Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’ Part 1

a Gary Taubes YouTube video transcribed by Liz Reedy

Note: We originally ran this transcription in our February 2017 edition of Northwest Senior News. Being that we’re reviewing Dr. Fife’s book, Fat Heals Sugar Kills, it seems appropriate to review information from other sources the deals with the issues caused by the over consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates

This is Part 1 of the transcription of the 1 hour 22 minute YouTube video, “The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. He is a well-known science and nutrition writer.

The book that put Taubes on the map was his 2007 Good Calories, Bad Calories. His associatess came to him and said, “Gary, you need to write the concepts in Good Calories, Bad Calories in laymen’s language.” Heeding the call, Taubes wrote Why We Get Fat: And What to do About It in 2010.

Why take the time and trouble to convert the spoken word from a video into the printed text? Some people learn better if the information is in a visual format rather than in an auditory form. The reader can read at his/her own pace and go back to review any information. For those with visual impairments, we certainly encourage you to listen to the video.

Part 1: The transcriptions begins:

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. Since my latest book is called The Case Against Sugar, the first thing you have to know is that I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nutritionist, I don’t have a PhD. I am a journalist. I started my career as an investigative science journalist. I wrote my first two books about physicists and nuclear physicists who discovered nonexistent phenomenon and lived to regret it.

As such, I was obsessed with how hard it is to do science right and how hard it is to get the right answer. One line I quote in three of my books is from the Nobel physicist, Richard Feynman, who said, “The first principle of science is you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

In the early 90’s after my first two books, I had a lot of fans in the physics communities. They said to me, “If you’re interested in bad science or people who do it wrong, you should look at some of the stuff in public health, because it’s terrible.”

So I moved into public health reporting in the early 90’s and I found that my physicist friends had, if anything, underestimated the problem. By the late 90’s I was moving into nutrition, almost purely by chance. I stumbled into the nutrition field.

I did two investigations: one for the Journal of Science on salt and high blood pressure. You know, this idea that salt causes our blood pressure to go up and hypertension. I spent nine months on a single magazine article. I interviewed over eighty subjects and I concluded that the evidence behind this idea that salt causes high blood pressure is terrible. You would only really believe it if your preconception was so strong that you were convinced it was true before any of the studies were done.

While I was doing that story, one of the worst scientists I’d ever had the pleasure to interview took credit for not just getting Americans to eat less salt but also to eat less fat. One of my lessons from my early research was that bad scientists never get the right answer.

When I got off the phone with this guy I called my editor at Science and I said, “When I’m done doing this salt story I’m going to do a fat story. I’ve no idea what the story is.” I was eating a low-fat diet like everyone else in America. But I knew if this guy was involved in any substantive way, there’s a great story there.

I spent a year working on a single magazine article for Science [magazine], a single investigative piece called The Soft Science of Fat. I interviewed about a hundred and forty subjects for one magazine article. I concluded that the evidence behind the low-fat dogma was as bad as it was for the low-salt dogma and that nutritionists didn’t have a clue what they were doing.

This was followed about a year later with an infamous cover story for the New York Times magazine called What if Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat [This title is slightly modified compared to the actual article], in which I started looking at the science of obesity and what makes us accumulate excess fat.

That piece is probably the most controversial magazine article the New York Times ever ran. The cover was a porterhouse steak with a piece of butter on it. The implication was that Robert Atkins’ Diet Revolution was right all along, which was completely unacceptable to the medical community, but was what the evidence seemed to support.

Cover stories like that tend to get the authors large advances. This one did and it paid for four years of my life so I could write the book I always wanted to do about nutrition science. The book of course took five years.

It’s an interesting thing in writing. You do research till you run out of money and then you start borrowing and start writing so you can hand in the manuscripts so they can give you some money; by the time you hand in the manuscript, the money you get pays back the money you borrowed and now you’re broke again. Anyway, I digress. The book that came out of this was Good Calories, Bad Calories.

When I went into this field I thought was going to let the food police have it for giving us all this bad advice about what makes us sick and who make us eat these horribly boring, low-fat, low-salt diets. In the midst of doing more research on the subject than any other human being had done until that time, I realized that there was a very compelling alternative hypothesis.

The problem isn’t the fat in the diet; it’s the carbohydrates, that is, the grains, the starches, and the sugars. And suddenly, in my new books I am even more of the food police than the other food police, and now I can’t go out to eat with anyone in my life. We’re at a restaurant…..they’ll want to order French fries and they’re looking at me like, “Do you mind?”

So, I wrote this book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It’s five hundred pages and has a hundred and sixty pages of end notes and bibliography. It’s a dense read. After I wrote it, I got emails and letters from people saying, “This book changed my life. Could you please write one that’s readable?” Could you write one that my father could read, my son could read. I got emails from doctors saying, “Could you write one that my patients could read.” And I got emails from patients saying, “Could you write one that my doctor could read.”

The result was in 2011 when I published a book called Why Do We Get Fat? and what to do about it. If I had my say it would have just been Why Do We Get Fat because I don’t like to give diet advice, but my editors insisted that if they were going to publish this book I had to give some advice.

I knew this book had succeeded when I got an email from a family friend saying, “I was on a flight to the Caribbean and I read your book. I haven’t had a carbohydrate in three months, I’ve lost thirty pounds, my blood pressure has dropped and I’ve never felt so healthy.”

The problem is I’m blaming obesity and heart disease and the chronic diseases that associate with it on sugar and refined grains. People would say to me, “Well, what about southeast Asia? There’s a continent of billions of people who consume a lot of refined grains and don’t have high levels of obesity and diabetes.”

The obvious answer to that is this is a population that doesn’t eat a lot of sugar, even though sugar refining was pioneered in China two thousand years ago. Because of the communist era, they never modernized their sugar refining processes. By the middle or late twentieth century they were consuming the amount of sugar we were consuming two hundred years earlier.

In Japan, which is always raised as an example, even back in the 1920’s when there were public health authorities arguing that sugar caused diabetes, the counter-argument from Elliot Joslin, who was the leading diabetes clinician in America, was “Well the Japanese eat a high carb diet, and they have very little of diabetes.” Joslin didn’t realize that sugar and other carbohydrates were different.

As I learned in my research, in the 1960s the Japanese consumed about as much sugar as we did in the 1860s. They had diabetes rates similar to what ours were in the 1860s.

Along the way in this research I’ve written some more articles for the Journal of Science about the mechanism of the condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the cells of your body become resistant to the hormone insulin. It’s the fundamental defect in type 2 diabetes, which is the common form that associates with obesity.

Insulin resistance is believed by the researchers who study it to actually begin in the liver, in part with fat accumulation. It associates with what is now called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which is also epidemic in America just like diabetes is.

As it turns out, the sugar molecule or high-fructose corn syrup is half a molecule of glucose and half a molecule of fructose. It’s fructose that makes it sweet. Fructose is fruit sugar; it is what makes fruit sweet, but in fruit you get it in very low doses. When we refine sugar cane or sugar beets or corn into high-fructose corn syrup we basically take out everything but the glucose and the fructose. Then we put it into sugary beverages and so on, making it very easy to consume.

The idea is that this fructose gets dumped on your liver and a lot of it gets converted to fat. If it gets converted to fat, it’s going to cause insulin resistance. You basically have this scenario that I described in the book, where there’s a mechanism with sugar that you’d expect it to cause insulin resistance. If it causes insulin resistance, then you would expect it to cause diabetes and obesity. And if it increases those, then you would expect it to increase the risk of these chronic diseases that are associated with obesity and diabetes.

There’s this whole cluster of chronic diseases that are often referred to as diseases of western life styles. These include heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, gout, arthritis and half a dozen others. Even cavities. Cavities are crucial. Dental care is crucial. Back in the 1960s people were saying since all these diseases cluster together and the first signs were cavities.

If you took a native population eating its traditional diet and you give them a western diet, on the way to becoming obese and diabetic, the first thing you’ll see is cavities occurring in the children. Doesn’t it make sense that whatever it is that causes the cavities also causes the obesity and diabetes. It’s a simple hypothesis, what is causing the cavities is sugar and white flour.

What I wanted to do with this book was to lay out this train of possible cause and effect. We have this conventional thinking in the field that the worst that can be said about sugar is its empty calories. It’s absent of vitamins and minerals and it just adds calories to the diet.

When you consume sugary beverages maybe you consume it over and above from what you would need from the rest of the diet and that’s what makes you fat. And to me that’s an excruciatingly naïve way to look at some extraordinarily complex physiological phenomenon. I wanted to lay this out in the book, and that’s what I’m doing.

There’s one underlying theme in all my books. It’s one of the things I realized in doing my research that I had no idea about. My books, including my first two on physics and nuclear physics, were about good science and bad science.

One of the things I learned in writing my first book on nutrition is that prior to World War II, the very best scientific research in the world was done in Europe. Science was in effect a European invention and all the fields of medical science that relate to obesity and diabetes were pioneered in Europe, in Germany and Austria. [Taubes names the various fields.] Genetics, metabolism, nutrition, endocrinology, the science of hormones and hormone related diseases… Stop at 12:51.

Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’ Part 5

Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’ Part 5

Transcription of Gary Taubes’ YouTube video, The Case Against Sugar, by Elizabeth Reedy

Key takeaways from Part 4

  • Sugar is like a drug that shows no immediate side effects.
  • Taubes made several references to the connection between consuming sugar and pleasure with this telling statement: . . . once the drug became identified with pleasure, how long before it would be used to celebrate birthdays, a soccer game, good grades in school?
  • As sugar became more available in Europe, it was added to all sorts of concoctions. Later in the U.S., sugar was added to the original Coca-Cola formula to mask the bitterness of cocaine and caffeine.

Begin at 49:31

The removal of cocaine in the first years of the 20th century seemed to have little influence on Coca-Cola’s ability to become, as one journalist described it later, “The sublimated essence of all that America stands for, the single most widely distributed product on the planet and the second most recognizable word on the earth, with okay being the first.”

It’s not a coincidence that John Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola, had a morphine addiction that he’d acquired after being wounded in the Civil War. Coca-Cola is one of several patented medicines he invented to help wean him off of the harder drug. [Quoting Pemberton] “Like Coca, Kola enables its partakers to undergo long fast and fatigue,” read one article in 1884. “Two drugs, so closely related in their psychological properties cannot fail to command early universal attention.”

As for tobacco, sugar was and still is a critical ingredient in the American blended-tobacco cigarette, the first of which was Camel, introduced by R. J. Reynolds in 1913. It’s this “marriage of tobacco and sugar,” as a sugar-industry report described it in 1950, that makes for the “mild” experience of smoking cigarettes as compared with cigars and, perhaps more important, makes it possible for most of us to inhale cigarette smoke and draw it deep into our lungs.

It’s the “inhalibility” of American blended cigarettes that made them so powerfully addictive—as well as so potently carcinogenic—and that drove the explosion in cigarette smoking in the U.S.  and Europe in the first half of the 20th century, and the rest of the world shortly thereafter, and, of course, the lung-cancer epidemics that have accompanied it.

Here’s an interesting story. About fifteen years ago I read a book called Sugar Blues. Do any of you remember that? William Dufty, Gloria Swanson’s husband, wrote this book. In this book he talks about sugar and tobacco, and about how the sugar in the tobacco leaves is critical to the success of the American cigarette.

For years after that, I tried to confirm that story and I just couldn’t find any evidence to do it. Two things happened. The internet grew and grew, and more and more sources of evidence got scanned into the computer, and you could search through them.

I had gotten a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to write this book on sugar, and part of the grant was to uncover what was the sugar industry’s influence on science in the 70s. I could feel it in the research that in the same way they discover planets by seeing the influence of another planet.

Also, back in 2011 I was lecturing at a bookstore in Denver. I had done nothing on the book, I had completely stalled. I had started my not-for-profit instead. After the lecture, this woman, Kristen Kerns, comes up to me and she says she’s a dentist there in Denver. She works in a lower-class clinic, and she deals with diabetics with terrible teeth all day long.

She read my book Good Calories, Bad Calories, and she became obsessed with it. Then she went to a lecture on dentistry and chronic disease, and she heard a speaker from the American Diabetes Association say that they didn’t know why diabetics had such poor teeth. Kristen was horrified, and she started investigating the sugar industry.

She used Google and she found a cache of sugar industry documents which were from a defunct sugar industry company that had gone out of business and donated its archives to Colorado State University. Then she drove up to Fort Collins, and she started looking through the boxes. She pulled out the first one and it was labeled “Confidential. Sugar industry documents.”

She tells me this story after my talk, and my eyes light up like the big bad wolf. It scared the hell out of me. I was like, “I want everything you’ve got, put it in my book and take credit for it.” I learned that Kristen’s sense of humor was different than mine. Anyway, we ended up working together. We did a cover story for Mother Jones, which helped Kristen get a job at UCSF as a researcher.

If you read the New York Times, you’ll see she has a couple of front-page stories based on her research. I also talk about her research in the book, and I’m proud to have played a role in her life, though I still regret having scared her so much that first day.

One of the documents that Kristen found is this document written by a sugar industry executive in 1954 called “The Marriage of Sugar and Tobacco.” So, after World War II, the sugar industry and all of America starts going on a diet, in part because artificial sweeteners become readily available and allowed people to cut calories. People were arguing that sugar is fattening.

The sugar industry sees the writing on the wall even then, and they realize they have to start diversifying their products. They have to find other products that they could be using, and they are proud of the fact that, in 1954, sugar has played such a major role in the tobacco industry. They’re bragging about it in this document, and they had no reason to think that it wasn’t a great thing. It was more American capitalism at work.

And so, it’s all laid out in this document, including the references to FDA reports and the names of tobacco company executives who could confirm it. This didn’t really fit into my book because my book is about heart disease and diabetes, not the role of sugar and tobacco. But how could I leave it out?

At one point I had a chapter called The Marriage of Sugar and Tobacco, and I’d given it the number two and a half. Have any of you seen the movie Being John Malkovich? There was a… Well, this chapter ended up being Chapter 3. My editor doesn’t have the same sense of humor I do, either.

The other interesting thing is that this had actually been covered by a brilliant historian of science at Stanford, Robert Proctor, who had written a 700-page exposé of the sugar industry called Golden Holocaust that is relentlessly reported.

He wrote it based on the tobacco industry documents, and he came upon this article in the tobacco industry documents. So it doesn’t really fit into his book, but he wrote about it anyway, probably because it’s such an amazing story about the role of sugar and tobacco.

I was still able to get the scoop in this book, first of all because Robert Proctor’s book is 700 pages long, and it’s hard to get through. I find myself talking about other people’s books, other people’s set of good calories and bad calories. It’s good but it’s long. Anyway, a little more reading and then we’ll go to Q & A’s.

Unlike alcohol, which was the only commonly available psychoactive substance in the Old World until sugar, nicotine and caffeine arrived on the scene. The latter three had at least some stimulating properties and so offered a very different experience, one that was more conductive to the labor of everyday life.

These were the “eighteenth-century equivalent of uppers,” writes the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. “Taken together, the new drugs gave English society an almighty hit. The Empire, it might be said, was built on a huge sugar, caffeine and nicotine rush—a rush nearly everyone could experience.”

Sugar, more than anything, seems to have made life worth living (as it still does) for so many, particularly those whose lives were absent from the kind of pleasures that relative wealth and daily hours of leisure might otherwise provide.

As early as the twelfth century, one contemporary chronicler of the Crusades, Albert of Aachen, was describing merely the opportunity to sample the sugar from the cane that the Crusaders found growing in the fields of what are now Israel and Lebanon as in and of itself “some compensation for the sufferings they had endured.” “The pilgrims,” he wrote, “could not get enough of its sweetness.”

As sugar, tea, and coffee instigated the transformation of daily life in Europe and the Americas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they became the indulgence that the laboring classes could afford; by the 1870s, they had come to be considered necessities of life.

During periods of economic hardship, as the British physician and researcher Edward Smith observed at the time, the British poor would sacrifice the nutritious items of their diet before they’d cut back on the sugar they consumed.

In nutritional terms,” suggested three British researchers in 1970 in an analysis of the results of Smith’s survey, “it would have been better if some of the money spent on sugar had been diverted to buy bread and potatoes, since this would have given them very many more calories for the same money, as well as providing some protein, vitamins and minerals, which sugar lacks entirely.

In fact, however, we find that a taste for the sweetness of sugar tends to become fixed. The choice to eat almost as much sugar as they used to do, while substantially reducing the amount of meat, reinforces our belief that people develop a liking for sugar that becomes difficult to resist or overcome.”

Sugar was “an ideal substance,” says Mintz. “It served to make a busy life seem less so; in the pause it refreshes, it eased the changes back and forth from work to rest; it provided swifter sensations of fullness or satisfaction than complex carbohydrates did; it combined easily with many other foods, in some of which it was also used (tea and biscuit, coffee and bun, chocolate and jam-smeared bread)…. No wonder the rich and powerful liked it so much, and no wonder the poor learned to love it.”

What Oscar Wilde wrote about cigarettes in 1891, when that indulgence was about to explode in popularity and availability, might also be said about sugar: It is “the perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?

Thank you. I think I’ll leave it at that. Thank you.

Q&A: One man from the audience asks if we would be healthier or less healthy by using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. Taubes’ response is that the science is inconclusive. He cited studies where the researchers use lean college students as guinea pigs to see how artificial sweeteners affects them. He says that those results may have different outcomes for middle-aged people, and especially those with medical issues.

My Comments: I was intrigued by Taubes’ comments about the use of sugar along with nicotine and caffeine as the “uppers” of the 17th-18th centuries in Europe and America. They helped to give people a lift from the drudgeries of a hard life. I wonder if things aren’t all that much different in the 21st century.

Rebecca, for example, looks forward to her morning and afternoon coffee breaks at her office. That’s time to get a cup of sweetened coffee and a Danish or some other pastry that a colleague brought to their office. End

Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’, a YouTube video Part 4

transcribed by Liz Reedy

To view Gary Taubes’ 1 hour and 22-minute YouTube video, please click here.

Part 4 continues beginning at 38:43

What if Roald Dahl and Michael Pollan are right that the taste of sugar on the tongue can be a kind of intoxication? Doesn’t it suggest that the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Imagine a drug that can do this to us, that can infuse us with energy and can do so when taken by mouth. It doesn’t have to be injected, smoked or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects.

Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids. Imagine that when given to infants it provokes a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

By the way, when I put together this thought experiment that I’m about to read, I never thought I’d ever be able to use it in a book. I thought that if I put this in my first chapter it gives away my hand so profoundly that no one will ever think I was balanced or unbiased. And then I sent it to a colleague of mine who is one of the best scientists I know. He said, “If you don’t use this then you’re crazy.”

Overconsumption of this drug has long-term side effects but there are none in the short-term. There is no staggering or dizziness, no slurring of speech, no passing out or drifting away, no heart palpitations or respiratory distress.

When it is given to children, its effects may be only more extreme variations of the apparently natural emotional roller coaster of childhood. From the initial intoxication to the tantrums and whining that may or may not be withdrawal a few hours later. More than anything, our imaginary drug makes children happy, at least during the period in which they’re consuming it.

It calms their distress, eases their pain, focuses their attention and then leaves them excited and full of joy until the dose wears off. The only downside is that children will come to expect another dose, and perhaps demand it on a regular basis.

I should have said this book was also informed by the fact that I am a parent of two pre-adolescent boys. Michael Pollan said to me at lunch one day that moderating your children’s sugar intake is one of the primary responsibilities of adulthood. I borrow from Michael there as well, but I don’t quote him.

How long would it be before parents took to using our imaginary drug to calm their children when necessary, to alleviate pain, to prevent outbursts of unhappiness, or to distract their attention? And, once the drug became identified with pleasure, how long before it would be used to celebrate birthdays, a soccer game, good grades in school?

How long before it would become a way to communicate love and celebrate happiness? How long before no gathering of family and friends was complete without it, before major holidays and celebrations were defined in part, by the use of this drug to ensure pleasure? How long would it be before the underprivileged of the world would happily spend what little money they had on this drug rather than on nutritious meals for their families?

How long would it be before this drug, as the anthropologist, Sidney W. Mintz said about sugar, demonstrated, “A near invulnerability to moral attack.” How long before writing a book such as this one was perceived as a nutritional equivalent to stealing Christmas?

I wanted to call this book Stealing Christmas: The Case Against Sugar and just lay it out there. I understand the Grinch-like aspect of what I’m doing; I’m not blind to it. It’s another way of saying that I’m not an idiot. But my editor preferred otherwise. When I would tell people the title of my book, a surprising number of them didn’t get the Grinch reference. Maybe Dr. Seuss hasn’t permeated our lives quite as much as I thought.

What is it about the experience of consuming sugar and sweets, particularly during childhood that invokes so readily the comparison to a drug? I have children, still relatively young, and I believe raising them would be a far easier job if sugar and sweets were not an option, if managing their sugar consumption, as Michael Pollan said (but I’m not quoting here), did not seem to be a constant theme in our parental responsibilities.

Even those who vigorously defend the place of sugar and sweets in modern diets, “An innocent moment of pleasure, a balm on the distress of life,” as the British journalist Tim Richardson has written, acknowledge that this dose does not include allowing children to eat as many sweets as they want at any time and that, “Most parents would want to ration their children’s sweets.”

Well, why is it necessary? Children collect many things: Pokémon cards, Star Wars paraphernalia, Dora the Explorer backpacks, and many foods taste good to them. What is it about sweets that makes them so uniquely in need of rationing? Which is another way of asking whether the comparison to drugs and abuse is a valid one.

This is of more than academic interest because the response of entire populations to sugar has been effectively identical to that of children. Once populations are exposed, they consume as much sugar as they can easily procure, although there may be natural limits in that culture about current attitudes about food.

The primary barrier to more consumption, up to the point where populations become obese, diabetic and perhaps even beyond, has tended to be availability and price. This includes in one study, sugar-intolerant Canadian Inuit who lacked the enzyme necessary to digest the fructose component of sugar, and yet continued to consume sugary beverages and candy despite “the abdominal distress that it brought them.”

As the price of a pound of sugar has dropped over the centuries, from the equivalent of 360 eggs in the 13th century to 2 eggs in the early decades of this one, the amount of sugar consumed has steadily, inexorably climbed.

In 1934, while sales of candy continued to increase during the Great Depression, the New York Times commented, “The depression proved that people wanted candy and that as long as they had any money at all they would buy it.”

During those brief periods of time during which sugar production surpassed our ability to consume it, the sugar industry and the purveyors of sugar-rich products have worked diligently to increase demand and at least until recently have succeeded.

The critical question which scientists debate, is what journalist and historian Charles C. Mann has eloquently put it, is whether sugar is actually an addictive substance or do people just act like it is. The question is not easy to answer. Certainly, people and populations have acted as though sugar is addictive, but science provides no definitive evidence.

Until recently, nutritionists studying sugar did so from the natural perspective as viewing sugar as a nutrient, a carbohydrate and nothing more. They occasionally argued about whether or not it might play a role in diabetes or heart disease, but not about whether it triggered a response in the brain or body that made us want to consume it in excess. That was not their area of interest.

The few neurologists and psychologists interested in probing the sweet tooth phenomenon or why we might need to ration our sugar consumption so as not to eat it to excess, did so typically from the perspective of how these sugars compared to other drugs of abuse, in which the mechanism of addiction is now relatively well understood.

Lately, this comparison has received more attention as the public health community has looked to ration our sugar consumption as a population and has thus considered the possibility that one way to regulate these sugars, as with cigarettes, is to establish that they are indeed addictive. These sugars are very likely unique in that they are both a nutrient and a psychoactive substance with some addictive characteristics.

Historians have often considered that the sugar-as-a-drug metaphor to be an apt one. “That sugars, particularly highly refined sucrose, produce peculiar physiological effects is well known,” wrote the late Sidney Mintz, whose 1985 book, Sweetness and Power, is one of two seminal English-language histories of sugar, on which other and more recent writers on this subject, myself included, heavily rely.

But these effects are neither as visible nor as long-lasting as those of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, “The first use of which can trigger rapid changes of respiration, heartbeat, skin color, and so on.” Mintz has argued that a primary reason that through the centuries sugar has escaped religious-based criticism for the kind pronounced on tea, coffee, rum, and even chocolate is that whatever conspicuous behavioral changes may occur when infants consume sugar, it did not cause the kind of “flushing, staggering, dizziness, euphoria, changes in the pitch of the voice, slurring of speech, visibly intensified physical activity or any of the other cues associated with the ingestion” of these other drugs.

As this book will argue, sugar appears to be a substance that causes pleasure with a price that is difficult to discern immediately and paid in full in the years or decades later. With no visible, directly noticeable consequence as Mintz says, questions of “long term nutritive or medical consequences went unasked and unanswered.” Most of us today will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar because we never go long enough without sugar to find out.

Mintz and other sugar historians consider the drug comparison to be so fitting in part because sugar is one of the handful of “drug foods,” to use Mintz’s term, that came out of the tropics, and on which European empires were built from the 16th century onward, the others being tea, coffee, chocolate, rum and tobacco.

Its history is intimately linked to that of these other drugs. Rum is, of course, distilled from sugar cane, whereas tea, coffee and chocolate were not consumed with sweeteners in their regions of origin.

Actually, when the conquistadors discovered the Aztecs eating chocolate in Mexico, in their march and fully confident of their devastation of the people, the Aztecs were mixing it with chili peppers. The conquistadors tried it and said it “tasted awful and they wouldn’t feed it to their pigs.” So, they shipped it back to Europe anyway, and they started mixing it with sugar. Within about 50 years, hot chocolate had become the morning and afternoon drink for the Spanish aristocrats.

In the 17th century, once sugar was added as a sweetener, and prices allowed it, the consumption of these substances in Europe exploded. Sugar was used to sweeten liquors and wine in Europe as early as the 14th century. Even cannabis preparations in India and opium-based wines and syrups included sugar as a major ingredient.

Kola nuts, containing both caffeine and traces of a milder stimulant called theobromine, became a produce of universal consumption in the late 19th century, first as a cocoa-infused wine in France, and then as the original mixture of cocaine and caffeine of Coca-Cola, with sugar added to mask the bitterness of the other two substances. [For more information about kola nuts, please click here and here.]

Stop 49:31 and to be continued

Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’, a YouTube video Part 3

transcribed by Liz Reedy

To view Gary Taubes’ 1 hour and 22-minute YouTube video, please click here.

Please click here for our Part 1 transcription.

Please click here for our Part 2 transcription.

Part 3 continues beginning at 28:03

Think about it this way. If I was giving a talk on wealth, I might get a pretty good audience. And afterward in the Q&A, someone would ask me, “Why are Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos so rich?” And I would say, “Because they make more money than they spend.” You guys would leave, right?

If I was giving a talk on climate change, that would probably get a pretty full house. And at the end somebody would ask, “Well Gary, why is the atmosphere heating up?” And I would reply, “Because it’s taking in more energy than it expends.” And if I looked at you like it was a serious answer you would think I was joking.

But in obesity research, if somebody asks why some people get fat and others don’t, the answer is that they take in more calories than they expend. And it’s almost incomprehensively naïve. It has become conventional wisdom. You show me a paper on obesity, and I’ll show you where that belief system is interwoven into that research or that paper.

My geneticist friend at Cambridge University, the BBC host, is not studying the genetics of why people get fat; he’s studying the genetics of why he thinks people eat too much or exercise too little. Part of this goal is to get people to get rid of that energy/balance idea. And the stakes are enormous. I am trying to do a fundamental thing with this book.

Claude Benard, the great French physiologist, said in 1865, “Science is about explaining what we observe.” Fundamentally that’s what you’re always doing in science, whether what you observe is a supernova or a gamma ray burst or something else in the night sky. It could be how a frog behaves or how swallows mate or anything you can name.

Why we get heart disease, why we have obesity, it’s about explaining what we observe. The observation today that is so frightening is these obesity and diabetic epidemics are worldwide. It happens in every population in the world in which they transition to a Western diet from whatever they were eating baseline.

It doesn’t matter if they were Inuits living on caribou and seal meat, or Maasain Africans living on the meat and milk and urine from the cattle they herd, or the agrarian population in the Himalayas, or Native Americans or any population that started eating western diets. They experience these tremendous increases in obesity and diabetes.

In October, the director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, gave a key note address to the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. She said that these epidemics of obesity and diabetes represent a slow-motion disaster world-wide.

They are overwhelming health-care systems. The estimated cost of obesity and diabetes in direct health-care costs in the U.S. is a billion dollars a day. If you look at indirect societal costs and you believe these estimates, it’s a trillion dollars a year.

Margaret Chan said the chances of the public health organizations like the W.H.O. to reign in these epidemics in order to prevent a “bad situation” from getting much worse is effectively zero. Think about that. The director general of the World Health Organization is talking about these slow-motion disaster epidemics, and not only acknowledging that organizations like hers have completely failed to curb them, but predicting complete failure in the future.

One of the things I would do if I were a journalist or in newspapers, I would imagine if this was HIV. In 1985 we understood that the HIV virus causes AIDS. But imagine after coming to that conclusion, thirty years later, AIDS prevalence and AIDS incidents had continued to go up and mortality from this disease had continued to go up.

We would have a task force, committees, think tanks and a team of researchers. We would be spending billions, if not trillions of dollars, trying to understand what we don’t understand about this disease. But in obesity and diabetes we’ve had this same phenomenon.

In the 1890s, on the Eastern coast the estimate was that one out of every three thousand patients in the hospital suffered from diabetes. Today, if you go to a VA hospital, one out of four patients suffers from diabetes. One out of every eleven Americans in or out of hospitals has diabetes today. There’s been this tremendous explosion, and we have to understand what’s causing it.

You cannot stop an epidemic unless you understand the cause. You have to know what to remove, what to get out of the population, whether it’s the HIV virus, or you recommend safe sex and contraceptives and you design drugs that go after the virus. If it’s a lung cancer epidemic you have to know that smoking is causing it, right? So you can tell people to stop smoking.

In this country with obesity and diabetes we have the director general of the W.H.O basically shrugging her shoulders and saying, “Yes, we’ve seen 900% increases of diabetes in the United States in 50 years. And it’s going to go up. But we don’t know what to do about it.” Well, how about you examine your assumptions.

What I’m trying to do in this book is ask the question, “Are we wrong about what the cause is?” If this was a legal case and we have a similar crime being committed in a very similar way in every country in the world, who is the prime suspect? Who should we be targeting? Why should we be targeting? And the answer is sugar.

So, with that long introduction I’m going to do a little bit of reading, and I’m going to hope for the best. I have to borrow a book. The first chapter of this book discusses obesity and diabetes epidemics and why I’m focusing on sugar and why I think it’s the prime suspect. As I say in this book, if this were a legal case this book would be the prosecution’s strategy.

I had trouble writing it. I don’t like writing. One of the reasons I’m such a good reporter, if I am a good reporter, is because reporting is a way to procrastinate on writing. As long as you keep doing the research you don’t have to write…until you run out of money as I said earlier, and then you have to write.

I finally wrote the first chapter, and then I wrote the second chapter, Drug or Food, which I’m going to read from. And I finally had the sense of profound relief that this is a good chapter, that I’m on my way, that I’m going to be able to get this book done. So, I have four thousand words written discussing whether sugar is a drug or a food, and is it addictive?

Then I read a book called 1493, [1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created] written by a friend of mine, Charles Mann. It’s about the history of what’s called the Columbus exchange, which is about the spread of foods and plants around the world after Columbus discovered America. Charles (Cam) is such a beautiful writer that I can’t even read his writing, as it depresses me so much.

But I realized he had a chapter on the history of sugar and knew I should read it. He’s a great reporter and a great writer. I read it and in this chapter, he has a single line made up of seventeen words. He says, “Scientists today debate amongst themselves whether sugar is an addictive substance, and people just act like it is.”

And I think, “Great. I’ve just written four thousand words about this, and here Cam wrapped it up in seventeen.” I could throw away my first chapter and then I’m back to the state of frozen writer’s block that I was in, or I could keep the first chapter and quote Cam, which is what I decided to do. So, you can find Cam’s quote in here.

It begins with two other quotes, two epigraphs. The first is from Roald Dahl, from his memoir, Boy: Tales of Childhood, which was written in 1984. Dahl said, “The sweet shop in Llandaff [UK] from 1923 was the very center of our lives. Thus, it was what a bar is to a drunk or a church is to a bishop. Without it, there would have been little to live for. Sweets were our life-blood.”

The second quote is from Michael Pollan’s, Botany of Desire in 2001, one of the great books Michael wrote before Omnivore Dilemma. He said, “Imagine a moment when the sensation of honey or sugar on the tongue was an astonishment, a kind of intoxication. The closest I’ve ever come to recovering such a sense of sweetness was secondhand, though it left a powerful impression on me even so. I’m thinking of my son’s first experience of sugar, the icing on the cake at his first birthday.”

“I have only the testimony of Isaac’s face to go by, that and his fierceness to repeat the experience. It was plain that his first encounter with sugar had intoxicated him. It was, in fact, an ecstasy in the literal sense of that word. That is, he was beside himself with the pleasure of it. No longer here with me in space and time in quite the same way he had been just a moment before. Between bites, Isaac gazed up at me in amazement (he was on my lap as I delivered the ambrosial forkfuls to his gaping mouth), as if to exclaim ‘Your world contains this? From this day forward, I shall dedicate my life to it.’”

By the way, you should argue the wisdom of starting a book with quotes from two authors who can write better than you can. Your readers are likely to put your book down and say, “I’m going to go get Botany of Desire.”

What if Roald Dahl and Michael Pollan are right that the taste of sugar on the tongue can be a kind of intoxication? Doesn’t it suggest that the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Imagine a drug that can do this to us, that can infuse us with energy and can do so when taken by mouth. It doesn’t have to be injected, smoked or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effect.  END at 39:08

Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’ Part 2

a Gary Taubes YouTube video transcribed by Liz Reedy

We ran Part 1 in our April 2017 edition of Northwest Senior News

Part 2 continues beginning at 12:31 minutes

What I learned is that the German and Austrian researchers had a very different hypothesis of obesity than we do. We think that obesity is caused by taking in more calories than you expend. It’s an energy balance. I’m just curious how many of you believe that to be true. You know, you eat too much and you’re sedentary.

I once gave a lecture on why we get fat at the Tufts School of Nutrition, which is the hotbed of the anti-fat movement in America. That and the University of Washington, here are two places that really do not like my work. Before the interview I said, “How many of you believe that obesity is caused by taking in more calories than you expend.” Nobody raised a hand. And I said, “Well, I don’t have to give this lecture because I’m going to try to convince you it’s fake.”

The counter argument is that the Germans and Austrians had come to the conclusion that obesity is a hormonal defect. Back in the 1920s, obese people would say, “Well, it’s hormones.” And it was considered an excuse even back in the 1920s before any hormone but insulin had been discovered. People had no idea how hormones work in the human body.

The medical community would say this was an excuse for fat people to not eat in moderation like lean people would. This idea, built up through the 1960s, was hammered on over and over again. It can’t be a hormonal defect; “fat people just don’t have willpower like I do”, was the implication.

The Germans and Austrians said that it was clearly a hormonal defect; it’s got to be a hormonal defect. I mean, look at it. Men and women fatten differently. It means that sex hormones are involved, right? Men and women go through puberty, the boys lose fat, the girls gain fat; it’s the sex hormones, you know? You get these localized accumulations of obesity. One of the most famous is called the steatopygia. [also spelled steatopigia: the state of having substantial levels of tissue on the buttocks and thighs]

Anyway, World War II comes along, the German and Austrian schools vanish. Some of these researchers fled to the United States but they didn’t get jobs because nobody wanted to hire these German Jewish researchers; certainly not Ivy League institutions, which actually had protocols in place so as not to be overrun by Jewish admissions and Jewish students. In fact, a lot of them ended up moving west, and it’s one of the reasons that places like Washington and Berkeley, where I live, are such great universities because they embraced these people.

This idea that obesity was a hormone regulatory defect evaporated with the Second World War. After the war, very well-meaning US nutritionists and young doctors sort of recreated the science of obesity from scratch with no idea how to do science and no understanding of endocrinology or genetics or metabolism and even profoundly, nutrition.

They ended up with this idea that it’s just about eating too much. Gluttony and sloth. It was like a Biblical theory of obesity. In the 1960s when researchers started to understand what it is that actually regulates the accumulation of fat in your fat cells, by that time we had already decided that obesity was an eating disorder caused by taking in too many calories. Nobody cared what the endocrinologists were learning about obesity.  Ed: We’re at 16:36 minutes.

I was doing a BBC TV show in which they were interviewing me in Oakland via Skype. The host of the BBC show was a geneticist who studies obesity at Cambridge University. He studies the genetics of obesity. He got a little angry at me because I kept asking him questions when he wanted to ask me questions.

One of the questions I asked him was “Do you know what regulates fat accumulation in fat cells?” And he said, “Well, we don’t know that.” And I said, “No, you don’t know that because you studied genetics.” But if you pick up an endocrinology textbook or a biochemistry textbook, it’ll tell you about the hormone insulin, [and it will] tell you what enzymes are in insulin that regulate and pull fat in or out of fat cells.

Anyway, this whole story ties back to sugar. If obesity is a hormonal regulatory defect and if it’s more or less controlled, as the endocrinology and biochemistry textbooks will tell you, by the hormone insulin, then whatever works to elevate insulin in your bloodstream is going to make you accumulate excess fat; that thing happens to be sugar.

My Comments: Sugar and the other refined carbohydrates in our processed-food diet is one of our major health problems. Anyone who writes and knows anything about nutrition warns us about this problem.

William Dufty in Sugar Blues described his battle with sugar addiction and how destructive sugar was for his health.   Dr. Stephen Sinatra in Chapter 4, Sugar: The Real Demon in the Diet of The Great Cholesterol Myth writes as to how sugar contributes directly to heart disease.

The problem for us is the pervasiveness of sugar in our diet. Even in things touted as being good for us such as “organic” can be remarkably high in sugar. A client recently told me about her favorite bread, Dave’s Killer Good Seed Organic Bread with the yellow wrapper. The nutrition information indicates 5 grams of sugar per serving with one serving being 140 calories. 5 grams x 4 calories per gram = 20 calories per slice. 20/140 reduces to 1/7, meaning that around 14% of the calories are sugar. Obviously, a loaf of bread such as this is light years better than white foam bread, however it is still a hidden source of sugar. To Dave’s credit, some of their other lines have less sugar.

Continuing: Again, it’s targeting this condition of insulin resistance. If you’re insulin resistant, your pancreas has to pump out more insulin to make take up the high blood sugar in your body and deal with it. Basically, you have a very strong chain of effects that would implicate whatever is the cause of insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes.

Again, I think it’s vitally important in doing this story to understand the history. So much of this book [ he is referring to his book, The Case Against Sugar.]  is about the history. I’m also saying in 2016 we’ve missed the story. So, I’m making this argument that the nutrition community got it wrong, the obesity community got it wrong despite the anti-sugar movement.

The question is: why is the anti-sugar movement about sugar being empty calories if we consume an excess, whatever that means. Nobody ever says lung cancer is caused by smoking in excess, right? You say it’s caused by smoking. But we’ll say obesity is caused by consuming foods in excess. Is it just caused by consuming foods, just as lung cancer is caused by smoking?

What I had to do with this book is explain why such a profoundly important hypothesis had been ignored. Something I argued time and again is that the evidence is actually ambiguous. I’m speculating by saying sugar causes all these diseases. Why is it in 2017 I have to speculate we haven’t done the research necessary to narrow it down.

The other part of the story is how the sugar industry worked in the 50s, 60s, and 70s to take what the nutritionists were giving them and make sure no one ever concluded that sugar was uniquely toxic. This is not a short-term toxin like we’re used to, like a chemical which might kill you if you inhale it for three weeks, but a long-term toxin that works over years and decades to create these chronic conditions, diseases, and disorders that are so burdensome, and will eventually shorten your life like no other.

My Comment: This is why so many people find it difficult to realize that their stent placement, obesity, stroke, cancer, or heart illness is the result from past decades of nutritional abuse. I have been in homes and seen processed, sugary junk foods sitting on people’s kitchen counters. Invariably they are taking several meds for blood pressure, heart regulation, and/or type 2 diabetes. They also tend to be overweight.

Continuing: Much of what I do in this book is also to talk about the history of the sugar industry and their public relations campaigns. They ran concerted campaigns in the 60s and 70s, first to fight back the challenge that artificial sweeteners presented in the 60s. It’s funny because people like to say it’s a surreptitious campaign by the sugar industry, but I first realized this happened because I was reading a New York Times article.

In 1967, a vice-president of the sugar association took credit for spending almost a million dollars to fund studies to demonstrate that cyclamates were carcinogenic. And to a New York Times reporter he says, “Look, if some competitor can undersell you ten cents to a dollar, wouldn’t you throw a brick bat at him if you could?”

It wasn’t a surreptitious campaign, it was just capitalism at its best. Artificial sweeteners came into the market in the 1950s. By the 1960s they were taking over the soda industry and the sugar industry felt they had to fight it back. So they did. They funded studies and they got cyclamates banned, and they almost got saccharine banned based on science that was almost unbelievably bad.

In the 1970s, when a very influential British nutritionist named John Yudkin was claiming that sugar was deadly and that it was probably the cause of diabetes and heart disease, the sugar industry funded a campaign of researchers who believed saturated fat was the problem.

Comment: Weren’t they clever by scapegoating saturated fats?

Continuing: The nutritionists and cardiologists in the United States had concluded that saturated fat was what caused heart disease, and if it caused heart disease, then it caused diabetes. All they had to do was pay the nutritionists to stand up and write what they really believed. What they believed was that sugar was benign.

This report produced by the sugar industry had been designed as a part of a public relations campaign by a hot-shot public relations firm in Chicago. The report was called Sugar in the Diet of Man. It was about ten or eleven articles supplemented in a journal. They gave it to the FDA, and the FDA had to decide whether sugar was safe or not. The FDA read the report and said, “Clearly, these very influential nutritionists believe sugar is benign, so we will too.”

One thing led to another, and the end result was that they managed to, in effect, shut down sugar research in the country for about thirty years. In fact, by the mid-1980s, for someone to say sugar might be harmful and to study it, was to be accused of being a quack. It wasn’t just that the NIH wouldn’t fund such studies, but it would actually ruin your reputation as a scientist if you claimed to do it.

What happened was some research was done anyway. One of the paradigm shifts I talk about in all my books is in the 1960s we focused on the idea that we get heart disease because fat raises the cholesterol in our blood and our arteries clog up. We often use this clogged pipe analogy. Some people talk about artery-clogging fats.  Stop at 23:32 minutes Continued next month

My concluding comment for this month: For those who have followed our review and digests of Dr. Stephen Sinatra’a The Great Cholesterol Myth, we have learned that the demonization of saturated fats and cholesterol has been one of the greatest nutrition and health frauds of the past 60 years. End