Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Case Against Sugar

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes appeared on shelves during interesting times in America.  Some might think that we are a nation already too distracted by political discord to care much about the history of the sugar industry.  Not true.  His central message – sugar is the real villain; do not trust what you are told by or about the sugar industry – is especially well-occasioned.

There are 384 well-researched pages, which recount the abuses, the bully-marketing and manipulations, and the pseudo-science behind this mega-monopoly's death grip on the American food industry.
We are a nation reeling from a loss of trust in our (heretofore) primary sources of reliable data – main stream media, science, education.  There is a now a collective discomfort with received wisdom, which actually offers auspiciously fertile ground for the evidence on the sooty shenanigans of the sugar business.  This book fits hand-in-glove with our nation’s (general) rude awakening.  We are paying attention now, and it is just in time to hear Mr. Taubes preach it. 
The author studied applied physics, aerospace engineering and journalism at Harvard, Stanford and Columbia, respectively.  So, he’s no slouch.  It is also not his only book on why America is getting fatter and fatter. He has applied himself to this topic and his honest interest in it can be seen in his careful attention to chronology and his passionate but evenhanded delivery.  The chemistry of sugar, for those of us who are not “sciencey”, can be off-putting, but Taubes has made it highly approachable and crystal clear without sacrificing any content.  His criticisms are grounded in well-referenced facts and are delivered in non-polarizing language.  Amen, for that.
When marveling over the deceits of the sugar industry, which as Taubes points out are most analogous to the deceits of the tobacco industry, I was reminded of Nassim Taleb’s observations (Black Swan and Anti-Fragile) about the inner circle of experts and policymakers:   
With….. dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, microeconomic papers wrong 40% of the time, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating only 1/5th of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers with a better track record than these policymaking goons.”  Nassim Taleb
I don’t know about you but I wish I had listened to my grandmom’s warnings about sugar. The lies we have been told by our betters and the lies we tell ourselves are thriving still.  This quote from Taubes captures it:
“By specifying energy or caloric content as the instrument through which foods influence body weight, it implies that a calorie of sugar would be no more or less capable of causing obesity, and thus diabetes, than a calorie of broccoli or olive oil or eggs or any other food. By the 1960s, the phrase “a calorie is a calorie” had become a mantra of the nutrition-and-obesity research community, and it was invoked to make just this argument (as it still is).”   Gary Taubes

If you still believe that a calorie is just a calorie – read this book.  You will come away with the right information to fix that common delusion.  Two thumbs up for The Case Against Sugar and for Mr. Taubes, who has delivered the depth and breadth of research needed for a serious do-over.