Sticking Points: “Is Sugar Toxic?”


New York Times Magazine, April 17, 2011 pages 46-54; 62  “Is Sugar Toxic?” by Gary Taubes

Read it here:

Cover Headline: “Sweet and Vicious: The Case Against Sugar.”

“That the sweet stuff makes us fat is something we take for granted.  That it might also be making us sick is harder to accept.”

“…It’s entirely different to claim that one particularly cherished aspect of our diet might not just be an unhealthful indulgence but actually be toxic, that when you bake your children a birthday cake or give them lemonade on a hot summer day, you may be doing them more harm than good, despite all the love that goes with it.  Suggesting that sugar might kill is what zealots do.  But Lustig, who has genuine expertise, has accumulated and synthesized a mass of evidence, which he finds compelling enough to convict sugar.”

“In Robert Lustig’s view, sugar should be thought of, like cigarettes and alcohol, as something that’s killing us.”

“Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” by Dr. Robert Lustig

“Can sugar possibly be as bad as Lustig says it is?”

“If it’s sugar that causes insulin resistance, they say, then the conclusion is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer—some cancers, at least [esp. colon, breast, and other cancers common to women] radical as this may seem and despite the fact that this suggestion has rarely if ever been voiced before publicly,” (62).

“ ‘I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet,’ the President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering says.  ‘Ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.’”

One of the most shocking things this article impressed upon me was how little research has been done about sugar and how little is even in the works.  Naturally, in the boys’ club of science, a patriarchal rivalry may be close to the root of this issue.  Taubes highlighted that there was an intellectual rivalry and “loathing” between British researcher John Yudkin, one of the first people to demonstrate the link between sugar and disease, author of the classic book Sweet and Dangerous (1978), and the U of MN nutritionist Ancel Keys, a champion of the idea that “dietary fat is the cause of heart disease.”  As a result of their dislike for one another, fat was pitted against sugar in the research world, and as it ended up, “Yudkin was so discredited…He was ridiculed in a way. And anybody else who said something bad about sucrose, they’d say, ‘He’s just like Yudkin.’”  As a result, we had the low-fat/non-fat craze in our country, and we still haven’t popularly questioned the detriments of sugar.  The amazing thing about this is, where the evidence stands now, they could both be right.  “The evidence has always been able to go either way.”


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