Our Gaz has written a book we were a little intrigued by. With the title; ‘The Case Against Sugar’, to say we felt compelled to actually read the book would be an understatement, so we did, and here’s the summation:
Openly admitting from the offset, he does not claim to debunk or discuss anything more than years of research as an investigative science and health journalist; his takings, his findings and his questioning of general practises and statements that we the public, as a whole, believe to be gospel. The book is based on a theory; Occam’s Razor (a philosophical term referring to the ‘simplest hypothesis’, aka the most likely perpetrator) in this case; sugar, which cannot be established, beyond reasonable doubt, as the culprit and trigger behind western chronic diseases, BUT as Gazza notes; ‘all we can do is ask, is it a likely possibility, or even the most likely?’ #FoodForThought…
Since the 70s over 500,000 peer reviewed articles have been published on Diabetes and Obesity, yet the ‘prevalence of these diseases have inexorably climbed’ – people, or rather Doctors, Authors, Researchers and others interested enough are all seeking answers, yet the picture clearly isn’t so black and white. Taubes’ argument maintains that free sugars are the principal cause of Diabetes and Obesity, much like the notion that cigarettes cause lung cancer due to their ‘unique, physiological, metabolic and endocrinological effects that trigger disorders’. Yet citing such a claim is pretttty punchy (as he admits), given that comparing smokers with non-smokers, is at the very least, evidential, whereas sugar consumers versus abstainers is not such an easy comparison, particularly given that the relevant groups are likely to have very different philosophies on what comprises a ‘healthy life’. Further, HOW does one even define sugar – because as we know, sugars are the building blocks of most foodstuffs (as in every carbohydrate)? So, to clarify, throughout we/Gaz are referring here to #FreeSugars only – sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
In the USA, over the past 50 years the number of Obese individuals has gone from 1 in 8 to 1 in 3 and the prevalence of Diabetes has increased by 900% from the 1960s to today. In 2010 six out of ten lower limb amputations in adults were due to Diabetic complications (and not related to the consequences of military intervention). In the 80s 1% of the Chinese population had Diabetes, now 11.8% have it and half a billion are pre-diabetic. The stats are terrifying and there’s no denying Taubes’ argument is beyond compelling – yet, virtually impossible to confirm. After all, to get definitive answers we’d need tens of thousands of subjects to be randomised on high and low sugar diets for decades #WhoWantsToVolunteer?!
He notes that Coca Cola is the 2nd most recognised word on the planet, #GeeWhizz, (with ‘o.k.’ being the 1st), apparently the inventor had a morphine addiction and what d’ya know, that brown fizzy concoction came about to ween him off it! Strong stuff indeed, with the sugar part having the same reward response in the brain as nicotine, heroin and cocaine.
Gazza touches upon ‘Diabesity’, which he cites as becoming an issue of epidemic proportion in the 1920s, when the amount of sugar produced per day was equal to that which was produced in a year only a decade earlier, before moving onto the science that is the backbone of theories that many adhere to today. Being that 1) low-fat & high carb diets are key to a healthy life & 2) the obese are obese because they take in more calories than they expend, aka ‘a calorie is a calorie’ and that fat people eat too much. Of the latter point, many now believe this not to be true – because one calorie of Asparagus does not equal one Calorie of HFCS. In reference to the previous statement, much of the low-fat argument stemmed from the works of Ancel Keys and Fred Stare (two American researchers who were funded by (guess who…….?) the Sugar Association Inc (SAI)). Their work spread far and wide during the 60s and 70s, yet there is much debate surrounding Keys’ 7 country study, namely; 16 populations were studied yet only 7 were included in the publication, and sure enough those 7 fitted his hypothesis that fat, and not sugar, caused high cholesterol in the blood which in turn resulted in an increased rate of heart disease. Keys’ study remained, and still remains, a question of much debate, so much so that commencing in the 90s the NIH (National Institutes of Health) spent 0.5 to 1 billion dollars testing if a low fat diet would prevent chronic disease in women, (making them thus live longer), in 2006 the study failed to confirm the hypothesis. Interestingly enough Mr Keys later went on to publish a book promoting a Mediterranean diet – one low in sugar and high in healthy fats (think oily Fish, Olive Oils & Nuts/Seeds) – clearly someone had a change of heart ;).
Gazza continues, including a number of studies and nations that further disprove Mr Keys’ assertions which are discussed in detail throughout. Yet, that which really caught our attention was the island nation of Tokelau. 3 Attols in the South Pacific, where they have the highest prevalence of Type II Diabetes of any single nation in the world. In 2014, 38% of the population were Diabetic and over 2/3 being obese. As Gaz points out, in the 60s their diet was made up of predominantly; Coconut, Fish, Pork, root Vegetables and Melons, (among 1 of the highest concentrations of fat consumed during that period), with 2% of total calories coming from sugar. That was until the late 70s when they said hello to the import of fizzy bevs, Ice Cream, sugar, flour etc and guess what, (not that we, like Gaz, are making any suppositions here), per capita the consumption of sugar per year increased from 8lbs to 54lbs – one can’t help but question what factors have instigated this explosion of Diabesity in Tokelau.
Jumping back in time a little he discusses in depth the boom of ‘Big Sugar’ and its emergence in the early 40s. This involved the SRF (Sugar Research Foundation & later renamed the aforementioned SAI in 1951) ensuring that the ‘mind of the American public [not be] poisoned against an invaluable and almost indispensable food – sugar’. He touches on the quite inconceivable volumes of dollars spent on advertising campaigns by the likes of the American Sugar Refining company, we’re talking an “educational campaign” budgeted at $1.8m (spanning 3 years) which included 900,000,000 messages in over 300 daily newspapers aimed at demonstrating just how important sugar was for children. CAN you even imagine such a thing today?!
The underlying subject of un undeniably inquisitive and well researched author remains constant; what triggers the modern day western diseases, (or rather chronic disorders rather than infectious diseases which, due to the marvels of modern medicine, are becoming devastations of the past rather than present)? Organisations such as the American Diabetes Association state that; “genetic and lifestyle factors” cause Type II Diabetes and that the idea that sugar has anything to do with the condition is a ‘myth’. Yet, at the same time they encourage people to avoid sugar sweetened beverages to prevent Diabetes (um, ok, sure) and further that we just need to “eat healthy” (whatever that means?!) – if you’re feeling lost by the guidelines then fret not, we are too #ConfusedDotCom.
The book is fuelled by one motive, health is becoming a major problem globally, the healthcare industry and big pharma are booming – but for all the wrong reasons – so what is to blame? As Gazza notes virtually all processed foods contain sugar, so cutting out these ‘foodlike substances’ (a Michael Pollan’ism from GT) means drastically cutting down on trans-fat, refined grains, gluten, preservatives and artificial flavourings, which can (perhaps) only be a positive? Yet there are still many who will disagree with this and will continue to say; just eat in ‘moderation’, however as highlighted by Gaz, “if sugar consumption may be a slippery slope then advocating moderation is not a meaningful concept”, #TooTrue.
Back to where we started, Occam’s Razor; the simplest hypothesis = always the most likely. So, here we are presented with the repeated proposition: all we can do is ask, is sugar the most likely trigger of today’s chronic western diseases? Gazza surmises that if the cause of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, the initial symptoms of multiple modern Western diseases and disorders, (namely Tooth Decay, Gout, Obesity, Diabetes, Alzheimers and Hypertension), is sugar & HCFS, “or at least a key player in the causal pathway” then can the case be closed?
The jury is still out, twiddling their thumbs and deciding what to do, and “until we try to live without [the sweet stuff], until we try to sustain that effort for more than days or just a few weeks, we’ll never know”. So until the jury come back in, then it’s up to you, Gaz has presented his side, which quelle surprise, we’re on – but as far as your mind goes – which side will you take? #TheCaseAgainstSugar.