As an student of integrated nutrition, I recently read a book called “The Case Against Sugar” by Gary Taubes. It is a great book – another one of those books that makes you think, how in the world can some people go to bed at night knowing they do these things? So, generally sugar has been around a long time. As individuals, and societies became more affluent sugar consumption tends to increase. The first sign of a sugar problem a few centuries ago was bad teeth. But obesity and diabetes were not far behind.
Sugar is a ‘natural’ food, right? How could it be bad for us? In the 1970s there were questions raised about sugar, was it truly safe?
The sugar industry won that battle in the 1970s. In doing so, it managed to shape both public opinion on the healthfulness of sugar, and how the public-health authorities and the federal government would perceive it for the next quarter century, if not, perhaps, ever since…
By the mid-1980s, academic or government researchers who suggested that sugar could be a cause of heart disease or diabetes said they were risking their credibility in the process.
We hear it in the news all the time, maybe we ought to cut back on sugar, maybe it is linked to this or that. But, the food industry, and the sugar industry in particular are quick to counter any argument against sugar in our diet. And the sickening of all those who follow a ‘Westernized’ diet continues.
In this great read, not overly scientific or difficult to understand, Gary takes us from the early days of the sugar industry right up to the present. He explores the industry, the science, and the efforts that have been made to keep sugar front and center, and expanding as part of our diets.
At one time a bit of sugar was recommended for women who were excessively slender, it was believed a little fluff on the upper arms/shoulders was more feminine. And yet just a few decades ago popular nutrition had us cutting fat to loose weight rather than sugar. If nearly 2 centuries ago they knew sugar would add a little ‘fluff’ – what in the world has prevented us from acknowledging that to loose a little (or a lot) of fluff, we ought to try cutting sugar?
Here’s another way to think about the idea that a cluster of chronic Western diseases associate with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes and hence sugar consumption: Diabetes, though a discrete diagnosis by our doctors is not a discrete phenomenon in which bad things suddenly start happening that didn’t happen before. Its part of a continuum from health to disease that is defined in large part by the worsening of the metabolic abnormalities – the homeostatic disruption in regulatory systems – that we’ve been discussing and that are associated with insulin resistance, if not caused by it, and so part and parcel of metabolic syndrome.
As we become ever more insulin-resistant and glucose-intolerant, as our blood sugar gets higher along with our insulin levels, as our blood pressure elevates and we get ever fatter, we are more likely to be diagnosed as diabetic and manifest the diseases and conditions that associate with diabetes. These include nto just heart disease, gout, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and the cluster of Western diseases that Burkitt and Trowell included in their provisional list, but all the conditions typically perceived as complications of diabetes: blood-vessel (vascular) complications that lead to strokes, dementia, and kidney disease; retinopathy (blindness) and cataracts; neuropathologies (nerve disorders); plaque deposits in the arteries of the heart (leading to heart attacks) or the legs and feet (leading to amputations); accumulation of advanced glycation end products, AGES, in the collagen of our skin that can make diabetics look prematurely old, and that in joints, arteries, and the heart and lungs can cause the loss of elasticity as we age.
So, what to do? Do we need to change our diets? Probably. How should we change our diet? More vegetables and fruits, healthy meat choices, and good fats, maybe a few whole grain carbs, if your body does well with them.
Gary ends with this thought after suggesting sugar may be toxic, and consumers ought to weigh the benefits and risks.
To know what those benefits are, though it helps to see how life feels without sugar. Former cigarette smokers… impossible to grasp intellectually or emotionally what life would be like without cigarettes until they quit…
A similar experience is likely to be true of sugar– but until we try to live without it, until we try to sustain that effort for more than days, or just a few weeks, we’ll never know.
Here is a great little document explaining the types of sugar, how much we’re actually eating (150+ pounds per person per year!!! – that’s 6 cups of sugar a week- a mountain of empty calories.) and some great ideas for eating whole foods and fruits rather than sugar-fortified options.