.  The result should be that scientists, nutritionists, and the general population should take a closer look at some very widely held beliefs about what we eat.  It’s difficult to try and convince someone that eating eggs and cheese is okay, because for so long they’ve been told it isn’t.  The question probably should be:  Why do you think those eggs aren’t healthy?

What if the sugar industry paid someone to tell you so?

Buy the book here:

(I receive no cut from it’s sale)


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