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The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes, review by the Atlantic

Stashed in: Awesome, Nutrition!, Sugar, Food Industry, Science Studies

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Like Big Tobacco, Like Big Oil, Is Big Sugar.

To expose the machinations of Big Sugar, Taubes draws from internal memos, letters, and other industry records obtained by Cristin Kearns, a dentist who quit her job to scour university archives for evidence of backroom deals. Sugar companies formed a research foundation in 1943 and soon began a concerted effort, through hefty grants to scientists and seven-figure ad campaigns, to counter claims that sugar causes cavities and that diet soda might be better for your health, among other threats to the industry. It was, in effect, the Big Tobacco strategy: Amplify uncertainty about what causes what, put the skeptics on your payroll, kick the can of scientific proof ever further down the road. According to Taubes’s and Kearns’s research, some of the most important figures in the field of nutrition—Ancel Keys, for one, as well as Harvard’s Fredrick Stare—took money from Big Sugar and at the same time made a point of doubting sugar’s role in chronic illness.

I can understand that any big system wants to protect itself.

One problem is their putting doubt in peoples' minds about the connection between sugar and illness.

The other problem is that sugar is in so many processed foods that maybe processed foods are the real problem.

But when all is said and done, our verdict on sugar—I mean yours and mine, not that of scientific experts—may not matter all that much. Even if we’re inclined to be suspicious, and even if we choose another villain in its place, our diets may end up more or less the same. Consider what is now among the most popular alternatives to Yudkin’s theory, espoused by Michael Pollan—the idea that processed foods, as a category, are more to blame than any one ingredient, and that we should stay away from them. As Taubes points out, these same products virtually all contain sugar, so it wouldn’t make a difference whether we’re avoiding one thing or the other. Either way, we’d get less sugar overall.

The same goes for other mainstream diets. “Whether you’re trying to avoid gluten, trans fats, saturated fats, or refined carbohydrates of all types, or just trying to cut calories—eat less and eat healthy—an end result of this advice is that you’re often avoiding processed foods containing sugar and a host of other ingredients,” Taubes writes at the end of the book. “If we benefit, we cannot say exactly why.”

This may be a source of some despair for scientists, but for the rest of us, it’s a heartening idea. The case against sugar is unresolved, and yet we know exactly what to do.

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