by Gary Taubes
Nikki’s Rating: 9 out of 10
Summary: A comprehensive and thorough look at the history of sugar and its consequences. Gary Taubes examines the many studies done surrounding the white powder and finds that money and politics have skewed public knowledge much to our demise. With obesity soaring, Taubes calls us to look at the facts and start viewing sugar as the addictive harmful substance it is.
A-Z Book Reviews, Book C: The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes
(May Contain Spoilers)
The Case Against Sugar is a profoundly informative book. Gary Taubes takes readers through the history of the sugar industry, the many studies looking at the effects of sugar on the body, the consumption of sugar through several decades, the political lobbying of the sugar industry, and the overall health trends that have emerged alongside the increased consumption of sugar. While heavy in information, The Case Against Sugar is written in an engaging manner that allows readers to take it all in without getting lost or bored with too many details.
As a reader who is skeptical and is strong in critical thinking, any book full of facts needs to have a lot of documentation to solidify their argument and The Case Against Sugar delivers. It is evident that Taubes did a massive amount of research into writing this book and makes sure that each of his points are supported by real evidence. The Case Against Sugar has an ample “notes” section as well as a lengthy “bibliography” to give support to all points presented.
3. The Industry
Taubes takes us through the history of the sugar industry and this billion dollar industry is a powerful force that has a lot of sway in politics. President Franklin Roosevelt said that the sugar lobby was “the most powerful pressure group that had descended on the national capital during his lifetime” (Taubes 74). The Sugar Act alone is an example of how this group was able to push their agenda, making consumers pay more for sugar than what it is actually worth. The industry only got bigger as time went on as we consumed more and more of the sweet substance.
4. Sugar Usage
In America, sugar happens to be in practically everything we consume from ketchup, to bread, to even tobacco, but once upon a time, that was not the norm. “By the 1920s, sugar refineries were producing as much sugar in a single day—millions of pounds—as would have taken refineries in the 1820s an entire decade” (Taubes 57). Cereals, for example, were once considered a healthy breakfast, most didn’t even contain any sugar and if they did, it was minimal. In 1904, a sugar coated cereal was viewed by consumers as candy but things have drastically changed since then with cereals with high sugar content being the norm and exclusively marketed towards children. Bread in America “can have a sugar content greater than 10 percent, compared with roughly 2 percent in European breads” (Taubes 58).
5. Problems in Medicine
An excellent point that Taubes makes in The Case Against Sugar is the dynamics and problems seen in medicine and nutrition specifically when it comes to studies and “facts”. Most other areas of science are scrutinized on a regular basis, studies are redone and replicated for scientists to accept a hypothesis. In nutrition and medicine, oftentimes it comes down to a few experts, whose words are blindly followed, and very limited studies, which often aren’t replicated.
“One of the common themes in the history of medical research is that a small number of influential authorities, often only a single individual, can sway an entire field of thought. In science, young researchers are taught to challenge authority and to be skeptical of all they’re taught, but this isn’t the case in medicine, where the opinion of figures of authority carry undue weight. This can be particularly damaging when the state of the science is immature and the number of researchers pursuing answers is small.”(Taubes 101)
Due to bad science, billions of dollars to campaign against attacks, and reliance on just a few “experts”, Taubes illustrates how sugar has been able to be relatively immune and invulnerable to moral, ethical, religious, or health attacks. Viewed as benign compared to nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, or other substances, while also being a nutrient, sugar has become an acceptable and valued reward for the sufferings of daily life. This immunity has allowed the sugar industry to constantly point the finger at other causes of our chronic ills such as fats, gluten, growth hormones, cholesterol, salt, overconsumption and sedentary lifestyles, anything other than sugar.
“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 set by culture and current attitudes about food. The primary barrier to more consumption—up to the point where populations become obese and diabetic and then perhaps, beyond—has tended to be availability and price.”(Taubes 33)
The reality of this is that sugar acts like a drug, as soon as we have it, we want more and more. The Case Against Sugar gives ample evidence to support that sugar is addicting, rats find sweetened water more enjoyable than even cocaine or heroin. Taubes goes into details of how sugar works on certain areas of the brain such as the limbic system of the nucleus accumbens, the same places that other addictive drugs react in the brain.
While many nutritionists, doctors, fitness coaches, obesity and diabetes researchers will repeat the mantra that “a calorie is a calorie” and higher a discrepancy between calories burned versus calories consumed will impact a person’s weight, Taubes presents startling evidence that not all calories are created equal in that regard. The Case Against Sugar gives a thorough explanation of how sugar, due to its composition, is not metabolized like other carbohydrates and that it is sugar specifically that leads to obesity.
Obesity is the most probable outcome of a diet high in sugar but Taubes shows that obesity is not the only consequence. In The Case Against Sugar, Taubes presents information that links sugar to not just obesity but cancer, hypertension, gout, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. The evidence is absolutely terrifying and will cause many readers to question whether the wonderfully sweet substance is worth the cost.