Book 28: The Case against Sugar – Gary Taubes

With a title like ‘The Case against Sugar’ you might expect a tabloid-style expose but instead what you get here is a balanced, careful analysis of everything we know about sugar.

Investigative journalist Gary Taubes details the cultural/political history of sugar, the ways it has become a central part of our diet and the numerous ways it may be killing us.

Taubes is a measured, thoughtful writer — he doesn’t rush to conclusions and even states early on that he is unable to conclusively prove his claims and in fact they may in some way be ‘unprovable’ — but the evidence and research he presents is overwhelming.

This is a highly persuasive book that may change the way you think about food. It will at least make you question what you have been taught about nutrition and perhaps rethink advice you’ve received regarding your own health and wellness.

I’ve written on The Sugar Association and the salt/hypertension hypothesis in the last few days, and I’ve found this topic deeply interesting. It’s remarkable to think how effectively the food industry has been subverted by sugar and how hard it is too avoid. More difficult to consider is the damage it’s surely causing us over time.

Taubes sets up his ‘if/then hypothesis’ half way through the book. It should seem logical to most readers:

So here’s the if/then hypothesis: If these Western diseases are associated with obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, which many of them are, then whatever causes insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome is likely to be the necessary dietary trigger for the diseases, or at least a key player in the causal pathway. Because there is significant reason to believe that sugars—sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup in particular, the nearly fifty-fifty combinations of glucose and fructose—are the dietary trigger of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, it’s quite likely they are a primary cause of all these Western diseases, including, as we’ll discuss, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Without these sugars in the diet, these chronic diseases would be relatively rare, if not, in some cases, virtually nonexistent.

Gary Taubes ‘The Case against Sugar’ P.288

The consumption of added sugar in each of our diets has gone from a few pounds a year three hundred years ago to 156 pounds a year in the US — could it be a coincidence that a whole catalogue of previously uncommon ‘diseases of western civilisation’ have followed this same curve? Or could sugar be the main causal factor?

We may have to wait for some time for definitive answers to these questions. The time and money required to scientifically test these claims is almost prohibitive and Taubes doesn’t offer firm guidelines on how much sugar we should be eating in the meantime. He does however compare the idea of ‘eating sugar in moderation’ to ‘smoking cigarettes in moderation’ so it’s probably a case of ‘the less, the better’.

‘The Case against Sugar’ is a meticulously researched, clear-headed deep dive into sugar. It’s a book everyone should read — sooner rather than later.

Highly recommended.

11 thoughts on “Book 28: The Case against Sugar – Gary Taubes

  1. While this might be outside the scope of the book, I remember listening to Taubes on Sam Harris’s podcast and being amazed that he repeatedly claimed that calories do not matter. While I think there is truth to both calories and content, I just couldn’t trust him after being so dogmatic that people could eat tons of calories of healthy things and be okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember that interview as well…I wasn’t overly impressed either, but I was interested. I can’t quite remember the content of that interview but he spends a lot of time refuting the ‘calorie is a calorie’ argument – which is fair enough- that I suspect he’s sick of it. I don’t think he’s ever said you can eat tonnes of healthy calories and be ok? He comes across much, much better in writing in any case. Highly professional, thoughtful, rigorous…a pleasant surprise. He’s written an important book here

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      1. I think he comes across as really well, too (and for the record, I did read this book!), it’s just that I get concerned with health information to the general public. In no way do I think sugar is good for us, but I’ve seen this dogamatic messaging in my own field of physical therapy, and I know where it leads.

        A link attached is a nutritionalist who went on a twinkie diet to lose weight because he was so sick of people saying calories aren’t important for weight loss (like in Gary Tabues’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories). The popular retort was that he might have lost weight but he wasn’t being healthy, but that is refuted by his significant improvement in blood work.

        So as bystander, what are you to think? There is so much conflicting information out there, that you either hunker down in your own dogmatic camp, think every body is right, or think none of it matters (scientists can’t agree on anything!).


      2. Also as a funny aside: my comments were showing up as spam on everyone’s blog posts, so I contacted wordpress support and the customer support guy saw I was talking about sugar on your blog. He shared this video with me which I’ve watched before but I think you’ll really enjoy.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, seen this one. Didn’t get through the whole thing….I mean 90 mins is a stretch for anyone lol. What are you conclusions from all this stuff? Has it influenced your eating habits?


      4. I think the two biggest changes in my diet came from: 1) using the paradigm of eating the most amount of food for the least amount of calories (low energy density foods aka calories/volume) and 2) the concept that your metabolism is a boomer rang – the harder your yank on it, the harder it will come back.

        In regards to #1, it is more of a problem solving formula than just foods to avoid. I’ve seen people avoid sugar but then eat lots of nuts and healthy oils because they are “healthy” to only be panicked by their weight gain. So, apples always beat out cookies because you can eat three apples to a cookie and feel more satisfied. Veggies are always a must. Processed sugar always loses in this concept because it’s so caloric compared to the space it takes up in your stomach.

        In regards to #2, it is the acknowledgement that the eat less, exercise more paradigm leads to cravings, poor sleep, hunger, and lack of energy. You can only get away with this for so long before your metabolism starts sending you signals to undermine your diet. I find following the paradigm in #1 leads to fixing the problems with #2: you eat plenty, feel satisfied, eat less calories because you get full sooner, sleep well, and avoid crashes.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Sounds sensible — enough (#2) nutrient-rich (#1) food to be live well. The ‘eat-less’ diet is just a terrible idea long term — done any fasting though? The science on the FMD looks solid. I aim to do two a year but one is all I be bothered with. The unknown in all this is the microbiome and how that plays into people’s individual situations, will be interesting to see what’s discovered there.
        In the meantime I’ll go low-sugar…and keep in mind Polan’s eat food, not too much (or enough or you say), mostly plants


      6. The Twinkie diet it is!! Classic. If he’s taking in less calories than he burns then he should lose weight right? I don’t think Taubes would disagree with this. It’s surely the excess glucose that causing the problems with people’s lives. Surprising to think that his bloods were still fine though…no doubt over time the wheels would fall off. The twinkie doesn’t cover the nutritional bases. Though there may be a gap in the market for a vitamin/mineral twinkie with added fibre. For me, I think low carb, high fibre might be way forward. Thought Valter Longo’s recommendations in his book seemed solid.


  2. I remember hearing something about Japanese people didn’t have acne until they were introduced to the ‘Western fast food diet’. Makes you wonder, although I don’t know if we can make those kinds of conclusions. HOWEVER, it does make me wonder if those diseases you mention are linked to the way we eat. Makes sense, right? Reminds me of the Okinawa Diet book, regarding the study of peoples around the world who lived a long life, and why.

    When I cook at home, I never add sugar (unless I’m baking and then it’s easy to half the recipe), but I know Asians love them some sugar – I was always surprised when my mom added sugar into main dishes. But obesity and diabetes are definitely on the rise here in Thailand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe that Japanese story — though I’d believe anything after reading this book. It’s a tough road to resistance….sugar triggers a dopamine hit. It makes you feel good. So it shapes our behaviour pretty quickly. It’s not as easy as curbing your intake of brussel sprouts…

      Liked by 1 person

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