Is Sugar the New Satan?

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | April 15, 2011

You’ll need a lot of free time and maybe a cup of coffee or two to read journalist Gary Taubes’ lengthy anti-fructose diatribe in last Sunday’s New York Times. But whatever you do, don’t add any sugar to said coffee, lest Taubes manifests himself in your living room via the internet and pummels you for poisoning your body with what he feels is the most toxic substance this side of Fukushima.

If you’re not familiar with Taubes, he’s the respected writer behind a book called Good Calories, Bad Calories in which he blames sugar and refined carbs, as opposed to animal fat and cholesterol, for all of western society’s health woes. While Taubes is a gifted journalist and makes many good points, it’s an incredibly frustrating book from the perspective of someone who gives nutritional advice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suggested to a poor soul struggling with their weight that maybe three salted beefy beef burgers a day isn’t an ideal diet, only to have them throw Good Calories, Bad Calories in my face.

Fortunately, most people own the paperback edition, which is considerably easier to deflect, so I’ve only once bloodied my nose. Also fortunately, his new book, Why We Get Fat, is 340 pages shorter, although it’s still in hardback, so until the paperback comes out in December, I’ll be wearing a helmet when giving diet advice.

Anyway, what I want to talk about today is Taubes’ article in the Times, Is Sugar Toxic?

The history of the debate over the health effects of sugar has gone on far longer than you might imagine. It is littered with erroneous statements and conclusions because even the supposed authorities had no true understanding of what they were talking about. They didn’t know, quite literally, what they meant by the word “sugar” and therefore what the implications were.

This statement alone baffles me. There’s a debate? I think the entire world pretty much uniformly agrees that added sugar isn’t good for you, except maybe Mary Poppins, and even she advocates limiting it to a spoonful. If this is a fight, you’ve won, Gary. Sugar = Bad. Way to choose the winning team.

I suppose the point of the article is that sugar isn’t just bad for you, it’s flat-out toxic to the point of being cancerous. But then you need to consider that fructose, the form of sugar he attacks the most, is present in both fruits AND vegetables – and you certainly can’t demonize those, so when you attack fructose, what you’re actually attacking is added fructose, which no one denies, can lead to obesity and diabetes. If you want to call it “toxic” and add cancer to that list, go right ahead. (For the record, there are lots of “toxic” substances that can actually be beneficial in small amounts, such as alcohol and caffeine.)

This is the second time this week that I’m completely baffled by a nutritional expert’s need to demonize one thing as the source of all evil. What am I missing? Why does my TMOTI (Too Much of One Thing Intolerance) theory not make more sense than categorically labeling added sugar as the anti-Christ? There’s not a food on Earth that someone doesn’t think will kill you, so instead of avoiding one, nutritionally hedge your bets and eat all of them in moderation.

You Nerd Herders are a smart lot and I’m sure one of you is seeing something I’m not. Please explain.


8 thoughts on “Is Sugar the New Satan?

  1. Anonymous

    Believe me, I’ll look into this further when I get some time. In the meantime, do you want a copy of the gluten study you blogged about this week? I have a pdf that I could attach over at the bb nutrition forum.


  2. Bella

    it’s easier to demonize particular foods than to acknowledge the clusterfuck that is our current food system. hm. i didn’t mean that to come out so pessimistically – i just think it’s a cop-out to blame obesity or whatever on “carbs” or “sugar” or people’s inability to “eat less, move more.” We’ve got a matrix to address here, not an isolated foodstuff.

  3. Warren Burden

    I actually blogged about the same exact thing right after I read the article. I was pretty pissed he didn’t include something saying: FRUIT AND VEGGIES ARE STILL GOOD FOR YOU!

  4. Chris Zimmerman

    I’d have to read the article again but I do think he does address the fact that HFCS and some other fructose sources have considerably more fructose than fruit. I know this article does at least.
    I like to post this to people that suck down agave nectar and the like by the gallon. Sugar is sugar. I agree with you Denis, too much is going to cause problems irregardless of the source.


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