Gary Taubes presents a case for sugar as the cause of many of the Western World’s chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, cancer and even dementia. He examines the intake of sugar by looking at the history of this much-loved sweetener. His examination includes a look at the views of medical and nutritional sciences. The two branches of science have not always been on the same page. Thus The Case Against Sugar may have readers siding with one view or another.
I began reading The Case Against Sugar as a request. The individual who recommended the book found the information in the book compelling enough to stop eating sugar. Unfortunately, the work by Taubes had the opposite effect on me. I craved sugar.
Taubes begins by defining the different types of sugar. Glucose is sometimes described as the blood sugar of the human body and occurs naturally. Sucrose which is refined white sucrose and one of the culprits in The Case Against Sugar. Fructose which is naturally found in fruits and honey. Then there are combinations of fructose and other sugars resulting in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which many see as the fall guy. Indeed, many of the soft drink companies are introducing products made with cane sugar as opposed to the HFCS. This is in part to counter the backlash against HFCS.
Roughly the first half of The Case Against Sugar is a very interesting history of sugar. This includes sources of sugar, trade and production (mention of the slave trade), legislation and research. Taubes obviously spent time exploring existing work in developing his thesis.
Since my knowledge of sugar was limited and in some cases erroneous, such as the origins, I found the historical sections interesting. For example, I did not know sugar was added to tobacco in the making of cigarettes. Furthermore, I had not contemplated sugar addiction as a side-effect of Prohibition.
Quite a bit of time is spent on contrasting the nutritional and medical fields’ approaches to sugar as a cause of many of the chronic diseases of the Western World. Furthermore, within each respective field, scientists and researchers differed on viewpoints. Some believed the onslaught of modern health problems come from multiple sources. Taubes however posits that sugar is the root of the decline in health which is becoming prevalent whenever an area adopts the dietary habits of the West.
Taubes transitions from past to present as he begins presenting his case against sugar. Insulin resistance is discussed at length. A quick search of my own on insulin resistance led me to this website placed by the U.S. government. Thus, a confirmation of the author that mainstream belief centers on obesity and physical inactivity as the culprits of insulin resistance.
However, The Case Against Sugar does much to outline an opposing view. Taubes presents anecdotal evidence that increased sugar consumption is really the cause of insulin resistance. He cites multiple cases of indigenous populations developing insulin resistance. In each case, sugar instead of physical activity or intake of fats seems to be the one input that does not vary. Then Taubes connects insulin resistance to the many diseases of modern westernization. These include obesity, diabetes, cancer and dementia.
Diabetes and Cancer
The theory also suggests that insulin resistance can start in the womb as sugar crosses the placenta. Since I am familiar with gestational diabetes, I could agree with Taubes’ arguments. A generational change in insulin resistance stemming from prenatal diet seems plausible. Thus the younger generation is predisposed to greater rates of obesity, if strict diets are not followed in pregnancy. Since obesity and Type II diabetes have such a direct correlation, I could accept the direct sugar link.
But, not all of the author’s arguments made sense to me. In fairness, I may not understand all the science. The tie to cancer was hard for me to accept. I still believe cancer is genetic as much as environmental. However, I will concede the possibility of sugar triggering environmental caused cancers.
Link to Dementia
One of the last diseases Taube discusses in respect to a sugar causation is dementia. I have done quite a bit of personal research on this topic. I can see how sugar can indirectly affect some individuals in a way that predisposes them to dementia. For example, large waist lines have a correlation to dementia and I believe sugar contributes to obesity.
However, I believe a great amount of the increase in dementia can be attributed to other causes. First of all we now enjoy a longer lifespan. Most often, dementia does not become apparent until a person reaches their seventies. While women reached an average lifespan of 70 back in 1948, men did not achieve that pinnacle until 1979. Those of you interested in the numbers can click on this link.
Secondly, I believe genetics is a major contributor to this disease. Taubes does discuss genetic dispositions, but he stuck by his theory of sugar causation. He believes the state of dementia will be attained sooner by those with a vascular impairment. He suggests sugar accelerates vascular deterioration.
Taubes ends The Case Against Sugar with the question of how much sugar is allowable. Reading between the lines, I believe his answer would be none. He directly parallels sugar to tobacco. Moderation is not a component.
Many of the ideas posited in this book I fully embrace. I long ago cut colas out of my diet. I quit cold turkey much the way Taubes suggests is needed for all sugar. However, I must side with the opposition. I truly believe in moderation. I think reducing sugar is a better answer. Additionally, I believe other factors are also contributors to the dietary problems of the Western World.
I would love to believe sugar was the single culprit. I know I could cut all sugar out of my diet. Not only have I permanently given up colas, I have gone without all added sugars during Lent. My weakness is dairy. If Taubes is correct, I no longer need to limit my cheese intake and I can revert to whole milk from skim. Unfortunately, I do not believe this is the case.
The Case Against Sugar is worth reading. I learned quite a bit about the history of sugar. The theory of removing all sugar from our diets is interesting. Let me know in the comment section what you think.