Gary Taubes ‘The Case Against Sugar’, a YouTube video

transcribed by Liz Reedy

 

This is Part 1 of the transcription of the1 hour 22 minute YouTube video, “The Case Against Sugar” by Gary Taubes. He is an outstanding science and nutrition writer and certainly knows his stuff.

 

The book that put Taubes on the map was his 2007 Good Calories, Bad Calories. His associates came to him and said, “Gary, you need to write the concepts in Good Calories, Bad Calories in laymen’s language.” Heeding the call, Taubes wrote Why We Get Fat: And What to do About It in 2010. If you are to start with one of Taubes books, this is the one.

 

Why take the time and trouble to convert the spoken word of a video into the printed text? As a former educator, I (Lance) am well aware that some people learn better if the information is presented in a visual format. This is especially the case for those whose hearing may be somewhat compromised.

 

Part 1: The transcriptions begins:

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. Since my latest book is called The Case Against Sugar, the first thing you have to know is that I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist, and I don’t have a PhD. I am a journalist. I started my career as an investigative science journalist. I wrote my first two books about physicists and nuclear physicists who discovered nonexistent phenomenon and lived to regret it.

 

As such, I was obsessed with how hard it is to do science right and how hard it is to get the right answer. One line I quote in three of my books is from the Nobel physicist, Richard Feynman, who said, “The first principle of science is you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

 

In the early 90’s after my first two books, I had a lot of fans in the physics communities. They said to me, “If you’re interested in bad science or people who do it wrong, you should look at some of the stuff in public health, because it’s terrible.”

 

So I moved into public health reporting in the early 90’s and I found that my physicist friends had, if anything, underestimated the problem. By the late 90’s I was moving into nutrition, almost purely by chance. I stumbled into the nutrition field.

 

I did two investigations: one for the Journal of Science on salt and high blood pressure. You know, this idea that salt causes our blood pressure to go up and hypertension. I spent nine months on a single magazine article. I interviewed over eighty subjects and I concluded that the evidence behind this idea that salt causes high blood pressure is terrible. You would only really believe it if your preconception was so strong that you were convinced it was true before any of the studies were done.

 

While I was doing that story, one of the worst scientists I’d ever had the pleasure to interview took credit for not just getting Americans to eat less salt, but also to eat less fat. One of my lessons from my early research was that bad scientists never get the right answer.

 

When I got off the phone with this guy, I called my editor at Science and I said, “When I’m done doing this salt story, I’m going to do a fat story. I’ve no idea what the story is.” I was eating a low-fat diet like everyone else in America. But I knew if this guy was involved in any substantive way, there’s a great story there.

 

I spent a year working on a single magazine article for Science [magazine], a single investigative piece called The Soft Science of Fat. I interviewed about a hundred and forty subjects for one magazine article. I concluded that the evidence behind the low-fat dogma was as bad as it was for the low-salt dogma and that nutritionists didn’t have a clue what they were doing.

 

This was followed about a year later with an infamous cover story for the New York Times magazine called What if Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat,* in which I started looking at the science of obesity and what makes us accumulate excess fat. *This title is slightly modified compared to the actual article.*

 

That piece is probably the most controversial magazine article the New York Times ever ran. The cover was a porterhouse steak with a piece of butter on it. The implication was that Robert Atkins’ Diet Revolution was right all along, which was completely unacceptable to the medical community, but was what the evidence seemed to support.

 

It’s an interesting thing in writing. You do research till you run out of money, and then you start borrowing and start writing so you can hand in the manuscripts so they can give you some money; by the time you hand in the manuscript, the money you get pays back the money you borrowed and now you’re broke again. Anyway, I digress. The book that came out of this was Good Calories, Bad Calories.

 

When I went into this field, I thought I was going to let the food police have it for giving us all this bad advice about what makes us sick and who make us eat these horribly boring, low-fat, low-salt diets. In the midst of doing more research on the subject than any other human being had done until that time, I realized that there was a very compelling alternative hypothesis.

 

The problem isn’t the fat in the diet; it’s the carbohydrates, that is, the grains, the starches, and the sugars. And suddenly, in my new books I am even more of the food police than the other food police, and now I can’t go out to eat with anyone in my life. We’re at a restaurant…..they’ll want to order French fries and they’re looking at me like, “Do you mind?”

 

So, I wrote this book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It’s five hundred pages and has a hundred and sixty pages of end notes and bibliography. It’s a dense read. After I wrote it, I got emails and letters from people saying, “This book changed my life. Could you please write one that’s readable?” Could you write one that my father could read, my son could read. I got emails from doctors saying, “Could you write one that my patients could read.” And I got emails from patients saying, “Could you write one that my doctor could read.”

 

The result was in 2011 when I published a book called Why Do We Get Fat? and what to do about it. If I had had my say, it would have just been Why Do We Get Fat because I don’t like to give diet advice, but my editors insisted that if they were going to publish this book, I had to give some advice.

 

I knew this book had succeeded when I got an email from a family friend saying, “I was on a flight to the Caribbean and I read your book. I haven’t had a carbohydrate in three months, I’ve lost thirty pounds, my blood pressure has dropped and I’ve never felt so healthy.”

 

The problem is I’m blaming obesity and heart disease and the chronic diseases that associate with it on sugar and refined grains. People would say to me, “Well, what about southeast Asia? There’s a continent of billions of people who consume a lot of refined grains and don’t have high levels of obesity and diabetes.”

 

The obvious answer to that is this is a population that doesn’t eat a lot of sugar, even though sugar refining was pioneered in China two thousand years ago. Because of the communist era, they never modernized their sugar refining processes. By the middle or late twentieth century, they were consuming the amount of sugar we were consuming two hundred years earlier.

 

In Japan, which is always raised as an example, even back in the 1920’s when there were public health authorities arguing that sugar caused diabetes, the counter-argument from Elliot Joslin, who was the leading diabetes clinician in America, was “Well the Japanese eat a high carb diet, and they have very little of diabetes.” Joslin didn’t realize that sugar and other carbohydrates were different.

 

As I learned in my research, in the 1960s the Japanese consumed about as much sugar as we did in the 1860s. They had diabetes rates similar to what ours were in the 1860s.

 

Along the way in this research I’ve written some more articles for the Journal of Science about the mechanism of the condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the cells of your body become resistant to the hormone insulin. It’s the fundamental defect in type 2 diabetes, which is the common form that associates with obesity.

 

Insulin resistance is believed by the researchers who study it to actually begin in the liver, in part with fat accumulation. It associates with what is now called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which is also epidemic in America just like diabetes is.

 

As it turns out, the sugar molecule or high-fructose corn syrup is half a molecule of glucose and half a molecule of fructose. It’s fructose that makes it sweet. Fructose is fruit sugar; it is what makes fruit sweet, but in fruit you get it in very low doses. When we refine sugar cane or sugar beets or corn into high-fructose corn syrup, we basically take out everything but the glucose and the fructose. Then we put it into sugary beverages and so on, making it very easy to consume.

 

The idea is that this fructose gets dumped on your liver and a lot of it gets converted to fat. If it gets converted to fat, it’s going to cause insulin resistance. You basically have this scenario that I described in the book, where there’s a mechanism with sugar that you’d expect it to cause insulin resistance. If it causes insulin resistance, then you would expect it to cause diabetes and obesity. And if it increases those, then you would expect it to increase the risk of these chronic diseases that are associated with obesity and diabetes.

 

There’s this whole cluster of chronic diseases that are often referred to as diseases of Western life styles. These include heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, gout, arthritis and half a dozen others. Even cavities. Cavities are crucial. Dental care is crucial. Back in the 1960s people were saying since all these diseases cluster together and the first signs were cavities.

 

If you took a native population eating its traditional diet and you give them a western diet, on the way to becoming obese and diabetic, the first thing you’ll see is cavities occurring in the children. Doesn’t it make sense that whatever it is that causes the cavities also causes the obesity and diabetes. It’s a simple hypothesis; what is causing the cavities is sugar and white flour.

 

What I wanted to do with this book was to lay out this train of possible cause and effect. We have this conventional thinking in the field that the worst that can be said about sugar is its empty calories. It’s absent of vitamins and minerals and it just adds calories to the diet.

 

When you consume sugary beverages maybe you consume it over and above from what you would need from the rest of the diet, and that’s what makes you fat. And to me that’s an excruciatingly naïve way to look at some extraordinarily complex physiological phenomenon. I wanted to lay this out in the book, and that’s what I’m doing.

 

There’s one underlying theme in all my books. It’s one of the things I realized in doing my research that I had no idea about. My books, including my first two on physics and nuclear physics, were about good science and bad science.

 

One of the things I learned in writing my first book on nutrition is that prior to World War II, the very best scientific research in the world was done in Europe. Science was in effect a European invention and all the fields of medical science that relate to obesity and diabetes were pioneered in Europe, in Germany and Austria. [Taubes names the various fields.] Genetics, metabolism, nutrition, endocrinology, the science of hormones and hormone related diseases… Stop at 12:51. Continued next month.

 

My Comments: I found it revealing to read various “experts” commentary on the web about insulin resistance. Please click here for my complete article.




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