The Case Against Sugar
“Perhaps, at long last, sugar is getting its ‘just desserts,’” said The Economist. Science journalist Gary Taubes isn’t the first person to label sugar a uniquely harmful feature of the modern Western diet. But in past decades, experts who’ve sounded the alarm about sugar’s apparent role in causing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have usually had their arguments drowned out by peers whose research was funded by the sugar industry and related groups. Because tailored research into the issue has been slowed by such efforts, the case against sugar, Taubes concedes, is not yet definitive. “But it is compelling,” and—judging by the nations and cities that have recently begun taxing sugary drinks—it’s gaining traction.
Taubes’ enormously persuasive “blitz of a book” builds on the argument he made in 2010’s Why We Get Fat, said Eugenia Bone in The Wall Street Journal. In that bestseller, the author pinned the obesity problem on various easy-to-digest carbohydrates. Here, he explains why sugar might be the most problematic simple carbohydrate of all—more to blame, to begin with, for disrupting the body’s normal process for regulating the storage of fat at a cellular level. Sugar also has addictive properties, and the food industries that profit from it have pushed researchers to embrace theories that pin the blame for obesity on various other factors, including simple overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. Taubes’ indictment won’t be the last word in the debate, but it’s convincing enough that this chocoholic has gone cold turkey on sweets.
On one point, Taubes goes too far, said Daniel Engber in The Atlantic. Though the sugar industry has fought back successfully against many public relations challenges, sugar has never been entirely freed of suspicion in these health debates. Still, Taubes proves himself an admirably honorable advocate, “a clear-eyed zealot fo r his cause” who’s as open about what he can’t prove as he is about what he believes and why. He has decided that sugar might be the cause of all the diseases currently associated with a Western diet; “the rest of us will have to draw our own conclusions.”